Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park captured her fifth victory of the 2013 by defeating best friend So Yeon Ryu in a one-hole, sudden-death playoff at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. Park overcame a four-stroke deficit on Sunday and held the outright lead for one hole before second round co-leader So Yeon Ryu sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff.
The victory at Pinnacle Country Club is Park’s second consecutive win following a major championship triumph at the Wegmans LPGA Championship two weeks ago. She enters next week’s U.S. Women’s Open having won the first two majors of the season and looks to enter the history books as only the second player in Tour history to win the first three majors of the season.
"I was able to putt really well on this golf course and play very solid last three days and, yeah, I mean holed a lot of putts," said Park, who was fourth this week in putts per GIR. "I’ve won a lot of times this year, but I still feel the pressure coming into the final round every time and definitely feel a lot of pressure in the playoff.
Park was on the outside-looking-in as Sunday proceedings began, sitting two shots behind a group of four players tied for the lead including local favorite Stacy Lewis. The Rolex Rankings No. 1 carded three consecutive birdies on holes six, seven and eight to put herself in the mix, while compatriot and best friend So Yeon Ryu sprinted to the outright lead at 12-under-par with two birdies on the front nine.
A double bogey by Ryu at the par-4 13th brought a group of players into contention including Lewis, Mika Miyazato and amateur Lydia Ko. Miyazato ultimately shot a final-round 67 to finish in solo third. Ko shot 68 and had a look at birdie on 18 that could have given her the clubhouse lead, but she was unable to convert.
Park shot a final-round 67 and took the clubhouse lead at 12-under-par with a birdie on 18, before Ryu matched her effort by rolling in a 10-footer for birdie at the closing hole. The pair returned to the 18th tee, where Park found the fairway and Ryu found the left rough, forcing her to layup. Park’s approach on the first playoff hole fell just short of the green and she pitched to four feet, while Ryu’s second shot went over the green.
Ryu narrowly missed her birdie chip and Park calmly rolled in her putt to win the seventh-annual Northwest Arkansas tournament.
"Inbee and I practice together a lot so when we are standing at the 18th hole, it feels like just practice round," Ryu said. "I wasn’t really nervous. Two players cannot be champion, so (Inbee deserved it)."
Lewis finished the week in a tie for fourth after a disappointing final-round 71, but she applauded the crowds for their tremendous support.
"The fans were so great out here today and I really wanted to do it for them," Lewis said.
Sixteen-year-old amateur Lydia Ko made her best effort to claim a second LPGA win today, but fell short in a tie for fourth. She marches on to her second U.S. Women’s Open appearance next week having logged a third top-10 finish on the LPGA Tour in 2013.
"I do feel a little disappointed," Ko said on failing to win. "I left a couple putts short that were on line, but I guess after every tournament, I kind of come off wanting to do a little better."
Ko has four victories in professional events across three tours since 2012, including the CN Canadian Women’s Open where she defeated today’s winner and current Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park by three strokes. She also won the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
The youngster has made six starts on the 2013 LPGA Tour with a season-best finish solo third place at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, where she was tied for the lead entering the final round. She also tied for 17th at the Wegmans LPGA Championship two weeks ago.
Woo Pig Souie: "Local Favorite" Stacy Lewis put on a good show for her faithful fans in Arkansas, but a final round 71 dashed her hopes of winning a tournament she holds so near and dear. The University of Arkansas graduate entered the final round tied for the lead with four others, but a double bogey at the par-5 seventh essentially knocked her out of the running for a third LPGA win in 2013.
"It’s just disappointing," Lewis said. "The fans were so great out here today and I really wanted to do it for them."
From the first tee to the closing hole, the Arkansas faithful were behind Lewis on every shot, including No. 17 where her caddie, Travis Wilson, sported a Razorback "hog hat" after losing a bet to his player.
"Beatriz (Recari) said on 18 green, she’s like, that was pretty cool," Lewis said. "I don’t get anything like it, no player gets anything like what I just did those last two holes."
Chants of "Woo Pig Souie" will be echoing at Pinnacle Country Club until the tournament returns in 2014.