Coming Down the Stretch

By Tommy Schoegler

July 25, 2013 Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 2:12 PM EST

Fort Wayne (incnow.tv)- It was a day of upsets on Thursday at the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

In the afternoon, 17-year-old Casie Cathrea, of Livermore, Calif., notched the victory of the week at Sycamore Hills Golf Club, outputting defending champion Minjee Lee for a thrilling 19-hole, third-round victory. And, Sabrina Bonanno’s hot streak continued, as she eliminated stroke-play medalist Bailey Tardy, 4 and 3, in the morning’s second round of match play and ousted Maria Fassi of Mexico, 5 and 4, in the afternoon.

The U.S. Girls’ Junior is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

On paper, the Cathrea/Lee match was a marquee pairing. Cathrea, who will attend Oklahoma State University in the fall, is last month’s U.S. Women’s Open low amateur and the winner of the inaugural Women’s Porter Cup in June. Lee is the defending Girls’ Junior champion and won both the 2013 Australian Women’s Amateur and the Australian Girls’ Amateur. The match certainly lived up to the hype, and the normally stoic Cathrea admitted to some early nerves.

“When I teed up on the first tee, [I was nervous],” she said. “But then it left my mind because to me she was just another player once we got on the course.”

Cathrea jumped to an early 2-up advantage through two, but Lee fought back with three straight birdies on holes 6-8 to wrest away the lead. Lee extended the margin to 2 up before Cathrea surged forward.

The match turned at the par-5 15th, a hole Cathrea later called her “magic” hole.

“My caddie this morning talked me out of a hybrid and it was a good decision,” she said. That good decision called for a 4-iron approach, which she stuck to 6 feet. Lee made birdie, but Cathrea drained an eagle-3 to pull within one hole.

Cathrea squared the match with a 15-foot birdie at the 16th, but her flubbed chip shot and poor putt at the par-4 17th gave Lee a 1-up lead going to the 18th hole.

Lee struggled from the start, sending her drive hooking left. It ricocheted off a tree and into the water, sending her back for a drop and a penalty stroke. Cathrea’s tee shot landed in a right-side fairway bunker, but she cleared the creek with her approach. Lee made the green in four and had a 20-footer for bogey that stopped inches short of the hole.

Cathrea was faced with a 4-foot bogey putt to tie the match and send it to extra holes. “I was standing over it and my hands were starting to shake,” said Cathrea, but she was able to steady herself and knock in the short putt.

Both players flew the green at the par-4 first hole, but while Cathrea was just inches off, Lee was faced with a 10-foot chip. She sent the ball high and across the green, and her comebacker for par came up tantalizingly short. Cathrea chipped to tap-in distance, and Lee conceded the putt and the match.

The match was just what Cathrea needed to boost her confidence going into the next round.

“Now I feel like I'm ready to play in the morning,” she said. “I'm going to come out and play my best.” Cathrea’s opponent Friday morning will be Bethany Wu, who recorded a pair of 1-up victories, over Nicole Morales and Samantha Wagner.

Bonanno may be a match-play rookie, but watching her play, you would never know it. One day after making a four-hole comeback to win her first-round match, Bonanno upset Tardy and then scored a runaway 5-and-4 afternoon victory over Maria Fassi.

Bonanno, 17, from Norridge, Ill., worked her way to a 2-up lead over Tardy through six holes. But a mid-round charge from Tardy flipped the match upside down. Tardy stuck her tee shot on the par-3 seventh hole and hit her approach on the par-4 eighth hole close, and the resulting birdies pulled her back even with Bonanno.

“I was like, oh no, here we go again,” said Bonanno, who had flashbacks to her own marathon comeback on Tuesday. “To get back to all square, it was not easy. She had to work harder and I had to work hard to keep going.”

Tardy grabbed her first lead with a birdie at the par-4 ninth. The lead, however, was short-lived. Bonanno called the par-4 10th the turning point of the match, as Tardy’s bogey dropped the match back to all square.

“Then she started losing her strokes and I started gaining on her,” said Bonanno, who won four straight holes to earn the victory on the 15th green. “Somehow, I came through and started hitting shot after shot, sticking it. It just worked out.”

Bonanno will face 15-year-old Megan Khang, the championship’s youngest remaining competitor, in Friday’s quarterfinals. Khang needed a 20-hole marathon to win over Hannah O’Sullivan in the morning, then notched a 3-and-2 victory over Maddie Szeryk in the afternoon.

Lakareber Abe, of Angleton, Texas, advanced with 2-and-1 victories over Taylor Tomlinson and second-seeded Lilia Khatu Vu. The 16-year-old, who will attend the University of Alabama in the fall of 2014, feels that she has found her stride along the Sycamore Hills fairways.

“I keep on getting better,” said Abe, who will face Kathleen Scavo in the quarterfinals. “Every day I've hit it a lot better. I’m just keeping that going and having fun.”

Yueer Feng captured a 2-and-1 victory in the morning over Emily Campbell and then eliminated Australian Hannah Green, 5 and 4. Feng is hoping to make up for her 2012 8-and-6 quarterfinal loss at the hands of Lydia Ko.

Feng will play Gabriella Then, whose third-round, 6-and-4 dismantling of Cheyenne Knight was the day’s largest margin of victory.




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