Date: February 24, 2018
Author: Mark Hayes

Aussies finish well as Thai star prevails

Emerging Thai star Atthaya Thitikul secured a dramatic victory at the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific by winning a four-way playoff at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore today.

As the Australian contingent put in a solid last-gasp performance in the region’s inaugural showcase event, Thitikul, who either led or shared the lead following each round after turning 15 on Tuesday, secured places in two of this year’s major championships.

Continuing to sing, laugh and joke with experienced caddie Roongroj Boonsri, Thitikul carded a closing 71 to join Japan’s Yuna Nishimura (69), the Philippines’ Yuka Saso (68) and New Zealand’s Wenyung Keh (67) with an eight-under total of 276 on the New Tanjong course.

After narrowly missing birdie chances to win on the first two extra holes on 18, Thitikul tapped in for par on the long par-four 12th before 17-year-old Nishimura missed a long par putt to concede victory. Keh, 20, and Saso, 16, exited after the first and second extra holes, respectively.

Thitikul started the event at 53rd in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, with recent highlights including becoming the Ladies European Tour’s youngest ever winner last July and gold medals in the SEA Games individual and team events in Malaysia a month later.

Now, she has earned invitations to the ANA Inspiration, the Women’s British Open and next week’s HSBC Women’s World Championship, also at Sentosa Golf Club.

“I’m so excited because this is the first year of this championship. It’s so great that my name is the first one on the trophy,” said Thitikul, who played in her first LPGA event at the Honda LPGA Thailand last February, when she just turned 14.

“My golf today wasn’t so good, even though I started so good and played well in the playoff. But I didn’t ever really get nervous because I came here to learn and get experience.

“Now, I’m so excited to play in two more majors. I’m really looking forward to returning to the Women’s British Open and I would like to make the cut this time, but my main objective is always to play happy and gain more experience.”

Queenslander Robyn Choi capped a great second half of the tournament with a 69-70 finish to close at two over and just one shot from the top 10 and be the leading Australian.

Her University of Colorado teammate Kirsty Hodgkins closed with a 73 to share 20th at five over, while a third Queenslander, Becky Kay, continued her surge through the field with a pair of 71s to close at eight over and T26.

Victorian Julienne Soo closed with a rollercoaster 71 that featured five birdies en route to T40 at 14 over, while New South Wales junior Grace Kim fell to T47 with a closing 77 to finish 21 over.

Six Japanese and five Koreans finished in the top 20, while five Filipinas finished in the top 30. The original field started with 83 players representing 18 nations, with 48 aged 18 or under, and 53 made the halfway cut.