As soon as Stacey Keating’s final putt dropped to confirm her victory in the Victorian Women’s Open, the champagne corks were popping greenside.
Keating was mobbed by family and friends and drenched in a champagne shower following her two-shot triumph over West Australian Kristie Smith and England’s Hannah Burke at Thirteenth Beach Golf Links, Barwon Heads.
She finished the tournament at 18-under par after a final round of 71 around the Beach Course.
It was Keating’s first major victory in Australia and only confirms her status as one of the rising stars in women’s world golf.
The 26-year-old from Cressy, in Victoria’s Western District, said she was thrilled by her success.
“I wanted to play well over the Aussie summer because I hadn’t done that before so I think that I’ve done that now and I’m very pleased,” Keating said.
Keating admitted she felt the weight of expectations to win the tournament from early in the week and, even starting today with a four shot lead, was nervous before she teed off.
Keating’s galleries over the weekend were the biggest of any group out on course and organisers were delighted by the turnout.
“I just thought I would put too much expectations on myself and that was something that I tried to keep down,” Keating said.
“But when you look around and see so many people that you know and want to talk to and I tried my hardest to avoid that, so it means everything this win.
“I was a bit nervous this morning, but it was good nerves. I’m absolutely spent now.”
Keating withstood several challenges throughout the day– particularly from Spain’s Mireia Prat and Queensland’s Bree Arthur – before regaining her ascendancy on the back nine.
After a bogey on the par five second, Keating made a string of pars before kick starting her round with a tap in eagle putt on the par five ninth.
She then put distance between herself and the chasing pack with birdies on the 11th, 12th and 14th.
“I didn’t get off to the best start. I wasn’t doing too much wrong I just didn’t hole any putts,” Keating said.
“I was just very patient and had a great back nine. We know we have a couple of par fives later in the round so you’ve just got to be patient, wait for those and hope something goes your way.”
Smith had a chance to grab second spot on her own, but missed an opportunity on the 17th and then could only the par the last hole.
“I got off to a hot start but just hit a little bit of a wall coming in the back nine, I couldn’t get off the par train,” Smith said.
“I needed to make more birdies but it didn’t happen.
“(But) it was a nice finish to the ALPG season. I had a really solid, consistent couple of months and that’s what I was looking for coming into the season.
“So I’m very happy with my finish and am looking forward to going home.”
Burke had the best round of the final day, an eight under par 66 and said it was a nice way for her to round out her visit down under before she heads to China in a fortnight for the World Ladies Championship.
“I’m very pleased. It’s probably the best round I’ve shot ever, no bogies, not a five on the card anywhere,” Burke said.
“There’s scores out there, you just had to be aggressive and the wind wasn’t blowing, so we got a little lucky with that and I holed a few putts.”
Prat was the talk of the course early in the afternoon.
After starting the day eight shots behind Keating, she fell even further behind after bogeying her opening hole.
But then the 23-year-old from Barcelona, went on a hot run with seven birdies and an eagle and, at one stage, held the outright lead on her own.
But bogies on the 12th and 16th put paid to her chances of a remarkable win and she signed for a seven-under par 67 and finished at 14-under par, alongside playing partner Bree Arthur.
Prat admitted she got nervous when she saw her name equal with Keating at the top of the leaderboard midway through her round.
The 23-year-old, who made her debut on the Ladies European Tour last year, has only been in Australia for a fortnight.
She failed to pre-qualify for the Australian Women’s Open, but only arrived in the country two days prior.
“I was pretty tired but I wanted to try,’’ Prat said of her first experience of the Australian golf.
“I stayed last week in Canberra watching the tournament and this week was perfect weather, perfect course, I enjoyed the two courses.
“I played really, really well. My self confidence was very high and I enjoyed my golf and the players who I played with were very nice.”
Prat said she plans to return for the full ALPG season next summer.
To highlight how good the scoring was for the women today on the Beach course, the top 12 players on the leader board shot a combined total of 68 under par for the day.
Canberra’s Nikki Campbell finished in outright fourth at 15-under par.
Tournament drawcard Laura Davies finished tied for seventh at 13-under par after a final round of four under par 70.
Queenslander Sarah Jane Smith, who led the tournament at the half-way mark, could only manage an even par final round and faded away to finish tied for 16th at nine-under par.