South Korea’s Amy Yang claimed the biggest victory of her career on Sunday, outdueling Japan’s Nasa Hataoka down the stretch to win the LPGA Tour Championship in Florida.
The 34-year-old Florida-based Yang carded a six-under-par 66 to complete a three-shot victory at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples and earn the $2 million first prize.
“I still can’t believe I did it,” said Yang, whose four prior LPGA Tour titles all came in Asia.
Hataoka had been at the top of the leaderboard since the opening round, and went into Sunday’s sharing the lead alongside Yang after shooting a seven-under-par 65 on Saturday.
But after going through the first 54 holes of the tournament without shooting a single bogey, Hataoka finally blinked when it mattered most in Sunday’s tense back nine shootout with Yang.
The two women were level on 25 under heading to the par-three 16th, and it looked as if they would remain tied at the top after Yang missed a long putt for birdie and the solo lead.
Yet Hataoka bogeyed after missing her short par putt to leave Yang one shot clear with two to play.
Yang said she was “really nervous” as they dueled down the stretch, knowing that Hataoka could seize the momentum at any moment.
“I had no idea where this was going,” Yang said. “All I could do was just stick to my game and trust it.”
The Korean then turned the screw on the par-five 17th. Both players were left with tricky third shots after seeing their seconds miss the green.
Yang, though, produced a sublime third shot, her chip for eagle lipping out to leave herself with a short putt for birdie.
Hataoka’s chip left her with an awkward birdie chance which she duly missed.
Yang coolly rolled in her birdie to leave her two shots clear going to 18, and from there she never looked like slipping up, nailing her second to within eight feet for another birdie chance.
Hataoka missed her birdie putt from off the green, giving Yang three putts from eight feet to seal victory.
In the end the world No 36 only needed one putt, rolling in the birdie to finish in style before being doused in champagne by friends and fellow players.
The moment was especially satisfying in the wake of injury concerns that Yang feared could cut her season, if not her career, short.
“Throughout my career I went through so many ups and downs, and especially recent injury,” she said, adding that she was also pleased to hang on for the win after coming up short while in contention.
“I had some finishes close to winning and end up finishing top five, top 10, and I really didn’t want that to happen today,” she said.
“Beginning of the round I felt pretty nervous and I doubt myself … but I stayed strong throughout the round really well. This is very meaningful.”
Yang finished with a 27-under 72-hole aggregate 261, while Hataoka was three back in second place alongside Alison Lee of the United States, who shot a closing 66.
World No one Lilia Vu finished six shots off the lead on 21 under for the tournament after a seven-under-par final round, with Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul in fifth on 20 under after finishing with a six-under-par 66.
South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai ended on four-under 284 (T50) after a final-round 73.
© Agence France-Presse
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