Jiwon Jeon Claims Her Inaugural Epson Tour Win at Mission Inn Resort & Club Championship
HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS – Jiwon Jeon fired a 3-under-par 70 on the El Campeon course Sunday for a 10-under total to win the 2023 Inova Mission Inn Resort & Club Championship by two shots over Lindy Duncan and Alyaa Abdulghany.
For Jeon, who celebrated her 26th birthday Friday with a 7-under 66 that gave her the first-round lead, it was the first Epson Tour victory for the native of South Korea, who played on the LPGA Tour in 2020 and lives in Irvine, Calif.
“When I started making birdies, I just tried to make more and more,” said Jeon, who overcame a double-bogey and a bogey with six birdies Sunday to hold off Duncan and Abdulghany. “Something kind of clicked in the middle of the round, and I started hitting better, especially with my wedges. Every time I had a wedge, I had a birdie, pretty much.
“It’s not an easy golf course. Every single hole you’ve got to be really patient. You’ve got to have a good game plan. But it’s a beautiful golf course.”
Jeon birdied the fifth and seventh holes to get to 9 under and escaped with a double bogey on the par-3 eighth. Her tee shot landed in a terrible lie in a back bunker, and her sand shot rolled off the green into the water. She elected to drop a ball in the bunker, and this time she hit the shot to within 8 feet and made the putt.
“Even though I made double there, that was kind of the turning point for me, trying to keep the momentum,” she said. “I was at even par at that point, so I knew that I still had a chance. I knew there were more (opportunities) coming up on the back nine.”
Jeon birdied three of the first five holes on the back nine to get to 10-under. The last of those birdies proved to be critical. A tee shot to the left on the par-5 14th forced her to lay up, and she hit a wedge to about 4 feet and made the putt.
“She played great,” said Duncan, an LPGA veteran whose tie for second was her best finish of the year. “She hit it close all day and had a lot of chances. I hit my driver a little to the right for the most part, just couldn’t quite get it to turn over. So I was in some tough spots, and on this course, if you’re not in the fairway, it’s pretty tough to make birdie.”
Playing two groups ahead of the leaders, Abdulghany had a bogey-free, 5-under 68 Sunday to go with rounds of 72-71. Roberta Liti, the leader going into the final day at 8 under, double-bogeyed the par-3 second hole when her tee shot went off the back of the green and, after a nice chip, she three-putted. That dropped her a shot behind Jeon at 6-under. Liti birdied the next hole, but three consecutive bogeys dropped her to 4 under and out of contention. She did birdie three holes on the back nine to finish with a 1-over 74, along with rounds of 71 and 67, which put her in fourth place.
Duncan, who had rounds of 73-67-71 for an 8-under total, looked primed to gain momentum on the windswept, 144-yard par-3 15th after Jeon hit her tee shot short and in the vegetation in front of the bulkhead guarding the green. Duncan stood on the tee with a 7-iron in her hand, backed off a couple of times, and then chose an 8-iron, which she hit to 14 feet.
“The wind was really swirling, and it was pretty strong into the wind, and then the wind kind of died, so I said if I hit (the 7-iron), I’m probably going to go over the green into the water. So I just hit the 8-iron and that was probably my best shot of the day,” said Duncan, who sank the birdie putt. “I hit a great putt.”
But Jeon had hit a wedge from the drop area to a foot to save her bogey and maintain a one-shot lead over Duncan.
“I wanted to hit it from the drop zone because I had the same distance on the 14th hole when I made birdie,” Jeon said. “I made a great up and down from there. I was very proud of myself there. I think that kind of got me into the momentum more.”
For Duncan, who has status on the LPGA Tour as a former member and on the Epson Tour, it’s been difficult to plan where she’s playing from week to week. She might get into the next event if she has a good LPGA tournament. If not, she’ll play in an Epson event.
“You can’t really make a schedule, you don’t know what you’re going to get into. You’ve got to play everything by ear,” she said. “This (tournament) will help me personally. Anytime you’re in the last group, playing under that kind of pressure, that’s when you learn. I just try to learn and soak it up and I’m really excited with where my game’s at.”
Photo credit Ben Harpring, Epson Tour