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Saito pulls off playoff Daikin Orchid victory

Date Posted: 2012-03-09

Few people had ever heard of Airi Saito before Sunday, but her stunning victory in a two-hole, three-way playoff round at the Daikin Orchid Ladies Golf Tournament has people scrambling to learn more about her.

The 22-year-old Japanese came out of nowhere to stun the crowd at the Ryukyu Golf Club, bogeying her final two holes in regulation play to force a three-way playoff with Yuko Mitsuka and South Korea’s Lee Ji Hee. Saito’s first-ever Ladies Professional Golf Tournament win in 11 tournaments came on the second playoff hole when Mitsuka missed a par putt from within three feet of the cup. The three had been tied at 10-under 206 after 54 holes.

“I’m so happy and this is unbelievable,” she exclaimed as she realized she’d earned the ¥14.4 million top prize. “I never expected Mitsuka-san to miss a putt like that,” she said, “so I was already thinking of what to do at the third playoff hole. I was surprised to see what happened out there.”

Saito had come out of nowhere in the Saturday second round, firing a 64 to propel her into a two-shot lead heading into the final round. She had never finished in the top 30 in seven previous starts as she scored her first-eve Japan LPGA Tour win. Defending champion Park In Bee of South Korea fired a disappointing final round 75 that dropped her into a tie for 16th.

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