Third-year Tour player Lizette Salas has finally closed the deal on Sunday, the third 2013 Solheim Cup Team USA rookie to claim a victory this year! This was a huge win for Salas, who’s come close twice before — runner-up at the Kia Classic in March and at the 2013 LPGA LOTTE Championship — only to watch the win disappointingly evaporate at the end of the final round. But the final round at the Kingsmill Championship belonged to Salas on Sunday. She opened the round with a three-shot lead and nailed a testy par putt at the first after leaving a lag putt well short. Then, she closed the door with birdies on the third and fifth hole to basically seal it up. From her first drive to her final putt she stayed steady, withstood charges by Lydia Ko and Yani Tseng, and with a four-stroke lead over Tseng and Sarah Jane Smith, brought home the victory that’s eluded her for three years.
What’s Next for Salas?
Every previous winner of the Kingsmill – Grace Park, Se Ri Pak, Cristie Kerr, Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen, Annika Sorenstam and Jiyai Shin – either had already won a major or went on to win a major after. Will Salas do the same? She’s breathless, but she’s already thinking about it:
U.S. [Women's] Open is a phenomenal tournament. It’s a national championship. . . I’m a Southern California girl, and Kraft Nabisco [Championship] is really close to my heart and almost in my backyard. . . not going to be too picky, but I really prefer the Kraft Nabisco.
The victory has put $195K in Salas’s pocket, bumped her from 16th to 10th in the Rolex Rankings, and put her at 15th in the year-long Race to the CME Globe, trailing the leader in that million dollar race, Stacy Lewis, by 1353 points. She’ll need three more wins to pass Lewis. The competition will be stiff because the Tour’s blessed with an abundance of first-class competitors this year, but it’s a doable thing. With 21 events remaining, we’re about a third of the way through the 2014 season.
A Trio of Runners-Up
Lexi Thompson, Yani Tseng, and Sarah Jane Smith all finished the Kingsmill at -9 and sharing 2nd place on the board, although the got there in in slightly different ways.
With four sub-par rounds (67, 69, 70 & 69), Rolex Ranked number 6 Thompson played the game we expect from her. After a slow start to the 2014 season — a very low finish at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic and a missed cut at ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, Thompson’s game kicked in.
With her win at the Kraft Nabisco and five additional top-10 finishes this year, Thompson’s game is superb and she’s sitting right below Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis in the Race to the CME Globe. If Salas wants another win this year, she’ll need to play past Thompson, who’s going to challenge the top of the board every time she tees off.
Yani Tseng has been struggling over the past year to recover the game that took her to the top of the world rankings. The 2008 Rookie of the Year, twice Rolex Player of the Year (2010 & 2011), recipient of the Vare Trophy (2011), Tseng has 15 victories on her resume, including the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the RICOH British Women’s Open.
Tseng came steadily up the leaderboard at the Kingsmill and it looked as though she might be able to catch Salas and force a playoff until disaster struck in the form of a double bogey on the 18th. But Tseng’s tied 2nd place finish, her best this year, may be signaling a return of the Yani Tseng who dominated the Tour in 2010 and 2011.
Rolex Ranked 89th Sarah Jane Smith, like Yani Tseng, has been playing on the LPGA Tour for seven years. Smith typically makes the cut and plays the weekend, but she also typically finishes in the lower half of the leaderboard. All that changed at the Kingsmill Championship. Smith recorded her career-best finish, and a tie for runner-up is feeling just fine as Smith heads for Mobile, Alabama and the Airbus LPGA Classic Presented by JTBC.
Sunday Surprises: Up & Down the Board
Joanna Klatten was walking up the 15th fairway when she got the feeling – a good one was on the way. What followed was the shot of her life – a double eagle.
Well, I hit a good drive, and I told myself I really did; I’m not making this up I told myself, ‘I like this shot. I have a perfect 3 wood. It’s exactly the right distance, and I’ve never had a double eagle. ‘ I really told myself that. I hit it and I told my caddie, Oh, this is looking good.
And it was good, sending the crowd assembled into a frenzy and putting Klatten forever in the books as only the second player ever to record a double eagle at the Kingsmill Championship Presented by JTBC. Katherine Kirk is the other with her two in 2007 at the 7th hole.
That is the 31st double eagle in LPGA history, the first for Klatten, and first on the LPGA since March 16, 2012 when Hannah Yun did it on the 15th hole at the RR Donnelly LPGA Founders Cup.
At the other end of the spectrum, Stacy Lewis, fresh off her runaway victory at the North Texas LPGA Shootout and looking to grab another win and get back on the top of the rankings, went into Sunday trailing Salas’s lead by five strokes, a big gap but, for Lewis when her putter’s working, not an insurmountable one. The problem was that her putter wasn’t working. She struggled, she stumbled, she was +2 for the round at the turn, and when things couldn’t get any worse, they did. Lewis ended her Sunday round with a triple bogey on the 18th and went to the clubhouse in a tied 12th place finish.
What will this week bring when the girls tee it up in Mobile? I’ll preview the Airbus LPGA Classic Presented by JTBC tomorrow.