Kelsey Bennett has come up agonisingly short in the final round of the Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific Championship in Abu Dhabi tonight.
The Mollymook tyro gave her all, carding an impressive four under 68 to stay in contention right up until the final hole.
Sadly for the 21-year-old, she was unable to convert a 25 foot birdie chance on the last hole to catch the eventual winner, Japan’s Mizuki Hashimoto.
The final round was an enthralling affair. After staring the day four behind, a nervous Bennett made the sort of start she didn’t want, bogeying the first to drop a shot to the leaders. It took her a few holes, but she settled her nerves with a birdie on the 4th. Another on the 6th saw her start to move on the leaders and when she birdied the par-five eight, she was back in the mix.
Overnight leader, Thailand’s Natthakritta Vongtaveelap, who had looked unstoppable through the first 54 holes, got off to a bright start and still looked like she could cruise to a comfortable win. But on the 6th, she blinked, dropping a shot, then when she rinsed her tee shot on the par three 7th and could only make double bogey, the tournament was blown wide open.
Hashimoto who started the day three shots from the lead was suddenly was the player to beat. An eagle on the par four third saw her get to within one, and then with the Thai’s travails on the 6th and 7th, the Junior Orange Bowl winner suddenly had the tournament lead.
The back nine turned out to be a battle royal with the trio going shot for shot. Bennett giving her all; she grabbed a shot back on the 11th with her fourth birdie of the day to be within two. She closed the gap further with a much-needed chip in birdie on the 13th, but the Japanese Hashimoto kept doing enough to keep her nose in front.
Frustratingly, Bennett couldn’t get any closer than one as the holes drifted away. A sensational up and down from over the back on the 16th kept her in with a chance. Sadly, after giving herself a solid look on the penultimate hole, Bennett left the tying birdie a couple of rolls short of the hole.
With everyone on edge, the final hole was a drama at its best. Hashimoto, feeling some of the pressure, tugged her drive into the left bunker, while big hitting Vongtaveelap, who had eagled the 18th yesterday after a sensational approach, knew another eagle might see her claim victory. Sadly for the Thai, her drive sailed right, straight into a hazard, all but ending her chances.
Bennett, who had been all but impeccable from the tee, again made no mistake and found the centre of the fairway. While Hashimoto chose to lay up from the bunker, Bennett, sensing a chance, took on the tough second shot. With the pressure of the moment, Bennett tugged her second shot left, leaving herself a tricky up and down to force a playoff.
Hashimoto, a multiple winner in Japan, kept her cool over her third shot, pitching to 20 feet right, while Bennett, after studying her pitch from several angles, could only manage to get into about 25 feet.
Bennett, as she had all week, gave her putt every chance, however, it slipped by leaving the Japanese gun a straightforward two putt to win. After rolling her putt to within two feet, and with several deep breaths to calm the nerves, Hashimoto slotted the championship winning putt.
“Today was good, I was really happy with how I played. Obviously a few more putts could have dropped, but I think I held my nerve pretty well. Obviously I was pretty nervous over the last few holes,” a remarkably happy Bennett said after the round.
The NSW State team representative admitted the bogey start to her round had been less than ideal, but served to jolt her back into the routine which she had kept all week.
“After the bogey on the first I thought, oh oh, not very good, but I managed to come back.”
“I sort of kept doing what I did all week, stuck to my processes, picked my line and my target and didn’t make any more bogeys which was good.
Bennett added the pressure of the final group, an altogether different place than she had been accustomed to recently, also fed her desire to win.
“I loved the experience, it was great. I bounced off the other girls. The experience has been great.”