A South Korean triumvirate burst through the pack to reach a playoff in the women’s section of the ISPS Handa Vic Open, but it was Hee Young Park who triumphed in the end.
It took four holes for the 32-year-old to beat off her compatriots, Hye-Jin Choi and So Yeon Ryu.
Ultimately it was lost rather than necessarily won, as is often the case in playoffs.
The quasi-Australian So Yeon Ryu dropped out at the second hole when she found the greenside bunker with her second shot and failed to get up and down, after all three players birdied it the first time around.
Then Choi drove it right off the tee at the fourth playoff hole, into deep mulga and blocked out by a tree. Her first attempt to move the ball resulted in it shifting only a few metres. The next ploughed into the swampland left of the hole, and once they reached the green, the pair wanted to end it by mutual consent, until a Golf Australia rules official pointed out that Park needed to hole out.
She eventually won with a par, having birdied the 18th in regulation and in the first three playoff holes, and having missed an eagle putt to finish it in the first playoff hole, quite a while earlier. She was the rightful winner.
It was an extraordinary finishing day, with the scoring average up at 74.1, two-over par. The winds came again and so many players perished in the conditions, notably overnight leader Ayean Cho of Korea, who shot a catastrophic 81 to slump to tied-16th.
Cho looked bulletproof until her drive at the par-four ninth went hard left on the wind at the ninth and nestled behind a tree. She took double bogey there and then whiffed a shot from the spinnifix at the 11th, ultimately falling apart.
Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom was another on the rollercoaster, stargint out just a shot from the lead, falling away and then surging again when she hit driver from the fairway in close at the ninth to make a birdie. Then she four-putted the 11th, three-putted the 12th, and eventually signed for an 81.
It was a remarkable finishing day and not surprisingly, it was the Koreans who came through strongest. Choi, the 2017 Australian Amateur champion, carded a brilliant closing 69 to post the clubhouse lead at eight-under par, then Park joined her when she birdied the 18th. Ryu, a former world No. 1, only needed to birdie the last to win in regulation, but she hooked her drive into the marshland, in what she said was “my only regret’’ from the final day.
In the end, Ryu scrambled a par so that the three Koreans all reached the playoff, back down the 18th, where the wind howled from behind them and made it effectively a par-four. Birdie would be needed; they all knew that.
All three birdied it on the first playoff hole, with Ryu having to get up and down from behind the green. It would have gone no further had Park holed her eagle putt from just three metres, but she missed. “Too nervous,” she said later.
At the second, Ryu found the greenside trap, could only manage par, and dropped out. Choi and Park both birdied to extend it, then birdied again at the third. Then at the fourth, the younger Choi unravelled.
For Park, it was a significant victory to say the least. A 13-year LPGA Tour player who has been ranked inside the top 20, she played so poorly last year that she went back to qualifying school, only at the insistence of her husband, JooJong-Joe. She finished second in the qualifying and the rest is history. Previously coached by Australian Steve Bann, she said she always felt comfortable playing Down Under.
“I was going to stop golf, but that meaning very inspired me and then very payback to my family and husband, and then I think this is pay back for everything,” she said. “And I’m getting old compared to other Korean girls on the LPGA and they keep grinding. Because I made it, I won the event, and I just giving back to inspire to other young golfers.’’
Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Sweden’s Linnea Strom were closest at seven-under par.
A trio of Australians, Minjee Lee (73 today), Su Oh (68) and Robyn Choi (71) were tied-sixth at six-under par.