Ya Ni Tseng was down by as many as 2 shots to playing partner Amy Yang during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, but in the end her persistence payed off as she successfully defended her title on the 1st hole of their playoff to take her 5th LPGA victory of the season and 10th of her career.
For awhile, it looked like it was going to be Yang's day, as she picked up in the final round right where she left off on moving day with 3 birdies in her 1st 7 holes to get to -12 and cap off a span of 12 holes going back to the end of Saturday's round that she played in -7. Although nobody could keep pace with that burst, Tseng, Ai Miyazato, and Cristie Kerr stayed within striking range while Paula Creamer made a charge of her own on the front via a 5-birdie, bogey-free 31 that brought her to -11. Tseng, too, battled her way to -11 with 2 birdies in her last 3 holes on the front, while Kerr was stuck at -9 after making 3 consecutive birdies early in her round to bounce back from a 2nd-hole bogey and Miyazato was stuck at -8 after a bogey on the par-4 4th had offset 1 of her 3 birdies on the front. But as Yang failed to convert makeable birdie putt after makeable birdie putt, her pursuers drew closer. Kerr birdied 11 and 14 to get to -11. Miyazato, who looked done after she offset a birdie on the 10th with a bogey on the par-3 11th that she had birdied twice before, all of a sudden skipped a tough bunker shot into the hole for an eagle on the par-5 14th and followed it up with a 20-footer for birdie on the very next hole to get to -11 herself. And Tseng made a clutch downhill, sliding 15-footer on 14 a few minutes later to also get to -11. Even though Creamer fell prey on the back to her nemesis this week--too many soft bogeys (her 3 yesterday brought her total to 8 over 54 holes)--and dropped out of contention, the spectacle of Tseng, Kerr, and Miyazato trying to chase down Yang, who was going for her 1st LPGA and 4th worldwide win--was simply awesome. Or it would have been if 1st Miyazato and then Kerr could have avoided bogeys on the par-3 17th. Although Ai-sama was able to bounce back with an impressive birdie on the par-5 18th--to go -5 on the par 5s she had failed to make a single birdie on in the previous 36 holes--she and Kerr knew their day was done when they failed to keep their momentum going on the long, tough 17th.
As it was, Tseng's final charge provided quite enough drama, thank you very much. She put her approach on the par-3 15th closer than Yang, but couldn't drop the 15-footer. Then she stuck a fantastic approach shot on 16 to give herself a chance for a 2-shot swing when Yang missed the green and put her recovery shot 12 feet past the pin. Even after Yang sank the clutch par save, Tseng dropped her 8-foot birdie putt dead center right on top of it to tie her at -12. When both players parred the tough 17th that was so many others' Waterloo, it all came down to the eminently reachable par-5 18th. At first, it appeared that Yang's combination of distance and accuracy off the tee gave her the advantage, as Tseng pulled her drive into the left rough and elected to lay up, while Yang was in go range from the middle of the fairway. But when she yanked her approach long left--overcompensating, she later said, for her 2 previous misses to the right--and Tseng stuck her wedge about 5 feet below the hole, the tables had very suddenly turned. However, Yang played it smart and just flopped a wedge anywhere on the green she could and left her 50-foot lag within 3 feet of the hole. And even though Tseng had a birdie putt for the win, it was from about the same angle that Cristie Kerr, consistently one of the best putters on tour, had just missed on the low side. Lo and behold, Tseng did exactly the same thing, Yang sunk her putt, and we had a playoff. My DVR cut out just as Yang followed up Tseng's dead-center drive on 18 with one just as long and a few yards to the left in the intermediate rough, so I'm relying on LPGA.com's description of Yang hitting the green in 2 and Tseng just going over it, them putting and chipping to about the same range as Tseng had for the win just minutes before, Yang missing it, and Tseng canning it. Neither Ruthless Mike nor Stephanie Wei have any more than that, so I'm throwing this one out to my regulars. What did you notice about the playoff?
Given that it's about time to get ready for work and walking the girls to school, I'll let Hound Dog follow up on last week's Quest for the Card post and let you check out the LPGA money list for yourself! I've got another "As the World Turns" post in the hopper, so I'll add my own comments on how the "Over-#80 Club" fared yesterday in tomorrow's post!
[Update 1 (8:32 pm): Here's Hound Dog's look back at Walmart week on the LPGA!]