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Saito stuns field at season-opener

Kyodo

Little-known Airi Saito capped a dream week with a playoff victory at the Japan LPGA season-opening Daikin Orchid Ladies on Sunday.

The 22-year-old’s first career title came when Yuko Mitsuka lipped out with her par putt from inside three feet on the second extra hole at Ryukyu Golf Club.

Saito had bogeyed the final two holes of regulation to drop into a three-way playoff with Mitsuka and South Korean veteran Lee Ji Hee, who was eliminated after failing to make a birdie at the first extra hole, a repeat of the par-5 18th.

The three players were tied at 10-under 206 after 54 holes.

“I’m so happy, and this is unbelievable,” said Saito, who was playing only her 11th tournament on the pro tour, including two appearances as an amateur, and earned a winning prize of ¥14.4 million.

“I never expected Mitsuka-san to miss a putt like that, so I was thinking of what to do at the third playoff hole. I was surprised to see what happened out there,” she said.