Teenage golfer Zeng wins Beijing Women's Challenge

Beijing, May 27 (IANS) Zeng Liqi earned the third China LPGA Tour title of her young career, as the Nanchang teenager beat rookie pro Ji Yuai in a second-hole playoff to win the Beijing Women’s Challenge title.

The win was a surprise for Zeng, who closed with a two-under 70 in the sunny and warm conditions at Beijing Orient Pearl Golf Club, as Ji, the overnight co-leader, looked to have had the title in hand with a two-stroke lead going into the final hole of regulation.

After hitting into the lip of a fairway bunker on the 499-yard, par-five 18th, Ji, playing in her maiden tournament as a professional, had to hit sideways to get her ball on the fairway. She then missed an eight-foot bogey putt and closed with a two-over 74.

Zeng, who was playing one group ahead of the leaders, finished strongly with birdies over the final two holes to move up the leaderboard. Both players finished the 54 holes of regulation in six-under 210.

In the first hole of sudden-death at the 18th hole, both players found the green in three shots and made two putts for par. In the second extra hole, also at the 18th, Ji put her third shot to within 12 feet of the pin.

Zeng, in contrast, had to scramble after driving into a hazard on the right of the fairway.

After putting her second shot left and close to the treeline, Zeng hit an approach shot from 248 yard out with a hybrid to within 40 feet of the pin. She then converted her long birdie putt. Ji then missed her birdie putt.

“It’s the most unexpected win I’ve ever had. After the final round, I was preparing a bottle of mineral water to celebrate Ji winning on her professional debut. Who could have expected such a dramatic finish and that I would have another chance in the playoff,” Zeng said.

“In regulation, I attempted to make a chip-in eagle and force Ji into a playoff. I failed and just made a four-foot birdie. I felt that I was runner-up at best. At the second extra hole, I didn’t lose hope, even if someone might think I was at a disadvantage. I had a couple of tricky lies but I made it, finally. I should say that everything went my way.”

For Ji, the playoff loss was “heartbreaking,” considering her “big advantage”.

“The worst part of my game is putting. I missed too many putts, long or short. But I still had a great chance on the last hole [in regulation]. Unfortunately, I hit it into the bunker. After that, I had three putts for a double bogey,” lamented Ji from Dalian, winner of last year’s National Junior Golf Championship.

“But Zeng’s play was amazing. At the second extra hole, she hit one of the best approach shots onto the green. It’s 90 out of 100. I would say it’s a stressful round. I didn’t feel pressure. I just missed too many putts.”

Cai Danlin, the other overnight co-leader, was equal third a stroke back after struggling to a three-over 75, tied with Shi Yuli (72). Chinese Taipei’s Chang Ya-chi finished three shots back in fifth after a 69.

The Thai trio of Patcharajutar Kongkraphan (66), Dussavi Soopimjit (68) and Pakin Kawinpakorn (73) were equal sixth at four strokes back. Zhang Yahui (72) was the low amateur as the teenager finished on even par in equal 11th.

Patcharajutar, a former US LPGA Tour regular, demonstrated she still had game after consecutive rounds of 74 to start the tournament in wet and windy conditions. The 31-year-old, who won the WPG Ladies Open last week on the TLPGA Tour, closed with a bogey-free 66 for the low round of the day.

–IANS

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