Spanish rookie Maria Hernandez has won her first professional title at the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open.
The 24-year-old from Pamplona finished at eight under par for the tournament at Gray Bear Golf Course after a final round of two under 70. Australian rookie Kristie Smith was the runner up and finished one shot back after a final round of 72, with England’s Laura Davies (69) a shot further back in third.
Hernandez was playing in her second Ladies European Tour event as a professional. She had played three times on the LET as an amateur with her best finish a tie for 13th at the 2005 Open de Espana and won 13 times while at Purdue University, where she was the 2009 NCAA Player of the Year.
She turned professional in June 2009 and played in the Open de Espana in July, before finishing 10th at Ladies European Tour Qualifying School in December, however she has been competing in America so far this year, where she has made one cut from four starts.
“It means so much. I was playing good but I wasn’t scoring well the whole year,” Hernandez said. “I was struggling a lot with my putter but this week after the second round my putter started working and it means everything because I was a little bit down thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I cannot make it as a professional,’ but that’s all I needed. I had to finish strong and I was lucky, I made a couple of birdies coming in to win the tournament.”
Hernandez was one stroke behind Smith with two holes to play but she knew what she needed to do and rose to the occasion scoring a pair of birdies: “I had to finish strong and make birdie on the last couple of holes. I knew I had to finish strong because I was playing pretty good but the putts weren’t falling in.”
She hit a superb seven-iron shot within five feet of the hole on the par-three 17th and rolled in the putt to tie for the lead with Smith before striking a five-wood to 25 feet on the closing hole.
“I hit a good five-wood in there. I didn’t think I wasn’t going to get there because I hit a little bit far, but it was up there on the top of the green and that’s where I wanted to be, so I just tried to make two putts from there.”
|Hernandez being congratulated by friends
Smith was forced to lay up short of the green on 18 after driving her ball underneath a tree. She said: “I just hit a poor drive and didn’t think it would get down that far near that tree where I had really no shot. I had to hit a wedge over and try to make four the hard way. It’s a bit of a bummer because I’d birdied it in all the other rounds.”
The 21-year-old from Perth added: “I’m a little bit bummed obviously not to win but I’ve had a really good year so far and to come second over here is a nice little confidence boost once again. I played okay today, nothing really special. I played pretty average on the front nine and came back home in two under so to shoot level par was okay. I was a bit nervous going out into the round and I held it together pretty well I think.”
The halfway leader, Davies, was pleased with her final round, despite a 76 on Saturday, when heavy rain affected her score.
“I was happy with today but yesterday was the ruining of my chance of winning because I was five behind starting the day. I started making bogey after bogey after bogey and couldn’t stop. Once the rain came I made eight bogeys in a run of 13 holes,” she said.
All of the top three players will now head to the Netherlands for the ABN AMRO Ladies Open, from 4-6 June. Hernandez will tee up as an LET winner, having earned a first prize of €52,500.
She went straight in at fourth position on the LET’s Henderson Money List and now tops the Ryder Cup Wales Rookie of the Year Standings, with Smith less than €2000 behind her.
Hernandez teeing off at the 11th hole at Gray Bear Golf Course