Thai teenager Ariya Jutanugarn endured the ultimate highs and lows of professional golf yesterday as she fired a hole-in-one at the Honda LPGA Thailand event before blowing the tournament with a triple-bogey at the last.
The 17-year-old stood by the side of the final green in tears as she watched South Korean world No. 4 Park Inbee lift the trophy and the US$225,000 check after throwing away a two-shot lead on the 72nd hole in a stunning collapse on the Pattaya Old Course.
Park, who made a final-round 67 to finish the tournament 12-under at 276, earlier looked on in shock from the locker room as Ariya triple-bogeyed the last hole to lose by a single shot.
Ariya finished 11-under, with Taiwan’s world No. 1 Yani Tseng a shot further back in joint third place with Korea’s Ryu So-yeon, the US’ Stacy Lewis and Beatriz Recari of Spain.
Having led overnight by three shots, Ariya, playing on a sponsor’s invite, showed few signs of nerves as she battled the game’s elite on a pressure-filled day in Thailand.
Standing on the 12th tee, she fired her approach to the par-three and gasped with joy as the ball had just enough pace to trickle into the cup and take her back in front on 14-under for the tournament.
Ariya extended her advantage with a birdie at the 13th, but dropped a shot on the next hole before regaining her composure with three straight pars to leave her two ahead on the par-five 18th.
However, just as she was set to become the first Thai to win an LPGA event, everything unravelled on the last. Her misery was complete after she failed to force a playoff when her four-foot putt lipped out, handing a stunned Park the victory.
“I didn’t expect this result either, I had a great round today, but thought it wasn’t enough. I don’t know what to say, I’m still very shocked,” Park said in a televised interview after her five-under 67 gave her a one-shot win.
“After she hit her fourth shot I thought I had a chance of a playoff. I was ready, but it became even better. She played incredible golf the past four days and this is going to be a very good experience for her and I think I am going to see her again in the near future. It is in Thailand and she is a Thai girl, I feel really bad for her for the last hole,” Park said.
Ariya only secured her Ladies European Tour card in December last year when, as the world No. 2 amateur, she romped to a five-shot victory in the qualifying school tournament in Morocco.
Meanwhile, Yani Tseng said that smiling while she plays has lifted her game this season, after she delivered a devastating nine-under-par final round yesterday.
The 24-year-old “Pride of Taiwan” finished with a share of third after matching the course record with a final-day 63 in Pattaya.
A poor campaign last year, where she constantly struggled to make the top 10, raised questions over the durability of the leading star of women’s golf — who has topped the world rankings for 106 weeks, but arrived in Thailand with a slim 1.29 points lead over South Korea’s Choi Na-yeon.
However, a second place in the Women’s Australian Open last week suggested a return to form, something confirmed with a scintillating final round in Thailand, marked by an eagle and seven birdies.
“I’m much more relaxed than last year ... it’s bringing an improvement,” Tseng said of her second strong final-day finish in a row.
“I’m smiling more and being more relaxed on the course,” she said.
Although only 24 herself, Tseng also hailed the quality of younger players, including Ariya Jutanugarn, who stumbled at the final hole with victory within her grasp.
“We better watch out,” Tseng said. “I’m still young, but not as young as before. I’m very impressed with her [Ariya].”