Paola Moreno (Cali, Colombia) loves everything about the Sarasota/Bradenton area and it is showing up again as she posted a 2-under, 70 on Friday at Sara Bay Country Club to share the 18-hole lead with rookie Emily Penttila of Helsinki, Finland. Moreno finished T11 at Sara Bay last year and has her host dad, Dan Mills, as her caddy once again.

Princess Superal (Dasmarinas City, Philippines), Nicole Sakamoto (Honolulu, Hawaii) and Hannah Green (Perth, Australia) are tied for third at 1-under, 71.

Windy conditions and the Donald Ross tricky greens once again proved a major challenge for the Symetra Tour professionals. Only five players finished under-par and just ten are even-par or better after day one.

There are eight different countries represented in the top ten on the current leaderboard (Colombia, Finland, Philippines, United States, Australia, Brazil, France and Thailand).

Moreno, 31, was in a tie for third after round one in 2016.

Moreno played both nines in 1-under. She played her first 16 holes without a bogey and was three-under heading to the eighth hole, which was her 17th of the day. She missed the par-3 left off the tee and made bogey. She closed out her round with a par on 18 to post the 70.

“I’m super happy, I played really solid today,” said Moreno, who hit 12-of-14 fairways and 15-of-18 greens in regulation. “I missed my very first driver of the day and was able to make a great up and down and after that I started making more easy pars. I made just one bogey and on this golf course that is pretty good. I’m striking the ball really well.”

Moreno’s caddy, Dan Mills, was the 2012 Sara Bay Country Club Champion.

“My caddy and host dad is a great asset for me here,” said Moreno. “He makes me feel comfortable on the golf course. I’m glad he is right by my side on each shot.”

It’s no surprise that Moreno singled out putting and approach shots as the key.

“Hitting the approach shots on the right side of the greens is crucial,” explained Moreno. “You can hit an amazing shot and have a really difficult putt so you really need to know where you want to put that second shot on the green.”

Moreno will go for her fourth career win this weekend. Her most recent win was the 2016 Tullymore Classic.

Moreno graduated to the LPGA in 2012 when she finished second on the Symetra Tour’s money list. The 2009 USC graduate has made 69 career starts on the LPGA.

She was part of USC’s 2008 national championship team.


Emily Penttila is the only player on the Symetra Tour or the LPGA from Finland. She is a member of the Finnish National Golf Team and also spends time in Sweden working with her coaches Ola Lindgren and Marcus Blomqvist, who is her caddy this week. She posted a 2-under, 70 on Friday.

“I think I took advantage of good opportunities on the easier holes and stayed conservative on the hard holes,” said Penttila. “It was a big help to have my coach here to help me prepare and also on the course. Overall, I think I had a really solid day.”

The two highlights of her round were a 45-foot birdie putt on her tenth hole and a 12-footer for birdie on her final hole.

“It was really fun to make the long one on number one,” said Penttila. “I actually kind of had a feeling before the putt and it was cool to see it go in. Coming in, I had a couple bad putts that I started left so I was happy to make the last one.”

When Penttila was 16, she left Finland for Sweden to attend a boarding school that focused on golf. It was the same school that Madelene Sagstrom and Elin Arvidsson went to.

After high school, Penttila came to the United States and played college golf at Tulane. She finished with the lowest scoring average (73.71) in the school’s history. The 2017 season is her rookie year on Tour.

“It has definitely been a transition, as you have your team in college,” said Penttila, who has made the cut in two of four starts with her best finish coming at the POC Med Golf Classic (T18). “It can definitely be a little overwhelming at times, but I’ve enjoyed it. It is a lot of fun to travel to all these different places.”

Penttila started playing golf when she was 11 years old with her sister.


Hannah Green (Perth, Australia) carded a 1-under, 71 to stand in a tie for third, just one shot off the lead. The rookie started the day with back-to-back birdies on holes ten and 11. Her only bump in the road was a double bogey on the par-3 fourth. She closed with a birdie on the ninth.

“I got off to a really hot start and then made some really solid pars,” explained Green, who ranks 26th on the Volvik Race for the Card money list. “The birdie at the end was great to close under-par.”

Green said that the windy conditions didn’t bother her as Perth can be very windy.

“We have a lot of similar style of courses with the drop offs on the greens,” explained Green. “I’m very used to having a two or three club wind so today wasn’t a problem. The wind was swirling out there so it is hard to commit to a shot, but I handled it well.”

Green, who didn’t have a caddy during the West Coast Swing, is reunited with her Qualifying Tournament caddy, Paul Martinez, this week.

“He doesn’t live far from here and he sent me a message asking if we wanted to work together and I said ‘yes, I’d love to’ so he’s on the bag,” said Green. “It has been a good start.”
Green finished T8 at Stage II of Qualifying Tournament and T67 at Final Stage to narrowly miss earning LPGA status.

Green has made the cut in two of her three starts this year. Her best finish is a tie for fifth at the Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club.

“I’ve had some mixed results on the Symetra Tour, I’ve had a top 10, but then a missed cut last week, which was a bit rough but it is early in the season,” said Green on the start to her professional career. “I’m still
getting myself settled on this Tour and travelling so far from home.”


Nicole Sakamoto (Honolulu, Hawaii) posted a 1-under, 71. She got off to a strong start with three birdies on her outward nine, but closed with four bogeys and two birdies on the back nine.

Sakamoto, who won the Hawaii state open in 2016, was struggling with her swing during practice rounds this week. Her caddy and coach studied film of her swing last night and found the problem, which helped her post a red number.

“I didn’t know what I was doing wrong so we went to the range and I still wasn’t hitting it very well so we ended up just leaving and I said we will figure it out tomorrow,” said Sakamoto. “He looked over video of a swing from the range and I knew it would be an easy fix.”

Her weight was on her back foot while she was driving through the ball. She arrived at the range on Friday morning before her 8:07 a.m. tee time and worked on shifting her weight on impact.

It worked.


• No. 1 on the Volvik Race for the Card money list, Benyapa Niphatsophon (Bangkok, Thailand) posted an even-par, 72 and is in a tie for sixth. She has two second place results in three starts.

• Bradenton natives Ericka Schneider (+6), Christina Miller (+6) and Ginger Howard (+7) are within range of the cut line. There are 74 players currently at 5-under or better.

• 2013-14 WGCA National Player of the Year, Celine Boutier of Duke, shot a 72 on Friday and shares sixth place.

• IMG Academy qualifier Kanyanat Saithip finished 12-over after day one.

• IMG Academy’s Mika Liu, who is headed to Stanford in the fall, shot a 2-over, 74.


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Photo Credit: Scott A. Miller