LAGUNA – World No. 1 Sung Hyun Park of Korea was given a huge fright by Filipino amateur hotshot Yuka Saso before pulling off a two-stroke victory in the first The Country Club Ladies Invitational on Friday.
Poised to run away from the field after a bogey-free 66 on Thursday staked her to a four-shot lead, Park instead found herself in a close fight when a bogey on the 15th hole enabled Saso to pull within a shot of the lead.
The 25-year old Korean ace only got to breathe easy when Saso's tee shot on the par-3 17th hole found the water, leading to a double-bogey that gave the former a three-shot cushion going to the last hole.
Park closed out with pars for her worst card (36-38) in three days and a seven-under 209 total, beating Saso by two as the latter birdied the tough closing hole to save a 72 and a 211.
“We make mistakes … that’s okay,” said Park, referring to her bogey on No. 15 off an errant drive thatsparked hopes of a possible playoff or a shock reversal in the $100,000 event.
The two-time Major winner thanked her fans, including close to 30 Korean women making up the “Park’s Army.”
“I really had fun in the past three days and the course was in great shape,” added the LPGA star, who pocketed the top purse of $15,000, way off the $225,000 she received last Sunday for winning the World Women's Championship in Singapore.
Like in Singapore, the new Solaire brand ambassador won the hard way as Saso, unfazed by the status and caliber of her rival, more than proved her worth over the last 18 holes, battling the world’s best shot-for-shot and putt-for-putt.
“She’s a pro material,” said Park of the 17-year-old reigning Asian Games champion.
Saso pressed her bid early, putting pressure on Park with a two-shot swing following a birdie on the par-5 second hole which Park bogeyed on a poor third shot that found the bunker.
Diminutive Princess Superal, the third player in the final group, was relegated to the background in a duel of long hitters, finishing with a 76 and ended up fourth at 221, enabling LPGA Tour campaigner Dottie Ardina to snare third place at 219 after a 73. Ardina took the runner-up prize of $9,000 with Superal settling for $6,000.
The Thais, who have dominated the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour with five victories last year, never figured in the title race with Pattaraporn Mounchoo (72), Supamas Sangchan (73) and former LPGT leg winner Wannasiri Sirisampant (76) winding up joint fifth at 224.