Surrounded and enveloped by a home-town gallery that was willing her to victory through the entire final round of the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf, five-year Tour veteran Michelle Wie played brilliant and, with the exception of a bobbled putt or two, flawless golf game that took her from a four-stroke deficit to a two-stroke victory over Angela Stanford. It was Wie’s first win in 79 events, since her victory at the 2010 CN Canadian Women’s Open and determination was written on her face from the first drive to the final putt.
Wie’s Winning Game
Paired with Stanford, who started the final round with a four-stroke lead, and Korean teenager Hyo Joo Kim, who was playing at the LOTTE on a sponsor exemption, Wie got off to a blazing start on Saturday. She picked up three birdies in her first six holes and cut Stanford’s lead to one shot on the par 4 6th hole with a 15-foot birdie putt. After the two-shot swing on No. 6, Stanford had her second bogey of the day on the 8th hole to drop into a tie with Wie and Kim at 12-under par.
Wie made her back-nine surge with a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 12 and a 15-footer on the 13th to extend her lead to two shots. Stanford cut the lead to one shot with a birdie on the par 5 14th hole but Wie responded with another 15-foot birdie putt to extend back to two. Stanford missed the green on the 17th hole and failed to get up and down, giving Wie a three-shot leading heading to the final hole. Wie hit her second shot on the par 4 18th hole to the back fringe and pushed her first putt down a slippery ridge 10 feet past the hole. She came up two feet short on her par putt but already knew she had closed the deal.
Wie stepped back to allow Stanford and Kim to putt out, then tapped in her only bogey of the round, and relaxed. The fun was about to begin: a champagne shower by her friends and colleagues, a tentative, celebratory hula, and on into the evening, a charity ping pong tourney.
Much attention has been paid to Michelle Wie’s rather unusual putting setup, but I’m impressed and fascinated by her ball striking, both off the tee and on the fairway. Her long game put her in position to outplay Angela Stanford. How does Wie blend power and control into the near-perfect symmetry that resulted in such beautiful ball placement? Take a look:
Inbee Park did what Inbee Park does best in her final round. She fired up her putter, carded 67, and played her way into a solid third place finish, one shot behind Angela Stanford.
Hyo Joo Kim, the Korean LPGA 2013 Rookie of the Year who’s headed for the Tour, either through the conventional Q-school route or by winning a Tour event, finished at -10 and in a very fine fourth place. We’ll see more of the teenager.
Chella Choi and So Yeon Ryu, both at -9, shared a 5th place finish. Choi’s father can’t retire yet but it probably won’t be long. Choi finished runner up at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and fourth at the Kia Classic. She’ll claim her first pro win soon.
Haru Nomura, who played the entire 72 holes of the LOTTE Championship with a huge smile spread across her face, shared a seventh place finish with rookie Amy Anderson, who was as serious about her game as Nomura was lighthearted. This was the first top-10 finish for both Nomura and Anderson.
Katherine Kirk, Se Ri Pak, Katie Burnett and Cristie Kerr finished at -6 and sharing ninth place. This was Pak’s 122nd top-10 finish and Burnett’s first! The fourth round was Kirk’s best of the tourney — she carded 68 — and Kerr’s worst — she carded 74.
Outside the Spotlight
Ariya Jutanugarn was looking good for a top-10 finish. The Thai teenager was eight shots under par going into the 18th hole yesterday, one shot behind Choi and Ryu who were sharing 5th place. Then disaster struck. Jutanugarn put not one but two balls in the water on her way to the 18th green, recorded a 9 on the par 4 final hole, dropped down to -3, and finished in a 14th place tie.
Lizette Salas and Azahara Munoz, both favorites for a high finish going into the LOTTE Championship, finished the tourney at -1 and well down the board.
Paula Creamer simply never found her game at the Ko Olina. With rounds of 73, 74, 74 and 76, Creamer closed out at nine strokes over par and just enough in her check to pay her air fare to San Francisco for the next event.
Coming Up Next
The Tour goes now to the inaugural Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, April 24-27, at the Lake Merced Golf Club in San Francisco. This is the Tour’s first event in the Bay Area since 2010. It’s sponsored by Swinging Skirts, a successful Taiwanese group whose goal is to grow women’s golf and the golf industry in Taiwan. The event is co-sanctioned with the Taiwan LPGA, and will feature 120 LPGA players, as well as players from Taiwan. It becomes the first ever LPGA co-sanctioned tournament on American soil. The venue has long been a strong supporter of women’s golf, as Lake Merced was one of the first golf clubs to have no gender restriction in membership.
I’ll take a closer look at the field early in the week.