USGA Girl's Junior: Kaneko to face Park in Sat. final

Lakewood, Wash. – Kristen Park, 14, of Buena Park, Calif., and Ayaka Kaneko, 17, of Honolulu, Hawaii both won on the 18th hole Friday to advance to the championship final of the 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior, being played at the 6,391-yard Tacoma Country and Golf Club.

Park, playing in her first Girls’ Junior, used consistent iron play and steady putting to build a 3-up lead against Stephanie Kono, 17, of Honolulu, Hawaii, a six-time Girls’ Junior participant.

But Park, who had held large leads in her three previous matches only to see them disappear, knew not to get ahead of herself.

“That got in my mind a little bit,” said Park, who needed 19 holes to win her quarterfinal match Thursday.

And sure enough, just after winning the 13th when she stuck her approach shot to within a foot for a conceded birdie, Kono came back to win the 14th when Park’s approach shot struck a tee and fell well short of the green. Kono chipped away again one hole later, when Park’s tee shot on the par-3, 168-yard 15th found the water hazard.

Kono had a great chance to square the match on the par-5 16th. But her 6-footer for par slid just by the hole and Park maintained her lead.

“That was just a misread,” said Kono, who beat 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kimberly Kim in the quarterfinals. “I guess I used up all my putts yesterday. That’s the way it goes. You can’t read them all right.”

Park again held onto her lead on the 221-yard, par-3 17th when she made a 9-footer to save par.

“If I was telling myself that if I missed this it was going to be the end of the world, then I probably couldn’t make it,” said Park. “I just relaxed and didn’t think about it and just hit the ball.”

Kono found trouble off the tee on the par-5 18th when her tee shot entered a fairway bunker. Her second shot landed in the rough and she was unable to advance her ball out of the rough. With Park safely on the green in three, Kono conceded the hole, and the match, to Park.

Park is not only playing in her first USGA championship, it’s her first match-play event.

“I’m really happy that I made it this far,” said Park. “I didn’t really expect it to happen. I just came here for good experience. I knew I could compete against these people.”

Kono was disappointed but gracious after her defeat.

“Today I just made too many mistakes,” said Kono. “Nothing really worked for me and Kristen played really solid, so she deserved to win.”

In the other semifinal match, Kaneko also built a 3-up lead, after 12 holes, against Michelle Shin, 16, of Cape Coral, Fla. But Shin birdied the 13th and 14th to cut the deficit to one hole. After Shin made an 11-footer for birdie on the 16th, the match was all square.

After trading pars on the 17th, which included Kaneko’s conversion of a 16-footer for par, both players were short of the 18th green in two strokes. After both chipped onto the green, Shin’s 21-footer for birdie slid by the hole. Kaneko then stepped up and rolled in her 20-footer for birdie and the victory.

“That last putt, it was miracle I guess,” said the Japanese-born Kaneko, who missed the cut at the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open and will be playing in her first Girls’ Junior final. “This is my first time I make it to the finals, so I am really excited. I just want to enjoy tomorrow.”

Shin was disappointed by the outcome, but happy she gave herself a chance on the final hole.

“Coming down the stretch I did [have momentum],” said Shin, a Girls’ Junior quarterfinalist a year ago. “It’s disappointing, but it was fun thinking maybe I can actually do this. Maybe I can take it to an extra hole. After she made that birdie putt, it was over.”

The 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior concludes with the 36-hole championship final Saturday.

The U.S. Girls’ Junior is one of 13 championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association each year, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

Story written by Beth Murrison of USGA Media Relations. For questions or comments, contact her at bmurrison@usga.org

Lakewood, Wash. – Results following Friday’s semifinal round of match play at the 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at the 6,391-yard, par-72 Tacoma Country and Golf Club:

Round of 4

Upper Bracket

Kristen Park, Buena Park, Calif. (138) def. Stephanie Kono, Honolulu, Hawaii (145), 2 up

Lower Bracket

Ayaka Kaneko, Honolulu, Hawaii (150) def. Michelle Shin, Cape Coral, Fla. (141), 1 up

Lakewood, Wash. – Pairings for Saturday’s 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior championship final, to be played at the 6,391-yard, par-72 Tacoma Country and Golf Club:

8:00 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. (PDT)

Kristen Park, Buena Park, Calif. (138) vs. Ayaka Kaneko, Honolulu, Hawaii (150)

ABOUT THE U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur

The Girls Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted by the USGA. The event is open to female golfers who have not reached their 18th birthday prior to the close of competition and whose USGA Handicap Index does not exceed 18.4. 36 hole stroke play qualifying from which 64 players advance to match play. Regional qualifying held at sites around the United States.

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