Rianne Malixi wobbled a bit at resumption of the exacting 36-hole duel and lost whatever rhythm and momentum she had gained in a brave morning stand, yielding a 1-up result – and the championship – to Kiara Romero of the US in the US Girls' Junior final at the Eisenhower Golf Club's Blue course in Colorado Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Malixi was in control at the onset, winning the first hole on a Romero mishap and stayed in command until the 22nd hole when she made a bogey on the par-4 No. 4. She was impressive on the military layout's par-3s all week but a bogey on No. 13, the 31st hole, enabled her third-seeded rival to seize the lead for only the second time with five to play.
Romero, 17, halved the remaining holes to frustrate the Filipina ace and clinch the coveted crown.
“I'm just so excited and super tired,” said Romero. “It's been a long day and I'm grad I got it done.”
Romero actually overshot the par-4 18th, the 36th hole, leaving her a downhill chip. She hit it eight feet past the hole but calmly stroked the tricky putt to nail the victory and dash whatever hopes Malixi had had for a playoff.
“I didn't think about how it would determine the match,” said Romero. “I just tried to focus on putting a good stroke on it.”
The victory also netted the incoming Univ. of Oregon freshman, whose mother is a Filipina, an exemption to next year's US Women's Open and an invitation to the 2024 Augusta Women's amateur.
It was a heart-breaker of a setback for Malixi, who had hoped to cap an incredible journey in the week marked by a steal of a win over Audrey Rischer in the Round of 16 and a couple more of gutsy wins with a crowning glory to what had been a sterling amateur career.
“I still put in a big fight and made a ton of clutch putts,” said Malixi, who birdied the par-3 No. 7 earlier in the day to go 2-up.
But she conceded Nos. 9 and 10 on back-to-back bogeys, re-claimed the lead with a birdie on the 13th and went 2-up again as Romero dropped a stroke on the 16th before Malixi settled for a 1-up lead with a bogey on the 18th.
Malixi then struggled coming off the two-hour break, dropping a stroke on No. 4, the 22nd hole, to allow the lanky Romero to force an all-square match. She made another bogey on No. 8, the 26th, to trail in the match for the first time.
But she drew level as Romero failed to get up and down on No. 10, the 28th, only to fall behind again with another bogey on the 13th, which she parred in the morning battle.
Romero, who finished third behind winner Kaitlyn Schroeder and runner-up Malixi in last year's Girls Junior PGA Championship in Illinois, then kept her nerves in the stretch and matched Malixi's pars in the last five, foiling the latter's stab at matching ICTSI stablemate Princess Superal's record win in the 2014 edition of the annual event in Arizona.
Despite coming up short again in a major junior championship, Malixi, who finished No. 24 in the 36-hole stroke play elims, said: “I'm pretty confident for my upcoming tournaments, knowing how I performed this week.”
She and Romero gained spots in the US Women's Amateur slated Aug. 7-13 in Los Angeles.
Romero turned back last year's losing finalist Giana Clemente, 2-up, to seal a title showdown with Malixi, who scuttled Leigh Chien, 4&2. The finalists also expect to improve on their world amateur ranking, particularly Romero, who is ranked at No. 139 before the US Girls' Junior. Malixi is currently at No. 95.
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