Wang wins World Junior Challenge on final hole
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – He's just 13 years old, but Robin Wang proved Sunday that he can play with the older boys.
Wang sank a 5-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the boys 15-19 division of the CJGA World Junior Challenge at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club's Copperhead Course.
Maria Alejandra Villalobos won the girls division and Sam Jung took the boys 14-and-under crown.
"I was a little bit nervous [standing over that putt]," said Wang, who set up the championship-winning birdie with a clutch approach – a 9-iron that landed and stopped on the green just to the front-right of the pin.
The shot generated a loud roar from the gallery watching on the 18th green, especially Wang's father and those affiliated with Wang's academy, Eagles Dream, which is based out of Timacuan Golf and Country Club in Lake Mary, Fla.
“I knew I had to hit a close approach,” said Wang, who is ranked No. 57 in the Golfweek/Sagarin junior boys rankings. “I told myself I can do this. I can hit this close the hole.”
Wang entered the final round with a one-shot lead over Renato Paratore and Jose Mendez. Playing in the last group, Wang got off to a rough start. He was 3 over on the front nine, although he never fell more than a shot from the lead.
With the top of the leaderboard crowded heading into the final nine holes – at one point six golfers either had a share of the lead or were within a shot – Wang gave himself a chance by playing his first eight holes of the back nine at 1 under.
He stepped onto the final tee box in a tie for the lead with Paratore and Pietro Crema, who had just finished in the group ahead of him. While Paratore hit his tee shot into the fairway bunker, Wang safely found the fairway to give himself a good look at the pin.
"I had a pretty good comeback on the back nine," said Wang, who finished with a three-round total of 3-over 217. "I just felt more confident, and made some good shots and good putts."
Paratore and Crema, both Italians, finished in a tie for second, one shot back of Wang. Another Italian, Michele Cea, along with Mendez and Carl Yuan, another Eagles Dream product, finished T-4 at 6 over. Jerry Zhu, who is also from Eagles Dream, placed seventh at 12 over.
Wang's victory at Innisbrook marks his second victory of December. He won the Florida Junior Tour Championship at TPC Sawgrass earlier this month. He beat Yuan in a playoff at that event.
Villalobos had a seven-shot lead in the girls division heading into Sunday.
So in order to stay relaxed before the final round, Villalobos went to the beach, hit the swimming pool at Innisbrook and spent time with her family on Saturday.
The approach paid off in the end as the Gainesville, Fla., native took the girls division title by three shots over Alice Barbieri. Villalobos struggled a bit on Sunday, shooting 10-over 81, but she was still able to hold on for the win with a three-round total of 15-over 229.
“I’m really happy,” Villalobos said. “It’s a feeling that’s hard to express. You work so hard for it and it’s nice when it pays off.”
Jung won the boys 14-and-under division by 10 shots over Sachin Kumar. Jung, who lives in Chantilly, Va., shot 73-71-71 to finish at 1 over for the tournament.