Kuala Lumpur: Mission accomplished!
Korean hotshot Na Yeon Choi carded a solid final round of three-under 68 to claim the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, today holding off arch rival Yani Tseng by one-stroke at the East Course of the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club.
A strong Malaysian crowd witnessed an unswerving display of talent from Choi, who calmly rolled in a par putt on the 18th hole to lift her fifth career LPGA title, making up for her disappointment last week when she lost by a similar margin to the world number one Tseng at the Hana Bank Championship in Incheon, Korea
The 23-year-old Choi led by one stroke over American Brittany Lang after three rounds of play, and got off to an initially slow start with a double-bogey on the second hole after her second shot landed in the water. Birdies on six and eight and two more on the back nine soon drove her back to the top of the leaderboard, ready for final showdown with Tseng.
The two close friends, who got to know each other during their amateur days, were level at 14-under-par until the penultimate hole. After Tseng had missed a birdie opportunity on 17th, Choi hit her tee shot to approximately five feet off the pin for birdie, which she successfully drained to improve to -15.
Tseng had a chance to respond but left her 12-foot birdie putt on the closing hole short, handing Choi the advantage of two-putts to claim her first LPGA title of the season. It was a proud moment for Choi, who celebrated the occasion as it was the 100th victory by a player of Korean descent on the LPGA Tour. The victory also serves as an early present for the young player who celebrates her 24th birthday in a few weeks.
“The main thing is that I never gave up until the last hole. I feel very proud of myself on how I controlled my emotions today. I think that I had a great experience from this week, you know, which nobody can buy; nobody can buy this experience. And actually this win marks the 100th time a Korean player has won on the LPGA Tour. So I won my fifth tournament and a hundred times for all of the Korean players – it’s very nice, icing on the cake.”
With her victory, Choi has now tallied 10 top-10 finishes so far this year, two of which have been second place finishes, including last week’s HanaBank LPGA Championship, where she fell just shy of capturing her third straight title at the event.
Gracious as ever, runner-up Tseng, praised the play of her rival. The 22 year-old star said, “I played great today and I hit a lot of great shots. On the second hole I hit into the water but otherwise I hit it so good today. I knew it was going to be close but I didn’t realise how close. Na Yeon played great and she made a couple of birdies on the back nine. You know, it’s fun and I enjoy it, and I finished second this week which means I still have space to improve next week.”
Yeah, before this week, I wasn’t thinking how many tournaments I was going to win but after this performance, I feel that I’m playing good and I think we still have three or four tournaments left. Hopefully I can win a couple more,” she added.
Despite falling short of her seventh LPGA Tour of the season, Tseng continues to look ahead to the forthcoming Tour events, especially next week when she returns home to Taiwan for the new Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship.
Elsewhere on the leaderboard, Azahara Munoz of Spain and Brittany Lang of America, currently at number 51 and 30 on the Rolex Rankings respectively (as of 10 October 2011), both fell shy of becoming first time winners today. Munoz shot a final round 69 to finish third after a strong week, and Lang shot 73 to finish in tie for fifth place with compatriot Stacy Lewis.
It was Lang’s sixth top-10 finish of the 2011 season, also finishing runner up to Tseng earlier this year. For Muniz, the 2010 Rookie of the Year, it was her first top-ten finish of 2011.
Last year’s inaugural champion, 31 year-old Jimin Kang was unable to relive her stellar 2010 performance finishing today’s final round in four-over-par 75 to secure joint 50th place. Her performance was unfortunately in vast comparison to her finish this time last year.
Doing the home country proud, amateur Kelly Tan tied for 65th place with a fourth round score of two-over-par 73 to finish as the top amateur of the tournament. The 17 year-old student at the IMG Leadbetter Academy in Florida was also the leading Malaysian on the field this week.
Tan said, “Everything went well this week, and I played solid golf. There were a few holes that I didn’t break. I wanted it to be a lot better and that’s one of the pressures that I’m putting on myself. For me, I don’t play against any of the players; I just want to play my best every single hole. If I beat the course, I beat everybody. If I beat myself, I beat everybody. I enjoyed the experience and hope to be back again on better form next year.”
Unfortunately Tan’s three Malaysian compatriots did not fare as well on the field. Fellow amateur Aretha Pan, who started the tournament with an encouraging performance on day one could not keep up with the pace of the world’s best, finishing the week one shot behind Tan. Jean Chua and local qualifier, Ainil Johani, similarly felt the pressure on home turf finishing in 69th and 71st position respectively.
Leading final scores (top ten and ties)
269: Na-Yeon Choi (Kor) 66-68-67-68
270: Yani Tseng Yani (Tpe) 69-67-69-65
272: Azahara Munoz (Esp) 67-68-68-69
274: Pak Se-Ri (Kor) 72-68-65-69
275: Stacy Lewis (USA) 68-65-72-70, Brittany Lang (USA) 66-67-69-73
277: Angela Stanford (USA) 71-71-68-67, Suzann Pettersen (Nor) 68-69-69-71
278: Christel Boeljon (Ned) 68-73-71-66, Feng Shanshan (Chn) 68-73-70-67, Amanda Blumenherst (USA) 70-69-71-68, Paula Creamer (USA) 71-67-69-71