Kuala Lumpur, October 14 – Park Inbee fought off closing jitters and valiant defending champion Na Yeon Choi in a battle of US Open champions to win the 2012 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia title by two shots.
Park trailed Choi by two shots going into the final round at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club’s East Course but birdies on her first two holes pulled her level. Choi responded with birdies at 3, 5 and 8 against a dropped shot at the ninth hole and the two Korean girls were tied for the lead on 15-under-par going into the back nine.
Park’s iron play and putter caught fire and four birdies in five holes from the 10th propelled her into a two-shot lead. When Choi missed a five-foot birdie putt at the par three 15thand Park saved par after almost finding the water on the island green, it looked like the latter would cruise home to the title.
What transpired next over the closing holes showed that anything can happen in golf. Park found a deep fairway bunker with her drive at the par five 16th and took two shots to get out, while Choi went for the green in two and wound up in a greenside bunker.
With Park short of the green with her fourth shot, Choi blasted out from the sand about 15 feet past the flag. The flat stick once again came to Park’s rescue as she holed out from the fringe to save par, while Choi just missed her birdie putt and the gap was still two with just two holes left.
There was more drama to come. At the par three 17th, Choi pulled her tee shot and found a plugged lie in a bunker close to the face. With virtually no stance and having to play away from the hole, she opted to take a penalty drop for an unplayable lie – but blasted 20 feet past the hole and missed the putt for a double bogey. Park meanwhile failed to save par from the rough short of the green, but still had a three-shot cushion with just the par four 18th to go.
Park had been striking the ball well all week and smart money would have been on her finding the fairway from off the tee – but nerves got to the 24-year-old Korean and she blocked her drive way right into the trees. She played a provisional shot and pushed it right again, and when Choi found the short stuff with a solid tee shot, a three-shot swing and a playoff suddenly looked possible.
Park found her first ball nestled deep in the rough and chunked it out into a fairway bunker, and when Choi sent a pin-searching approach five feet below the hole, possible suddenly became likely.
Then Park hit the shot that won her the tournament, a cleanly-struck iron from the sand that safely found the back fringe of the green about 30 feet past the flag. She almost holed the slick downhill putt and tapped in for bogey, and when Choi missed her birdie, the title was Park’s by two shots with a four-round total of 15-under-par (69-68-65-67).
“I wasn’t nervous till about the 15th hole, then it just got to me. It was a little embarrassing to finish bogey, bogey,” said Park, who picked up her third LPGA title and second of the year. This was her tenth consecutive top 10 finish.
“I’ve been hitting it very solid all year, so that gave me a lot of birdie chances,” added the 2008 US Women’s Open champion, who picked up a cheque for US$285,000 from the US$1.9 million total purse.
Choi meanwhile was understandably despondent about how things worked out, but paid tribute to her close friend Park. “Inbee played well although she was nervous the last couple of holes. I’m very happy for my friend’s win this week,” said Choi, who has six LPGA titles to her name including one Major in this year’s US Women’s Open.
Almost the forgotten figure in the final flight, Australian veteran Karrie Webb finished with a 68 to take third place on her own on 12-under-par, just one behind Choi. Another seasoned campaigner, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, finished strongly with a 67 for fourth place on 11-under-par, one ahead of Korean So Yeon Ryu who shot an excellent 66.
The round of the day belonged to American Jessica Korda, who nailed an eagle, seven birdies against two bogeys for a stunning seven-under-par 64 – matching the course record set by Norway’s Suzann Pettersen in the second round. The spectacular finish propelled Korda up the standings into eighth spot on eight-under-par.
Thai teenager Ariya Jutanugarn showed that she is a player to watch as she finished as the best amateur in joint ninth spot on seven-under-par, while top Malaysian honours went to amateur Aretha Pan Herng in 61st spot on 12-over-par.
Top 10 and ties
-15 Inbee PARK 69-68-65-67
-13 Na Yeon CHOI 65-67-68-71
-12 Karrie WEBB 65-71-68-68
-11 Catriona MATTHEW 68-68-70-67
-10 So Yeon RYU 68-73-67-66
-9 Lindsey WRIGHT 70-66-72-67, Paula CREAMER 69-67-70-69
-8 Jessica KORDA 68-71-73-64
-7 Candie KUNG 70-71-71-65, Lizette SALAS 68-67-76-66, Ariya JUTANUGARN (A) 69-72-67-69, Mika MIYAZATO 66-69-71-71, Ai MIYAZATO 68-69-68-72