U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Ultimate Bounce Back: Jutanugarn Prevails in Thrilling Playoff
June 3, 2018 | Shoal Creek, Ala.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand overcame a near-record collapse on Sunday, surrendering a seven-stroke lead to hot-putting Hyo-Joo Kim, then rebounding from a one-stroke deficit in extra holes to claim the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Shoal Creek.
After the players finished tied at 11-under-par 277, Kim continued her wondrous putting, holing a 25-foot birdie putt on the first hole of the two-hole aggregate playoff, the par-4 14th hole. Jutanugarn missed her birdie attempt from 12 feet, and after Jutanugarn hooked her tee shot on the second playoff hole into the rough, it appeared that her collapse was nearly complete.
However, Jutanugarn got up and down from behind the 18th green for par, while Kim bogeyed from the left front bunker, extending the playoff to a third hole, which the players parred, with Kim barely missing her birdie putt to complete the improbable comeback.
The fourth playoff hole decided the championship, as both players bunkered their approach shots to the 18th green. Kim hit her long bunker shot from the front of the green to about 16 feet and missed her par putt on the low side. Jutanugarn, who hit her 7-iron approach into a bunker to the right of the flagstick, blasted out to about 18 inches and tapped in after Kim’s miss.
“After you have a seven-shot lead and end up having to go to a playoff, I have no expectations, because I got mad a little bit with my back nine,” said Jutanugarn, 22, who now has nine professional wins and two majors (2016 Ricoh Women’s British Open) and is the first player from Thailand to win a USGA Open championship. “So if I have a playoff, I’m going to make sure I do my best every shot, because I feel like I didn’t commit about the back nine. I have a last chance to make myself proud and hit the shot in front of me.”
When Jutanugarn rolled in a 31-foot putt for birdie on the ninth hole, she extended her advantage over second-place Kim to seven strokes, and by reaching 16 under par, matched Juli Inkster’s Women’s Open record under-par total from 1999. The last question on anyone’s mind at the turn was the largest final-round deficit overcome to win a U.S. Women’s Open (five strokes, by several players), and Jutanugarn had led Kim by six starting the day.
Jutanugarn then stepped to the tee of the par-4 10th hole and blocked her tee shot way to the right and into a hazard. She went on to make a triple-bogey 7, and another bogey on the par-4 12th – which Kim had just birdied from 40 feet – trimmed her lead from seven to two strokes. Jutanugarn realized that she was faltering.
“After I made 7, and I teed off on 11, I told my caddie [Les Luark], ‘I don’t know how to hit this one,’” said Jutanugarn. “He’s like, ‘Come on, do you want to win?’ I’m like, yes. He said, ‘OK, then we have to do it.’ OK, so I hit.”
Kim continued to apply the pressure, running in a 51-foot putt from the fringe on No. 15. Kim, 22, who turned professional at age 16 and has won nine times on the LPGA of Korea and three times on the LPGA Tour, led the field with only 25 putts on Sunday and in addition to the long putts on Nos. 12 and 15, also holed out from 38 feet (birdie, No. 6), 24 feet (par, No. 5), 15 feet, 13 feet and 12 feet in shooting the round of the day, a 5-under 67.
“It didn’t really enter my mind that I was going to come that close, so I just focused on playing my game,” said Kim through an interpreter. Of her putt on No. 15, she said she didn’t realize she was on Jutanugarn’s heels. “Actually, I wasn’t keeping up with the score at the time. When I made that putt, I felt like the luck was with me today.”
Jutanugarn stalled Kim’s charge and seemed to right her own fortunes by hitting her tee shot to 4 feet after a long wait on the par-3 16th, then holing the putt to restore her two-shot lead. But Jutanugarn promptly bogeyed both the par-5 17th (the second-easiest hole on the course) and the par-4 18th. When she missed her par try from 15 feet on No. 18, the two-hole playoff – the first in USGA history after the format was changed for 2018 – was on.
Tavatanakit Takes Low Amateur: Patty Tavatanakit, 18, who just completed her freshman year at UCLA, shot a 1-under-par 71 to complete the championship at 2-under 286, tying for fifth place and earning the low-amateur medal for the championship. Tavatanakit played the final round with 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up Albane Valenzuela and started the day one stroke ahead of Valenzuela and two ahead of Elizabeth Wang. “It definitely means a lot,” said Tavatanakit, who captured four individual titles for the Bruins in 2017-18. “There's a lot of great amateurs that can shoot low numbers. I played my game and it ended up like this.”
Ciganda Shoots 69, Finishes Solo Third: Carlota Ciganda of Spain, who tied for fifth in last year’s U.S. Women’s Open, improved on that finish with a 7-under total of 281. Ciganda, 27, of Pamplona, had finished tied for 12th, 11th and 10th in her previous three LPGA Tour starts. “At the beginning of the year, I’m a little slow and after I play five, six events I think I started warming up. I like the summer. You have the biggest tournaments now so I just try to focus on those, all the majors and all the big ones.”
Demanding Par Fours: The 12th and 4th holes, which played as by far the most difficult holes for the week at Shoal Creek, continued that trend on Sunday. For 72 holes, the 431-yard 12th played exactly one-half stroke over par and surrendered just 20 birdies all week, with 170 bogeys and 31 doubles to 214 pars. The 421-yard 4th hole played to a 4.44 average and even fewer birdies (15). No. 18, which Ariya Jutanugarn bogeyed to fall into the playoff and then twice saved par on to rebound for victory, was the third-toughest of the week at a 4.31 stroke average. The par-5 holes – Nos. 3, 6, 11 and 17 – played as the four easiest holes for the week.
Sarah Jane Smith of Australia, who shot 6-over 78 on Sunday to finish in a tie for fifth after leading the championship by three strokes through 36 holes:
“[On Saturday], I felt like I hit the ball very nicely, which was comforting, just didn’t roll any putts in. Today I hit a few more squirrelly shots. I don’t know, I think I ran out of gas on the back nine. In reality, I feel like if you would have said after Kingsmill when I had missed my fifth cut in a row, would you take a Top 5 at the U.S. Women's Open? I think I might have taken it. Hopefully this is setting me up for a nice summer.”
Danielle Kang, two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, who closed with a 3-under 69 to finish solo fourth, by far her best finish in nine Women’s Open starts (T14 in 2012 was her previous best):
“The golf course was impeccable this week. Out of all that rain, the golf course is in great shape. I know it’s softer than the way the USGA probably wanted it to play. However, it’s still really tough. It was a U.S. Open golf course and I wouldn't expect anything less. If you take one focus off it, double [bogey] is just right around the corner.”
Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, the runner-up in the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur and a second-team All-America player at Stanford, improved on her tie for 67th place in last year’s Women’s Open, finishing solo 24th.
“It means so much to play the last round of the U.S. Women’s Open. [Saturday] was a very long day. I played 30 holes, kind of a marathon. I have never experienced that before. So I think there’s a lot to take from this week. It’s amazing to play in majors and I’m grateful to have this opportunity as an amateur.”
Emma Talley, who finished with a 5-over 77 to tie for 41st place, on playing two rounds of the championship with 2007 champion Cristie Kerr:
“Today she saw another terrible round. I looked at her caddie at one point and said, ‘I bet you’re wondering how I got on the LPGA.’ We played a match the last four holes, and I guess we should have started that [sooner].” Talley played the last four holes in 2 under.
Talley, a “Tour Hopeful” member of Shoal Creek, on the club’s efforts to overcome more than 5 inches of rain for the week:
“I take pride in being a member here and Shoal Creek did a wonderful job. We got done on a Sunday. If you would have told me that on Wednesday, I would not have believed you. Shout-out to the green crew and the staff. I know even the members were filling divots. It was very much a team effort this week.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.
The Social Scene
It was a long week here in Alabama with the weather not cooperating and playing 29 holes yesterday. But I just want to thank all the sponsors, volunteers, fans and course staff for making this week possible! Thanks to Shoal Creek for hosting us :) played well fought strong all week definitely a lot of positives to build off of this week. Time to go home for a week and get ready for the next stretch of events :) @usga #T5