Ilhee Lee gets first career win at Bahamas LPGA Classic
By AP FeedFoxSports
Ilhee Lee never stopped smiling, even in the most trying times during a most bizarre week on the LPGA Tour.
When the course was closed for two days because of severe flooding, she swam in the ocean and spent five hours in the pool one day, taking endless trips down a glass tube slide through an aquarium of sharks at the Atlantis Resort. At night, she headed to the casino and counted minimal losses over four nights.
''I lost 45 bucks. That's it,'' she said. ''Not bad, huh?''
And when the Bahamas LPGA Classic finally got started on a course that had to be shortened to 12 holes, she was never more excited, especially when it was over.
With three great birdies to start her round, a clutch par putt toward the end and a final birdie that was merely a bonus, the 24-year-old from South Korea had her first professional win.
''This week I was very happy because I can play golf. I can swim. I can play. I can gamble,'' Lee said. ''This is the best job in the world. I love golf.''
Lee closed with a 5-under 42 for a two-shot win over Irene Cho, who had her own brand of excitement Sunday by holing out from the fairway for eagle and then playing a shot off the beach for an amazing par save.
Perhaps most amazing of all is that this inaugural tournament was in the books as the sky darkened and showers pelted the course for a final act.
The flooding came from a foot of rain in about five hours Tuesday night that turned a lake into a lagoon in the middle of the course. One green was completely submerged. Water nearly covered the tee sign on the 18th. The crew at the Ocean Club wound up pumping 45 million gallons of water off the course.
Despite a start to her round that indicated this might be Lee's day, she had to look at her yardage book to remember not how she made birdies, but where.
The LPGA Tour was determined to play with two new title sponsors, Ohio-based Pure Silk and the Bahamas Tourism Ministry, so they found a 12-hole route that would allow them three rounds to reach 36 holes and make it an official event.
All the players started on No. 10, and then moved to a stretch of holes on the front nine before going to the back nine, and then returning to the front nine. As confusing as that was, it changed on Sunday when the par-5 18th hole drained well enough to be used in competition. Officials eliminated the fourth hole from the routing - a par 5 that had been converted to a par 3 because a bunker had caved in from the rain - meaning par went from 45 to 47 on Sunday.
For the record, Lee finished on 11-under 126.
She was three shots out of the lead going into the final round, and was thinking 4 under might do the trick. Then she felt the wind, gaining strength by the hour, and figured even par might be the best she could do.
Her thinking changed quickly.
Lee opened with a 30-foot birdie putt from just off the green. On the next hole, she chipped in from 60 feet for birdie. And even after running into trouble off the tee on her third hole, she hit a 5-iron for her third shot on the par 5 to 10 feet for another birdie that gave her a share of the lead.
''After the third hole I was thinking, `Maybe this is the day to win,''' she said.
Lee hit 9-iron to tap-in range on her eighth hole to take the outright lead, but she left a long birdie putt from the fringe some 5 feet short. With a one-shot lead, she couldn't afford a bogey, and Lee drilled the par putt right in the center and lightly pumped her fist leaving the green.
''The most important putt,'' she said.
Cho, who teed off two hours before Lee, got into the mix by holing a 9-iron into the wind from 118 yards on the par-5 11th hole - the fifth hole her round - and birdied three of the last five holes for a 7-under 40. The 7 under matched the low score of the week.
Anna Nordqvist had a 2-under 45 to finish alone in third. Cristie Kerr, coming off a win in Kingsmill two weeks ago, was in position for so much of the day and couldn't make a putt, the strength of her game. She even laid flat on her stomach for a 7-foot attempt on her ninth hole, only for it to bump off line. Kerr had to settle for a 46 and a five-way tie for fourth that included Paula Creamer (45) and Mika Miyazato (45).
''They did the best they could,'' Kerr said. ''Today was brutal with the wind. I didn't putt well enough and I couldn't steady myself in the wind. I'm glad the week is over. It was weird playing the 18th hole for the first time all week. I haven't seen it since Monday. I hope we get to play the whole golf course next year.''
Cho's eagle from the 11th fairway was but a small part of her exciting round. Two holes later, her shot drifted onto the sandy beach and she figured she might as well try to play it.
''It was in the beach, and there was some water around it,'' Cho said. ''And I was like, `Shoot, I'm going to pull out a little Bill Haas and just try to get this up and over.' I got it out perfect.''
She saved par, just like Haas did in a playoff at the Tour Championship in 2011 that led him to win the FedEx Cup.
As hard as the wind was blowing over the final hour, and as the sky began to darken, it looked as though Cho's score of a 9-under 128 might be enough to win, but Lee was simply flawless.
Most first-time winners get showered with beer after it's over. In the rain, Lee was sprayed with shaving cream.
''I can't believe it right now,'' she said. ''It feels amazing. Awesome.''
Lee won $195,000 and was asked if she was going back to the casino. She smiled and showed two thumbs-up.