CHANDLER, Ariz. – Blistering drives and a fortuitous bounce carried Ki Taek Lee to victory in the Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational at Whirlwind Golf Club Sunday.
A resident of La Quinta, Calif., Lee cruised to a three-shot margin over Will Long of Gastonia, N.C. by posting rounds of 66-70 on the Devil’s Claw Course.
Although Lee played well enough to not need much luck he received it anyway during a final round that at the time did not seem to be going anywhere. With a two-shot lead heading into the final round, Lee played the front-nine in 1 over and failed to card a birdie through the first 12 holes. With Long making a charge ahead of him, Lee birdied Nos. 13, 14 and 15 to regain some momentum to his round.
It was the birdie at No. 14 that basically put the tournament away. At the 172-yard, par-3 hole, Lee pulled his tee shot way left, seemingly headed for a big number, but a remarkable carom off a tree left him just six feet from the hole.
“I pulled it, but I got lucky,” said Lee. “It kicked 20 yards right and (the putt) was a little slider, but I made it. I was hitting that shot all day, but I guess that worked.”
Despite turning to the back-nine over par, Lee remained undaunted by what seemed to be a flat round. His driver was still working well – he missed only one fairway over the two rounds – and he knew what the course had in store the rest of the way.
“I didn’t have (concern) in my mind,” Lee said. “I knew I had two par-5s coming in that I could reach in two easily and some pretty straightforward par-4s so I knew I could do it.
“Right now I am very confident in my game, especially my putting.”
Lee said wins have been hard to come by since he won the Junior World Championship in San Diego when he was 14.
“I haven’t won a lot of tournaments so this is a big confidence booster for me,” Lee said. “I only played four or five junior events last year, so this is definitely a good start to the year.”
Long made an admirable run at Lee by firing a final-round 68. After bogeys at the second and third holes, Long caught fire by carding seven birdies up to the 15th hole.
“I was hitting it well all day, but the putter let me down a little bit,” Long said. “I was hoping to win, but I’ll take second. I’m proud of myself the way I played.”
Danny Ochoa, Ryann Ree and Andrew Whalen all tied for third at 140 on a day in which 13 players shot rounds under par.
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Iida fires 70 to win Girls division
Saki Iida enjoyed a bit of home cooking Sunday in winning the Golfweek West Coast Junior Invitational at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz.
Iida, a junior at nearby Hamilton High School which used to play its home matches at Whirlwind, fired a final round 2-under 70 in overtaking first-round leader Emily Campbell by one shot.
Iida stalked pins all day with pinpoint iron shots that set up short birdie putts throughout her round. A pitching wedge to six feet set up her first birdie of the day at No. 2. Later at the eighth, she bagged her second birdie by hitting her approach to five feet then nearly holed a 140-yard 6-iron at the 10th that left her with a tap-in birdie. At the par-5 15th, Iida needed just six feet to earn her fourth birdie of the round.
“My putting was really good these two days,” said Iida, who won the Arizona State Junior Championship several years ago as an eighth grader. “I wasn’t even caring about the other (players’) scores.”
The victory came after a year committed to tweaking her swing, rendering very few strong performances. With swing changes near completion, Iida can now focus on getting in the winner’s circle.
“Last year I was struggling a little,” Iida said. “I was getting the club across the line at the top of my swing. I’m still working on that, but it’s not too bad.
“My next goal is to win the Heather Farr Classic (at Longbow Golf Club in nearby Mesa).”
Iida played in the group ahead of Campbell and when she birdied the eighth hole had drawn even. When Campbell later bogeyed the eighth, Iida moved into the lead for the first time though unaware of that fact.
Campbell managed just one birdie in the final round and missed some golden opportunities on the closing holes that could have forced a playoff or even delivered a victory. Campbell had birdie attempts from 10 and five feet, respectively, on the last two holes but failed to convert.
“I really didn’t have any idea what was going on (in Iida’s round),” Campbell said. “I was hitting my driver as hard as I could, I was just not making my putts. I hit it great so I really can’t complain.”
Iida finished with scores of 73-70—143 while Campbell finished at 71-73. Aliea Clark, recovering from a wrist injury, finished tied for third with Robynn Ree as both shot identical rounds of 73-73.