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Lillie pulls away to win The Donna with clutch pitch, steady play

Lillie pulls away to win The Donna with clutch pitch, steady play

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Beth Lillie has fallen in love with the 58-degree wedge she carries in her golf bag. She uses it frequently in precarious situations, particularly in deep roughs around the greens, and her shots tend to find their way close to the hole.

The rising senior at the University of Virginia pulled out her trusted wedge for her third shot at the challenging No. 14 Tuesday at Boonsboro Country Club. Lillie, whose ball was nestled deep in a rough that sloped down toward a bunker, played the shot perfectly with a pitch that rolled to within a foot of the hole.

After hitting the shot, Lillie let out an exhale and relaxed after the tense moment.

She knew she could cruise the rest of the way to The Donna Andrews Invitational title.

Lillie played near-flawless golf Tuesday with a 5-under 67 and pulled away for a six-stroke victory over Becca DiNunzio to claim the second edition of the women’s amateur tournament.

“That chip was big,” said Lillie, who carded a three-day total of 7-under 209. “It took a lot of stress off the last couple of holes, for sure.”

She maintained a four-shot lead after 14 and added to it with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18.

“She was amazing. I don’t think she was ever out of position,” DiNunzio said of Lillie. “… I was always having to chase her. I really applaud her for that play today.”

Lillie and DiNunzio were the only two players to finish the tournament under par. The inaugural invitational finished with the same number of players in red figures as Marissa Kirkwood made a downhill par putt at the 54th hole to edge Lauren Greenlief for the title last year.

“It feels awesome. I had such a great time this week,” Lillie said. “I was hitting it really well; I felt just really confident. I thought I could do it, and glad that I followed through with it.”

Samantha Vodry and Brynn Walker finished this year’s tournament in a tie for third at 1 over, and Alexandra Swayne finished fifth at 2 over.

Kathryn Ha made easy work of the Donna Division with a three-day score of 4 over and finished 12 shots ahead of second-place Kellie Scheck. In the Senior Division, Joan Gardner overcame a four-shot deficit with a final-round 75 to beat Mimi Hoffman by two strokes.

Lillie was at 5 under entering No. 14, but her four-stroke lead appeared to be in peril when her second shot landed short of the green in the rough.

DiNunzio didn’t receive a favorable roll from the back-right corner off the rough onto the green on her second shot, but she still was set up for a potential birdie putt, and what could have been a two-shot swing to cut into the deficit.

Lillie’s save, though, put an end to DiNunzio’s thoughts of a comeback bid.

“That was a big shot for her to not give up anything there,” DiNunzio said.

Lillie saved her best for last Tuesday with a remarkable final round. She hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation and made four birdies and an eagle. Even her bogey at the par-4 No. 8 came after her par attempt burned the edge.

“It’s really big to hit a lot of greens at this course,” Lillie explained. “The teeth are definitely around the greens; so many of them fall off on the sides, and it makes chips really difficult with the rough being long and everything. As long as I was hitting greens, I just felt like I was really in control and wasn’t having to scramble very much.”

DiNunzio, who began Tuesday’s round at even par, rattled off three consecutive birdies at Nos. 1 through 3 to move to 3 under and into a brief tie for the lead with second round co-leader Ana Tsiros.

The Virginia Tech rising sophomore’s birdie at the par-3 No. 2 was the most impressive of the trio. Her tee shot went into a bunker nestled to the right of the green, and her shot with a 60-degree wedge hit the flagstick and dropped into the hole to move to her 2 under for the tourney.

“It was really cool. That’s never happened to me before. I mean, maybe once in practice, but especially to have that happen in a tournament was incredible. One in a million,” DiNunzio said of the birdie at No. 2.

“It was great to make that push there early and put some pressure on the leaders,” she added. “I knew it’s impossible to birdie every hole, so I had to just keep chugging along and be patient and get those pars and not get too ahead of myself.”

Lillie took the lead for good at the par-5 No. 3 thanks to a 12-foot, downhill eagle putt that moved her to 4 under for the tournament.

The eagle atoned for her missed opportunity at No. 1 when she three-putted for par.

“It was really big,” Lillie said of her score at No. 3. “… That eagle gave me a little bit of momentum to feel I wasn’t chasing, I was leading.”

DiNunzio cut Lillie’s lead to one with a birdie at the par-5 10th, but she quickly gave the shot back with a bogey at No. 11.

Lillie capitalized on the short par-4 at No. 12 with a birdie, while DiNunzio settled for a two-putt par.

DiNunzio, who was stellar on the greens over the front nine with 11 putts, needed 18 putts on the back nine to finish her round.

“I was still reading the greens pretty well and I was feeling pretty good with my putter,” DiNunzio said. “Just a couple of them just didn’t drop. It happens. I’m still glad to put together a good back nine and stay in it. Can’t complain too much.”

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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