Ally McDonald gave herself the birthday present of a lifetime when she captured her first career LPGA title on Sunday with a win at the LPGA Drive On Championship in Greensboro, Ga.
"I've never doubted my ability, but I've definitely questioned whether I would be able to win out here," said McDonald, who turned 28 on Sunday. "It's really hard to win out here. I've just really hung in there and tried to stick to my process since day one. That was able to get me in the winner's circle today. I'm really thankful."
McDonald, the leader after Rounds 2 and 3 at Reynolds Lake Oconee's Great Waters Course, started the day with a one-shot lead and held on to it to finish with a 3-under 69 for a 16-under, 272 total, and a one-stroke victory over first-round leader Danielle Kang. Kang fired a final-round 68 to finish 15-under, besting third-place finisher Bianca Pagdanganan (final-round 70) of The Philippines by a shot.
McDonald, a Mississippi State alumna, got off to a slow start Sunday, making just one birdie and eight pars over her first nine holes before stringing together three straight birdies on Nos. 10-12. She bounced back from a bogey at 13 with a birdie at 16, but she gave it right back when she made bogey at 17.
The leaderboard got particularly tight when Kang made consecutive birdies on 13 and 14, and McDonald saw her lead narrow.
"I'm not going to lie, it shook me up pretty bad," said McDonald, in her fifth year on tour. "I had to gather myself and get my heart rate under control after I made bogey on 13 and Danielle went back-to-back on birdies on 13 and 14. I just told myself to calm down and do what I've been doing every single round, and that is just trying to execute my game plan, control what I can.
"I knew from the start that Danielle was going to hang in there. You kind of go into match-play mode and you think absolutely she's going to put the pedal down.
So, I was just happy to hang in there and pull it out."
Kang gave herself a fighting chance at 18 when her approach to the green nearly rolled in the hole. She ended up with a birdie.
"Well, that was the play, to be honest," said Kang, already a two-time winner in 2020. "I thought I hit a good drive but looked up and it just kind of veered right. ... Then I took a little while over that shot because I had to make a decision whether to go for it. My wedges are really good, so I said ... let's just lay it up to a number I like, and I tried to hole-out."
Pagdanganan, a 2020 tour rookie who started the day one shot back of McDonald, could never get her momentum going and she posted 16 straight pars before carding back-to-back birdies of her own at 17 and 18.
"Honestly, today's round was a little bit boring," said Pagdanganan, who was playing in just her sixth event of the season. "I had 16 pars going into my last two holes, and pars are good, but they can be frustrating if you know you gave yourself a couple birdie chances.
"Overall I'm really happy with how I played, and I love where my game is going, so hopefully I get to keep it up and continue having this mindset throughout the rest of the year."
Mina Harigae (67 on Sunday) and Spain's Carlota Ciganda (69) tied for fourth at 13 under. Australia's Katherine Kirk (70) and Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn (69) tied for sixth at 11 under, and Finland's Matilda Castren (67), New Zealand's Lydia Ko (69) and Brittany Altomare (70) tied for eighth at 10 under.
--Field Level Media