(Reuters) - Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand overcame mental demons of previous meltdowns, if only barely, to claim a one-stroke victory at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic in Alabama on Sunday.
Five weeks after throwing away the year’s first major with a bogey, bogey, bogey finish at the ANA Inspiration, Jutanugarn was stricken again by nerves down the stretch.
But this time the 20-year-old from Bangkok managed to get across the finish line in front.
As her sister Moriya, who also plays the LPGA circuit, and mother watched at the final hole, Jutanugarn sank a clutch four-foot par putt for her first LPGA victory.
She carded 72 to finish at 14-under-par 274, while South Korean Amy Yang (67) and Americans Stacy Lewis (68) and Morgan Pressel (68) tied for second on 13-under on the Senator Course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Prattville.
“I feel like the last three holes I can’t control anything,” an emotional Jutanugarn told Golf Channel as she stifled tears.
“My hands shake, my legs shake. I‘m very proud right now.”
The ANA Inspiration, where she finished fourth after holding a late two-shot lead, was not Jutanugarn’s first collapse.
At the 2013 LPGA Thailand tournament in her homeland, she triple-bogeyed the final hole to lose by a shot.
After surging to a three-shot lead on the back of a brilliant 63 on Saturday, Jutanugarn could not replicate that sublime form in the final round.
But she nevertheless looked to be cruising to victory after a kick-in birdie at the 15th, only to bogey the par-five 17th after thinning her third shot into the rough.
That left her with a one-shot lead at the par-four 18th, where she made another nervous swing, this time with an iron off the tee, leaving herself more than 200 yards from the rough for her second shot.
Jutanugarn came up short of the green, but hit a nice chip and coaxed home the winning putt.
Yang and Lewis both rued what might have been, especially at the 17th, which Yang bogeyed after sending her third shot across the green into a hazard beyond.
Lewis parred the same hole but frittered away a golden birdie chance from 10 feet.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Larry Fine