Thai Saruttaya Ngam-usawan used a strong start to wrest control then flashed near-impeccable touch on the greens to shoot a two-under 70 and beat Cyna Rodriguez by two for a breakthrough win in the ICTSI Royal Northwoods Ladies Challenge at the Royal Northwoods Golf Club in San Rafael, Bulacan on Thursday.
Overnight leader Jaruporn Palakawongnaayuttaya cracked under pressure and floundered with an 86 but Ngam-usawan stepped up big in the early going then foiled Rodriguez’s charge in a flight ahead with clutch pars at the back to rule the P1 million championship and snap a long title spell.
“I’m so happy to finally score a big victory. But I really didn’t expect to win after a poor start although I gained some confidence in the second round then made the most of my chances today (yesterday),” said the 28-year-old Ngam-usawan, winless since turning pro in 2010 and had forgettable finishes in three tournaments on the ICTSI Ladies Philippine Golf Tour the past two years.
She looked headed for another so-so campaign after opening with a 77 in the P1 million championship sponsored by ICTSI but turned things round around with a solid 69 in the second, moving from nowhere to third, two strokes off Palakawongnaayuttaya.
Ngam-usawan sustained her form and birdied three of the first seven holes in the final round to take charge as Palakawongnaayuttaya fumbled in the early going then the former held sway with a run of gutsy pars at the finish to thwart a charging Rodriguez.
She did stumble with a bogey on the ninth but parred the rest, including five up-and-down feats that firmed up her hold of the lead and frustrated Rodriguez no end. She wound up with an even 216 total and pocked the top P250,000 purse in the richest leg ever in the four-year old circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Rodriguez, just one behind Ngam-usawan after 36 holes, tied the Thai with a birdie opening then grabbed the lead with another feat on No. 7. But she reeled back just as quickly as she bogeyed Nos. 9 and 10 and hardly recovered from another bogey-bogey mishap from No. 14 with birdies on the next two and another bogey on the final hole.
The ace Filipina shotmaker, priming up for the LPGA Stage III Qualifier, closed out with a 71 and pooled a 218 worth P120,000.
Fil-Am Cristina Corpuz, winner of the LPGT Luisita leg last year, carded a 74 and snatched third place and P85,000 at 221 while LPGT Order of Merit frontrunner Chihiro Ikeda also squandered a two-under card at the front with a closing 43 marred by two double bogeys for a 77. She wound up fourth at 222 and took home P76,000.
Indonesian Jessica Lydia failed to follow up a sterling 69 in the second round as she faltered with a 73, finishing fifth at 223 in her first stint in the country’s first ladies pro tour backed by Custom Clubmakers, adidas, KZG, Sharp, Summit Mineral Water, Srixon, Champion, TaylorMade, Ping, Yamaha and Pacsports. She received P65,000.
Korean amateur Hwang Min-jeong, who upended Rodriguez and Princess Superal at Mt. Malarayat last year, turned in a 73 for sixth at 224, former leg winner Jayvie Agojo hobbled with a 76 for joint seventh with Lovelyn Guioguio, who matched par 72, at 225, while Apple Fudolin placed ninth at 228 after a 75.
Palakawongnaayuttaya, who wrested control with two 72s, dropped off the lead early with a bogey and double-bogey in the first two holes then limped with three double bogeys and six more bogeys against a lone birdie to finish with a 14-over 86. From the top, she slid to 10th at 230.