By Ian Ransom
HANGZHOU, China (Reuters) -India number one Aditi Ashok gave up a seven-shot lead in a final-day meltdown to lose her gold medal chance at the Asian Games golf on Sunday, allowing world number 206 Arpichaya Yubol to claim an unlikely title for Thailand.
Having shot a magical 61 on Saturday – the finest round of her career – Ashok had to settle for silver after closing with a five-under 77 that left her two strokes shy of the 21-year-old Thai at Hangzhou’s West Lake International golf course.
Hangzhou was the second big disappointment for Ashok at a major multi-sport Games, having missed out on a medal at the Tokyo Olympics by a stroke after being in contention right to the finish.
“I wasn’t inconsistent like today,” she said of the Olympics, where New Zealand’s former world number one Lydia Ko snatched the bronze from her grasp.
“Someone was just a few shots better, whereas here today I kind of threw it away. I shot my career best round yesterday and probably the worst of the year today. So that’s just what it was.”
Yubol shot a four-under round of 68 to finish with a 19-under total of 269, snatching the lead from Ashok at the par-three 16th where the Indian crashed to a double-bogey after finding water off the tee.
The stocky Thai curled in a long birdie putt on the 17th to take a two-stroke cushion into the last hole, then tapped in for par for the biggest win of her career.
The victory also helped Thailand take the women’s team gold in a banner day for the nation’s golf. South Korea took silver and China bronze.
Tears welled up as Yubol embraced her ecstatic team mates Eila Galitsky and Patcharajutar Kongkraphan on the green.
“I’m so happy, and I made the Thai people proud that I can get two more gold medals,” Yubol told reporters.
“This is my first Asian Games and that I can get the gold medal makes me proud of myself.”
Yubol sympathised with Ashok, who managed only a single birdie and stumbled with bogeys on the third, sixth, 11th and 15th before the decisive blow at the 16th.
“Normally she plays very nice and her putter is amazing,” she said. “But (today) I’ve seen her putter is not working. This is not good for her but yes, sometimes golf is golf.”
There was another surprise winner in the men’s event, with Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho shooting a final round 69 to hold off South Korean Im Jung-sae by a stroke with a 27-under par total of 261.
In his rookie season as a professional, the 22-year-old became Hong Kong’s first Asian Tour title winner in March but gained global attention for the wrong reasons at the British Open where he needed 10 shots on the 18th hole of his opening round and ended up missing the cut.
All that was forgotten as he tapped in the winning par putt on the 18th on Sunday, having also helped secure Hong Kong bronze in the men’s team event.
South Korea claimed the gold, with Thailand taking silver.
Team mates charged onto the green and doused Kho with water.
“It’s a crazy game because I felt on top of the world after March and two months later I felt like I couldn’t break 80,” said Kho, who started his golden week in Hangzhou with rounds of 62 and 60.
“This week’s a step toward the right direction so I’m definitely going to enjoy this one.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by William Mallard and Michael Perry)