Rianne Malixi bogeyed three of the last seven holes while battling swirling winds, finishing with 33 points from a gross 75 and ending up 13th in the Mizuho Americans Open-AJGA Juniors ruled by American Yana Wilson in New Jersey Sunday.
Malixi flashed an awesome long game that saw her outdrive pros Swede Anna Nordqvist and Aussie Grace Kim on some holes and pulled off a number scrambling pars that impressed her playing partners. But she missed a number of greens and muffed birdie chances while flubbing a five-foot par-saving putt on the 18th that typified her backside struggle at the Liberty National course.
She actually drew level with a birdie on No. 10 after a one-bogey frontside card but failed to rescue a par on No. 12 and yielded a wet bogey on the next against a spate of pars for a 37-38 in stroke play worth 33 points.
Counting her earlier rounds of 31, 34 and 35, the ICTSI-backed shotmaker finished where she started after 54 holes, at 13th place, with a 133 total (300 in stroke play), 14 points off Wilson, who scrambled for a 71 worth 37 points to beat erstwhile co-leader Anna Davis by three on a 147 aggregate.
Davis, who forced a tie with a tournament-best 43 points off a gross 66 in the third round, faltered with a 74 for 34 points and wound up second with 144 points while Sara Im finished third with a 142 after 33 points from a 72.
While Malixi’s camp said it was not the kind of finish they had expected, the rising 16-year-old star learned valuable lessons from her first LPGA foray which she hopes to brandish when she vies in the US Women’s Open qualifying in Chicago this week.
“Not quite the finish we wanted. Being a pro is very difficult but scoring-wise, Rianne did better than three of the four pros whom she had played with,” said Malixi’s mom Michelle.
“She didn’t play her best but fought hard despite very tough strong winds today (Sunday). She had some really good shots, outdriving the pros quite a number of times,” added the elder Malixi, who also thanked their sponsors ICTSI, Skyflakes, TaylorMade USA, Lola Nena’s, friends and supporters.
Meanwhile, Rose Zhang marked her pro debut in smashing fashion, bucking a birdie-less closing 74 then edging fellow American Jennifer Kupcho in the second sudden death hole to snare the LPGA crown in the centerpiece event.
Kupcho rallied with a second straight 69 to tie Zhang at nine-under 279. But after both traded scrambling pars on the first playoff hole, No. 18, Zhang hacked out a solid hybrid shot to within 10 feet while Kupcho came up short of her approach and putted way past the hole and failed to save par.
Free of any pressure, the 20-year-old Zhang, with 12 wins at Stanford U, two national championships, an Augusta National Women’s Amateur title, a US Girls’ Junior tiara and a US Women’s Amateur victory, two-putted for par for her first pro victory worth $412,500.
She has also accepted an immediate LPGA membership.
Yuka Saso, on the other hand, carded a 70 and finished tied at seventh at 282 with South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai and Leona Maguire of Ireland after a 64 and 67, respectively.