Kingsmill Championship Finale: Ji-Yai Shin Outlasts Paula Creamer for 1st LPGA Win since 2010 in Record-Breaking 9-Hole Playoff

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Wow, what is there to add to that amazing 9-hole, 2-day playoff between a pair of players hungry for their 1st win in 2 seasons that extended the Kingsmill Championship to 81 holes?  Onechan’s favorite golfer, Paula Creamer, did just about everything she could to secure her 10th career LPGA victory, but in the end it was imoto’s favorite golfer, Ji-Yai Shin, who got LPGA win #9, crossed the $5 million mark in career earnings, and moved to the top spot in the race for the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average on tour.

So many golfers actually had a chance to win on Sunday, from relative unknowns like Karine Icher, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Danielle Kang, and Gerina Piller to veterans like Angela Stanford, Catriona Matthew, and Maria Hjorth to players in the prime of their careers like Ai Miyazato, Stacy Lewis, Mika Miyazato, and Azahara Munoz.  But they either started the day too far behind Creamer and Shin or succumbed to the pressure of getting close to them.  It was particularly painful for me to see my own favorite golfer Ai-sama finish so weakly after twice getting to -14 on the back.  Hey, but 3 rounds in the 60s and all 4 under par is a great way to head into the Ricoh Women’s British Open, which is probably her strongest major.

Really, though, nobody could keep pace with Shin and Creamer, who played really gritty golf down the stretch despite making uncharacteristic mistakes that opened the door momentarily to their lead chase pack.  For Creamer, it was an air-mailed approach shot on the 6th hole that ended an amazing run of 38 holes dating back to Friday during which she made 13 birdies and no bogeys.  But just as Shin suffered a bad stretch after her own 13-birdies-in-30-holes start–going +3 and birdieless in a 13-hole stretch from Friday to Saturday before getting it back in gear–Creamer had to suffer through an 8-hole stretch in which she went +3 and birdieless.  She bounced back with 2 birdies in a 4-hole stretch that brought her back to -17, but Shin showed her own resilience, as she recovered from back-to-back bogeys on 10 and 11 with back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 (and a near-miss for her 3rd in a row on 17).  Despite her heroics, she was still 1 shot behind Creamer as they stood on the 18th green.  It’s a cruel twist of fate that Creamer burned the cup on both her 72nd and 81st holes, coming in so hot both times that her ball actually slingshotted further away from each hole than it otherwise would have.

But you know what?  Given Creamer’s putting problems all season, I love that she had the confidence to take a run at both those 30-foot-plus putts.  Yes, she missed both comebackers and that was the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  Still, for her to trade blows with a former world #1 for 45 holes-plus and nearly come out on top in the game of “anything you can do I can do better” showed me that “the old Paula” is back.

And just like we witnessed the return of the Pink Panther the last few days, we saw the Final Round Queen win her crown back.  She didn’t make it look easy like she did in the past, and her driver and putter weren’t as reliable during the playoff as we’ve come to expect from her.  But, man, what a display of mid-iron, hybrid, and fairway wood accuracy and distance control!  I know many are questioning the decision to play 18 over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over, but it must have been amazing to watch the quintessential precision players fight a battle of attrition to a dangerous pin on a back-left shelf.  While it didn’t have the fireworks and eagle opportunities of the Manulife playoff that repeated on a short par-5 with an accessible but tricky pin position, what it did have was a total battle of nerves between 2 evenly-matched golfers.  I’m just sad 1 of them had to lose.

So this week’s WBO is shaping up to be an epic confrontation.  Along with Creamer, Inbee Park came within a shot of a JLPGA win, Na Yeon Choi finished a few shots behind KLPGA winner So Yeon Ryu, and Caroline Hedwall came back from injuries of her own to defend her LET title in Austria.  Looks like Lydia Ko’s impressive Canadian Open victory a little while back has lit a fire under the world’s best golfers.  Mika Miyazato continues to impress, Stacy Lewis is brilliant in stretches, Ai Miyazato seems close to putting it all together, and there are a bunch of Europeans, from major winners like Suzann Pettersen, Anna Nordqvist, and Catriona Matthew to up-and-comers or late bloomers like Azahara Munoz, Sandra Gal, Karine Icher, Beatriz Recari, Karin Sjodin, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Belen Mozo, and Pernilla Lindberg, who can take a lot of positives away from not only their most recent outing.  I can’t wait for this thing to start!

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