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Kajitani wins in frenzied finish at Augusta National Women's Amateur

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Women's Amateur Golf

Tsubasa Kajitani, of Japan, holds up the trophy after winning the Augusta National Women's Amateur. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

AUGUSTA — Tsubasa Kajitani's game plan was simple Saturday at Augusta National Golf Club.

The 17-year-old from Japan's blueprint had nothing to do with the technical aspect of the game, nor did it contain much about strategy in general.

She just wanted to focus on enjoying the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur – that's all.

Now she can enjoy being the champion.

Kajitani parred the first playoff hole Saturday, her second par save of the day on the 18th green, to defeat Wake Forest senior Emilia Migliaccio and become the first Japanese player to win a title at Augusta National.

"I was so nervous, and I've never been nervous before," she said of her two pressure-packed walks up 18. "I just trust whatever the caddie pointed and I just putted, and that's all I did."

In the playoff that meant aiming some 90 degrees away from the cup from the back of the green and cozying it down to about 4 feet.

Migliaccio, meanwhile, could only hope to save bogey after leaving her third shot, a delicate pitch over the greenside bunker after her approach came up short and well right, in the sand.

"It's hard to bogey and lose to a par," she said. "If they birdie, it's like, 'Well, did everything I could.' ... I did everything I could even though it wasn't what I wanted, but I did my best and that's all I can ask for."

That a par won the title was perhaps the most fitting way for a chaotic day to end.

Kajitani (72) had the lead after birdies on 14 and 15, then doubled the 17th to give that lead away. She saved par with an expertly-judged pitch on 18, joining Migliaccio in the clubhouse at 1 over.

"Of course I have been disappointed, such as I made a double bogey on 17, but my caddie said just looking forward to 18," she said. "So I changed my mind and I just switched off and switched on to the 18th. So that's why I made a par on 18."

Migliaccio (70) had the clubhouse lead to herself after climbing back from four shots down to start the day with one of only five under-par final rounds. Her coach told her to play aggressively, and that resulted in five birdies and the outright lead – but only briefly. By the time her TV interview ended, though, she was in a four-way tie.

Rose Zhang (75), the Stanford-bound 17-year-old ranked No. 1 in the world, was one of those four despite a triple bogey on the par-5 13th after she hit two balls in the hazard. A bogey on 17 dropped her to 2 over, and her birdie try on 18 didn't drop.

A co-leader along with Ingrid Lindblad at 1 under to start the day, Zhang put it best Friday when she said everyone in the field had a shot at the title. Fifteen players started the day within five shots of the lead, and the top spot on the leaderboard seemed to be ever-changing throughout the afternoon.

"I mean, everyone playing was in contention basically, and to handle the pressure of just being on television and just playing at Augusta National, I think says a lot," she said. "I think, in general, I just have a lot to work on and I think that I keep my stride I'm still able to improve even more."

Lindblad (75), a sophomore at LSU who was the SEC Player of the Year as a freshman, also had a chance to get into the playoff with a birdie-birdie finish. Only half came true, though, as she couldn't chip in on the 18th.

University of Houston sophomore Karen Fredgaard (73) had the lead to herself at 2 under after a birdie on 13 but she bogeyed 14, doubled 15 and bogeyed 18 to finish in a six-way tie for third at 2 over.

UCLA sophomore Emma Spitz (71) charged into contention on the back nine with birdies at 12 and 13 to get within a shot of the lead at even par, but she bogeyed 17 and 18 to finish a shot out of the playoff.

Stanford freshman Rachel Heck (72) was right there, too, with birdies at 12, 14 and 15 to get into that group at 1 over. Like Fredgaard and Spitz, though, she bogeyed 18.

South Carolina sophomore Pauline Roussin-Bouchard (70) had what she called a "very colorful day", making seven birdies but five bogeys. She said Friday she was going to leave nothing in the tank and play with no regrets, but another uncharacteristic bogey on a par 5 (this time the 13th) left her one shot from making the playoff.

A bad number on the par-3 12th doomed Arizona State fifth-year golfer Olivia Mehaffey (75), who held the lead at 2 under following birdies at 7 and 8. She rinsed her tee shot in Rae's Creek, part of a stretch where she played her last 10 holes in 5 over and finished ninth at 3 over.

The tournament had another wild finish in its second edition, though for a different reason than Jennifer Kupcho's torrid finish in 2019. This time, bogeys down the stretch were far more common than birdies.

Two poised pars from a 17-year-old, though, enabled Kajitani to emerge from the chaos as champion.

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