Cheyenne Woods made the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters her 1st professional victory on a major tour when she shot a 5-birdie 69, highlighted by a bogey-free closing 33, to hold off Australian amateur sensation Minjee Lee by 2 shots. The turning point came on the 9th hole, after Lee had birdied the 3 previous holes in a row to catch Woods at -12. When Woods birdied the 492-yard par 5, she never looked back, adding 3 more birdies on the back 9 to outsprint Lee, who also played bogey-free golf on the back, but could birdie only the 12th and the 18th. The only other players to finish double digits under par--Woods and Lee's playing partner Stacy Lee Bregman (72, -12) and Camilla Lennarth (70, -12)--also poured it on down the stretch, but it was too little, too late to catch Lee, much less deny Woods.
Woods's triumph came over a fairly impressive field. Solheim Cup heroine Caroline Hedwall closed with a bogey-free 66 to catch KLPGA Rookie of the Year candidate Minsun Kim and Korean amateur So Young Lee at -9; Belen Mozo's 9-birdie 65, the low round of the week, allowed her to meet Jessica Korda, who fired a bogey-free 69 that included an eagle on the par-5 3rd, at -8; and Ya Ni Tseng joined Gwladys Nocera and Charley Hull in the top 10 at -7 thanks to an 8-birdie 66. The cream of the field certainly rose to the top, or at least near it, as Dewi Claire Schreefel and Sarah Jane Smith's 69s moved them to -5, Laura Davies, Chella Choi, and Sarah Kemp's 70s brought them to -4 with Tiffany Joh and Xi Yu Lin, among others, while Lindsey Wright (-3), Kyu-Jung Baek (-3), Joanna Klatten (-3), Mi Hyang Lee (-2), Maria Hernandez (-2), Marianne Skarpnord (-2), Lee-Anne Pace (-1), Shin-Ae Ahn (-1), Ashleigh Simon (-1), Melissa Reid (E), Line Vedel (E), Thidappa Suwannapura (E), Amelia Lewis (E), Lorie Kane (+1), Katherine Kirk (+1), and Char Young Kim (+1) at least played respectably.
But the day belongs to Cheyenne Woods. I've been following her career for quite a while, and from the very start, I noted that whereas it seemed to always take her awhile to adjust to the rigors of a new level of competition, she always seemed to adjust over time. To tell you the truth, though, her 1st pro win outside the SunCoast Series is as much of a surprise to me as her first collegiate one was. The only other time she'd been near the top of an LET leaderboard, back in last July, she flamed out pretty dramatically. Although she had a solid 2013 on the LET, finishing 78th on their Order of Merit in only 11 starts, she just barely held onto her card and got off on the wrong foot at LPGA Q-School (finishing 15 shots behind Jaye Marie Green's then-record-breaking 62 on its opening day), eventually missing the 72-hole cut by 5 shots. So for her to make this kind of quantum leap so early in 2014 is super-impressive!
We'll have to see what she does with this in the coming weeks and months. Assuming she wants to take advantage of her win, she'll face a much, much stronger field this coming week at the tri-sponsored ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open (where she's currently not on the field list, just like defending champion Ji-Yai Shin). After that, she'll have to decide whether to stay on the LET and accept sponsor invitations into LPGA events or try her luck on the Symetra Tour. It's an open question whether it's easier to get 2015 LPGA membership via Category 9 (non-member top-40 equivalent on the LPGA money list) or Category 10 (top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list) on the Priority Status List, but I lean strongly toward the latter (although it might be possible to try both strategies). Sure, it means giving up a lot of money, but it's better than going back to Q-School. Whether her management team sees it the same way is another question.
But all that's for the future. Right now, let's just appreciate Cheyenne Woods's career milestone!
[Update 1 (8:31 am): Here's some linkage to the ALPG's story, Tony Jesselli's reaction, the AP's story via USA Today, and Randall Mell's coverage.]
[Update 2 (8:43 am): Here's Martin Blake.]
[Update 3 (8:45 am): Cheyenne's on the LPGA's field list. But I think she won't have to get in on a sponsor exemption any more! Wonder who will get hers?]
[Update 4 (9:14 am): Here's Brent Kelley's take. Now I'm curious to see how big this story gets during the Olympics. Will it be overshadowed? Or will it get picked up and hyped during the coverage? There's no doubt this was a magical week for Woods, but so was Jaye Marie Green's last December in Q-School and she's going to need to adjust to the rigors of the LPGA like any other rookie. I hope we'll be able to look back on both of their weeks as huge turning points in their careers, but nothing is guaranteed in golf. Just got to keep trying to improve!]
[Update 5 (5:25 pm): I appreciate bangkokbobby's point that Cheyenne is now making a name for herself. Let's see where she takes it next!]
[Update 6 (5:31 pm): Nice to see Cheyenne's name at the top of the LET Order of Merit!]
[Update 7 (5:55 pm): Nice job by John Strege getting Cheyenne's mom's reactions!]
[Update 8 (9:38 pm): Here's Stephanie Wei's quick take.]
[Update 9 (2/11/14, 6:54 am): I appreciate the vote of confidence from Golf Babes!]