WORLEY, Idaho – The final round of the first Circling Raven Championship developed into an entertaining shootout, sending spectators to their phones for the scoring updates Sunday on a crowded, ever-changing leaderboard.
Meanwhile, eventual champion Peiyun Chien had no interest in peeking at a several on-course leaderboards, let alone her phone. The 30-year-old from Chinese Taipei was more interested in winning the Symetra Tour event.
Chien accomplished that with birdies on Nos. 14-16. The first moved her into a tie at 14 under with three others, including Demi Runas playing one group ahead. Chien then made a clutch 5-foot birdie on 15 to take the lead and another 5-footer on the par-3 16th to open up a two-shot edge.
Still, she resisted the temptation to glance at the scoreboard behind the 16th green. Two holes later, Chien tapped in for par to finish the 54-hole event at 16-under 200, one stroke in front of Runas.
“I don’t watch leaderboard, I just want to enjoy (playing) with my friend,” said Chien, referring to Min Chen, who flew in from Phoenix on Sunday morning to caddie. “I know if I can play very good every shot, I might win the tournament.
“When I finished, I just know I won.”
It was a pretty good giveaway when four competitors rushed onto the green to douse Chien with water after her third Symetra Tour win. Chen then joined the celebration and emptied a water bottle on her friend.
Chien was spot-on about the importance of hitting very good shots to hold off Runas (66), Bailey Tardy (64) and Gabby Lemieux (65). Tardy had finished and was sipping on a Michelob Ultra when the last group of Chien and second-round co-leader Sophia Schubert was on No. 12.
Lemieux, who grew up in Caldwell and won a 2014 Idaho State individual title, birdied the last hole to join Tardy in a tie for third at 14 under, which shared the lead before Chien’s impressive finishing stretch.
Runas’ first swing on the par-4 1st – the nines were flipped for the tournament – left her ball inside the hazard and she opted to take a drop and one-stroke penalty. She bounced back with birdies on the next two holes and eight overall.
“I made a little bit of a run and I can’t really ask for anything else,” she said.
Runas drove the par-4 15th, which measured 225 yards with the tee boxes moved up, and barely missed a five-footer for eagle. She made a short birdie putt on No. 16 to trim Chien’s lead to one. Runas credited caddie Victoria Fallgren, former Gonzaga standout and current GU women’s assistant coach, for helping her mindset.
“It helped having a good friend on the bag,” Runas said. “It made things less stressful. I’ve known her since junior golf when I was 10 years old.”
Runas repeatedly applied pressure, but Chien responded every time. Chien reached the par-5 14th in two for an easy two-putt birdie. She got up-and-down from behind the 15th green for another birdie and dropped her tee shot on the 135-yard 16th just five feet from the cup.
Chien kept the pedal down, splitting the fairway with driver on 17 and 18 and nearly making a 12-footer for birdie on 17.
She pointed out that quality putting and stacking up birdies was key to her winning formula, but her favorite shots, and perhaps most important shots, came on the par-4 5th after her second shot from 60 yards settled in green-side bunker.
Chien blasted out within five feet and dropped the par putt. She had another up-and-down out of a green-side trap, making yet another five-footer for birdie on the par-5 8th.
Chien, who has played on the Symetra, LPGA and Asian tours, earned $30,000 and climbed to No. 15 on the money list, one spot behind former Idaho standout Sophie Hausmann. The top 10 at season’s end gain LPGA cards.
“I feel more confident in America now,” Chien said. “I’m here since I was 25, so for (almost) six years. Everybody is pretty kind to me. It’s very nice to be here.”
Lemieux nearly made her second shot on the par-5 3rd before knocking in a 3-footer for eagle. She followed with six birdies and just one bogey. Tardy was 8 under after 10 holes to reach the top of the leaderboard at 14 under. Schubert (70) finished at 13 under in a four-way tie for fifth place.
Former Gonzaga standout Bianca Pagdanganan, who finished her career at Arizona, closed with an 8-under 64 to finish tied for 12th.
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