After a playoff that lasted eight holes and carried over into Monday morning, Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg outlasted South Korea’s Inbee Park in Rancho Mirage, Calif. to win the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA Tour’s first major of the year.
The victory on Mission Hills Country Club’s Dinah Shore Tournament Course was Lindberg’s first career LPGA Tour win and it came against stiff competition in Park, who has 19 LPGA titles and seven majors.
“I mean, I just know I’m a grinder,” Lindberg told the Golf Channel when asked what she proved to herself this week. “And just towards the end yesterday I felt like, ‘This is mine, I’m going to do this.’ I just knew I could.”
Lindberg becomes only the third known person to sleep on the lead of a major for four consecutive nights, joining a club that includes Retief Goosen (2001 U.S. Open).
“I just looked at every day as just the same thing again,” Lindberg said. “And today, even though it was a playoff, whatever, just felt like I went out, did my same routine. And every night I’ve been doing my same routine. I just felt so calm, and I felt like this could be mine.”
Park said her putting cost her in the playoff, but she remained upbeat about her performance.
“I’m really satisfied with the way that I am playing this year,” Park told the Golf Channel. “I mean, even if I didn’t win today, I felt like I put up good play this week. Even in the playoffs, you know, I didn’t make much mistakes, I just couldn’t make the putts. The morning greens were a little bit slower than I anticipated, so I hit a couple putts short.
“I probably had a couple of opportunities. I’m a little bit disappointed, but I’m really happy with the way that I played this week.”
Park and Lindberg both made par on the fourth playoff hole after sunset Sunday evening, forcing the Monday finish.
Starting on the par-4 10th hole, both players hit the green with their second shots, but then left birdie attempts just short of the hole. Lindberg tapped in from inches away, while Park calmly sank her par putt from a couple feet away.
Moving on to the par-3 17th, Park landed her tee shot in a bunker just off the green. Lindberg, with a chance to capitalize, followed by hitting a six-iron into the rough in front of the green. Both players reached the green for a chance at par and Park nailed hers to put the pressure on Lindberg.
Lindberg sank the putt to force a seventh playoff hole and the pair moved on to the par-5 No. 18.
After Lindberg reached the green in two, leaving herself a long eagle putt, Park landed her third shot, a wedge, well within striking distance for a birdie attempt.
Lindberg’s unlikely try at eagle came to rest a few feet right, but Park two-putted for par and opened the door for the Swede. But Lindberg pushed her birdie attempt wide of the hole and had to regroup to make a short putt to force an eighth playoff hole – returning to No. 10.
Both players reached the green in two, Lindberg leaving herself a slightly longer putt. She drained the birdie putt, and Park missed left to hand the Swede her first victory.
“I just kept fighting away, and I couldn’t believe when that last putt went in,” Lindberg said moments after the win. “The first thing I said when I holed that last putt… ‘I know Inbee is going to hole hers, too, so I was already thinking about the 17th hole again. But she didn’t. It’s mine!”
“The putt that Pernilla made on the last was a champion’s putt. You really can’t beat that,” Park said.
On Sunday, all four playoff holes were contested at the par-5 18th hole.
The playoff began with Lindberg, Park and Jennifer Song all making par on the first two holes. Song, a 28-year-old American with no career LPGA Tour wins, dropped out of the playoff when she parred the third playoff hole.
The three playoff participants finished 72 holes at 15-under-par 273.
Park, 29, won the Rancho Mirage event in 2013. She posted her latest title two weeks ago at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix.
Park birdied the last two holes of regulation on Sunday to complete a 5-under 67.
Lindberg, 31, has never even finished as a runner-up in nine years on the LPGA Tour. Her best previous major finish was a tie for fifth in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open. She also had never won on the Symetra or LET tours, spanning a total of 250 professional events.
So how long had she been dreaming of a victory?
“Since I was a kid,” she said. “I remember writing some goals right when I got to high school, about the dream scenario. And it obviously would be to win a major championship, and leave a mark in history. At the same time, that felt like too big of a dream to even come true. But it has.”
Holding the lead entering play Sunday, Lindberg bogeyed two of her first three holes. However, she played bogey-free golf the rest of the way, and a birdie at No. 18 capped a 1-under 71 that sent her to the playoff.
Song’s only previous top-10 result in a major tournament came last year when she claimed eighth place in the Evian Championship. Song closed with a 5-under-par 67 on Sunday.
“I know that I can be up here, and I’m kind of disappointed that I wasn’t able to make those putts in the playoffs, but I learned a lot,” Song said on Sunday. “I’m very grateful, and I’m just loving this moment right now.”
–Field Level Media