Korean Hwang Ye-nah bucked a horrible start with clutch birdies and gutsy pars then held off amateur Princess Superal at the back to pound out a one-stroke victory despite a closing three-over 75 in the $75,000 ICTSI Ladies Open at Southlinks Golf Club Friday.
Hwang blew a two-stroke lead and fell by two after just two holes but bounced back with a third straight birdie on No. 6 then watched her young rival squander chances to pull away with errant drives, poor iron game and shaky putting.
The Korean regained a two-shot lead at the turn and thwarted every Superal charge with birdies and pars to the dismay of the gallery which had braced for a big backside rally by the reigning US Girls Junior champion in the event presented by Champion Infinity and sponsored by ICTSI.
There was none as Superal, who moved to within one again with a birdie on No. 10, tottered and flubbed at least three makeable birdie putts, including a potential playoff side-hiller from 10 feet on the final hole. She settled for pars the rest of the way for a 74.
“I was mad early because my driving and putting were no good. But I relaxed after and I’m happy to escape with the win,” said Hwang, who thus completed a wire-to-wire triumph in the 54-hole tournament she dominated with 68 and 66 in the first two rounds. She pooled a seven-under 209 and took the top $15,000 purse, which had been hers as early as the second round with the victory ending her string of poor finishes in the first three legs of the Taiwan LPGA.
Despite her day-long struggle with her irons that saw her reach regulation just six times, Superal kept pressing her bid at the back but just couldn’t set up birdie putts from close range, her makeable bids on Nos. 13, 14 and 18 falling to drop into the cup.
“I still had a chance for a playoff but I missed the tying putt from 10 feet on the 18th,” rued Superal, who wound up with a 209 and settled for the top amateur plum in the event backed by Nike, Sharp and Custom Clubmakers.
Taiwan’s Yeh Hsin-ning rallied with a four-under-par 68 and tied Thai Kanphanitnan Muangkhumsakul, who also faltered with a 74, at 215 and split the combined second and third prizes worth $12,000 while Mia Piccio never recovered from a second round 74 with a 76 and ended up solo fifth at 218 worth $3,150.
Reigning back-to-back ICTSI LPGT winner Cyna Rodriguez also sputtered with a 75 and finished sixth at 220 while two-time LPGA winner Jennifer Rosales finally flashed the form expected of her, firing a bogey-free 68 to salvage joint seventh with Malaysian Aretha Pan, who carded a 73, at 221.
Yuka Sako, Superal’s teammate in the ICTSI-The Country Club team, skied to a 79 but still saved a top 10 finish at joint ninth with Korean Kang Ji-won, who fumbled with a 78, at 222.
Superal, who took the challenger’s role after the local pros reeled back with over-par scores after 36 holes, grabbed a one-stroke lead right on the par-5 opening hole on a big three-shot swing as she drilling in a six-footer for birdie and Hwang drove into the hazard and made a 7.
The Filipina ace even went 2-up on the next with a routine par as Hwang failed to recover her bearing from the opening hole mishap with another missed green for bogey.
Superal, however, hit an errant drive on No. 4 and ended up with a bogey, enabling Hwang, who parred the par-5 hole, to close within one which she wiped out two holes later with a birdie, setting the stage for a shootout for the top plum in the event which served as the kickoff leg of the ICTSI LPGT and fourth stage of the Taiwan LPGA.
But Superal blinked first in their eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, hitting a tree on her drive on the par-4 No. 9. After taking the penalty drop, she dumped her third shot into the greenside bunker and needed two shots to get out before two-putting for 7.
Hwang also dropped a stroke on the treacherous ninth but her 5 proved enough to net her a two-stroke lead again. And this time, she held on to it till the end.
Never mind if Superal birdied the 10th to threaten again as she answered with her own birdie on the next. Hwang dropped another stroke on No. 13 but recovered with another birdie on the next to stay 2-up again.
After the duo parred Nos. 15 and 16 and Hwang bogeyed the 17th, Superal revived her playoff bid but the pressure to drop a side-hiller from 10 feet on the final hole proved too much for the 18-year-old shotmaker, who nevertheless showed her worth at this stage of her career.