Korean Lee Jeong-hwa pulled through in a nerve-wracking shootout, draining clutch birdies in the stretch to card a two-under 70, turn back Japanese Fumika Kawagishi and snare the ICTSI Champion Tour presented by Champion and Taiwan LPGA crown by one at the Splendido Taal Golf Club in Tagaytay on Friday.
Lee fought back from two strokes down with eight holes left, birdying the par-5 11th for the third straight day and pouncing on Kawagishi’s bogey on No. 14 to draw level then rammed in birdies on Nos. 15 and 17 for a closing 34, clinching the victory on a 54-hole aggregate of eight-under 208 worth $15,000.
“Mission accomplished. My goal from the start was to win this tournament,” said Lee, whose hard-earned victory came four years after she beat Princess Superal by three in the Philippine Ladies Open at Manila Southwoods in 2012.
Kawagishi, who wrested a one-stroke lead over Lee with a solid seven-under 65 Thursday and battled the Korean ace shot-for-shot and putt-for-putt to pad her lead to two after 10 holes, recovered from that costly mishap on the 14th a bit too late, her final-hole birdie could only save her a pair of 36s-72 for a 209 and $7,500.
So upset was Kawagishi, whose superb second round charge sparked hopes for a successful maiden stint on the local circuit sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, that the 21-year-old bet from Yokohama left as soon as she turned in her scorecard.
She actually moved eight holes away from achieving that feat but flubbed her birdie bid on the 11th and muffed a par-putt try from six feet on No. 14.
Forcing a tie, Lee birdied No. 15 to seize the lead then struck a solid 6-iron tee shot on the par-3 17th to within five feet for another birdie and the cushion she needed to thwart Kawagishi’s final-hole birdie.
“It was so hard for me to make birdies in the first nine holes as I was focusing more on the Japanese who is really good in short game than in my own game. But I was able to re-focus at the back and start making birdies,” said Lee.
Superal birdied two of the last seven holes to card a 71 and finish tied for third at 214 with Taiwanese Chen Yu-ju, who also shot a 71, and Taiwan LPGA Tour opening leg winner Kanpahnitnan Muangkhumaskul of Thailand, who rallied with a three-under 69, the best score in tough condition in the final round of the $75.000 event which served as the kickoff leg of the ICTSI Ladies Philippine Golf Tour and the fifth stage of Taiwan LPGA Tour. Chen and Muangkhumaskul split the combined purse of $7,650.
Lee’s triumph also ended Superal’s quest for an eighth straight victory but The Country Club ace still emerged the top Filipina finisher, and best amateur, as Symetra Tour campaigner Mia Piccio matched par 72 for the second straight and ended up joint ninth at 217 with Thai Chorphaka Jaengkit, who also had a 72.
First day leader Mookharin Ladgratok and Korean Kang Ji-won shot identical 71s while Taiwan’s Chen Min-jou carded a 72 for joint sixth at 216 in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc. and backed by adidas, Custom Clubmakers, KZG, TaylorMade, Champion, Summit Natural Drinking Water, Pacsports, Sharp and Rustans Supermarket.
Dottie Ardina, also priming up for the Symetra Tour, tried to rally with a two-under card after nine holes but the three-time ICTSI LPGT winner stumbled with a double-bogey on No. 11, birdied the next but dropped two strokes again on the closing par-4 hole to finish with a 73 for solo 11th at 218.
LPGA Tour campaigner Cyna Rodriguez birdied the first two holes but wavered with three bogeys against a birdie at the back and ended up with a 72 for joint 16th at 222 with Taiwanese Huang Ching and Huang Hsien-wen, who both carded 72s, Yeh Hsin-ning, who hobbled with a 74, and last year’s ICTSI Ladies Open winner Hwang Ye-nah of Korea, who also struggled with a 74.