Jutanugarn recovers to win U.S. Women’s Open in playoff

The U.S. Golf Association’s new rule for tiebreakers in its national championships worked out for Ariya Jutanugarn on Sunday.

The 22-year-old Thailand native blew a seven-shot lead on the back nine of regulation at the U.S. Women’s Open before beating South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim in a four-hole playoff at Shoal Creek, Ala.

Jutanugarn became the first U.S. Women’s Open champion from Thailand while earning her second major title, but it wasn’t easy.

Entering the day up by four strokes, Jutanugarn was 4 under par for the day at the turn. However, she carded a triple bogey at No. 10, then a bogey at No. 12. Jutanugarn had her lone birdie of the back nine at No. 16, but bogeys at No. 17 and No. 18 dropped her into a tie for the lead with Kim.

Jutanugarn wound up at 1-over 73, leaving her at 11-under 277 for 72 holes. Kim produced a bogey-free 67 to also finish at 277.

In previous years, the tie would have sparked an 18-hole playoff on Monday. However, this year, the USGA reduced the tiebreaker to a two-hole, aggregate-score format, followed by sudden death.

Had the USGA decided to utilize a sudden-death format from the start of the playoff, Kim would have emerged victorious. She birdied the first extra hole, No. 14, while Jutanugarn made a par.

On the second extra hole, No. 18, Jutanugarn produced another par while Kim made a bogey. Each player then parred No. 14 before Jutanugarn’s fourth consecutive par, this one at No. 18, proved sufficient when Kim closed with a bogey.

“I’m really proud of myself for the front nine,” Jutanugarn said. “I did everything I want to do. … That back (nine) got me a lot. …

“You know, after you have like a seven-shot lead and end up with (having) to go to a playoff, I have no expectations because like I kind of got mad a little bit with my back nine, but OK. So if I have a playoff I’m going to make sure I do my best every shot because I feel like I didn’t commit about the back nine. I feel I have a last chance to make myself proud or do the shot in front of me.”

On the decisive playoff hole, both players hit approach shots into bunkers. Kim chipped within 15 feet of the pin, but Jutanugarn chipped within two feet. Kim missed her putt before Jutanugarn tapped in for the win.

Talking about her mindset in the sand trap, Jutanugarn said, “I felt pretty good. I don’t know why. Actually the lie is not that good in the bunker, but I feel like, you know, I feel I can do it because … I am really confident with my bunker (play) right now.”

Jutanugarn captured her ninth career LPGA win, her second of the year after the Kingsmill Championship. Her first major title came at the 2016 Ricoh Women’s British Open. The title Sunday was worth $900,000.

Jutanugarn and Canada’s Brooke Henderson are the only players to have recorded wins in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Kim said of her comeback that wound up just short, “Well, I started off quite a few strokes behind the leader, so I didn’t really think that I was going to come through this much. … I feel very good about how I played, especially that I did not have any bogeys today on the final round. That, I am extremely happy about. …

“I’m extremely happy that I was part of the kind of historical day. My score has been improving, especially it’s gotten better with the majors lately, so I’m happy about that.”

Spain’s Carlota Ciganda closed with a 69 to take third place at 7 under. Danielle Kang finished in fourth at 3 under after also posting a 69.

Lexi Thompson (2 under in final round), Thai amateur Patty Tavatanakit (1 under), Taiwan’s Wei-Ling Hsu (even par) and Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith (6 over) tied for fifth at 2 under. Smith began the day in second place, four shots back of Jutanugarn.

Aside from Kim, Ciganda and Kang, the only player to break 70 on Sunday was Marina Alex, who wound up at 5 over and jumped from a tie for 56th to a tie for 27th.

–Field Level Media