Paula Reto, Bianca Pagdanganan among five from U.S. Women’s Open qualifier in Florida

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FORT MYERS, Florida — Darkness started to creep in at The Forest Country Club as three golfers tried to grab a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open on Wednesday.

An hour earlier, Paula Reto, a South African on the LPGA Tour, had shined brightly, firing a pair of 6-under 66s in the 36-hole sectional qualifier to earn medalist honors.

“A little bit of a pressure to start the day, and it was kind of nice making putts early in the round, kind of kept me going, got me some confidence and I just kept on thinking ‘One more hole, one more hole,'” said Reto, who had her father as her caddie.

Reto had 5-under 31s on the front nine in both rounds, and made four straight on Nos. 3-6 in the first round.

Melanie Green, a sophomore on the USF women’s team, grabbed the second spot by shooting 6 under. She had teammate Leonor Medeiros as her caddie. Green earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament last week.

“It hasn’t quite hit me yet, but it’ll probably hit me in the next few days,” Green said of making the Women’s Open. “It’s super exciting. I’m super glad that I had my best friend on the bag today.”

Green had six top-10 finishes this season for the Bulls, and was sixth in the American Athletic Conference tournament.

“This is probably one of my best golf days in a very long time,” said Green, who drained a 20-foot par putt early in the round.

Five others played off for the final three qualifying spots and two alternate positions, and just beat the darkness and get in at Pine Needles in Southern Pines, North Carolina, where the Open will be played June 2-5.

Dottie Ardina and Bianca Pagdanganan of The Philippines, American Jaye Marie Green, Morgane Metraux of Switzerland, and Muni He of China began what ended up a three-hole playoff an hour before dark.

Ardina, 28, survived with a 15-foot par putt on No. 1 after her approach went into standing water well left of the green, and she made a remarkable chip after taking a drop. Pagdanganan two-putted from 40 feet, draining a 10-footer, and Green just missed her birdie putt.

Metraux, 25, nearly holed out her chip shot from just off the green, but missed the 5-footer coming back to bogey and fall into second alternate.

Pagdanganan, 24, grabbed the first spot out of the playoff with a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 2, leaving Ardina, Green and He with probably one final hole before it became too dark.

Pagdanganan had 102 yards in and stuck a 56-degree wedge.

“I’ve been having those shots all day so I felt very comfortable, so I just did what I did for the past … I don’t know even know how many holes,” said Pagdanganan, who qualified for the Women’s Open in 2020 based on her finish in a major since qualifying itself was canceled that year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ardina also gutted out another tough par from the waste area on the par-5 No. 3, but couldn’t get that 15-footer to fall. Green, 28, and He, 22, both two-putted for par and were the last two qualifiers.

Naples High graduate Kris Tamulis led a handful of local players, tying for 20th after shooting 72-74/146. Gulf Coast High boys golf coach Kimberly Benedict, North Fort Myers’ Jordan Fischer, and Naples’ Addison Klonowski, all amateurs, tied for 23rd at 147.

U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier
at The Forest Country Club, Fort Myers

Par-72

Qualifiers

1. Paula Reto, South Africa, 66-66/132; 2. Melanie Green (a), Medina, N.Y., 68-70/138; *3. Bianca Pagdanganan, Philippines, 70-70/140; *3. Jaye Marie Green, Jupiter, 72-68/140; *3. Muni He, China, 70-70/140

Alternates

First — Dottie Ardina, Philippines, 69-71/140; Second — Morgane Metraux, Switzerland, 69-71/140

Other scores

141 — Maria Fernanda Torres Martinez, Puerto Rico, 70-71; Jennifer Song, Ann Arbor, Mich., 73-68; Ruoning Yin, China, 69-72

142 — Jodi Ewart Shadoff, England, 72-70; Lauren Coughlin, Charlottesville, Va., 70-72; Yana Wilson (a), Henderson, Nev., 71-71

144 — Kelly Whaley, Palm Beach Gardens, 71-73; Kristy McPherson, Murrells Inlet, S.C., 72-72

145 — Caiyi Zhang (a), China, 78-67; Rachel Stous, Topeka, Kan., 71-74; Sydnee Michaels, Murrieta, Calif., 74-71; Hailey Davidson, Scotland, 72-73

146 — Kiira Riihijarvi, Finland, 72-74; Kris Tamulis, Naples, 72-74; Aditi Ashok, India, 75-71

147 — Kimberly Benedict (a), Bonita Springs, 71-76; Addison Klonowski (a), Naples, 70-77; Albane Valenzuela, Dallas, 73-74; Jacqueline Putrino (a), Lakewood Ranch, 72-75; Jordan Fischer (a), North Fort Myers, 77-70

148 — Elizabeth Nagel, Dewitt, Mich., 75-73; Josee Doyon, Canada, 74-74; Stephanie Na, Australia, 72-76; Haeji Kang, South Korea, 73-75

149 — Laura Restropo, Panama, 74-75; Nataliya Guseva (a), Russia, 73-76; Panitta Yusabai, Thailand, 75-74; Wichanee Meechai, Thailand, 72-77

150 — Elayna Bowser, Dearborn, Mich., 75-75; Marie Parra, Spain, 77-73

151 — Morgan Baxendale (a), Lakewood Ranch, 75-76; Sophie Madden, England, 74-77; Juliana Carmago (a), Colombia, 75-76; Valentina Haupt, Weston, 78-73

152 — Letizia Bagnoli (a), Boca Raton, 75-77; Emma Bradley, Naples, 73-79

153 — Erika Smith, Orlando, 81-72; Sandra Angulo Minarro, Mexico, 76-77

154 — Kaitlyn Papp, Austin, Texas, 79-75; Aneta Abrahamova, Slovakia, 76-78; Rachel Carlson (a), Bradenton, 76-78; Samantha Vodry, Little Elm, Texas, 74-80

158 — Haley Yerxa (a), Canada, 79-79

159 — Emilyee McGiles, Champaign, Ill., 84-75

160 — Chaewon Jeong (a), South Korea, 78-82; Louise Olsson, Sweden, 80-80

161 — Ellinor Haag, Sweden, 81-80; Jordyn Hodgson (a), Orlando, 78-83

166 — Ailsa Clark (a), Bradenton, 80-86; Christine Meier, Naples, 84-82

167 — Jordan Knox (a), Fort Myers, 87-80; Sophia Warren, Lakewood Ranch, 82-85

180 — Carson Racich (a), Rockford, Ill., 86-94

WD — Amelia Lewis, Jacksonville, 78

WD — Brooke Matthews, Rogers, Ark.

NC — Gabriella Degasperis (a), Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

DNF — Dana Finkelstein, Chandler, Ariz., 72

(a) — amateur

* — won playoff

Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at ghardwig@naplesnews.com. Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/