Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific: Anika Varma denied a low round by cold putter in Abu Dhabi

Anika Verma Abu DhabiABU DHABI: India’s Anika Varma could not take advantage of the numerous chances she gave herself in the third round of the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific (WAAP) championship on Friday, but still managed to shoot a two-under par 70 round to have an outside chance of winning the region’s premier tournament going into the final round.

At Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s National course, the 17-year-old Varma provided a masterclass of ball-striking, but in a space of five holes from the sixth onwards, she converted only one birdie chance on the eighth hole from less than a foot and missed the other four from inside five feet.

The two-under-par 70 moved her to tied sixth place at nine-under par 207, six shots behind Thailand’s Natthakritta Vongtaveelap, who continued to dominate the championship and opened up a three-shot lead at the top after a brilliant birdie-eagle finish.

Japan’s Mizuki Hashimoto added a third straight 68 to move to 12-under-par and in second place, one ahead of Australian Kelsey Bennett (69).

Among other Indian players, Natalii Gupta (69), who is Dubai born and nominated for the tournament by the Emirates Golf Federation (EGF), was in tied 16th place at four-under par. Bengaluru’s Avani Prashanth hit a third consecutive one-under par 71. Sifat Sagoo (72) and Kriti Chowhan (73) were tied 27th and 41st respectively at one-under 215 and three-over 219 respectively.

The Sacramento, US-based 17-year-old Varma, quickly moved up with two early bogeys. She then tapped in for her third birdie on the eighth hole after a stunning wedge shot, but missed at least five birdie chances from inside five feet range.

“I feel like my approach shots, as always through this week, they’ve been really good. My putting's been not my best friend, but it's been pretty consistent. I've been making a lot of good par putts and I had my first bogey for the tournament today, so it is what it is. But overall, I’ve been pretty consistent, and everything’s been good,” said Varma, whose run of 47 holes without a bogey came to an end on the par-3 12th hole, when she probably hit the only bad iron shot of the day and failed to make her up-and-down from the right greenside bunker.

“I feel like it gets a little frustrating, but at the same time, you just have to learn like not to give in to the frustration and just play your game because you have such days. You always do. It’s golf. You have some really, really good days and some really bad days. So you've just got to keep on going, have fun, talk to people, and like just play your game.”

Gupta, whose brother Arjun represented India in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last week in Dubai, closed with three birdies in a row to total four-under par 212.

The 17-year-old, born and brought up in the UAE, said: “I could have started better, but it was a good finish. I got to make some birdies towards the end. I was struggling with the putter a bit on the front. Then I just trusted my stroke towards the end, and that got me going.”

Vongtaveelap, known as ‘Sim 300’ in Thailand for her 300-yard average drives, hit her approach shot to two feet on the par-4 17th, and on the 18th, after another long drive, smashed a five-hybrid to four feet for an eagle.

“I am so happy and excited about the finish. It was perfect. The last seven shots were exactly how I wanted to hit them,” said Vongtaveelap, who, remarkably, has 19 wins and eight runners-up finishes in domestic events in the last two-year cycle of World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) events.

“I’ve come here thinking I want to win the championship. So, this is a good way to go into the final round. But I know I need to play well as there are many good players in the field.”

A total of 78 players from 16 APGC nations are taking part this week. WAAP is one of the most important events in the calendar for players from the Asia-Pacific region, with the champion golfer getting guaranteed securing entries in the AIG Women’s Open and The Amundi Evian Championship (both major championships), as well as an invitation to play in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.