U.S. Girls' Junior: Rianne Malixi to Face Kiara Romero in 36-hole final
Rianne Malixi and Kiara Romero (USGA Photo)
Rianne Malixi and Kiara Romero (USGA Photo)

Kiara Romero and Rianne Malixi will square off in Saturday’s 36-hole championship match of the 74th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at the U.S. Air Force Academy Eisenhower Golf Club’s Blue Course.

Romero, 17, of San Jose, Calif., knocked out 2022 runner-up and 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champion Gianna Clemente, 15, of Estero, Fla., 2 up, in the second of the two semifinal matches on Friday afternoon. Malixi, 16, of the Philippines, eliminated Leigh Chien, 17, of Irvine, Calif., 4 and 2, in the other semifinal.

An incoming University of Oregon freshman, Romero, the No. 3 seed from stroke play, avenged a 2-and-1 defeat to Clemente in the Round of 16 of last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at The Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green, Ky.

“I knew going into today I would have to play good, especially against Gianna, she's a great player,” said Romero, who finished third in the 2022 Girls Junior PGA Championship. “I can't really control what she's going to do. I just focused on my game and tried to hit as many greens and fairways as I could and take it from there.”

The match turned on the 15th hole when Romero rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt to tie the match. One hole later, Clemente topped her second shot on the 562-yard, par-5. Her third from 210 yards out came up short of the green and she failed to get up and down for par, ending a string of 47 holes without a bogey. Romero managed a two-putt par to take a 1-up lead.

“Yeah, that putt on (No.) 15, the long one, that's what really got me in,” said Romero. “It got me back to even. Then the next hole I just kept going with it and I got a lot of confidence coming into the last few holes.”

Both players missed the green on the 183-yard, par-3 No. 17, resulting in matching bogeys. Then on 18, needing to win the hole, Clemente’s approach stopped 30 feet short of the flagstick, while Romero stuffed her approach to 6 feet. When Clemente missed, Romero calmly converted her fifth birdie of the match.

Clemente had come into the final fresh off a pair of big victories, including a 3-and-2 triumph in the Round of 16 over Anna Davis, the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion. She then made five birdies in ousting Clarisa Temelo, of Mexico, 6 and 5, in the quarterfinals on Friday morning.

“I’m pretty frustrated with the ending today but overall it was a solid week,” said Clemente, now 9-2 in match play at this championship. “I really had it going for a stretch of 2-3 matches and just had an off afternoon today. Kiara played great today and that’s just match play. I will take some good positives from the week and cannot wait to be in Los Angeles for the U.S. Women’s Am at Bel Air Country Club.”

After taking a 2-up lead on the front nine, Romero needed a seven-minute medical break on the eighth hole to deal with a bloody nose from the altitude.

Malixi is looking to become the second Filipina to win this title, following Princes Mary Superal in 2014. Dottie Ardina lost in the 2011 final to future U.S. Women’s Open champion Ariya Jutanugarn. Yuka Saso also won the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open representing the Philippines.

“It means a lot,” said Malixi, a rising high school junior who hopes to snag her first major junior title. “I've always put myself in these kinds of positions, but I [haven’t] got the job done. But hopefully, I do [it] tomorrow. I know it's not going to be an easy win. So, patience, grit, and playing smart out there will really pay off in getting over the hump.”

Coming into the semifinals, Chien had twice rallied from 3-down deficits, including a 19-hole quarterfinal victory over Sidney Yermish on Friday morning. The other comeback came in the Round of 32 against 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur co-medalist Alice Ziyi Zhao.

But against the steely Malixi, she never recovered from losing four consecutive holes, beginning on No. 5, to trail 3 down at the turn. Malixi eventually closed it out on the par-5 No. 16 with a conceded birdie.

“I've been having some swing issues this week,” said Chien, who has committed to attend Stanford University in 2024. “So as the week goes on I get more tired, it's just harder to get back. I had trouble hitting fairways. My irons weren't going very straight. Nothing really worked out [in the afternoon]. But it was a good round.”

Earlier on Friday, Malixi eliminated University of Texas redshirt freshman and 2023 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier Farah O’Keefe, of Austin, Texas, 1 up.

Results: U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur
WinCAKiara RomeroSan Jose, CA1000
Runner-upPhilippinesRianne Mikhaela MalixiPhilippines700
SemifinalsCALeigh ChienIrvine, CA500
SemifinalsFLGianna ClementeEstero, FL500
QuarterfinalsTXFarah O'KeefeAustin, TX400

View full results for U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur

ABOUT THE U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur

The Girls Junior Amateur is one of 14 national championships conducted by the USGA. The event is open to female golfers who have not reached their 19th birthday prior to the close of competition and whose USGA Handicap Index does not exceed 9.4. 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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