Yuka Saso made it two-in-row in big-time golf, putting on a late charge to stun Mikha Fortuna and snare the 2018 Champion Infinity Philippine Ladies Open crown by two on a 70 at the Orchard Golf and Country Club in Dasmariñas, Cavite on Friday.
Saso closed out in a flourish, gunning down three birdies in the last six holes to overhaul a three-stroke deficit then capped her stirring rally with a chip-in birdie on the final hole for a 36-34 and a 54-hole total of 209, finally claiming the crown after a runner-up and third place finish in the last two years of the country’s premier championship organized and conducted by the Women’s Golf Association of the Philippines.
Fortuna, who stunned the elite field with a solid 65 Thursday, cracked under pressure in a windy final day, mishitting her drive on No. 15 and missing a couple of birdie putts. She hobbled with a 74 and wound up with a 211.
Unlike in her wire-to-wire triumph in a pro tournament at Ayala Greenfield last week, the 16-year-old Saso nailed her second victory in come-from-behind fashion.
“I never expected to win. Mikha was playing well but I got my own game going to No. 13 and that’s when I got the needed confidence,” said Saso, who also dominated the ranks by winning the Phl Amateur Stroke and Match Play crowns and the national junior title last year.
Three down and unable to shake off Fortuna after 12 holes, Saso pulled her drive on the par-4 13th in front of a tree. Caught between playing out or going for the green, Saso opted for the latter and came through with what could easily be the shot of the day.
She hit a lob shot from 70 yards, the ball clearing the huge obstacle and landing three feet off the cup. Birdie.
Saso blasted another power drive on the short par-4 14th and made a one-pitch, one-putt for another birdie, pulling her to within one off Fortuna, who settled for pars.
The Fil-Japanese three-putted for bogey on the next but still drew level with Fortuna, who holed out with a double-bogey on an errant drive and a three-putt miscue then the former surged ahead as the latter muffed a five-foot par putt on the next hole.
Saso dashed whatever Fortuna’s hopes for a playoff with that closing chip-in feat.
It was a sorry loss for Fortuna, who came into the final round brimming with confidence after a bogey-free seven-under card in the second round that put her three strokes off the most feared player in the fold.
“I’ve learned a lot here. But these things happen in golf. I’ll just try again next year,” said Fortuna.
Thai Pinkaew Trachuentong carded a 74 and placed third at 214, while dethroned champion Bianca Pagdanganan shot a 71 for fourth at 215 followed by Harmie Constantino (71-216), Isabelle Leung of Hong Kong (69-217), Thai Phannarai Meesom-us (73-218), Nicole Abelar (74-221), Kultida Pramphum (75-221) and Pimkwan Chookaew, also of Thailand, (73-222).
Kristine Torralba and Jonah Ilagan shared the spotlight as they took the crowns in Classes B and C, respectively, in the event backed by backed by Champion Infinity, Eva Air, San Miguel Corp., Metro Pacific, Atty. Gilberto Duavit, Inquirer, Alveo Land, G&W Clubshares, Inc., Crimson Hotel Filinvest, Golfers Club Shares Inc., Cherrylume and NGAP.
Torralba shot a 78 for a 230 and edged Laurea Duque (80-232) by two with Sofia Legaspi finishing third at 234 after a 77 while Ilagan made an 87 for a 257 and won by 16 shots over He Ling-Li, and Cheska Imperial, who pooled identical 273s on a 99 and 92, respectively.
Other backers of the event were the Province of Cavite, Luisita Golf and Country Club, Mileage Asia, Vermogen, Golf Depot, Orchard Golf and Country Club, Alabang Ladies Chapter, Forest Hills GCC, Tagaytay Highlands, Sta. Elena Golf Club, Manila Golf Club and Canlubang GCC with TIB Taishan and The Turf Company-Texas Eagle as hole-in-one sponsors.