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Saso cops ICTSI title

CALAMBA, Laguna – Yuka Saso shrugged off Ploychompoo Wirairungreung’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 here yesterday.

Saso watched her huge five-shot lead reduce to a couple of strokes after five holes as Wirairungreung 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, Wirairungreung 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.

Wirairungreung, however, took the top purse of R150,000 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 Philippine 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.