Jutanugarn narrowly knocks out local Cathrea

Ariya Jutanugarn defeated Casie Cathrea, 3 and 1, in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Girls' Junior.

Ariya Jutanugarn defeated Casie Cathrea, 3 and 1, in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Girls' Junior.

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#NameYearStateRating
1Andrea Lee2016CA69.34
2Nicole Morales2014NY69.75
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DALY CITY, Calif. – Ariya Jutanugarn wasted no time Friday morning building a lead. She would lose it and fight back twice more before slipping into the semifinals at the U.S. Girls’ Junior in what turned out to be her longest match of the week.

Jutanugarn, a 16-year-old from Thailand, hadn’t played past Lake Merced Golf Club’s 15th since Tuesdays’ final round of stroke-play qualifying. The No. 1 seed on the match-play bracket, Jutanugarn skated through the first three rounds before drawing Casie Cathrea, a 16-year-old San Francisco area local. They’re two of the longest hitters and most aggressive players in the field.

After Jutanugarn birdied two of her opening three holes, with birdies putts of less than 10 feet, Cathrea felt the need to up the ante. She had known on the first tee that par wasn’t going to be enough.

“When I saw her starting to go for stuff I started to go for everything,” Cathrea said. “I knew I’d have to make a couple of putts.”

Cathrea – wearing day-glo orange shorts, shoelaces and fingernail polish in honor of her verbal commitment to Oklahoma State (for the fall of 2013) – returned birdies at Nos. 5 and 6 to get back to all square, then made a par to Jutanugarn’s bogey to take her first lead at No. 7. Another Jutanuarn birdie at No. 8 followed. Cathrea was back to 1 up with birdie at No. 10.

“It’s very tough because she played so good and she never missed the fairway and hit everything very straight,” Jutanugarn said.

That was the theme of the morning.

Both players exchanged birdies at the par-5 14th. The true turning point of the match came at the par-4 16th, when Cathrea sprayed her drive right then recovered with an approach shot that was nearly a slam dunk. Minutes later, Jutanugarn holed a 40-footer for birdie and suddenly she was 2 up with two holes to play. Both players struggled in sand at No. 17, but with a bogey to Cathrea’s double, Jutanugarn advanced, 3 and 1.

Between the two players, there were 12 birdies in 17 holes. For perspective, that’s four more than in the other three quarterfinal matches combined.

A trip to the quarterfinals is Cathrea’s farthest trek through a U.S. Girls’ Junior bracket to date. She also made it to the quarterfinals at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. She was 13 then.

Cathrea can’t recall a more difficult match than the one she battled through on Friday morning. It ended with a long embrace on the 17th green. When Cathrea started to pull away, Jutanugarn didn’t let go. She followed the words “good job” with “I love you.”

“I had my heart in my throat,” Cathrea said of the minutes after the match ended.

Jutanugarn described parts of her match as lucky for the second day in a row – particuarly the birdie putt at No. 16. Her expression rarely changes on the course, and post-round smiles suggest she lacks a true killer instinct.

Her play, however, certainly doesn’t reflect it.

• • •

2012 U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR QUARTERFINAL RESULTS

  • Ariya Jutanugarn def. Casie Cathrea, 3 and 1
  • Minjee Lee def. Kelli Murphy, 4 and 2
  • Lydia Ko def. Yueer Cindy Feng, 8 and 6
  • Alison Lee def. Lauren Diaz-Yi, 5 and 4
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