VIENTIANE – Amazing Chihiro Ikeda fought with maturity in the last nine holes when the chips were down as she lifted the Philippine ladies squad to the team gold and later won the individual title in a thrilling playoff in the Southeast Asian Games golf competitions here yesterday.
Ikeda, 18, battled Thai chief rival Yupaporn Kawinpakorn hole by hole in the final nine holes for a two-under-par 70, and Dottie Ardina supported her with the same score that gave the Filipinas a closing 140 for a three-shot victory over the Thais after three days of play at the Booyoung golf course.
Mia Piccio did not count despite her 72.
Tied at 210, Ikeda and Yupaporn decided the gold in a playoff which boiled down to the last putt which Ikeda made good from four feet for par after the latter flubbed her own bid from five feet to win her first individual gold in the SEA Games.
The third round output, plus their first two round aggregates of 146-139, gave the Philippines a 425, three shots in front of the Thais who won the 2007 SEA Games on home turf.
No less than national coach Bong Lopez was impressed.
“Magagaling talaga sila (They’re really talented),” said Lopez of his ICTSI-sponsored young national golfers who have collectively won 10 world junior and ladies open titles the last 12 months in their buildup to the Games.
But he could not hide the fact that he went through tense, anxious moments as he watched his players catch up, then move past the Thais hole by hole in the last nine holes.
“I was more nervous than my players,” said Lopez, who trains a pool of talents under the ICTSI golf program. “They were just too good.”
Thailand settled for silver with 428 while Malaysia took the bronze with 432. The rest of the field were not a factor in the competitions with fourth placer Myanmar way behind with 451.
“It’s been a long time since we have not beaten Thailand. It’s just about time we did it,” said Lopez.
The men’s team finished with the bronze with a 210-847. Singapore and Thailand finished tied at 845 but won the gold via the playoff.
The Filipinas were down by four shots after the first round Saturday but wrested a one-stroke lead going into yesterday’s final 18 holes.
It looked like the gold would again be in the bag for Thailand as Yupaporn went two-under at the back from where they teed off. Ikeda recovered from a bogey-bogey mishap from No. 14 with back-to-back birdies from No. 16 for an even par while Ardina had 35 in midmorning when temperature was at an ideal 26 degrees.
But as the temperature surged to the 30s by midday, Ikeda, winner of the Indonesian Open last month, turned on the heat while the Thai ace, who led her team to the gold in 2007, turned cold.
Ikeda, which fell behind by four in the individual race, moved to within two again with another back-to-back birdie feat from No. 1, which Yupaporn parred. After both players bogeyed No. 3, Ikeda closed to within one as Yupaporn dropped a stroke on the fifth before knocking down another birdie putt on the seventh to all but seal the victory for the Philippines in the team event and force a sudden death in the individual competition.
Ardina, who also shot a 70 in the second round, made three birdies against a bogey for a 35-35 round.
Ikeda used the momentum to beat her opponent in the third hole of their playoff. Coming in from the rough, Ikeda shot to within 12 feet of the pin and sank an uphill putt from four feet for the victory after her opponent missed from five feet.
“I just charged it thinking that if I didn’t make it, there would be another hole anyway,” said Ikeda, who ran to her coach to celebrate with the rest of the team after the gold-winning putt.
The victory also avenged the RP ladies’ loss to the Thais in the inaugural Santi Cup of the Putra Cup in Thailand last August.