With a final round on Sunday that was sure to produce some exciting golf, the 2012 Eagle Classic came down to the final putt to determine this year’s winner. Paola Moreno shook off a two-shot deficit on the 14th hole to go on to birdie three out of the final four holes to clinch her second-career victory over Jenny Gleason.
Although she was an economics major at the University of Southern California, Moreno may want to get her number recognition checked.
“I honestly thought it was for a playoff,” Moreno said of her winning 8-foot putt. “I thought I checked the board and saw a nine under there and I was 8-under. I thought I needed to make that putt to get in a playoff. Then I double checked after I won, and my caddie was like ‘you won!’ And I said ‘what? No way’ So I was very excited.”
Moreno started the day tied for the lead with three others and started to separate herself from the pack with Jenny Gleason for a back-nine showdown. After carding two birdies and one bogey on the front nine, Moreno made the turn at 7-under par and one shot behind Gleason who had two birdies on Nos. 4 and 9.
Gleason went on to birdie the par 4 14th to take a two-shot lead, but Moreno felt like she was just getting started.
“At the end of the round, that’s when my game started to get better,” said Moreno. “I was very nervous from 10 to 14. I made a great putt on 15 and then had a great shot on 16.”
Moreno had back-to-back birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 to get all square with Gleason at 9-under par but missed both the fairway and green on No. 17 for her second bogey of the day.
Heading into her final hole with Gleason in the group ahead of hers, Moreno thought she was out of contention and took an all-in attitude on the tricky par 4 18th. She kept her eyes off the leaderboard for most of the day and when she did look at 18, she didn’t realize Gleason had bogeyed her final hole.
“I thought easy, I would get second, so I was just going for it,” said Moreno. “I thought I had nothing to lose. My approach was 160 or so to the pin and it was a really good shot. I’m just really happy.”
Moreno stuck her 5-iron shot to eight feet and had no idea the putt that awaited her was to win her second-career Symetra Tour event. She thought that it might have been a blessing that she was unsure of the pressure situation.
“I thought it wasn’t going to break that much,” said Moreno. “I was lucky to read that really well. I didn’t know it was to win.”
Moreno expressed the special timing for her victory, something that she said she really needed at this point in her career. She’s coming off a 10-start season on the LPGA Tour with only two made cuts.
“I’ve worked so hard for this,” said Moreno. “Finally my game is coming together and hopefully can play full time on the LGPA next year. It was a surprise. It’s been a challenging past two years and I’m just so happy that I won.”
She said the victory today weighed much heavier than her first back in 2010 at the Texas Hill Country Classic.
“I think it’s way more special,” said Moreno. “My first win, I was very relaxed and calm. It just came and it happened. I didn’t even realize it happened. For this won, I worked so hard to get it and accomplish this. I wanted to get in the top-10 so badly. From now on I need to keep playing and just keep doing what I’m doing.”
Kingsmill bound: With her win, Moreno will receive an exemption to the Kingsmill Championship next month in Williamsburg, Va. and will make her third start on the LPGA Tour of the season.
Having gained entry into the fields of several LPGA Tour events this season, Moreno has found trouble balancing schedules of both professional tours she holds membership with.
“I got into Mobile but was it was late,” said Moreno. “I decided to go home, rest and then play full time here. I got in Toledo but I decided to go to South Bend last week and it was the right thing to do. Last week was the biggest purse and I figured I would finish out the year on this tour and that’s my plan. If I have a week off, I’ll do it but otherwise I’ll stay here.”
The Colombian’s smile said it all when asked whether she would accept the exemption for the new LPGA Tour event.
“Oh yes, I’m in,” said Moreno. “I have a week off before that so I need to start making plans.”