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Merkle wins spot in first LPGA event

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    Moanalua High graduate Kristina Merkle wins an event in Oregon to earn a spot in the Safeway Classic, her first LPGA event.

Moanalua High alum Kristina Merkle shot an even-par 71 yesterday to win the Safeway Classic Amateur Open and earn a spot in the LPGA Safeway Classic.

Merkle, named Conference USA freshman of the year last season at Tulsa, won by three shots at Langdon Farms Golf Club in Aurora, Ore. She birdied the first hole, but was 1 over going into the 18th after a double bogey at the 15th.

The four-time Jennie K. champ hit two wayward shots on the final hole, but knocked her approach from 150 yards to 4 feet and converted the birdie.

"I played pretty well," said Merkle, who has been hitting a new 8-degree driver recently. "I’m hitting the driver a lot better and my putting is better, so I’m getting around the greens a lot easier."

Merkle went out in the second group and had to wait for most of the other competitors to finish, much as she did last month at Hawaii’s U.S. Women’s Open qualifier. That day Japan’s Sakurako Mori, playing in the final group, overcame Merkle.

This time, no one came close, including 2009 Oregon Amateur champion Amy Simanton, who tied for second at 74.

Merkle will be playing in her first LPGA Tour event. The Safeway Classic will be held Aug. 20-22 at Pumpkin Ridge in North Plains, Ore.

Her sophomore year at Tulsa starts Aug. 17. Merkle will be a little late.

"I think about playing in the LPGA all the time," she said. "I was thinking about it today a couple times while I was still out there."

Oride tied for 12th

Kauai High senior Kelli Oride is tied for 12th after yesterday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, in Pinehurst, N.C.

Oride, runner-up at the last two Hawaii state high school championships, opened with a 2-over 74. Only five girls broke par. The leader is Danielle Kang of California at 67.

The top 64 after today’s second round advance to match play at The Country Club of North Carolina.

‘Iolani junior Marissa Chow and Moanalua sophomore Eimi Koga, coming off a victory in last week’s Junior Worlds, have a share of 43rd after shooting 78s.

Reigning Hawaii State Women’s Match Play champion Allisen Corpuz, the youngest entrant at 12, fired an 81 and is tied for 95th. Punahou teammates Cyd Okino and Kacie Komoto each shot 83.

There are 156 girls from 11 countries competing.

Kunitomo opens with 74

Lahaina’s Aaron Kunitomo, who was eighth in his age group at last week’s Junior Worlds, leads the Hawaii players at the U.S. Junior Amateur, which started yesterday at Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada, Mich.

Kunitomo opened with a 74, while Justin Keiley, also from Maui, shot 75.

The leaders are defending champion Jordan Spieth, Stephen Behr and Davis Tomble, at 67. Spieth finished 16th at the PGA Tour’s HP Byron Nelson Championship in May.

The U.S. Junior has 156 golfers from six countries. The top 64 after today’s round advance to match play.

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