The final tournament before the 2023 Epson Tour Championship has officially come to a close. The Tuscaloosa Toyota Classic came down to the wire, with a few players grabbing a share of the lead throughout the day, with over 20 players within three-shots of the lead at one point. Isabella Fierro pulled away late in the round to pick up her first career Epson Tour victory and the $30,000 paycheck heading into tour championship week.
Fierro started her round fast, making back-to-back birdies to start her round. She would make two more birdies on the front nine, before making a double bogey on No. 9 and falling out of a share of the lead. The double bogey did not faze the eventual champion, who bounced back with a birdie on No. 11 to get her within a shot of the lead. Fierro teed off on No. 17 one-shot back but would roll in a long birdie to tie the lead as she made her way to No. 18 tee box. A mistake by Laura Wearn in the group in front of Fierro would give her a two-shot lead as she hit her approach into the green and that was all the breathing room she needed to claim her first professional victory.
"I think I am still shaking right now," said Fierro. "I was shaking like the entire day today; I had some much fun out there and I think it was just an amazing day in general. I hit the really good and had a really positive mindset, so it was great. I love making birdies, as a golfer I think everybody does, but I think the shaking was because I was excited, not because I was worried. I stayed in the present today and that really helped.”
With the win in Tuscaloosa, Fierro moved to No. 8 in the Race for the Card and has done so with a special stretch of golf. During the whole month of September, Fierro’s worst finish was T8 at the Black Desert Resort Championship. Her next two finishes were T3 and T4 before the eventual win at the Tuscaloosa Toyota Classic, collecting nearly two thirds of her total money in the last four weeks. Fierro felt like it was just a matter of time before her first professional victory, and she was right.
"There was some relief when the putt went in, but I was just excited in general," said Fierro. "I didn’t know if this tournament was meant for me to win or not, but I was going to give it my all. I think the process was great and I am just excited for what is coming.”
Laura Wearn was the runner-up finisher and ended her day two-shots behind the champion. Wearn led for most of the back nine, holding a two-shot lead as she went to her 18th hole of the day. Her ball would find the water off the tee and the approach was not up to her standards, missing short. The three-time Epson Tour champion chipped on and two putted for her double bogey, clearing the way for Fierro. Despite the finish, Wearn is leaving Tuscaloosa feeling much better than she did when she arrived.
"Obviously I am disappointed, that’s not how you want to finish,” said Wearn. "On Thursday I had zero confidence in my game, but I got a few swing thoughts that kind of helped throughout the week. Honestly, from where I was Thursday until now is not something I expected. I played well today, left a lot of shots out there. I really thought this one was mine to get, but still a great week overall.”
Kristen Gillman had one of the rounds of the day which led to her finishing in a tie for third at 10-under. The University of Alabama grad was back at her home course this week, finally finding her footing during the final round. Gillman posted a bogey-free 7-under 65 to jump up the leaderboard and into the top 3. A birdie at the last hole was met with thunderous applause as the Crimson Tide faithful welcomed Gillman back after her stellar performance.
“I feel like it has been a really good week for me,” said Gillman. “It is so nice to be back here. I am familiar with a lot of the shots around this golf course and so today I just kind of went out there with nothing to lose. I played relaxed and kind of just went after pins and luckily it worked out for me today.”
Clariss Guce (-10, T3) on her mindset this week and playing with Fierro:
“I am honestly just really tired right now. Today didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, but I really gave myself chances out there. Sometimes it doesn’t add up the way want but Isabella just played amazing. Sometimes you can play well and not have things go your way, so hopefully I can keep trending in the right direction and play well next week.”
Becca Huffer (-10, T3) on her 7-under final round and moving up the Race for the Card standings:
“Today was an extension of yesterday, I was just playing real well, especially after not starting off the week well. I started to hit the ball closer as my round went on and gave myself a lot of birdie chances and was able to roll a few in. The first round was frustrating for sure, but I was able to bounce back and put two good rounds together. I know I am near the top, but I am just going to control what I can and hopefully make some more birdies next week.”
Riley Smyth (-9, T6) on her 6-under final round:
“I came into today just making the cut and wanted to see if I can move myself up the leaderboard. I tried to capitalize on going off early and getting the good conditions in the morning and see if I could put up a score. I have a lot of confidence going forward, with this being my rookie year, and hopefully my first top-10 finish, it is a big week for me.”