Malixi makes amazing rally in ‘Annika’ tilt

Rianne Malixi holds her trophy with golf legend and Swede Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam.

RIANNE MALIXI bucked an early mishap with a barrage of birdies to score a tournament-best eight-under 65 and rally from way back for tie for sixth place in the Annika Invitational topped by American Ashleen Kaur in Orlando, Florida, Tuesday.

Birdies, which proved elusive in the first two days, came like rain in the final round for the rising Filipina star, who rattled off nine, highlighted by a couple of three-birdie binges on Nos. 7 and 12, leading to a 33-32 round and besting the previous tournament-best of 66s posted by Kaur and erstwhile leader Alice Zhao at the par-73 Eagle Creek course Monday.

From tied 26th, the International Container Terminal Services Inc.-backed ace, who shot seven birdies against four bogeys and a double bogey in the first two rounds (72-73), bogeyed No. 3 but birdied four of the next six holes then dominated the backside with five more birdies as she salvaged a share of sixth place with Nika Ito (67) and Kiara Romero (70) at nine-under 210.

She wound up six strokes behind Kaur but her strong finish underscored the promise that the 15-year-old prodigy packs heading to her next campaign—the Queen Sirikit Invitational back home at Manila Southwoods next month.

But Kaur took the spotlight in a day of changing fortunes, snatching the crown with a stirring closing eagle feat for a 69 and edging Zhao by one on a 204 total.

The Chinese, who seized the solo control with a second round 66, firmed up her lead with a solid frontside 33 but bogeys on Nos. 10 and 14, which Kaur birdied, enabled the latter to snatch the lead.

Zhao, however, proved far from being finished, birdying the par-five 16th to tie. After the pair traded bogeys under tremendous pressure on the par-three 17th, Kaur came through with a pair of solid shots to set up an eagle bid which she made, frustrating the former, who lost despite a closing birdie for a 71.

Katie Li made it a three-way battle with a 34 start and birdied Nos. 12 and 13 to tie for the lead at 14-under overall. But she missed a couple of birdie chances on the last two long holes and ended up with a 69 for joint second with Zhao at 205.

Vanessa Borovilos shot a 71 for fourth at 208 while Lauren Kim placed fifth at 209 after a 67 in this second leg of this year’s American Junior Golf Association circuit.

Malixi’s fiery windup likewise put her past Thanana Kotchasanmanee, who beat her in the Citrus Golf Trail and tied for ninth at 211 after a 69, and reigning US Girls’ Junior champion Anna Davis, who ended up at joint 14th at 214 after a 70, AJGA No. 1 Gianna Clemente, who wound up tied 22nd at 216 after a 73, and last year’s winner Yana Wilson, who limped to a share of 30th at 218 after a 72.

The top 10 finishers all received trophies from legend and Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam.

Malixi, 11 strokes off Zhao after 36 holes, fell farther back with a bogey on No. 3 after over-shooting the green, a miscue that however served as spark for her blistering fightback.

She rolled in a four-foot birdie putt on the par-5 No. 4, then picked herself up from a flubbed birdie bid on the sixth with birdies on Nos. 7, 8 and 9 inside six feet off.

As the wind picked up at the back, Malixi stepped up her attack, chipping in for birdie on No. 12, draining a couple of four-footers to complete another three-birdie string. After a routine par on No. 15, she tapped in for birdie on the 16th and banged in a long birdie putt on the penultimate hole.

She actually hit the hazard on No. 18 but chipped to within five feet and made the putt to save par and preserve a sterling round.

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