Kuala Lumpur: South Korean Inbee Park treated Malaysian golf fans to a riveting golfing display on Sunday, usurping titleholder and compatriot Na Yeon Choi to clinch the US$1.9 million Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia by two strokes.
Despite dropping “embarrassing” bogeys on the last two holes, a closing four-under 67 at the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club was enough for the 24-year-old to pull off a sensational upset over 54-hole leader Choi, who could only muster a level-par 71 to end her title defence on a disappointing note.
The plucky Park totalled 15-under 269 to walk home US$285,00 richer and further cemented her top spot on the LPGA’s 2012 Money List.
Australian stalwart Karrie Webb started brilliantly with three birdies on a trot but fell out of contention with a bogey either side of the turn, posting a second consecutive 68 to finish third on 271.
Scottish veteran Catriona Matthew (67) was a further shot back on 272, followed by South Korean So Yeon Ryu, whose finishing 66 saw her wind up in sole fifth.
A final round 67 saw Aussie Lindsey Wright take a share of sixth alongside American Paula Creamer on seven-under 275 while youngster Jessica Korda claimed her first top-ten on Tour since winning the ISPS HANDA Australian Open in February with a course-record equalling seven-under 64.
With the weather gods starting to shine for a change, all eyes were on the final flight of Choi, Park and Webb and the strong gallery that turned out was not to be disappointed.
Armed with a two-shot overnight lead, Choi came out unstirred after the opening exchanges, matching the early momentum set by her two flight mates before threatening to pull away with birdies on the fifth and eighth.
But a dropped shot on the ninth proved the turning point for the six-time LPGA winner, whose challenge fizzled out on the back nine as her countrywoman Park drew level with a gain on the 11th before pulling away with birdies on the 13th and 14th.
The gap increased to four strokes as Choi elected to take a penalty drop after her tee-shot on the par-three 17th ended up an unplayable in the greenside bunker but a bogey for Park meant that it was three-shot game going into the closing hole.
Nerves were beginning to fray and a clearly nervous Park flashed her drive behind the trees and could only recover as far as the fairway bunker while Choi was safely on the green in two and was eyeing a makeable birdie chance.
Knowing that a bogey would be adequate to seal the deal, Park sailed a perfect approach across the green and proceeded to comfortably two-putt to clinch her third LPGA title and second victory this season.
“I’m very happy to win,” said the champion, who was the only player to post four rounds in the 60s. I’m playing here for the second time and it’s the first time I’ve won twice in one year, so I’m really proud of myself for that.”
Consistency has been the mainstay of Park’s game this season with five straight top-three finishers since she won the Evian Masters in July. “I think my golf has improved, everything, hitting the ball, chipping, putting. Everything has really improved,” said the 2008 US Women’s Open champion. “I worked really hard on my swing. I’ve been hitting it very solid all year. So, that gave me a lot more birdie chances.”
With two out of her three career wins having been come-from- behind victories, Park nonetheless admitted that she would have preferred to set the pace. “I think I prefer leading, because I think it’s much easier the last day. I knew that I had to play good on the final day to win. I knew that Na Yeon was really strong on this golf course and that she really liked the golf course. So I knew I had to go really low and make a lot of birdies today to win,” she noted.
Highly rated Thai amateur Ariya Jutanugarn (69), who was among five players bunched up on nine-under 277, won low amateur prize by a mile.
On the domestic front, national Aretha Pan finished five strokes ahead of professional Ainil Johani Abu Bakar, settling for a round of four-over 75 to finish on 12-over 296. United States based professional Jean Chua finished sole 66th on 19-over 303 while promising youngster Sarfina Vinota Seretharan was at the bottom of the rung with a 46-over 330.
Leading final round scores
269 – Inbee Park (KOR) 69-68-65-67
271 – Na Yeon Choi (KOR) 65-67-68-71
272 – Karrie Webb (AUS) 65-71-68-68
273 – Catriona Matthew (SCO) 68-68-70-67
274 – So Yeon Ryu (KOR) 68-73-67-66
275 – Lindsey Wright (AUS) 70-66-72-67, Paula Creamer (USA) 69-67-70-69
276 – Jessica Korda (USA) 68-71-73-64
277 – Candie Kung (TPE) 70-71-71-65, Lizette Salas (USA) 68-67-76-66, Ariya Jutanugarn (THA) a 69-72-67-69, Mika Miyazato (JPN) 66-69-71-71, Ai Miyazato (JPN) 68-69-68-72
278 – Sun Young Yoo (KOR) 66-70-72-70, Azahara Munoz (ESP) 71-71-67-69