“VAMOS!”: GABY LOPEZ RALLIES TO EARN THIRD CAREER VICTORY AT THE DANA OPEN PRESENTED BY MARATHON
She knew it would take a significant effort. Gaby Lopez started the final round of the Dana Open presented by Marathon four shots back of the lead in a tie for 11th at -10, and there was no other option but to go low. Lopez did exactly that, firing a Sunday 63 to tie her career-low 18-hole score to finish at -18 overall and earn her third career LPGA Tour title. It’s her first victory since the 2020 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, an effort for which she gives credits to her team, family and the work she’s put in off and on the course, fighting through two injuries this past season.
“I just felt like nothing was really clicking for me over the year. I was struggling physically, struggling mentally, and that's where the doubts and fears come from,” said Lopez, whose 266 is also a new 72-hole personal record for the Mexican. “You just got to keep it real and accept where you are and just got to surround yourself with great people.”
Lopez went bogey-free for the second time this week, opening with three birdies in her first nine holes, and notched two more on Nos. 10 and 13. “We made that birdie putt (on 13) and I stayed calm. I did fist pump because I do a lot of fist pumps, but I stayed calm and I knew that we had a chance. That's all I wanted. I just wanted a chance. I was hitting such amazing shots into the greens all day long. I missed a couple six-footers for birdie,” said Lopez. “My caddie was like, ‘Hey, stay patient, stay in the moment. We're not done yet.’”
It was the final three holes that made the difference for the 28-year-old. Battling for the win alongside playing partner Megan Khang, Lopez hit a solid drive on 16 and knocked her approach to two feet for an easy birdie. On 17, this week’s Aon Risk Reward Challenge Hole, she hit a 3-wood into the bunker and almost holed it for eagle, ultimately making the birdie putt and taking the solo lead with one hole to play. Lopez then had another bunker shot on the par-5 18th, and ultimately drained the mid-range birdie putt, giving herself the win and avoiding a potential playoff with Khang.
“I was standing over the last putt and I told myself, this is exactly what I worked for, this is exactly what I trained for,” said Lopez. “I knew I had to make it. I knew I had to make it because Megan was putting beautifully. She got on a roll as well and made a couple birdies. So I told myself, well, I'm just going to try to roll it through here. If it rolls through this spot, it has a great chance. And so I tried to be calm all day long, but sometimes excitement gets me and I couldn't hold it for the last putt.”
Khang’s 7-under 64 also tied her personal best, which she last shot in the first round of the Cognizant Founder’s Cup this past May. The American took advantage of the scorable conditions, making five birdies in her first nine holes. She carded another birdie on the 11th and was fighting for the lead with seven holes to play. The momentum fizzled a bit from Nos. 12-17 – including a missed birdie putt on No. 16 that drifted just pass the cup – but her closing birdie on 18 cemented her career-best Tour finish of solo second in Sylvania.
Caroline Masson finished in third at -16 after a final-round 68, grinding back after opening her day with double bogey on the first and a bogey on the second. It’s her best result since a she finished runner-up at the 2021 Cognizant Founders Cup and it’s her second top-10 of the year, following a tie for ninth at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards.
“This good finish was really huge for me just making sure I get into CME. It was looking like the worst season ever for me in ten years and I didn't want it to be that way,” said Masson. “I felt I was playing too good to not get the top finishes. Just really pumped to get that this week and kind of free myself up a little bit for the rest of the year.”
Lucy Li, who held the 36- and 54-hole lead this week for the first time on Tour in her young career, finished in a tie for fourth with Sarah Schmelzel and LPGA Tour rookie Ruoning Yin at -15. Finishing in the top 10 for the second-straight week on Tour, Li played her way into next week’s Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G, and said she’ll look to make the most of yet another opportunity on the LPGA.
“I'm really excited to play next week. I've heard that's going to be a good tournament. And Portland,” said Li, speaking of a recent sponsor exemption she received into the AmazingCre Portland Classic. “And then finally get some rest after that.”
The 2021 champion Nasa Hataoka finished tied for seventh with Frida Kinhult and Xiyu Lin at -14, with LPGA Tour winners Carlota Ciganda, Hannah Green and Leona Maguire in a tie for 10th at -13.
PARELLELS FOR LOPEZ IN SYLVANIA
The journey to her third career title has been a whirlwind for Gaby Lopez. Lopez became a Rolex First-Time Winner back in 2018 the week of her 25th birthday at the Blue Bay LPGA, becoming the first Mexican winner on Tour since her idol, mentor and friend, Lorena Ochoa. She notched her second win two years later at the 2020 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, the season opener, in a seven-hole playoff that bled into the following Monday. And it took tying her career-best 18-hole score with a final-round 63, to hoist the trophy at the Dana Open presented by Marathon.
“It's been such a completely different Sunday. Honestly, it's going to sound crazy, but today felt more like a Friday round. Having that calmness and having that quiet space was exactly what we been working on. It has paid off. Honestly, it gets more simple if I do that.”
She’s fought through two different injuries in 2022. The first was a torn ligament in her neck that happened after she did a squat jump trying to touch the ceiling and that led to Lopez withdrawing from a few tournaments earlier this season. Later in the spring, she was diagnosed with tendonitis in her left wrist, and said she felt like nothing was “clicking” for her over the summer. Though she struggled mentally and physically, Lopez was proud to overcome the fears and doubts that come with injury en route to a memorable Sunday.
“Sometimes the biggest win is not winning over the field, it's winning against yourself and getting out of the way. To me, it's overcoming those fears, overcoming those battles, those doubts, because sometimes you don't believe in yourself when you're in a hard stretch, right?,” said Lopez. “So I think that's the biggest win: being able to recover myself from two injuries I had at the beginning of the year. That sets you back, and you start doubting even more if you can come back from an injury, if you can come back with more speed and consistency.”
Adding plenty of serendipity to the week, Lopez’s family may have even predicted this week’s outcome before any shot was played. “We're playing in Sylvania, and my grandmother's name is Vania, so it's so funny, because she told my mom at the beginning of the week, ‘Oh, she's going to win because it's Sylvania and I'm Vania.’ It's probably the greatest coincidence, because this win definitely goes to her,” said Lopez. “She is my guide through life and to God, and I'm super thankful that I still have her. I'm going to share this with her.”