The only trouble Shanshan Feng faced Sunday was figuring out how to light the cannon that signaled the end of the LPGA Tour season.
She made the golf look easy at the LPGA Titleholders.
Two shots behind going into the final round, the 24-year-old from China ran off four birdies in the opening six holes to seize control, and she closed with a 6-under-par 66 to win by one shot and claim the richest prize in women’s golf.
It also was her second win this year, which meant as much to her as the $700,000 check.
”I had a goal to win two tournaments,” she said. ”I won in China. I didn’t think I was going to achieve my goal, and I made it in my last tournament in Florida.”
Feng said her win last month in Beijing required a little luck — a shot that took a weird and wild bounce out of the rough, raced across the green and crashed into the flagstick to set up a tap-in eagle.
Sunday was sheer skill.
Feng was in such control of her game that she missed three birdie chances inside 6 feet in the middle of her round that kept the outcome in doubt until the end. Gerina Piller stayed within one shot of Feng, and she hit a 7-iron into 10 feet for a chance at birdie to force a playoff. The putt narrowly missed, and Piller had to settle for a 69 and her best finish on the LPGA Tour.
Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand had a 70 and finished alone in third.
Feng finished at 15-under 273, the number she had in mind at the start of the day — even if it didn’t result in a win.
”Before I started, I never thought I was going to win,” Feng said. ”I knew I was only two behind. But I thought all the people in the last group were really strong competitors.”
No one was stronger than Feng, who played the final 31 holes without a bogey.
Natalie Gulbis, tied for the 54-hole lead with Pornanong and Piller, wasn’t up to the task. Going for her first win in six years, Gulbis didn’t make a birdie until the 14th hole, and by then she couldn’t stop a spectacular slide. Gulbis closed with an 82.
Stacy Lewis had to settle for only one prize. The Women’s British Open champion became the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to win the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. She had to win to capture the money list, but after an early birdie, Lewis never regained any momentum. She closed with a 71 and tied for sixth.
”As Americans, we hear about that all the time — it’s been 18 years or it’s been 20 years or whatever it is,” Lewis said. ”I’m just glad to have that kind of checked off the list. We’ve got to get American golf on the map. That’s been the goal and I’m just fortunate I’ve been playing good golf.”
Inbee Park, who clinched player of the year last week in Mexico, had a 68 to finish fifth. She won the LPGA Tour money title.
The only other award at stake Sunday was rookie of the year. That went to Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand, who closed with a 72. She won by one point over Caroline Masson of Germany.
Feng just stole the show on the final day of the season.
As winner of the CME Group Titleholders, she lit the cannon to signal the end of the year. That proved far more difficult than the 7-iron she hit into 8 feet for birdie on the 15th, or that pitch up the slope on the 17th hole that led to her final birdie.
”I was really nervous,” she said. ”I don’t know how I did it. Once it touched the thing and then it just went out in like a half a second, and I was shocked it released so fast and it was gone already. I was really excited.”
As for that paycheck?
Feng says she is not a big spender and said she would put it in the bank, perhaps buy herself a small gift later.
Piller put up a good fight. She stuffed her approach on No. 15 to within 4 feet for birdie to pull within one shot. Feng was in the group ahead and went over the green on her second shot into the par-5 17th, and then hit a chip that settled within tap-in range to reach 15 under. Piller matched her birdie at the 17th with a solid up-and-down from a collection area, but she couldn’t get that last birdie to force a playoff.
”I was happy with the way I hit the putt,” Piller said. ”I just didn’t read enough break.”
The win should take Feng to No. 4 in the world.
Park, who went into a minor slump after winning her third straight major at the U.S. Women’s Open, closed out her LPGA season with two top 10s. She still has one event left in Taiwan before taking a long winter’s break, with plans to go to Australia to prepare for next season.
She won the money title for the second straight season.
”I played better this year,” Park said. ”There is definitely room to improve for next year and I probably have a little more pressure on me next year, but I think I have a lot of pressure this year, anyways. A little bit more doesn’t really make a difference for me.”