After the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur featured one of the great second-nine shows of the last few years on any tour anywhere in the world, expectations were high going into the final round of the 2021 ANWA. Even more so with No. 1 amateur in the world, Rose Zhang, teeing off last and leading the event heading into the final 18 holes. But if 2019 was a battle for the ages, this year's return of the ANWA more a war of attrition.
Tsubasa Kajitani, ranked No. 26 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, beat Emilia Migliaccio in a playoff with a par on the 18th hole to win the event, but it was a winding road for the 17-year-old (who shot 72 in the final round) just to get there.
With Zhang and others surging out in front, Kajitani was silent for most of the day. She started her work on the par-5 8th hole where she made birdie to get to 1 over, which at the time seemed like it was going to be not even close to enough to contend to win the event. Kajitani continued her march up the leaderboard with birdies at Nos. 14 and 15. As Zhang, Karen Fredgaard, Ingrid Lindblad and Olivia Mehaffey started to struggle, Kajitani suddenly found herself standing on the 17th tee box suddenly in complete control of the event.
The 13th was particularly unkind to Zhang, who was easily the favorite to win as the No. 1 amateur in the world coming into Saturday's finale. She lost her tee shot in the woods, hit her fourth into Rae's Creek and made an 8 on the hole. Though she bounced back for birdie on the next to get back within striking distance, the 8 would prove a costly difference between heading to the clubhouse and playing extra holes later on.
But Kajitani joined those who wobbled late. Augusta National, unsurprisingly, has a way of affecting nervous amateurs trying to win the biggest event of their lives. After missing the green on No. 17, she three-putted for double to fall back to 1 over, and the balance of the tournament seemed to again shift.
Kajitani made a tough par on No. 18 to enter the clubhouse at 1 over (73-72-72 in the three-round event) and in a tie with Magliaccio, who finished nearly two hours before the final pairing. Nobody else behind Kajitani would catch either of those two.
Zhang also bogeyed 17 and was part of a six-way tie for third. All six golfers missed the playoff by one stroke after two straight hours of golf in which it seemed nobody could made a single putt. The playoff hole -- No. 18 -- proved to be a microcosm for a really tough, cool day in which the golf was delayed by an hour in the morning because of frost.
After pounding her second shot well past the first playoff hole, Kajitani left her putt to 5 feet for par while Migliaccio left her chip short and in the sand. After a fabulous bunker shot, Migliaccio nearly assured herself of making bogey so the tournament rested on Kajitani's 5-footer.
She canned it.
"It's hard to bogey and lose to a par," said Migliaccio.
Kajitani said through a translator that she didn't expect to win the tournament, and she was really happy to be there and to be the second champion of this prestigious event.
Though the golf was probably more what we should expect from a cadre of elite high school and college golfers playing a course that melts even the best professionals in the world, it didn't diminish the win for Kajitani, who was immediately overcome by what she had accomplished.
In 2019, we watched two future professional stars -- both with loads of college and amateur experience under their belts -- do their thing on maybe the best canvas in the world. This year's version wasn't exactly that, but it was no less meaningful, especially for Kajitani. She locked up a five-year exemption into this event (which, at age 17, could be useful), the biggest win of her career and a weekend she will certainly never forget.