SCOTLAND’S Catriona Matthew came agonisingly close to clinching her second career major as she lost out in a gruelling play-off to World No 1 Inbee Park in the LPGA Championship at Pittsford, New York.
Matthew, who won the 2009 Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes, got to the play-off in an altogether different fashion from Park, who had been forced to play 36 holes in one day. The North Berwick golfer stealthily came from out of the pack to finish with a bogey-free 68 before anxiously waiting to see whether that was enough to give her a shot at the title, before learning she would be heading into a sudden death play-off with the South Korean.
“When I started the last round, I probably didn’t realise I could win,” admitted Matthew, who was seven shots back when the final round began. “So to play well and get into the play-offs was obviously pretty good. Obviously, when you get into it, it’s pretty disappointing. But overall, a pretty good week.”
Fatigue gave way to relief for Park. Rather than fret about the eight fairways she missed and the three-shot lead she relinquished on the back nine, Park refocused before the first play-off hole against Matthew. “Nothing seemed to be working, So I really cleared my head, and just looked at the fairway,” Park said. “And I just smashed it.”
It took three play-off holes, but the top-ranked South Korean persevered by draining a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th to outlast Matthew and capture her second major of the season and third overall.
It was a dramatic finish to a long day in which organisers were forced to squeeze in the final two rounds after torrential rain postponed the first round on Thursday. By 8pm local time on Sunday – about 12 hours after Park teed off to open the third round – a winner was decided.
“It’s almost a miracle that I won,” Park said. “I think I got lucky there. I really tried to fight off and tried not to give up. That really paid off.” Park closed with a three-over 75 to match Matthew at five- under 383.
After both Park and Matthew made par on the first two play-off holes, Matthew struggled off the 18th tee on the third. She had difficulty advancing the ball out of the rough just below the green on her third shot and then missed a 50-foot par chip. “I don’t think fatigue was a factor during the play-off,” Matthew said. “I think just the adrenaline of being in the play-off kept you going. I certainly didn’t feel tired during the play-off.”
Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and American Morgan Pressel finished in a share of third, a shot behind the leaders. Pettersen had the low round for the tournament, closing with a 65. Pressel collapsed after opening the day with a two-stroke lead through two rounds at six-under 138.
“I’m definitely disappointed, but it’s the first time in a long time I’ve contended,” said Pressel, winless since 2008.
Amy Yang, Chella Choi, Jiyai Shin and Sun Young Yoo finished tied for fifth at 3-under 285, while defending champion Shanshan Feng, Michelle Wie and Na Yeon Choi were another stroke back at 2-under 286.
Sixteen-year-old amateur Lydia Ko of New Zealand shot a final-round 69 to finish in a share of 17th place at one-over 289, equalling her best finish at a major. She also finished in a tie for 17th at last year’s British Open.
The 24-year-old Park won the Kraft Nabisco in early April to add to her title at the 2008 US Women’s Open. With the win on Sunday, Asian players have now won nine straight majors. Park became only the seventh player to win the LPGA Tour’s first two majors in a season, and the first since Annika Sorenstam won the same two events in 2005. She has seven career LPGA victories, six in her last 22 starts.
Trailing Pressel by five shots midway through the third round, Park surged into a one-shot lead with birdies on four of her final six holes for a 68. She was even with Pressel at seven under after nine holes in the final round, then opened up a three-shot lead after draining a three-foot putt on No. 11 while Pressel bogeyed Nos. 10 and 12.
Park, however, couldn’t close, and had to scramble to make a bogey on the 18th.
It was the eighth play-off in the LPGA Championship’s 59-year history, and the first since 2008 when Yani Tseng defeated Maria Hjorth.