The sun came out for the first time all day as Brittany Lang and Hee Kyung Seo approached the 18th green for the 4th time in a row, the last survivors of a 4-way, 3-hole playoff from which Chella Choi and Inbee Park had previously bowed out. When Lang gutted out a 6-foot sliding downhill-sidehill birdie putt to win the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, she ensured that the sun will set tonight on the infamous "Duke curse" that purportedly blocked players from Duke University from winning on the LPGA Tour. And when the sun rises tomorrow, it may start to sink in to Lang that she has joined fellow Texans Angela Stanford and Stacy Lewis as winners in 2012.
As storm clouds were brewing over Grey Silo about 2 and a half hours earlier in the afternoon, it didn't look like Lang would be part of any playoff picture, much less win the tournament. Park and Seo had been trading birdies all day and each got to -17 at different points early on the back. Although Lang hadn't made a bogey in her 1st 14 holes, she still found herself 1 shot behind her playing partners when her tee shot found some gnarly left rough while they had put themselves squarely in the 15th fairway. With the pin tucked behind the front-left trap, she needed to hit a perfect shot just to stay in contention. Not only did she do it, getting her ball almost pin high about 15 feet to the right on the hole, she followed it up with a fantastic birdie putt to pull even with the leaders. She gave herself another good look for birdie on 16, but her downhill putt slid by the hole. After all 3 players parred the 17th, Lang must have been thinking that she needed to make birdie or eagle to have a chance to win the tournament. Seo had birdied 18 twice before, Park 3 times. Lang had put herself into contention on moving day with a birdie-birdie-eagle finish, so she knew she had it in her. Plus, with a very accessible pin on the front-right quadrant of the green on this short par 5 and huge cheers from the gigantic crowd surrounding the green erupting every few minutes (it seemed), it was do-or-die time. Little did anyone expect that Chella Choi, the leader in the clubhouse following her bogey-free 63 that got her to -16 (eclipsing Stacy Lewis's walkoff eagle for a 29 for the back, a 64 for the day, and a -15 total for the week), would have a ghost of a chance to make it into a playoff, but that's what happened when the easy pin to reach from the fairway turned into a nasty hole to try to get the ball to fall into. Both Seo and Lang had short putts to win the tournament outright with a birdie, and both missed them low.
In the playoff, Seo hit the green in 2 twice in a row, giving herself difficult but makeable 10-foot eagle putts, but she couldn't get either to fall. Lang stayed alive with birdies on the first 2 playoff holes while first Choi and then Park failed to get up and down from right of the green in 2. On the third hole, both Seo and Lang put their approach shots in the front-right bunker. Park's explosion stayed about 10 feet below the hole, while Lang's spun to about 6 feet above it. After Park's putt wouldn't fall, the stage was set for Lang to get her 1st LPGA win. As Lang put it after the round, "I was so nervous on that first putt in regulation. I couldn't see what I really wanted and I just kind of putted up there. But those two birdie putts to stay in the playoff, I was getting better at being nervous and knowing that just because I was nervous didn't mean I was going to miss it." And she didn't, winning with her 3rd-straight birdie on the final hole.
As the sun's setting here in Waterloo, I have to hit the road for Hamburg. Got lots of interviews with a bunch of players today, so look for a lot of material here over the next few days!