Back Goes Low, Takes Win at Ping Phoenix Junior

Moon Valley Country Club PHOENIX — James Back of Seoul, South Korea, began the day hoping to shoot under par, never thinking he would walk out of the scoring tent with his first AJGA Open victory. After firing a final-round 5-under-par 67, however, he bounded from third place to the lead and never looked back. In the Girls Division, Victoria Sungmin Park of Irvine, Calif., began the day one stroke behind second-round leader Michelle Yang of Los Angeles, but shot a Girls Division low final-round score of 4-under-par 68 to claim her first AJGA championship.

Conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, the PING Phoenix Junior is a 54-hole stroke play event held at Moon Valley Country Club. The tournament field featured 51 boys and 27 girls, ages 12-18, from 11 states, Mexico, and Taiwan. The Boys Division played the par-72 course at 7,163 yards, while the Girls Division played the course at 6,417 yards. 

Back began the day tied for third after carding a two-day total of 6-under-par 138. It didn't take long for him to begin mounting a comeback, as he birdied the first hole while leader Juan Pablo Hernandez of Mexico City, and Landon Tujague of Dallas, both made par. Playing catch-up was the theme of the front nine for Back, who sank three birdie putts and had an eagle on the par-5 No. 8 to get his round started.

“I was playing catch-up to Juan [Hernandez] on the front nine,” Back said. “All I thought about was hitting fairways and greens, then I found out after No. 9 that I was leading.”

A 4-under-par 32 on the front nine gave Back a two-stroke lead over both Hernandez and Tujague, and he began playing with a victory in mind. Tujague and Back again tied for the lead on No. 11 after Tujague recorded a birdie while Back made par. The tie wouldn't last through the par-4 No. 14 after a bogey by Tujague, giving Back the opportunity to carry his lead into the clubhouse with a tournament total of 11-under-par 205.

“I never thought I would be leading today,” Back said. “I didn't know what to do with myself on the last few holes, but I was able to keep playing my game and get a win.”

Two shots behind Back with a tournament total of 9-under-par 207 were Chien Yao Hung of Sinjhuang City, Taiwan and Tujague. In a four-way tie for fourth were Kevin Gillick of Scottsdale, Ariz., Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos, Calif., Hernandez, and John Catlin of Carmichael, Calif., all with tournament-totals of 8-under-par 208.

Park, a seasoned junior golfer, had never won an AJGA event. Playing with the goal of shooting under par, Park stuck to her game and kept a calm and determined attitude.

“I kept telling myself to not get too excited and to not overthink my shots,” Park said. “The holes were really tricky, but as long as you hit the ball straight you could make birdie.”

The birdies kept falling for Park who recorded five on the day en route to a tournament total of 6-under-par 210 and the title of champion in the PING Phoenix Junior.

Kyung Kim of Chandler, Ariz., carded an even-par 216 that landed her in second, while second-round leader Michelle Yang finished the tournament with a 2-over-par 218 to round out the top three.  


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