SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Yueer Cindy Feng of Orlando, Fla., became the first player to successfully defend her title at the Thunderbird International Junior by defeating Laetitia Beck of Caesarea, Israel, in a four-hole sudden-death playoff Monday afternoon. Anthony Paolucci of Del Mar, Calif., posted a 12-under-par total and claimed a three-shot victory in the boys division for his first AJGA title at Grayhawk Golf Club's Raptor Course.
For Feng, her third Invitational victory was anything but easy. Playing in the group ahead of Beck, Feng was 6-under-par on the day and built a two-shot cushion with one hole to play. An errant tee shot on No. 18 forced her to take an unplayable lie, and after taking her drop, her third shot found another bush in the desert.
Feng took a second unplayable lie, and when she found the green with her sixth shot, she had to make a six-foot putt for double-bogey and to force Beck to make birdie to win.
“I just got the news that I was up two, so I thought ‘It's not over yet,'” Feng said. “I was just trying my best to play for bogey or par, but after the first drop I went into another unplayable lie, so I was just looking for double-bogey really,” Feng said.
Fifteen minutes after Feng posted her 3-under-par total, Beck narrowly missed a birdie putt that would have secured the victory in her final AJGA event. Her ensuing par sent the girls division to a playoff for the second straight year.
In the playoff, each player had makeable birdie putts that would have ended the match on Nos. 11 or 12, but pars sent the duel to the par-3 13th hole. Feng hit her tee shot to 10 feet, and after Beck failed to save par from the greenside bunker, Feng two-putted her way to her ninth AJGA title.
“It was my first Invitational win last year and it's definitely an honor to be able to win it again this year,” said Feng, who is ranked No. 3 in the Polo Golf Rankings.
Rachel Morris of Carlsbad, Calif., finished third at 2-under-par after she missed an eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole that would have put her in the playoff. Stephanie Meadow of Jordanstown, Northern Ireland, finished fourth at 1-under-par, while two-time Rolex Junior Player of the Year Victoria Tanco of Buenos Aires, Argentina, finished fifth at even-par.
In the boys division, Paolucci's wire-to-wire victory wasn't without a bit of trepidation. When Paolucci made bogeys on Nos. 4 and 6, Denny McCarthy of Burtonsville, Md., took a brief one-shot lead. When he responded with an eagle on No. 7 and a birdie on No. 8, Paolucci regained his edge and never looked back.
“I've been in a similar position before going into the last round and won a couple and lost a couple, and I hadn't won an AJGA event before, so I wanted to get that monkey off my back,” said Paolucci, who notched three birdies and an eagle in his final-round 69. “I really wanted to win one before I got too old and I'm glad it happened today.”
Paolucci's 12-under-par total was the third-lowest winning score in tournament history, and he was the only player in 2010 to record three rounds in the 60s.
“I played last year and the scores were really low, so I knew it could be done,” Paolucci said. “I just wanted to give myself a chance to win today – that was my main goal.”
McCarthy finished three shots back at 9-under-par, while Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos, Calif., and Gavin Hall of Pittsford, N.Y., tied for third at 8-under-par. Justin Thomas of Goshen, Ky., and Franco Castro of Alpharetta, Ga., finished fifth at 7-under-par. Last week's Byron Nelson participant Jordan Spieth finished tied for eighth.
Complete results from the AJGA Thunderbird International Junior.