Onnarin Sattayabanphot started her 4th full season on the JLPGA with a bang today by taking the Daikin Orchid Ladies with a 6-birdie 67. With 4 birdies in her last 10 holes of bogey-free golf, she blew by 2nd-round co-leader and defending champion Rikako Morita, Airi Saitoh, and Bo-Mee Lee down the stretch for her 2nd career victory on tour.
For awhile, this looked like a victory march for Morita, last season's money-list title-holder. Her playing partners fell apart on the front 9, as co-leader Ritsuko Ryu bogeyed 3 of her last 5 holes on the front to fall back to -3, while Yuko Mitsuka bogeyed 2 of her 1st 4, even as Morita birdied 3 of her 1st 7 holes to climb to -7 for the week. Playing in the group right ahead of them, Morita's veteran chasers also faltered, as Sakura Yokomine bogeyed her 2 of her 1st 3 holes and Ji-Hee Lee stumbled out of gates with a birdieless 38. Yokomine would end up with a 76 and Mitsuka a 77 that dropped them out of the top 20, while Lee and Ryu would fight back to finish T8 at -4.
The only player who hung with Morita was Bo-Mee Lee, who had birdied the par-4 6th to climb to -5, but that still left Morita a 2-shot lead on her closest pursuers from the start of the day as the last 2 groups made the turn. In fact, Morita's biggest challenge was coming from players 2 groups ahead of her. Airi Saitoh opened with a bogey-free 33, which was capped off by birdies on her last 2 holes on the front, to climb to -6. And Sattayabanphot caught Lee at -5 with a 3-birdie 34 on the front. The tournament would hinge on who played the back the best.
20-year-old Okinawan Mamiko Higa was the 1st to strike. Birdies on the par-3 8th, the par-4 10th, the par-5 11th, and the par-3 16th brought her to -6 for the week. Playing in the group ahead of her, Ji-Yai Shin was also making a stretch run, as birdies on the 10th, the par-3 13th, and the par-4 15th also got her to -6. But none got off to a hotter start on the back than Sattayabanphot, who followed up her birdies on 7 and 9 with ones on 10, 11, and the par-4 14th to climb to -8. Saitoh, meanwhile, bogeyed 10 to drop to -5. When Lee birdied 14, she pulled within 2 of Sattayabanphot, along with Higa and Shin, while Saitoh and 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe were 3 off the pace. Higa was the 1st to finish, as she parred 17 and 18 for a 5-birdie 68 that left her the leader in the clubhouse at -6. Next in was Shin, who also parred out to post a bogey-free 68 that tied her with Higa. Saitoh birdied 16 coming home and Watanabe birdied the par-5 18th to bring it to 4 players at -6, but their playing partner Sattayabanphot parred in for a 67 that gave her a 2-shot lead on all of them. Lee ended up being unable to recover from a bogey on 15 and finished the tournament at -5.
So in the end it was up to Morita to rise to the occasion. She had fallen off the pace with a bogey on 11 but pulled within 1 of the lead with a birdie on 14. Yet when she finished par-bogey-par-par, the 24-year-old fell back into the tie for 2nd at -6, and the 30-year-old Sattayabanphot had her 1st JLPGA victory since last May. In addition to the players in the hunt that she beat, Sattayabanphot also outdistanced Sun-Ju Ahn, despite the former money-list title-holder finishing her week with a 5-birdie 68 that got her into the top 10 with Ji-Hee Lee and Ryu at -4. Also finishing well behind Sattayabanphot were 2012 money-list title-holder Mi-Jeong Jeon (71, -3), Mizuno Classic champion Teresa Lu (71, -1), 2-time Japan Women's Open winner Mika Miyazato (72, E), 8-time JLPGA champion Momoko Ueda (75, +2), LPGA sophomore Ayako Uehara (73, +2), and 13-time JLPGA winner Shiho Oyama (72, +4). So Sattayabanphot's 2nd JLPGA victory was an impressive one. She earned every bit of the 18 million yen in the winner's check!
[Update 1 (10:25 am): bangkokbobby is happy for the Thai veteran but wistful than Shin is not on the LPGA this year.]