Philippines Korean Lee Jeong-hwa has grown fond of playing in the Philippines and winning.
Four years since capturing the Philippine Ladies Open, frequent Philippine visitor Lee scooped up the crown in the ICTSI Champion Tour presented by Champion and Taiwan LPGA with a two-under 70 for a one-stroke triumph over Japanese Fumika Kawagishi at Splendido Taal Golf Club here yesterday.
Lee, who spends every December in the country playing golf over at Manila Southwoods, knocked down game-changing birdies on Nos. 15 and 17 to seize the momentum heading home against a fading Kawagishi.
"Mission accomplished. My goal from the start was to win this tournament," said Lee who closed out with a two-under par 70 for a 54-hole tally of eight-under 208 worth $15,000.
Overnight leader Kawagishi birdied the final hole for a 72 and a 209 for runner-up honors in the $75,000 event sponsored by International Container Terminal Services, Inc. Filipina amateur Princess Superal (71) ended up in joint third with Taiwanese Chen Yu-ju (71) and Thai Muangkhumaskul Kanphanitnan (69) at 214 overall.
Kawagishi went two-up with a birdie on No. 10 and kept a one-shot lead over Lee after 13 holes but got into trouble and bogeyed No. 14, enabling the Korean to draw level.
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Lee wrested the lead by holing a one-meter birdie putt on No. 15 and padded it to two with a birdie from 1-1/2 meters on the 17th. Kawagishi birdied the final hole but fell short. Lee closed out with a 34 for that 70 as the Korean delegation rushed to the champ and showered her with water.
"It was so hard for me to make birdies in the first nine holes as I was focusing more on the Japanese who is really good in short game than in my own game. But I was able to refocus in the back nine and start making birdies already," said Lee.
It also boosted her confidence when Kawagishi took a bogey on the 14th.
"It became easier for me then," she said.
The triumph in the kickoff leg of the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour and fifth leg of the Taiwan LPGA Tour had a sentimental feel to Lee.
"Every winter I come here to the Philippines. People are friendly and warm that's why I want to win here," she said.
Superal, who was with Lee and Kawagishi in the championship flight, took the best amateur honors and emerged the top Filipina finisher at joint third.
"I struggled a bit at the frontside but rebounded at the back," said Superal, who's gearing up for next week's match play tournament in Portugal.
Superal birdied two of the last seven holes to card a 71 and finish tied for third at 214 with Taiwanese Chen Yu-ju, who also shot a 71, and Taiwan LPGA Tour opening leg winner Kanpahnitnan Muangkhumaskul of Thailand, who rallied with a three-under 69, the best score in tough conditions in the final round.
Chen and Muangkhumaskul split the combined purse of $7,650.
Symetra Tour campaigner Mia Piccio matched par 72 for the second straight and ended up joint ninth at 217 with Thai Chorphaka Jaengkit, who also had a 72.
Dottie Ardina, also priming up for the Symetra Tour, tried to rally with a two-under card after nine holes but the three-time LPGT winner stumbled with a double-bogey on No. 11, birdied the next but dropped two strokes again on the closing par-4 hole to finish with a 73 for solo 11th at 218.
LPGA Tour campaigner Cyna Rodriguez birdied the first two holes but wavered with three bogeys against a birdie at the back and ended up with a 72 for joint 16th at 222 with Taiwanese Huang Ching. and Huang Hsien-wen, who both carded 72s, Yeh Hsin-ning, who hobbled with a 74, and last year's ICTSI Ladies Open winner Hwang Ye-nah of Korea, who also struggled with a 74.
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