PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Fatigue gave way to relief for Inbee Park upon learning that playing 36 holes in one day weren’t going to be enough to win the LPGA Championship.
Rather than fret about the eight fairways missed, and the three-shot lead she relinquished on the back nine Sunday, Park refocused before the first sudden-death playoff hole.
“Nothing seemed to be working, So I really cleared my head, and just looked at the fairway,” Park said. “And I just smashed it.”
It took three playoff holes, but the top-ranked South Korean star persevered by draining a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th to outlast Catriona Matthew and claim the rain-delayed major.
Park won her fourth title of the season and second of two majors in what became an extended golf marathon at the 6,500-yard, water-logged Locust Hill Country Club outside of Rochester.
The two-round final day was forced after torrential rains postponed the start of the first round Thursday.
By 8 p.m. on Sunday — about 12 hours after Park teed off to open the third round — a winner was finally decided.
“It’s almost a miracle that I won today,” Park said. “I think I got lucky there, too. And I really tried to fight off and tried not to give up. That really paid off.”
Park closed with a 3-over 75 to match Matthew at 5-under 383.
The 42-year-old Matthew, from Scotland, got to the playoff in an altogether different fashion. She finished with a bogey-free 68 before anxiously waiting to see whether that was enough to give her a shot.
“When I started the last round, I probably didn’t realize I could win,” Matthew said, noting she was seven shots back when the final round began. “So to play well, and get into the playoffs was obviously pretty good. Obviously, when you get into it, it’s pretty disappointing. But overall, a pretty good week.”
After both made par on the first two playoff holes, Matthew struggled off the 18th tee on the third. After having difficulty advancing the ball out of the rough just below the green on her third shot, Matthew missed a 50-foot par chip.
The 24-year-old Park also won the Kraft Nabisco in California in early April and has four victories this year. With the victory, Asian players have won nine straight majors.
Also the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open winner, Park became only the seventh player to win the LPGA’s first two majors in a season, and the first since Annika Sorenstam won the same two events in 2005.
Park has seven career LPGA Tour victories, six in her last 22 starts.
In claiming the $337,500 first prize, Park increased her season winnings to $1.22 million, and moved into 25th on the LPGA Tour’s career list at just under $6.5 million.
Suzann Pettersen and Morgan Pressel tied for third, a shot behind the leaders. Pettersen had the low round for the tournament, closing with a 65. Pressel collapsed after she opened the day with a two-stroke lead through two rounds at 6-under 138.
“I’m definitely disappointed, but it’s the first time in a long time I’ve contended,” said Pressel, winless since 2008. “I’m happy with the way that I played this week as a whole. I had chances. Nothing went in. And that happens.”
Trailing Pressel by five shots midway through the third round, Park surged into a one-shot lead with birdies on four of her final six holes for a 68. Despite her struggles, it was a lead she wouldn’t relinquish.
Park spent the final two rounds playing in the final threesome with Pressel and Chella Choi.
Tied with Pressel at 7 under with nine holes left, Park appeared to take control in building a three-shot lead after the 12th hole.
Pressel bogeyed Nos. 10 and 12, while Park drained a 3-foot putt for a birdie on No. 11.
Park, however, couldn’t close, and had to scramble to make a bogey on the 18th.
She flew her tee shot into the left rough, and barely advanced the ball with her second shot.
Park carried the green with her third shot, which landed in the rough about 25 feet above the hole. Park putted to within 16 inches on her par attempt, before sinking it for a bogey.
“I pretty much played against Morgan all 36 holes. I was just trying to play better than her today,” Park said, before noting she was surprised there was another contender. “I didn’t know she was up there until I was I was on No. 18.”
It was the eighth playoff in LPGA Championship’s 59-year history, and first since 2008, when Yani Tseng needed four holes to defeat Maria Hjorth.
At least the weather finally cooperated after persistent rain spent much of the past three days. Though several fairways and greens were still soggy, the players at least had the benefit of playing under mostly sunny skies and with temperatures pushing 80.
“I felt like I ran a marathon today,” Park said. “I’m just happy we got it done. A major championship should have this kind of challenge, not the 36 holes every time, but this golf course.”