[ GOLF ]

Stephanie Kono, right, earned a hug from second-place finisher Mari Chun after winning the HSWGA stroke play title.

Kono’s reign continues

What a difference a day makes.

On Wednesday, the Mid-Pacific Country Club was closed after the heavy overnight rains. The Windward Oahu course was waterlogged and unplayable, forcing organizers of the Hawaii State Women's Golf Association to cut its Stroke Play Championship to 36 holes from the normal 54.

Yesterday, the course played to its best, light winds and dry conditions making for a very quick final round.

The difference was like night and day ... except on the leaderboard. Stephanie Kono's two-stroke lead after the first round held up as the incoming Punahou School freshman successfully defended her title yesterday.

Kono had three birdies en route to carding an even-par 72 for a 146, two strokes ahead of playing partner Mari Chun (72-148) and Kayla Morinaga (72-148). Rachel Kyono, the 2002 champion, finished fourth in the 11-player field at 75-151.

"I think last year was easier because I had a 10-stroke lead going into the final round," said Kono, who won last year's 54-hole event by 12 strokes. "I like being in the lead, I feel comfortable being ahead."

Kono expanded her margin over Chun to four strokes twice, the first after birdies on Nos. 3 and 4. A bogey on No. 9 put her 3-up on Chun at the turn and just 2-up on Morinaga, who was playing in the threesome ahead.

Morinaga had three birdies on the front nine but also bogeyed No. 9. The incoming Sacred Hearts senior took herself out of contention with bogeys on Nos. 12 and 15, with a birdie on 16 helping her salvage the par round.

Chun, who won the HSWGA Match-Play Championship in June, charged hard on the back nine. She birdied No. 12 and, when Kono bogeyed consecutively on Nos. 14 and 15, Chun pulled to within a stroke.

Both missed makeable birdie putts on 16 with Chun's ringing out. It was the defining hole, she said.

"I three-putted that hole for par and if I had two-putted, we would have been tied," said Chun, an incoming senior at Kamehameha. "Who knows what would have happened after that."

Instead, both parred No. 17 and, with a stroke lead, Kono played 18 perfectly. Her comeback for birdie stopped about 8 inches short and it was an easy putt for par.

Chun's chip from in front of the green ran away from her, as did her shot at forcing a playoff. Her 16-foot putt was about an inch short as she tapped in for a bogey and a share of second.

"When she ran her chip over, I felt pretty comfortable," said Kono. "This was a good way to end summer. I'll be going back to school this month and I'm so glad (to be in high school). It is sort of a graduation."

Kono and Chun were among the busy Hawaii junior golfers traveling this summer. Chun left last night for one final tournament, the 104th USGA Women's Amateur in Erie, Pa.

Also entered from Hawaii are Honolulu's Michelle Wie, Kailua's Bridget Dwyer and Shayna Miyajima of Wailuku.

Chun, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Player of the Year, had one of the most successful summers out of Hawaii's junior golf contingent. She won the Junior World Championships (15-17) in San Diego; was runner-up at the Callaway Hawaii State Junior Championship; was on the Hawaii team that tied for third at the Girls Junior America's Cup in Canada; and shared medalist honors at the U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur Championship in Texas. The last tournament she had to qualify for in Colorado, leaving the night she won the state stroke-play title.

"It's been a busy summer," said Chun. "I'm looking forward to my senior year. That's going to be another challenge."



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