South Korea's Eun Hee Ji made the U.S. Women's Open memorable for more than a lingering LPGA Tour hierarchy dispute.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — South Korea's Eun Hee Ji made the U.S. Women's Open memorable for more than a lingering LPGA Tour hierarchy dispute.
Former champion Cristie Kerr failed to hold the lead, and Ji punctuated a frantic final round Sunday by rolling in a lengthy birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win the Women's Open.
"I didn't even dream about winning this tournament, but, well, I did it, and I think this is going to be one of the most memorable moments in my life," Ji said through an interpreter.
The unlikely birdie and improbable victory by the 23-year-old provided a respite from the dispute between LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens and more than a dozen top tour players who signed a letter calling for her resignation.
The news broke at the start of championship week, and now the situation seems to be coming to a head.
LPGA Tour veteran Juli Inkster, who is on the tour's Board of Directors, said Sunday she expects a resolution sometime this week and that the board will search for an interim replacement before eventually hiring a new commissioner.
But late Sunday afternoon, the focus was on golf and the final pairing playing the 72nd hole of the championship — and Ji seized the moment, capping an even-par 71 with a near 20-footer for birdie to claim the national championship.
Her putt spoiled a strong two-round rally by Candie Kung. Kung vaulted from 37th to a tie for fifth in the third round and was tied with Ji at 1-over before the winning putt.
Ji recovered from two bogeys in her first four holes and a double-bogey at the 10th, making three birdies over the final six holes to finish even with a 284 at Saucon Valley Country Club.
Ji is another of a legion of South Korean players who were inspired to play the game by 1998 champion Se Ri Pak. She claimed the biggest prize in golf in just her second try, after finishing tied for 42nd last year.
She is the second straight South Korean to win the event, following Inbee Park. Countrywoman Birdie Kim claimed the championship in 2005.
Kung, of Taiwan, had a 2-under 69 and was alone in second at 1-over 285.
Despite her struggles, Kerr held the lead until the back nine and shot a 4-over 75, tying In-Kyung Kim of South Korea for third at 2-over 286.
Ji made a double-bogey at the 10th, but said it had a calming effect. She went on to make birdies on the 13th, 14th and 18th.
"Up until that point, Cristie Kerr was so far ahead, I just didn't think anyone was going to be able to catch her," Ji said. "But after that double-bogey on No. 10, I basically cleared my mind and said let's go and play out the rest of the round."
She punctuated her steady back-nine run on the final hole by driving into the center of the fairway, landing her approach about 20 feet from the pin. She steadied her shaking hands and coolly rolled the birdie try into the center of the cup.
Ji, who won the 2008 Wegman's LPGA, pumped her fists and embraced caddie Zac Austin after the putt dropped. Kerr gave her playing partner a long embrace.
Kerr was the only player to post rounds under par on the first two days and was the only player in red numbers heading into Sunday. But that didn't last.
"Obviously, today wasn't my day," said Kerr, who had 35 putts in the final round. "Nothing went in. Even the good putts I hit didn't go in, and that's kind of rough.
"You need to get that good feeling and that good momentum on the greens at the Open."
She had a bogey on the first hole, and had a birdie at the third to get back to 2 under. She had back-to-back bogeys at the fifth and sixth and later dropped into the black for the first time in the championship with a bogey on No. 13.
Her troubles continued down the stretch as she rolled a birdie putt past the hole at the 16th and missed the comebacker, settling for a bogey that dropped her to 2 over. She failed to make lengthy birdie putts at the 17th and 18th.
"Not playing the way I did the last three days, this golf course is pretty much all I can handle, and I just didn't play as well," Kerr said.
Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa posted a final round 1-over 72, tying for 26th at 9-over 293 and failing in her bid to claim her first Women's Open.