Chased by three major champions, Princess Superal stayed in hot pursuit of the prime jewel, fending off their threats with a poise and class of a seasoned big-league campaigner to capture the Asia Pacific Cup individual crown with a gem of a finish in Jakarta on Saturday, Aug. 20.

Princess Superal holds the Philippine flag after scoring a career-defining triumph in Jakarta.

She actually delivered the big Saturday punch early – a three-birdie blitz from No. 2 that knocked her three rivals with a combined five major championships – world No. 4 Lydia Ko, No. 8 Hyo Joo Kim and No. 46 So Yeon Ryu – off the title chase and left them scrounging for the crumbs of a runner-up finish at the softened Pondok Indah course.

For the ICTSI-backed ace, ranked No. 924 in the world, closed out nearly the way she started the rich, inaugural $750,000 championship – with a solid 67 – and beat Ryu, an eight-time LPGA Tour winner, including the 2011 US Women’s Open and the 2017 Chevron Championship, by three on a brilliant 12-under 204 total spiked by an opening bogey-free 66.

She won the princely $100,000 (P5.5 million) purse although she actually took home a net $80,000 (P4.5 million), still doubling her earnings in a six-year pro career spiked by a number of victories on the Ladies Philippine Golf Tour.

More importantly, the emphatic win more than proved she can slug it out with some of the world’s best, finishing with 13 birdies against just one bogey at the very venue where she reigned in the Pondok Indah Junior Championship in 2015.

Ryu, who took command of the first 18 holes with a fiery 65 but fumbled with a 75 Friday, birdied the last two holes to match Superal’s closing five-under card as she snatched solo second at 207.

Ko, whose victories in the 2015 Evian and the 2016 Chevron Championships and 15 other wins highlight a prolific LPGA career, missed sharing runner-up honors with a missed birdie putt from five feet on the 18th as she ended up third at 208 after a 70.

Keeping her emotions in check all throughout, Superal finally broke down as she hugged long-time pal and teammate Pauline del Rosario after holing out with a par on another muffed birdie chance, her third straight after draining in her last birdie putt from way out on No. 15 that all but sealed the outcome.

“This (win) is a big morale- and confidence-boost, knowing that I can win in international events,” said Superal, who flashed superb putting all day, finishing with 27 putts.

“I just stayed focused and tried to learn from Lydia’s (Ko) game,” added the diminutive but talented player who will head back to Thailand to resume her campaign in at least three tournaments.

She also thanked swing coach and mentor Bong Lopez and coaches Justin Aquino and Lee Tajonera and the Orchard Golf and Country Club, and ICTSI chairman/CEO Ricky Razon for his long-running golf program and continued support to her and fellow campaigners, both in the pro and amateur ranks.

Superal said she didn’t get the opportunity to talk to Ko during and after the round but grabbed the chance to pose with her and their teammates during the awards rites.

“We were not able to talk much on the course but she did congratulate me,” said Superal, who is also gearing up for the Japan LPGA Q-School in November.

It was just too bad that del Rosario failed to recover from a disastrous bogey and double-bogey mishaps in the first two holes, dropping three more shots against two birdies, the last on No. 18 securing the Philippines’ second place finish in team competition ruled by Korea 2 team made up of Ryu and Bomee Lee.

Del Rosario, an Epson Tour campaigner who battled back from an opening 75 with a 70, was out of position all day with her long game and groped for a 76. Also supported by the world leading port operator, she wound up tied at 18th at 221 in individual play while their combined closing 143 netted them a three-day total of 425, four strokes behind Korea 2’s 421 after 142.

New Zealand placed third with 427, also after a 143 that included Momoka Kobori’s 73, in the event where each finisher in individual competition was guaranteed a minimum payout of $5,680, comparatively higher than the $3,707 and $4,051 cheques picked up by the last placers in the LPGA events in Singapore and Thailand earlier this year.

The winning team will also take the bulk of the $250,000 total pot, the rest of which will be divided among the next 14 teams. The breakdown of the prize money distribution, however, will be announced by the event organizers Asian Golf Leaders Forum (AGLF) in due course.

Kim Hyo Joo, winner of the 2014 Evian Championship, proved to be a big letdown as the spearhead of Korea 1 wound up at joint eighth at 215 after a 75 and her teamup with young You Min Hwang, who also limped with a three-over card, dropped them to sixth in team play at 431 behind Indonesia 3 (429) and Japan 2 (430).

“Her ball-striking and putting were in A-1 condition, so I just prayed that she be given strength and big fighting heart to withstand the pressure,” said Superal swing coach and mentor Bong Lopez of Manila Southwoods. “But I never doubted she would win.”

While her rivals braced for a wild, nerve-wracking battle, Superal came into the pressure-packed final round normally reserved for big-time players unflustered, brushing off Ko’s opening hole birdie that tied them at seven-under overall, and Kim and Ryu’s early two- and one-under cards, respectively.

But she birdied the second hole and pounced on Ko’s bogey for the big two-shot swing then added a curling six-footer on No. 3 and drained another from 10 feet on the next on her way to three-, four-shot cushions.

She headed to the stretch stress-free, switching off the attack mode and settling for two-putt pars that left her rivals with no room to mount last-ditch rallies.

Superal was near-flawless off the mound and was equally superb with her short and mid-irons, and in a couple of times she would miss the green, her wedges kept bailing her out. But it was her putting that steered her to the coveted championship, her early strokes practically shattering her rivals’ confidence and blowing away their respective chances.

The event’s broadcast anchors even said they had run out of adjectives labeling Superal’s final round performance that was indeed close to being magnificent as she held her nerves in check all throughout and never relinquished the lead – not even allowing anybody to gain a share of it – after wresting solo control after the second hole.

Heading to the AsPac Cup, Superal had no expectations of crowding the big names in the fold, including Ko and Kim, saying: “I didn’t expect anything but very excited to play with them. Because I want to learn from them and see how they play.”

She didn’t only gather some knowledge from them but also “showed them how.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (