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Amy Yang and Hee Kyung Seo both made eagles on par 4s on the back 9 of the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship, but it was their walkoff birdies that broke the logjam at -8 and sent them back to the 18th tee for what turned out to be a one-hole playoff when Yang birdied it for the 3rd time this week to secure her 1st LPGA victory.
Their heroics made others’ heroics moot. Michelle Wie had posted a bogey-free 66 that featured 4 birdies in her last 6 holes to become the early leader in the clubhouse at -8. Seo was the next player to finish, and her birdies on 15 and 18 relegated Wie to 2nd place. It was then Amy Yang’s and KLPGA money-list leader Sei Young Kim‘s turn to finish. Kim had her own bogey-free round going and had birdied 3 holes in a row late on the back to tie Seo and take a 1-shot lead on Yang, but a walkoff bogey left her tied with Wie as Yang joined Seo at -9. Playing in the final group, Suzann Pettersen birdied 2 of her last 4 holes, but it was too little too late, thanks to earlier bogeys on 7 and 10.
But at least they played better than others who came into the final round with a great chance to win. Pettersen’s playing partner Anna Nordqvist made an early double but fought back to -7 with 5 holes to play. But she finished par-double-par-bogey-par to fade to T8 with Se Ri Pak (71), Ji-Yai Shin (72), and Jane Park (70). Hee Young Park’s little sister Ju Young Park had a tough time in the penultimate group with Yang and Kim; she fell back early with 2 bogeys in her 1st 6 holes and tripled the par-5 13th to drop to T12. KLPGA superstar Ha-Neul Kim birdied 2 and 3 to get to -7, but 2 bogeys and only 1 birdie over her final 15 holes left her in solo 6th, 1 shot ahead of Brittany Lincicome, who finished with a fine bogey-free 69 to take solo 7th. Meanwhile, Katherine Hull-Kirk fell from T1 to T32 with a birdieless 80.
With world #1 Inbee Park finishing 9 shots out of the lead, Pettersen continued to make up ground on her in the Rolex Rankings, the Player of the Year race, and on the money list, but she really needed a win to seriously scare Park, who maintains a 68-point lead over Pettersen for POY. In the Rookie of the Year race, Ayako Uehara beat leader Caroline Masson and #2 Moriya Jutanugarn by a shot, but remains well behind Masson with only a few tournaments left on the LPGA schedule and pressure to keep her JLPGA card, where she’s hanging on to a spot in the top 50 on their money list by her fingernails. At least she qualified for the CME Titleholders today.
But it’s Amy Yang who can feel the most satisfaction today. She revealed in her post-round interview that she’s often thought of quitting the game and has cried a lot in private with her parents during the course of what from the outside seems like an incredibly successful LPGA career. Now she can get on with the rest of it secure in the confidence that she can win on the toughest tour on the planet. Congratulations, Amy!