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Malixi all out against Romero for U.S. Girls Jr. title

‘I’ve always put myself in these kinds of positions, but I (haven’t) got the job done. But hopefully I do (it) tomorrow. I know it’s not going to be an easy win

IT’S mano a mano between Filipino pride Rianne Malixi (left) and American Kiara Romero for the title. | Photograph COURTESY OF USGA

COLORADO — Filipino hotshot Rianne Malixi is one very important win away from bringing the US Girls’ Junior Championship back to the Philippines — and taking her first major junior title.

Malixi will square off with American Kiara Romero in Saturday’s 36-hole championship match of the 74th edition of the tourney at the US Air Force Academy Eisenhower Golf Club’s Blue Course.

The 16-year-old Malixi eliminated Leigh Chien, 17, of Irvine, Calif., 4 and 2, in the semifinal. That’s right after beating Farah O’Keefe of Texas in the quarterfinals, 1 up.

Malixi, who is No. 95 in the WAGR, is looking to become the second Filipina to win this title, following Princess Mary Superal in 2014.

Dottie Ardina lost in the 2011 final to future US Women’s Open champion Ariya Jutanugarn. Yuka Saso also won the 2021 US Women’s Open representing the Philippines.

“It means a lot,” said Malixi, a rising high school junior who hopes to snag her first major junior title. “I’ve always put myself in these kinds of positions, but I (haven’t) got the job done. But hopefully I do (it) tomorrow. I know it’s not going to be an easy win. So, patience, grit and playing smart out there will really pay off in getting over the hump.”

Romero, 17, of San Jose, Calif., knocked out 2022 runner-up and 2023 US Women’s Amateur Four-Ball champion Gianna Clemente, 15, of Estero, Fla., 2 up, in the second of the two semifinal matches on Friday afternoon.

An incoming University of Oregon freshman, Romero, the No. 3 seed from stroke play, avenged a 2-and-1 defeat to Clemente in the Round of 16 of last year’s US Girls’ Junior at The Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green, Ky.

“I knew going into today I would have to play good, especially against Gianna, she’s a great player,” said Romero, who finished third in the 2022 Girls Junior PGA Championship. “I can’t really control what she’s going to do. I just focused on my game and tried to hit as many greens and fairways as I could and take it from there.”

The match turned on the 15th hole when Romero rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt to tie the match. One hole later, Clemente, who is No. 40 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®, topped her second shot on the 562-yard, par-5.

Her third from 210 yards out came up short of the green and she failed to get up and down for par, ending a string of 47 holes without a bogey. Romero managed a two-putt par to take a 1-up lead.

“Yeah, that putt on 15, the long one, that’s what really got me in,” Romero said.

“It got me back to even. Then the next hole I just kept going with it and I got a lot of confidence coming into the last few holes.”

Both players missed the green on the 183-yard, par-3 17th, resulting in matching bogeys. Then on 18, needing to win the hole, Clemente’s approach stopped 30 feet short of the flagstick, while Romero stuffed her approach to 6 feet. When Clemente missed, Romero calmly converted her fifth birdie of the match.

Clemente had come into the final fresh off a pair of big victories, including a 3-and-2 triumph in the Round of 16 over world No. 4 Anna Davis, the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion. She then made five birdies in ousting Clarisa Temelo, of Mexico, 6 and 5, in the quarterfinals on Friday morning.

“I’m pretty frustrated with the ending today but overall it was a solid week,” said Clemente, now 9-2 in match play at this championship.

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