[PHOTO: Getty Images]

Australia’s rising star Gabi Ruffels moved a step closer to securing a career-first LPGA Tour title after the rookie finished one shot shy of a playoff at the Fir Hills Se Ri Pak Championship at Palos Verdes Estates near Long Beach in California.

A pair of late birdies at the par-4 15th and par-5 16th moved Ruffels to eight-under-par where she finished after a one-under 70. Superstar Nelly Korda would eventually defeat Ryann O’Toole in a playoff after both finished in regulation at nine-under. Korda birdied the 18th to win in sudden death.

Ruffels tied for third.

“It was such a special week considering that on the back nine on Friday I was outside the cut line,” said Ruffels, the younger sister of professional golfer Ryan Ruffels. “I had a really good weekend and managed the wind. Standing over the putt [on 18] I realised that was to get into a playoff. It’s cool. It’s really cool to be in that situation. Unfortunately didn’t make the putt, but thought I hit a pretty good putt.”

Ruffels, a former tennis prodigy, hails from Melbourne but spent a large portion of her childhood in southern California. Ruffels lived in Newport Beach, an hour from the tournament, while she played college golf at the University of Southern California, where she won the US Women’s Amateur in 2019.

“So much support, this is definitely a home away from home,” said Ruffels, a three-time winner on the secondary Epson Tour in 2023. “I went to school a half an hour away. My coach came out here. I saw him on No.10 and gave him a big hug – Justin from USC, of course. That was really cool. A course of the USC girls came out as well.

“It was such a special week to be here at Palos Verdes with my family close by and, to kind of have my best result in an LPGA event. My mum grew up in this area and my whole extended family was out here, I think even my grandparents, which is really special. Having that support just really carried me through today.

“I’m definitely playing well. Came off a good week in China. Not a great start to the year I guess in Bradenton, but worked hard these past couple weeks and I really feel like my game is in a good place.”

Meanwhile in the men’s game, a lacklustre showing from most of the Australian contingent at the Valspar Championship in Florida marked the second straight week of disappointing results on the PGA Tour.

Aaron Baddeley emerged as the only Australian to have made the cut at the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, near Tampa, with the veteran finishing tied 17th at four-under-par after one one point holding the outright lead during the second round. Baddeley signed off on the Valspar with a final-round 69 (two-under) and was eight shots behind the winner, Peter Malnati.

At last week’s Players Championship, not a single Australian finished in the top 20 on the leaderboard for the first time in 18 years at TPC Sawgrass.

Baddeley in action at the Valspar Championship. [Photo: Getty Images]

Malnati, who is coached by Australian golf whisperer and former PGA Tour player Brad Hughes, carded a gutsy final-round 67 to defeat Cameron Young by two shots. Malnati gave an emotional winning interview greenside in which he talked about the difficult of securing his first PGA Tour win in eight years. Malnati earned a maiden trip to Augusta National next month.

The rest of the Australian contingent missed the weekend with Harrison Endycott finishing at six-over through two rounds and world No.32 Min Woo Lee seven-over. New Zealand’s Ryan Fox also missed the cut at three-over.

Meanwhile, on the DP World Tour, Victorian David Micheluzzi was leading the Porsche Singapore Classic through 10 holes of the final round on Sunday, when he sat at 14-under-par. But Micheluzzi made consecutive double-bogeys at Laguna National Resort’s par-3 11th and par-4 12th. Micheluzzi, on the DP World Tour courtesy of winning the Australasian Tour’s order of merit title last year, showed enormous grit to birdie the 16th and 18th holes to finish at 12-under and tied for seventh.

The event was won by Sweden’s Jesper Svensson, the world No.182 who defeated Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat in a playoff.