U.S. GIRLS JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
Kono wins, advances to play top seed
CHARLOTTE, NC » One putt away from elimination, Stephanie Kono narrowly survived a tight third-round match yesterday to advance to this morning's quarterfinal round at the U.S. Girls Junior Championship at Carmel Country Club.
After Cydney Clanton of Concord, N.C., missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have won the match, Kono responded with a birdie of her own on the 19th hole to reach the quarterfinals.
"I didn't have a real advantage on any hole," Kono said on the USGA Web site. "Every time I went 1 up, she would come back."
Kono, a 16-year-old Punahou student, advanced to face top-seeded Mina Harigae of Monterey, Calif., today at 1 a.m. Hawaii time. The quarterfinal winners advance to the afternoon semifinal round, with the first match scheduled for 6:15 a.m. The 36-hole championship match is tomorrow.
The winner of the Harigae-Kono match will play Vicky Hurst (Melbourne, Fla.) or Tanya Wadhwa (India) today in the semifinals.
Kono is the last of six entrants from Hawaii still alive in the tournament.
Hilo's Kimberly Kim lost to Isabelle Lendl 3 and 2 in the completion of their rain-delayed second-round match. Hurst led Honolulu's Ayaka Kaneko 4 up when play was suspended on Wednesday and finished off a 5-and-3 win yesterday.
With Clanton playing in her home state, Kono took the early lead with a par on the first hole and trailed only once in the third-round match. Neither player led by more than 1 up at any point in the match.
A birdie on the par-4 ninth hole gave Kono a 1-up lead going into the back nine, but a bogey on No. 11 knotted the match. Kono reclaimed the lead on No. 14, only to see Clanton come back with a birdie two holes later. They both parred No. 17 and Clanton missed on her chance to close the match on No. 18, settling for par on the 495-yard par 5.
The players returned to the first hole and Kono ended the drama with a birdie.
Kono, the last of six entrants from Hawaii still alive in the tournament, has long been familiar with Harigae's game. Her coach, Kevin Ralbovsky, said Kono and Harigae have known each other since meeting at age 9 on the junior golf circuit.
Harigae, 16, defeated Sara Hurwitch of Potomac Falls, Va, 5 and 4 in her third-round match yesterday. Harigae claimed medalist honors in the stroke-play qualifying rounds and hasn't had to play beyond the 15th hole in any of her three matches this week.
Harigae has made just one bogey and is 7 under in her three blowout victories.
"I think it's a big advantage," she said. "It is. There's always a chance that they can come back. It's a buffer."
Hurwitch's three bogeys led to losses on three holes.
"She's the best junior player in the country and it's hard to keep up with her," Hurwitch said. "I played as good as I could. I just made too many mistakes."
Ralbovsky said a lopsided 9-and-7 loss to Kimberly Kim in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship last month may have fired up Harigae for the Girls Junior.
"I know that gave her extra motivation for this tournament," Ralbovsky said. "You can see her rounds she's under par every single time. But Mina knows that Stephanie's tough too. It'll be a good match."
In the other quarterfinal bracket, Alexandra Bodemann (Palm City, Fla.) faces Ellen Mueller (Evansville, Ind.), and Jenny Shin (Torrance, Calif.) plays Michelle Shin (Cape Coral, Fla.).