Pajaree Anannarukarn of Thailand poses for a photo with the winner’s trophy after winning on day five of the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards at Shadow Creek Golf Course on May 28, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (AFP photo)
Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn defeated Japan’s Ayaka Furue 3&1 in Sunday’s LPGA Match-Play final to capture her second career tour title.
World number 97 Pajaree improved to 6-1 for the week at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Nevada, while 18th-ranked Furue settled for a second consecutive runner-up finish in the event.
“It was a great week and I’m definitely happy for everything,” Pajaree said. “I just try every possible way to improve on my game and just keep believing.
“I tried really hard to focus on myself. I missed a couple putts. I’m glad I was able to play decent enough.”
Pajaree, a four-time winner on the Thailand tour, took her only prior LPGA victory at the 2021 Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland.
“Definitely a different feeling compared to the stroke play,” she said. “Match play is taking a lot of energy out throughout the week.
“When I won in Northern Ireland I continued playing great golf until early 2022. I’m trying to figure it out. Golf, sometimes it’s hard.”
In the morning semi-finals, Pajaree won four of the last eight holes to defeat Sweden’s Linn Grant 3&1 while Furue ousted Ireland’s Leona Maguire 2&1.
Pajaree, traveling without her father for the first time, made 12 birdies in 34 holes on the final day, eight of them in the semi-final.
“I used all my birdies and all my focus on the first 18,” Pajaree said.
– Furue gains confidence –
Furue, who lost 3&2 to South Korea’s Ji Eun-hee in last year’s final, is an eight-time Japan Tour winner who took her only LPGA title at last year’s Women’s Scottish Open.
“In match play, I gain more confidence about my play,” Furue said through a translator after her only loss in seven matches. “That will be this week’s gain.”
In the final, Furue won the second and Pajaree took the third with pars. Pajaree parred to win the par-3 fifth and, after Furue won the sixth with a birdie, the Thai standout birdied the par-5 seventh for a 1-up edge.
Pajaree birdied the par-4 12th for a 2-up advantage but Furue answered by dropping her approach inches from the hole to win the par-3 13th and pull back within one.
Pajaree responded by putting her second shot inches from the hole for a birdie concession at 14 to restore her 2-up edge, then tied 15 with a bogey and 16 with a par.
At the par-3 17th, Pajaree reached the green and Furue found a bunker. She blasted out with a shot that struck the hole and rolled well beyond, then surrendered the hole and the triumph to Pajaree.
In the semis, 19th-ranked Maguire and Furue each won two of the first five holes with pars. Birdies at six and seven lifted Maguire 2-up but Furue answered with an eagle at the par-5 ninth and a birdie at the par-4 10th to pull level.
A day after her 23rd birthday, Furue won the 12th with a par, took the par-4 15th with a bogey and tied 16 and 17 with pars to advance.
Pajaree, who turns 24 on Tuesday, birdied the first two holes to go 2-up, but world number 22 Grant birdied the par-5 seventh and eagled the par-5 ninth to pull level.
The Thai standout birdied 10, parred 12 and birdied 14 to go 3-up. Grant birdied the par-5 16th but Pajaree took the par-3 17th with a par to advance.