Ariya Jutanugarn lost a seven-shot lead on the back nine and then prevailed on the fourth hole of a playoff to win the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday at Shoal Creek.
Jutanugarn, a 22-year-old from Thailand, made a clutch bunker shot to within a foot of the hole to save par, beating South Korea’s Hyo-Joo Kim, who shot a 5-under 67 in the final round to force the playoff.
Jutanugarn started the day with a four-shot lead over Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith and looked like she might win easily after opening with a 4 under on the front nine to stretch her lead to seven shots.
But a triple bogey on No. 10 cut the lead to four and seemed to shake her confidence. She still had a two-shot lead with two holes remaining, but closed with back-to-back bogeys to fall into a playoff after shooting 73.
In the end, the excruciating collapse set up an emotional victory and her second major championship. She also won the Women’s British Open in 2016.
The format for the playoff was a two-hole aggregate on 14 and 18, but the players were still tied after the two holes. The format then switched to sudden death, alternating between the same holes.
Kim looked like she might win the two-hole aggregate after making a long birdie putt on 14 while Jutanugarn settled for par. But Kim made bogey – her first of the day – on 18 while Jutanugarn made par again to send the format to sudden death.
On the fourth playoff hole at 18, both players went into greenside bunkers. Kim’s shot out of the bunker was decent, but Jutanugarn’s was phenomenal, rolling to within a foot of the hole and setting up an easy par putt.
Kim missed her putt for par and Jutanugarn tapped in for the win, turning toward her caddie and family for a happy, tearful embrace.
Jutanugarn looked nearly invincible during Saturday’s third round when she made her move into the lead with a 67, powering through the Shoal Creek course with ease. It was more of the same for a while Sunday when she extended her lead to seven shots.
But things were about to get rough in a hurry.
Jutanugarn hit her tee shot into the hazard on the 10th and then had a three-putt for a triple bogey. Her confidence shaken, she had another bogey on 12 and the tournament was suddenly much closer than anyone expected.
While Jutanugarn was fading, the 22-year-old Kim was rolling. She made putt after putt to put pressure on Jutanugarn, including a stunning 50-footer on 15 that pulled her within one shot of the lead.
Smith, a 33-year-old from Australia, had a three-shot lead going into the weekend after back-to-back 67s, but finished the tournament with two straight disappointing rounds. She was in the final group with Jutanugarn, but had a 78 on Sunday to fall into a tie for fifth.