Escuriola rises to the challenge in thriller

CHALLENGE SUCCESS: Stoke by Nayland owners and directors Tamara Unwin (left) and Susanna Rendall (right) with WPGA International Challenge winner Natalia Escuriola (SBN1)
CHALLENGE SUCCESS: Stoke by Nayland owners and directors Tamara Unwin (left) and Susanna Rendall (right) with WPGA International Challenge winner Natalia Escuriola (SBN1)

Stoke-by-Nayland hosted a thrilling WPGA International Challenge, which saw Spain’s Natalia Escuriola keep her nerves in check to lift the title.

The three-day event, which was held on Stoke-by-Nayland Hotel, Golf and Spa’s Gainsborough course, offered free entry for spectactors to check out the women stars of the future.

Escuriola’s wire to wire victory not only earned her €4,800, but also fired her up to second place in the LET Access Series and ensured she will compete on the Ladies European Tour next year.

However there were moments in the final round of the tournament on Saturday when what had appeared to be a canter to victory for the 21-year-old looked set to end in tears.

Not least during the first four holes when Olivia Cowan, who won the LET Access Series Order of Merit, threatened to take the Gainsborough Course at the Suffolk resort apart.

Cowan, a teenager with a British father, Scottish sounding name and BBC accent who represents Germany as a result of spending her 19 years there, began the final round with birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle.

All of which meant the five-stroke lead which the Spaniard had enjoyed at the start was reduced to just one.

But just as Cowan was unable to maintain her high octane start and settled for a share of third place with France’s Ariane Provot after a two-under-par round of 70, Escuriola remained unfazed.

Although there was no repetition of the pyrotechnics of the first two days which left her on nine-under, a parting shot of one-over was enough to repel the challenges of Cowan, Norway’s Rachel Raastad and Provot.

Raastad finished second on six-under and when Escuriola deposited her tee shot at the par three 18th into a greenside bunker the possibility of the leader snatching defeat from the jaws of victory loomed.

It was the third wayward approach or tee shot in succession but her short game came to the rescue as, showing no nerves, she splashed out to three feet and holed the putt.

The victorious Escuriola said: “I was nervous before the bunker shot. And even more so with the putt.

“I didn’t play that well from the fairway to the green but my short game was good and that’s what got me through.”