For 17 holes and four more strokes, I.K. Kim did everything necessary to win a major. She meticulously hit all 18 greens and patiently played 17 straight bogey-free holes, finally nosing out of the pack during the frantic final round at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
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She stepped onto the 18th green two shots from the all-but-certain title. Her first putt went within 1 foot, and she calmly lined up the winner.
That’s when Kim joined Scott Hoch and Doug Sanders in golf infamy, and that’s when Sun Young Yoo seized an improbable second chance.
After Kim inexplicably missed a 1-foot tap-in on the final hole of regulation, Yoo won the LPGA Tour’s first major of the season with an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole Sunday, earning her first major title.
”I thought I had no chance,” Yoo said. ”I thought I.K. was going to make the putt, but it didn’t happen.”
Kim lived every golfer’s nightmare, and the 23-year-old South Korean who lives near Los Angeles couldn’t explain any of it. After barely missing a long birdie putt, she concentrated fully on her tap-in, and thought she hit it decently – but the ball toured the lip of the cup before coming out on the same side it entered.
Kim raised her left hand to her mouth and turned her head away, unwilling to look at what had just happened at her feet. Fans at Mission Hills gasped, groaned and screamed in a chorus of shared pain.
”I played straight, and it actually just broke to the right, even that short putt,” Kim said. ”So it was unfortunate on 18, but … I feel good about my game. It’s getting better.”
After tapping in for a bogey that dropped her into a tie with Yoo, Kim raised both hands to her ears as she left the green, elbows in front of her as she stared down blankly at the bridge while walking to the scorers’ tent. The playoff ended four strokes later, with Yoo confidently seizing her second career LPGA Tour victory when Kim couldn’t relocate her groove.
”On the playoff hole, it’s just hard to kind of focus on what’s going on right now,” Kim said. ”Because I was still a little bit bummed (about) what happened on 18, honestly.”
Yoo also lurked in the pack with steady play while five players held the lead Sunday. After finishing with a par in the group before Kim, Yoo figured she would collect a fat runner-up check and head home to Orlando.
And then Kim made a mistake reminiscent of Hoch’s missed 2-foot putt that would have won the 1989 Masters, and Sanders’ miss on a 3-footer to win the 1970 British Open.
”She’s a great putter,” Yoo said about Kim. ”She really doesn’t miss those kinds of putts, but … that’s golf. You never know what’s going to happen. I was just watching from the putting green, and that’s some luck.”
Yoo got to make the traditional leap into the frigid waters of Poppie’s Pond, while Kim’s miss on the Dinah Shore course will go down in LPGA Tour infamy.
She’ll have more than $182,000 to console her – along with the knowledge she had been the most consistent contender amid the wild momentum swings of the final round. She went bogey-free through 17 holes, making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th and a 20-footer on the 17th to break a three-way tie for the lead.
Yoo and Kim played the 18th again in the playoff, and Kim’s drive barely cleared the water, landing in the rough. She left a birdie putt short from the fringe, and Yoo calmly reached the green before burying her winning putt.
Yoo, who joined Grace Park as the only South Korean winners in Kraft Nabisco history, seemed a bit reluctant to celebrate after hugging Kim, but she joined her caddie for a high-energy leap into Poppie’s Pond. Yoo surpassed $3 million in career earnings with her $300,000 share of the $2 million purse.
”It’s huge. I didn’t think about winning today,” said Yoo, who began the final round in a five-way tie for fourth. ”I didn’t want to let myself down, but I think I did better than what I was expecting.”
Kim and Yoo shot 69 in the final round.
Top-ranked Yani Tseng finished third at 8 under with a disappointing final-round 73. Even after blowing a Sunday lead at the Kraft Nabisco for the second straight year, the Taiwanese star had a chance to join the playoff on the 18th, but pushed a long birdie putt wide by an inch.
Tseng was one stroke back on the 18th fairway when Kim missed her 1-footer. Tseng realized her opportunity, but barely missed her tying putt, leaving her flat on her back in frustration.
Yet even the world’s best player was thinking about Kim afterward.
”I feel so bad for her,” Tseng said. ”I wish she had made it.”
Defending champion Stacy Lewis closed strong with a 66 to finish in a four-way tie for fourth place with Amy Yang and late leaders Karin Sjodin – who shot a 74 after entering the final round even with Tseng and leading at the turn – and Hee Kyung Seo, who had a three-stroke lead on the back nine before bogeying her final four holes.
Yoo had never finished higher than seventh in a major, and she began the final round three strokes off the lead. She bounced back from two early bogeys with three birdies in five holes down the stretch, finishing with three straight pars – and after Kim’s historic miss, seized an unlikely opportunity to win.
”I was here by myself,” Yoo said. ”I just wish my family was here. My phone is still in my golf bag. I can’t wait to make some phone calls to my family.”
Tseng gave away her share of the final-round lead in the first two holes to Sjodin, who went three strokes ahead with an eagle on the second hole. The winless Swede gave away the lead to Seo with back-to-back bogeys around the turn, but Seo made bogeys on the 15th and 16th, briefly creating a four-way tie with two holes to go.