A star is born as Gilly triumphs in event at Stoke-by-Nayland

TITLE TRIUMPH: WPGA International Challenge winner Eva Gilly (centre) with the owners of Stoke-by-Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa, Susanna Rendell (left) and Tamara Unwin (right)
TITLE TRIUMPH: WPGA International Challenge winner Eva Gilly (centre) with the owners of Stoke-by-Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa, Susanna Rendell (left) and Tamara Unwin (right)
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Eva Gilly recorded back-to-back birdies to win the WPGA International Challenge by three shots at Stoke-by-Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa on Saturday.

The French teenager, who had 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.

Eight birdies, including five on the bounce 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 in the LET Access Series, especially after the 15th hole.

Successful 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 composure 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. “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.

“I have not played for a long time. I had a bad injury caused by too much practice.

“10 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.

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.

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.”

Meanwhile, Newton Green Golf Club’s Lily May Humphreys, who trains with Stoke professional Roly Hitchcock made her mark with a joint 25th place finish in her first experience mixing with aspiring young European professionals.

The 14-year-old, who has a plus-four handicap, was among 15 English amateurs selected in the 90 strong line-up at Stoke-by-Nayland.

Humphreys was the fifth amateur home, and could have finished higher had she not found the par-three 18th on the Gainsborough course a thorn in her side.

Over the three days, the youngster dropped four shots on the hole, with bogeys on the opening two days and a double bogey in her final round.

Even so, Humphreys managed to score a level par 72 on the final day, to go with a one-under-par on the second round, and a three-over 75 in the first round.

In her under-par day of 71, she recorded six birdies and one double bogey.

Humphreys will miss out on entering the Newton Green Junior Open later this month because of an England Girls’ training week at the end of which she joins up with Newton’s Alice Barlow to head for Portugal to play in the Telegraph BMW Junior Championships.