When Ariya Jutanugarn stood on the 10th tee Sunday afternoon in the U.S. Women’s Open, her lead over Hyo Joo Kim was a seemingly insurmountable seven shots. It appeared the rest of the field was playing for second place and a nice piece of the biggest purse on the LPGA Tour schedule. Five birdies and a bogey by Jutanugarn had bettered her score by four shots to 16 under par. A couple of hours later, she stood over a five foot bogey putt to secure a spot in a playoff against Kim, who carded a bogey-free 67, with two birdies on the back nine, including a chip in on the 15th hole, to erase the huge deficit. I’m certain Ariya was asking herself, “How did this happen?”
It began with a pushed three wood on the 10th hole that found the water hazard on the right side of the fairway. She had to play a short third shot because of tree issues and finally brushed in a short putt for a triple-bogey seven. The shock of the score was not just the three lost shots, but the break down by the most reliable club in Jutanugarn’s bag: her three wood. Without a driver in her bag, Ariya had depended on the length and accuracy of her fairway metal to forge the big lead and it was surprising to see that wayward drive on the 10th hole. Compounding her problems, she decided to abandon the three-wood for most of the rest of the round in favor of a driving iron and it appeared to shake her confidence and rhythm.
|Ariya Jutanugarn With Her Driving Iron|
Meanwhile Kim, the 2014 Evian Championship winner, was putting together a flawless inward nine holes. The similarities between the 22 year-old Korean and Jutanugrn are interesting. Both share a birth year, the same number of majors as well as only a single previous made cut in the U.S. Women’s Open in 2016. Of course, there was nothing similar about what transpired for the players on Sunday’s back nine. Kim entered the two-hole aggregate playoff without a bogey in her last 31 holes and was beaming with confidence before teeing off on the 14th hole. Her mood further improved after her birdie on the first playoff hole. giving her a one-shot lead going to the 18th hole. Forty-five minutes later, Ariya Jutanugarn was holding the trophy after somehow averting one of the biggest collapses in major championship history after Kim bogeyed the 18th hole twice, the second time after the playoff had gone to sudden death when the two players were tied after the end of the two-hole aggregate portion.
|Hyo Joo Kim|
Initially, this piece was going to be about the weekend dominance of Jutanugarn, who had turned a five shot deficit to Sarah Jane Smith at the beginning of her second round into the large lead with nine holes remaining. It was going to be about how far she hits the ball, out-driving most of her competitors using a three wood off the tee. It was going to be about her calm under pressure and her ability to make big putts at the right time, as she’s done to chalk up eight LPGA titles, including the