Sophie Gustafson was the only player to break 70 all 4 rounds this week in the CVS LPGA Challenge, so it's fitting that she was the player to set the 72-hole scoring record at Blackhawk Country Club and in the process enter the winner's circle for the 1st time since 2003. Her 5th career win jumped her to #16 on this season's money list and brings her to $5.24M in her career. The key for Gustafson today was a fast start: with birdies on the 1st and 3rd holes and an eagle on the par-5 5th, she leaped to -20 early and took a 3-shot lead on Lorena Ochoa. Gustafson bogeyed the 6th and 8th, but Ochoa only cut the lead to 2, as she failed to par the 8th, as well. When Ochoa, who had made 7 birdies and an eagle in 3 rounds between the 10th and 14th holes, failed to make a single birdie despite giving herself multiple chances and bogeyed the par-5 15th for good measure, Gustafson's win was pretty much assured. Still, Ochoa's runner-up finish was enough to make her the 8th million-dollar winner this season, bringing her streak to 6 seasons in a row.
Angela Stanford and Amy Yang both had chances to knock Ochoa out of the #2 spot, as they got to -15 with 6 and 8 holes to go, but both finished weakly, the former with 2 bogeys in her last 4 holes and the latter with a bogey on the par-5 15th. As it was, they were each caught, Stanford by a bogey-free 67 from Amanda Blumenherst and a 33 on the back by Maria Hjorth, while Yang was run down by a 4-birdie run over her last 8 holes by Sun Young Yoo.
The round of the day belonged to Reilley Rankin; her bogey-free 65 vaulted her into her 1st top since mid-September 2008 and moved her to #102 on the money list, with a chance next week to move into the top 100. For that reason, I rank her round ahead of Sandra Gal's; Gal shot a 29 on the back after matching Morgan Pressel's feat yesterday of ending her day with 5 birdies in a row, but actually made 9 in her last 14 for her 65. Even though Vicky Hurst made 2 eagles today, she had to settle for her 4th-best finish of the season, T13 at -10 with Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, and Anna Grzebien, when her 2nd-straight bogey on the 17th caused her 2nd-straight 70. And thanks to skip weeks by Ai Miyazato and Cristie Kerr and WDs by Ji-Yai Shin and Suzann Pettersen, defending champion In-Kyung Kim was the highest player on the money list to finish the tournament, ending with her 2nd-straight 69 to climb back to T24. Still, Stanford, Creamer, and Ochoa made up ground on her and Ya Ni Tseng, despite another weak tournament, didn't lose any ground.
As we head into the last event before the foreshortened Asian Swing--only Korea and Japan this time--Miyazato will be playing the Japan Women's Open and Shin will be resting and recovering from exhaustion and illness, so a lot will be at stake in the Navistar LPGA Classic for everyone chasing them, from Cristie Kerr and Suzann Pettersen (unless she scratches to rest her injured foot) to Angela Stanford and Paula Creamer to Lorena Ochoa and Ya Ni Tseng and Na Yeon Choi. Michelle Wie will be in the role of spoiler and Gustafson will be looking to make it 2 in a row. Meanwhile, the race for the top 80 on the money list is in full force, with Il Mi Chung looking to extend her lead of $10K or more on Allison Hanna-Williams, Louise Stahle, Allison Fouch, Taylor Leon, Rachel Hetherington, Minea Blomqvist, Beth Bader, Laura Davies, Kris Tamulis, and Jin Young Pak. And #100 Joo Mi Kim will be trying to hold off Mindy Kim, Reilley Rankin, Jin Joo Hong, and Laura Diaz, who are between $1K and $5K behind her.
[Update 1 (10:31 pm): Missed Jamie RS's final-round play-by-play--thank you, twitter.]