Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kingsmill Championship Sunday: Lizette Salas Breaks Through

Lizette Salas won the Kingsmill Championship by 4 shots over Lexi Thompson, Ya Ni Tseng, and Sarah Jane Smith, but her 1st LPGA title didn't come as easy as the final margin of victory makes it seem.  If Tseng hadn't 4-putted the final green for a walkoff double, there would have been a lot more pressure on Salas down the stretch.  As it was, she was able to ride out a huge early lead, thanks to 2 birdies in her 1st 5 holes that brought her to -15.  Even though she played her last 13 holes in +2 and without a birdie, she forced others to try to catch her--and they just couldn't do it.

Lydia Ko got to -10 after birdies on the 2 front-side par 5s, but a bogey on 8 and a double on 12 dropped her out of contention.  Thompson got to -9 with 2 early birdies of her own, but spent most of crunch time at -8 after a bogey on the par-4 6th.  So Yeon Ryu, who tied Ko for 5th at -8, was there as early as the 6th hole, but also couldn't get anything going the rest of the way.  Pornanong Phatlum got to -8 when she birdied the 1st, but 2 bogeys and a double over her next 7 holes ensured she'd be fighting to make the top 10 rather than to put pressure on Salas (she ended up T8 at -6 with Azahara Munoz, Sandra Gal, and Mina Harigae).  And what of Hee Young Park, who started the day only 3 behind the winner and already at double digits under par?  3 doubles in her 1st 10 holes sent The Rocket crashing and burning in one of her worst rounds of the last several years, a birdieless 79.  So almost nobody who started or finished in the top 10 really took a run at Salas.  (Yes, Thidapa Suwannapura snuck into solo 7th with a fine 69, but she was never a factor, as she needed a bogey-free 33 on the back just to get to -7.)

In the end, then, it was the former world #1 who had the best chance to deny Salas LPGA victory #1.  And for awhile it looked like Tseng just might get there.  A 3-birdie flurry between the 12th and 15th holes got her to -11, only 3 behind Salas.  Little did Tseng know that Salas would also bogey 17.  In the end, Tseng's double made Salas's little mistakes moot.  The only players to go low today--Smith with a bogey-free 66 and Mi Hyang Lee with a 7-birdie 66, not to mention Jennifer Johnson, Chie Arimura, and Jane Park, who all shot 67s--were well too far back for their rounds to matter to Salas.

With her win, Salas can put all her previous close calls and Sunday struggles behind her.  Even though her putter let her down just a bit down the stretch, her 32 putts in the final round only look bad in comparison to her wizardry on the greens over the 1st 3 rounds:  27, 28, and 26 putts.  When you consider that she beat the likes of Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen by 8 shots and defending champion Cristie Kerr by 11, you know Salas was really rolling the ball well this week.  She was one of the best putters in the world last year and was by far the best this week.  The only players to have as few putts as she did (or close to as few) this week--Tseng, Lee, Park, for instance--hit far fewer greens in regulation than she did.  Guess that putter switch last week and trying to remain positive and patient rather than demanding perpetual perfection from herself were just what the doctor ordered!

1 comment:

Colin N.Z said...

It was good to see one of the most popular players on the LPGA finally win. Another first time winner for 2014 and Lizette gets her well earned Rolex watch. While I normally watch hoping for Lydia to do well today I was rooting for Lizette to hold on and win. Lydia still had a great tournament and we saw a few players regaining some form. Stacy did not look happy coming off the 18th and Yani took a little gloss of her final round there too.