Castle, Hou set up all-Wildcats final in US Women’s Amateur

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HARRISON, N.Y. (AP) — Kentucky junior Jensen Castle rallied to advance to the U.S. Women’s Amateur final Saturday, beating NCAA champion Rachel Heck of Stanford with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 19th hole.

Castle, from West Columbia, South Carolina, will face Arizona junior Hou Yu-chiang of Taiwan in the 36-hole final. Hou beat Michigan State sophomore Valentina Rossi of Argentina 2 up.

Two holes down after Heck won the par-4 16th with a birdie, Castle took the par-3 16th with a par and tied it with a par on the par-5 18th when Heck missed a 4-footer.

“I thought for sure she won,” Castle said. “I couldn’t believe she missed it. When I knew she gave me that opportunity I was like, ‘All right, I birdied earlier, I’m going to I birdie this again.’ And I went after it.”

After Castle made her birdie putt on the 274-yard, par-4 19th, Heck missed a 10-footer.

“It’s tough, but, I mean, I played a good playoff hole,” Heck said. “She made the putt, and I don’t know how I missed. It was a good roll.”

Castle survived a 12-for-2 playoff late Tuesday just to qualify for match play. She’s trying to become the third No. 63 seed to win a USGA title, following Clay Ogden (2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links) and Steven Fox (2012 U.S. Amateur).

“I keep forgetting I’m the 63rd seed,” said Castle, who has battled a rib injury most of the summer. “I feel like seeds are irrelevant once you get into match play. It’s everyone’s game. I’m just glad that the doctor said I could play.”

She’s 248th in the women’s world amateur ranking.

Heck, from Memphis, Tennessee, missed a chance to join former Georgia star Vicki Goetze (1992) as the only players to win NCAA Division I individual and U.S. Women’s Amateur titles in the same year. In May, Heck capped her freshman year at Stanford with the NCAA individual title — her sixth victory of the season. She’s No. 2 in the women’s world amateur ranking.

Hou, recovering from a partially torn labrum in her left, won the par-4 17th with a par to take the lead and finished off Rossi with a birdie win on 18.

“I’m not nervous, but I knew I couldn’t do anything if it’s because of my bad shot,” Hou said. “So I just try to focus more on my shot by shot and try to hit greens and then just get back to my normal routine.”

Both finalists are exempt into the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Resort. Castle would wrap up a spot on the U.S. Curtis Cup team with a victory.

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