Eva Gilly Photo Credit: Adrian Milledge
There was a strong whiff of a star is born in the autumnal Suffolk air as Eva Gilly recorded successive birdies to win the WPGA International Challenge by three shots.
The teenager from France, who has missed a large portion of the season because of injury, had served notice of her rich potential 24 hours earlier by posting the round of the tournament at Stoke by Nayland Hotel Golf & Spa.
Eight birdies, including five from the first hole onwards, and no blemishes added up to an eight-under-par total of 64 that left her a shot adrift of tournament leader Sarah Schober.
Then there was little pressure. Not so, in the third and final round of what was the penultimate event on the LET Access Series, especially after the 15th hole.
Successive birdies from Gilly had erased Schober’s lead and put her a shot clear. And after the Austrian missed a short birdie putt to restore parity she made her pay.
Displaying the sang froid of an experienced campaigner, the 18-year-old birdied the next and then rifled her tee shot at the par three 18th to within a metre and delivered the coup de grace.
“It was a good finish,” said the tearful teenager, with a high degree of understatement.
“I birdied 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th and yesterday I had five birdies on the first five holes so that was good also. So I am really happy.”
The first prize of €4,800 was another cause for happiness; even more so overcoming the injury that has interrupted her fledging career.
“I have not played for a long time,” explained Gilly, who turned pro last October.
“I had a bad injury caused by too much practice.
Ten months I was out of tournaments and this is only my sixth tournament back.”
By contrast, Schober has played in all 14 LET Access Series events and while she lost the battle at the Suffolk resort, the 24-year-old has the considerable consolation of winning the war in the form of a coveted LET card.
The top five in the LET Access Series Order of Merit earn one and Schober, who leads it with one event to play, has already claimed hers.
Nevertheless there is still some unfinished business to take care of at the season’s final event in Spain later this month.
“I am still waiting on my first win,” she said. “This was my fourth second. And I have also had a third place.
“This is my eighth top ten finish.
I am pretty consistent but I am due a win.
“My goal was to be in the top five this season. I did not expect to be leading the order of merit and I have been in this position for the last few weeks.
“So there was pressure to hold the position. But going into Spain I am a few points ahead now so I will be more relaxed and I can have a good week and enjoy it.
“The win will come in time.
If I am patient, everything is moving in the right direction.”
The destination of the remaining four cards, however, is less clear cut. Six girls are in the mix and Scotland’s Michelle Thompson boosted her chances by finishing tied third with Alexandra Bonetti of France and England’s Kiran Matharu on six-under.
Similarly Sweden’s Jenny Haglund did her prospects no harm by sharing sixth place with England’s Jessica Bradley.
While the champagne remains on ice for the six hopefuls, Italy’s Stefania Avanzo was set to crack open the bubbly presented to her in recognition of her hole in one at the par three ninth.
“That was the second birdie of my career,” said the 23-year-old from Trieste
“I have also had an eagle on a par four - and each time it was with the seven iron in my hand.
“It was a little lucky. I had to land it short of the green and it bounced the right way and rolled into the cup.”
England’s Meghan Maclaren also had cause for celebration after her tenth place finish on three-under-par made her leading amateur.