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Circling Raven Championship: Ren triumphs in playoff

by MARK NELKE
Sports Editor | August 28, 2023 1:00 AM

WORLEY — Teeing off an hour before the final group, Yue Ren of China knew she had a good round going Sunday in the final round of the Epson Tour Circling Raven Championship at Circling Raven Golf Club

She just didn’t know how good — or where it would eventually lead her.

Ren shot an 8-under-par 64 to end up in a playoff, then sank a 5-foot par putt on the second playoff hole to defeat Chanettee Wannasaen of Thailand, who had led after the first and second rounds.

“I never see the scoreboard when I’m playing. I just do my best,” Ren, 22, said after her first victory on the tour where the top 10 money winners at season’s end qualify for the LPGA Tour. “I knew there was a scoreboard there (to the left of the 18th green, as the players walk up the fairway), but I never see it. I don’t know my score, I just play my best. This is best for me, because if I see the scoreboard I just think too much, like get nervous.”

Ren’s round consisted of eight birdies, including four in a row on holes 5-8. Her last birdie came on the drivable par-4 15th.

When she finished 18 and finally took a peek at the scoreboard, which showed her at 13-under par 203, she realized she had a one-shot lead — and time to wait and see what happens next.

Meanwhile, in the final group, Wannasaen, who started the day at 9-under, three-putted for par on the 15th. Minji Kang of Korea, who began the day 8-under, two-putted for birdie on 15, putting both players at 12-under.

After Kang missed a 6-foot downhill slider for birdie on the par-3 16th, Wannasaen, who has played in 11 LPGA Tour events this year, rolled in a 5-footer for birdie on much the same line to tie Ren at -13.

Wannasaen, 19, got up-and-down from the bunker on 18 to finish with 68 and get into the playoff.

Kang, who shot 67, also burned the right edge on an 18-foot birdie putt on 17. She left a long downhill birdie putt short on 18, with a chance to join the playoff.

“I try my best,” said Kang, 23. “It was really close on 17, actually. 16 was very downhill, right to left slope … maybe next time.”

After her round, Ren said she sat down for a while because she was tired, and was in the middle of a warmup on the range when a rules official came and told her she was in a playoff.

Ren and Wannasaen both parred 18 on the first hole of the playoff.

Playing 18 again, Ren landed a 5-wood on the green, but it trickled just off the back, leaving a downhill chip.

Wannasaen hit her approach into the front bunker, for the second time in three tries playing the hole Sunday.

“I thought, it’s beautiful, but it’s short,” said Wannasaen, in just her second Epson Tour event.

After Ren chipped to 5 feet, Wannasaen’s bunker shot finished 12 feet past the pin. She missed the par putt, and Kang rolled in hers for the win.

Her reaction?

“Oh, that’s it. Oh, I’m good,” said Ren, who said she’s “good friends” with Peiyun Chien of Taiwan, who won the inaugural Circling Raven Championship in 2021 at 16-under.

Ren earned $33,750 for only her second victory as a pro — she said she won an event in China two years ago. It was her fourth top-20 finish on the Epson Tour — her best prior finish was a T9 in 2022. She has now earned $52,494 on the tour this season, and is projected to jump from 61st to 23rd in the 2023 Race for the Card.

Kang entered Sunday 10th in the Race for the Card.

Ren was playing in her 17th Epson Tour event his year, and her 45th since 2020.

Wannasaen, playing in her second Epson Tour event this year, earned $21,451 for second.

“A little bit of pressure,” she said of taking the lead into Sunday’s final round. “But I can control my mind, I can control my game. Today is a good game, but it’s not the best, but I do my best today.”

Both Ren and Wannasaen (and a few others) drove to Portland shortly after Sunday’s tournament ended, to play in a Monday qualifier for the LPGA Portland Classic at Columbia Edgewater. On Monday, Wannasaen earned one of two qualifying spots for the tourney, which begins Thursday.

Laetitia Beck of Israel shot a final-round 64 to finish at 12-under 204, tied for third with Kang.

Jillian Hollis of Rocky River, Ohio, who won last year at Circling Raven with a tournament-record 18-under 198, finished tied for ninth at 9-under 207.

Four tournaments remain in the regular season before the Epson Tour Championship Oct. 5-8 in Daytona Beach, Fla.

LEADERBOARD

*Won on second hole of playoff

*Yue Ren, $33,750 68-71-64—203 -13

Chanettee Wannasaen, $21,451 67-68-68—203 -13

Laetitia Beck, $13,874 70-70-64—204 -12

Minji Kang, $13,874 68-68-68—204 -12

Ashley Lau, $7,652 73-68-65—206 -10

Hira Naveed, $7,652 70-70-66—206 -10

Laura Wearn, $7,652 69-70-67—206 -10

Robyn Choi, $7,652 72-66-68—206 -10

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MARK NELKE/Press Chanettee Wannasaen of Chiang mai, Thailand, hits out of the sand trap on the 18th hole of the final round of the third annual Circling Raven Championship on Sunday in Worley. Wannasaen, the leader after the first two rounds, finished second in a playoff.

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MARK NELKE/Press Minji Kang of Korea watches her tee shot on the par-3 16th hole Sunday in the final round of the Epson Tour Circling Raven Championship at Circling Raven Golf Club in Worley. Kang finished tied for third.

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MARK NELKE/Press Defending champion Jillian Hollis of Rocky River, Ohio, acknowledges the crowd after completing her final round of the Epson Tour Circling Raven Championship on Sunday at Circling Raven Golf Club in Worley. Hollis finished tied for ninth.