WORLEY – It would be entirely understandable if the small gallery watching the Jillian Hollis putting clinic Sunday tries to mimic her intricate putting routine, including the one-handed practice stroke followed by the silky two-handed version.
Hollis stepped off 20 paces, equaling 60 feet from the back of the No. 15 green to the hole, sent her golf ball on its way and watched it disappear into the cup to take a one-shot lead in the Circling Raven Championship. On No. 16, she made a 4-footer for par. On No. 17, she paced off 14 steps, roughly 42 feet, and made another cross-country birdie putt for a two-stroke cushion.
The 25-year-old was pretty darn good with her driver, irons and chipping – the latter leading to an easy up-and-down birdie on No. 14 and a par save on the closing hole. It all added up to an 8-under 64, a 54-hole total of 18-under 198 and a two-stroke victory in the Epson Tour event.
The former University of Georgia standout’s putter was the main reason tournament officials handed her a $30,000 check on the 18th green. And it wasn’t just her work on the greens Sunday.
“It was good,” a laughing Hollis said of her putting. “It was good every day. I made a lot of really long putts.”
Hollis needed both birdie putts that spanned 102 feet in the closing stretch because Robyn Choi, playing one group behind Hollis, made a long birdie putt on No. 12 and a 10-footer on No. 13 to pull even with Hollis at 16 under. Choi had a chance to take the lead from 10 feet on No. 14, but it slid by the right edge. The same thing happened on a 14-foot birdie try on No. 15.
Choi, an Australian native who played at Colorado, birdied No. 17 and needed another birdie on the final hole to force a playoff. She pulled her approach shot left, and her chip came up short of the green. Shortly after she putted out for bogey and solo second place, several Epson Tour players drenched Hollis with water behind the green to celebrate her first victory in three years.
Hollis won twice on the Epson Tour, then known as the Symetra Tour, in 2019 to earn her LPGA card. She played the last two seasons on the LPGA Tour with limited success.
“COVID times were pretty rough for me,” said Hollis, who will play in the Epson Tour’s new event in Pendleton, Oregon, this week and then at the LPGA tournament Sept. 8-11 in her home state of Ohio on a sponsor’s invite. “In 2020 and 2021, I struggled a lot. To be able to go out and win again is just such a cool feeling.
“I feel more like myself now and this whole year. It just felt really natural how I played, and it was just so fun being in contention again.”
Hollis climbed to No. 8 on the Epson money list. The top 10 at the end of the year earn LPGA promotions. She was already highly ranked in Epson putting stats. She’s first in putts per greens in regulation (1.74) and second in putting average (28.74).
One of her most important putts came on the 192-yard par-3 12th – the nines are flipped for the tournament. She hit a nifty shot from the green-side bunker – her only sand shot in 54 holes – and rolled in a 6-footer for par.
“The greens are so good,” Hollis said. “They remind me a lot of the bent greens I play at home. They’re just perfect. You get a good read and good speed. You’re not wondering if the greens are different. Every green is the same.”
Hollis and playing partner Hyo Joon Jang both birdied the first three holes. Hollis connected from 12 feet on No. 1, from 40 feet on No. 2 and added a two-putt birdie on the par-5 third. She had a rare lapse on No. 4 with a three-putt, but she responded with birdies on No. 5 (12 feet), No. 7 (12 feet) and No. 8 (5 feet).
Choi, who shared the lead with Hollis, Jang and Jessica Welch at 10 under after 36 holes, birdied Nos. 1, 3, 7 and 8 to turn in 14 under, one behind Hollis. Several groups ahead, 18-year-old Alexa Pano, who turned pro last year, flew up the leaderboard with seven birdies in 13 holes before making pars the rest of the way. She finished in third place at 14 under.
Jang held the lead briefly before a costly double bogey on No. 6. Yang (69) shared fourth with Polly Mack (67) and Gabriela Ruffels (68). Welch (71) had numerous good looks at birdie but couldn’t get the putts to fall. She shared seventh with Grace Kim.
Sophie Hausmann, a former Idaho Vandal standout, finished tied for 38th.
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