Yuka Saso shrugged off Ploychompoo Wilairungrueng’s early charge and quelled the Thai ace’s late rally with clutch birdies as the top amateur humbled the elite pros by winning the ICTSI Ayala Greenfield Ladies Challenge crown by two on a closing 70 in Calamba, Laguna on Friday.
Saso watched her huge five-shot lead reduce to a couple of strokes after five holes as Wilairungrueng sizzled with three birdies in ideal condition but pulled away again on a two-shot swing (birdie-bogey) on No. 7. She then matched her rival’s birdie on the par-3 16th that all but completed her impressive wire-to-wire romp in the kickoff leg of this season Ladies Philippine Golf Tour sponsored by ICTSI.
“I didn’t expect to win because of the quality of competition. But I’m happy I did it,” said Saso, who leaned on her hot irons and superb putting to frustrate her pursuers and close out with a 35-35 card for a 54-hole total of seven-under 209.
It was the second pro crown for the 16-year-old Saso, who scored a three-shot victory over Korean Ji Won Kang at Eagle Ridge in 2016.
Five strokes behind Saso with Pauline del Rosario at the start of the final round, Wilairungrueng birdied the first two holes against Saso’s birdie on No. 2 and threatened to within two with a birdie on No. 5 which Saso bogeyed. But the Fil-Japanese shotmaker quickly recovered the two strokes on a similar two-shot swing on the seventh then held sway at the back with pars and that decisive birdie.
The Thai made one last charge with a third straight birdie on No. 13 but failed to rattle off her young rival, who drilled in a six-foot birdie putt on No. 16 that all but shattered Wirairungreung’s hopes for a comeback. She also birdied the 16th then holed out with another birdie for a 67 and a 211.
Wilairungrueng, however, took the top purse of P150,000 with Saso claiming two trophies, including the low amateur, in the event organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Saso also became the latest amateur to win on the LPGT after Abby Arevalo nipped del Rosario by one on a last hole birdie at Riviera last July and her victory ended the Thais’ domination of the country’s premier circuit after Renuka Suksukont and Yupaporn Kawinpakorn reigned at the Phl Ladies Masters and South Forbes Invitational last month.
Del Rosario provided the early challenge with birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 but the newly crowned LPGT Order of Merit winner failed to sustain her attack, settling for a bogey and a birdie and a run of pars before dropping out of contention with a double-bogey on the 17th. She ended up with a 72 for third at 216 worth P95,000.
Chonlada Chayanun, also of Thailand, fired a 70 and placed fourth at 218 while compatriots Punpaka Phuntumabamrung and Saraporn Chamchoi took the next two spots with 73-219 and 72-221, respectively.
Chihiro Ikeda, winner at Forest Hills last year, matched par 72 to finish sixth at 223 while first round joint leader Thanuttra Boonraksasat carded a 74 for seventh at 224 followed by Pakpring Duangchan (71), Cyna Rodriguez (71) and Aunchisa Utama (74), who tied for eighth at 225.
Wannarisi Sirisampant turned in a 73 for 11th at 227, Dottie Ardina skied to a 76-228, Princess Superal hobbled with a 75-229, and Marvi Monsalve and Saruttaya Ngam-usawan pooled similar 232s after a 76 and 78, respectively, to complete the 15 players who made the cut in the 54-hole championship backed by backed by Custom Clubmakers, BDO, Meralco, Sharp, KZG, PLDT, Champion, Summit Mineral Water and K&G Golf.