South Korea’s Ji Eun-hee curled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win the US Women’s Open on Sunday, beating Taiwan’s Candie Kung by one stroke for her first major title.
Ji birdied three of the last six holes to overcome starting the back nine with a double bogey and finish four rounds at even-par 284 with a final-round par 71.
“I didn’t even dream about winning this tournament, but I did it, and I think this is going to be one of the most memorable moments in my life,” Ji said through a translator.
Kung, who began the day five shots adrift, settled for second despite a finishing 69 with American Cristie Kerr and Korean Kim In-kyung sharing third on 286.
Ji began her run with a birdie on 13 and sank a 25-foot birdie putt at the 14th, then watched the leaders back up to meet her as she parred twice and sank the greatest putt of her life for her greatest victory.
“I was extremely nervous before that last putt,” Ji said. “I was very disappointed with the double bogey but after that I made a couple birdies and got my feel back for my shots.”
Ji, whose only prior LPGA victory was last year at Rochester, became the fourth South Korean to win the US Women’s Open after shaking off her double bogey at the 10th and a sense that she was already out of contention.
“Up until that point, Cristie Kerr as so far ahead, I just didn’t think anyone was going to be able to catch her,” Ji said.
“But after that double-bogey on No. 10, I basically cleared my mind and said, ‘Let’s go and play out the rest of the round.’”
Ji and Kerr reached the 16th tee sharing the lead at one-over with Kung, but Kerr missed a five-footer for par to fall back while Ji, 23, missed a six-footer for birdie and settled for par.
Kung parred the 18th to take the clubhouse lead on one-over as Kerr and Ji parred the 17th, setting up the final drama.
“I just played consistent, played my game and here I am,” Kaohsiung-born Kung said. “I’ve been working on my putting and it showed up this week.”
Kerr left her approach on the wrong side of a ridge and missed a long birdie bid before Ji curled home a putt with about an inch of break from left to right for the triumph.
“Today wasn’t my day. Nothing went in,” Kerr said. “Even the good putts I hit didn’t go in, and that’s kind of rough. You need to get that good feeling and that good momentum on the greens at the Open.”
The US Golf Association moved tees nearer the holes for the final round, trimming more than 200 yards off the third-longest layout in US Open history and more than three strokes off the average score over the final 18 holes.
But one after another, contenders missed key shots on the back nine as the pressure mounted as unfamiliar tee positions, a brisk wind and the tension of a major championship took a toll.
Kerr, seeking her second US Women’s Open title in three years, led by two strokes when the day began but the 12-time LPGA winner fell out of the lead for the first time since Friday afternoon with a bogey at 13.
Kung sank clutch par putts from six feet at the 15th and 12 feet at the 16th to stay one stroke ahead, but found a bunker at 17 and just missed a 20-footer for par, leaving four players even for the lead at one-over.
Brittany Lincicome of the US was fifth on 287, one stroke ahead of compatriot Paula Creamer, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and Japan’s Ai Miyazato.