RIANNE Malixi drilled in a pressure-packed three-footer for par on the third playoff hole and claimed the AJGA Thunderbird Junior All-Star crown in Phoenix, Arizona Sunday as Scarlett Schremmer wilted under pressure and missed her bid from closer range.
Malixi blew the chance of winning it in regulation with a three-putt miscue on the 54th hole for a 70 but flashed steely resolve as the duel dragged on.
She matched Schremmer’s birdie and par on their return stints on Nos. 10 and 11 then took the hotly-disputed crown as the latter, who closed out with a 69 to force a tie at 207, flubbed a match-extending putt from two-and-a-half feet.
“It’s a great warm-up for me for next week’s AJGA event,” said the 15-year-old Malixi, who humbled the pros back home twice and dominated the SEA Games qualifying the last four months.
It was the ICTSI-backed shotmaker’s second AJGA title following her wire-to-wire triumph in the Se Ri Pak Desert Junior last year with her latest exploit sure to fire her up all the more in the Ping Heather Farr Classic unfolding Thursday at the Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, also in Arizona.
Nikki Oh actually made it a three-player duel after she closed out with a 71 but the two-day leader missed a birdie-putt on the first playoff hole and bowed out of the title race in the circuit for junior players seeking to earn college golf scholarships.
On their second trip to the par-5 No. 10, Malixi reached it in two and two-putted for birdie while Schremmer made it in three but buried her birdie putt. The duo then matched pars on the par-3 11th.
They both overshot the par-4 No. 12 with Malixi chipping to within three feet and Schremmer poised to send the duel to another hole after rolling her third shot closer to the cup but missed.
Malixi battled back from as many as four strokes despite a 69 after 18 holes as Oh opened with a 65 spiked a rare double-eagle feat but the former threatened to within one with a 68 Saturday.
She grabbed the lead as Oh fumbled with a double bogey on the first hole but Schremmer joined her at the turn with a 33 against the former’s 34.
Malixi and Schremmer birdied the 10th to remain tied for the lead but the former reeled back with bogeys on Nos. 11 and 14 but birdied two of the next three to regain a one-stroke lead, only to yield a stroke on a three-putt miscue on the last, enabling Schremmer and Oh, who bounced back with four birdies in the last six holes, to force a tie at nine-under overall.
“I didn’t know I was leading on the last hole. I just had a hunch that I needed just a par or better to win. I had an 8-footer for birdie but it slipped 3 feet past the hole and it lipped the cup on my next putt,” added Malixi.
She said her birdies on Nos. 15 and 17 were clutch and rued blowing the chance to clinc it outright in regulation.
“The first three of my last four holes was the huge turning point,” she said while attributing her victory to her team made up of swing coach Norman Sto. Domingo, fairway coach Rick Gibson and conditioning coach Jude Michael Eslera.
“It will also enhance my learning experience so I’ll bring this to my upcoming tournaments, especially the SEA Games,” said Malixi, who will team up with Lois Kaye Go and fellow ICTSI member Mafy Singson in their title-retention drive in the regional biennial games in Hanoi next month.