Remember how Morgan Pressel won the Kraft Nabisco Championship? Remember how Brittany Lincicome won the Ginn? Well, both events were back in April, so you probably don't. Let me give you the short story: each played well under great pressure and difficult conditions on a day many people had a better chance--some a much better chance--to win but didn't. That to me sums up Natalie Gulbis's win at the 2007 Evian Masters. This is not a knock on Gulbis--in fact, both Pressel and Lincicome have played great since their unlikely wins, joining the ranks of the LPGA's elite players. Here's hoping this win has the same effect on Gulbis's career.
Because she beat a lot of great golfers today. She knew that Lorena Ochoa was making a charge ahead of her; at -5 through 13 holes, Ochoa got to -4, but a pair of bogeys, including a very costly one at 18, offset by only 1 birdie, dropped her back to -3 for the tournament. Despite this disappointing finish, Ochoa was the leader in the clubhouse for quite some time. Christina Kim had pulled even with her through 15 holes, but a bogey on 16 dropped her to -2 for the tournament. Meanwhile, Sun Ju Ahn was squandering her 33 on the front, which had also brought her to -3--her 37 on the back dropped her into a tie with Kim. Playing one group ahead of Gulbis, Momoko Ueda got it to -3 through 14, but like Ochoa finished with a pair of bogeys and a birdie to drop out of contention late. Gulbis's playing partner, Annika Sorenstam, was -4 through 9 and still at -3 through 14, but a +1 finish over her last 4 holes kept her out of contention. Gulbis herself couldn't get anything going on the back, either--at -5 through 9, and -4 through 14, she did well to stay there and pass Ochoa, but as she said during the post-tournament interviews, she was incredibly frustrated with herself while waiting for the groups ahead of her to finish, because she never thought she would be low enough to even get into a playoff. Ji Yai Shin, after all, was -5 through 10, and a double-par-bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie roller coaster put her at -3 with two birdie holes to go. Sophie Gustafson was in even better shape at -4 heading into the 17th. After a tough start, third-round leader Juli Inkster had clawed her way back to -5 through 13 and despite bogeying the next 2 holes was also at -4 heading into her last two holes, thanks to a clutch birdie on the 16th. Her playing partner Jeong Jang came into 17 with 2 straight birdies under her belt, bringing her back to -3 after a terrible front 9. So Gulbis certainly had cause for alarm. But after 17, things looked a lot better for her: bogeys by Shin, Gustafson, and Inkster, and a par by Jang meant that everyone still on the course was chasing Gulbis heading into the 18th. With Shin's birdie, Gustafson's bogey, and Inkster's par, only Jang could catch Gulbis, and she did with her 3rd birdie in her final 4 holes. But on the first playoff hole, the 18th, Gulbis just missed eagle and Jang couldn't make her 15-foot birdie putt to match her birdie. Amazingly, Gulbis had prevailed--just as Cristie Kerr had been telling her could happen while they were waiting for the final groups to finish their rounds.
So congratulations to first-time winner Natalie Gulbis! On a day that a lot of Americans made big moves--Meaghan Francella (70, +5, T30), Brittany Lang (70, +4, T24), Nicole Castrale (70, +1, T19), Paula Creamer (69, +1, T19), Laura Diaz (71, -1, T12), Morgan Pressel (69, -1, T12), Angela Stanford (70, -2, T6), and Christina Kim (70, -2, T6), among them--you made the biggest one of all!