SHOAL CREEK, Ala. (Reuters) - Ariya Jutanugarn let a seven-stroke lead slip through her fingers at the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday after a remarkable back-nine collapse but averted disaster by beating South Korean Kim Hyo-joo in a playoff to collect her second major title.
Ariya became the first player from Thailand to win the championship when she parred the fourth extra hole at Shoal Creek after earlier finishing tied with Kim at 11-under-par 277 in regulation.
The 22-year-old Thai said a triple bogey at the par-four 10th, where she pushed her drive into a hazard, had drained her confidence but that she had been determined to grab her second chance in the playoff.
“That back (nine) got me a lot,” said Ariya, who won her first major at the 2016 Women’s British Open.
“After you have seven-shot lead and end up in playoff, I had no expectation because I kind of got mad a little bit with my back nine.
“I (told myself) I’m going to make sure I do my best very best, because I feel like I didn’t commit the back nine. I have the last chance to make myself proud.”
Leading by seven with nine holes left, Ariya should have been marching to victory but instead stumbled into a tension-packed playoff as her game unraveled.
Her cushion had been whittled down to two shots when she bogeyed the 12th, minutes after Kim had holed a 40-footer putt, and when the Korean sank an even longer putt, 50 feet from off the green at the 15th, Ariya’s lead was down to one.
After a long wait on the tee at the par-three 16th, Ariya hit a magnificent seven-iron from 200 yards that covered the pin the entire way before nestling three feet away and the birdie restored a two-shot cushion with two to play.
But after appearing to have steadied the ship, Ariya made a mess of the par-five 17th and was lucky to escape with a bogey, then missed a 10-foot par putt at the last to win it, signing off with a 73 and limping into a cumulative-score two-hole playoff with Kim, who shot a bogey-free 67.
They were still locked together after the two extra holes, at which point it went to sudden-death.
Ariya then made two superb up-and-down pars from bunkers, firstly to halve the third extra hole before winning at the next.
Kim had been on the verge of becoming the eighth Korean winner of the event in the past 11 years. She was the second Korean golfer to lose out in a playoff on Sunday after An Byeong-hun lost to Bryson DeChambeau at the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
Ariya collected $900,000 for the win and is projected to rise from fifth to second in the world rankings.
Asked whether the win would boost her fame back home, Ariya said: “I think I might get a little bit bigger,” before pausing, and adding, “I hope.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford