Sunday, July 06, 2008

P&G NW Arkansas Championship – Final Round

Seon Hwa Lee birdied the last hole to take the lead and held on to win the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship. Lee becomes the fourth multiple winner of 2008 with the fourth victory of her career. Meena Lee and Jane Park tied for second at -14, one shot behind. Karen Stupples, Ai Miyazato, Kristy McPherson and Angela Park tied for fourth at -13.

The Sunday Free-for-all was free for the taking, but for much of the back nine nobody seemed able to hold it. CBS’ on-air coverage featured a birdie barrage – McPherson at 2 to take the lead, Meena, Park and Eun-Hee Ji all at 3 to create a four-way tie, Meena at 5 to seize it for herself. At 7, Seon Hwa pitched in from the fairway for an eagle to tie with Meena, then McPherson and Ji birdied the same hole to create another four-way tie at -14.

Playing a full nine holes ahead of this crowd was Jane Park, who was blistering the course like her namesake Angela did Saturday. Jane birdied eight of eleven holes in one stretch and when she dropped another at 16, she was -13 and only one shot behind. She also finished with birdie at 18 to move into a five-way tie for the lead, posting a 62 to tie the LPGA 2008 season record and prompting Bobby Clampett and company to predict that -17 would be necessary to win so we might as well forget about Jane at -14.

No sooner had those words been uttered than the putters began to sputter (is that a great line or what?). Ji three-putted miserably at 11 to fall two back when McPherson made a 15-footer at 11 to take the lead. Angela had only six feet for birdie there and lipped it. Eun-Hee gave back another at 12 when she too missed from six. Park was the only player to birdie the easy par-5 13th (McPherson three-putted, Seon Hwa missed from 10 and Meena missed from six). Going to the also-par-5 14th, McPherson led by one over the two Lees and Jane Park but Kristy dumped her third short into a bunker, blasted completely across the green and took double-bogey to fall one shot behind. Suddenly the announcers were telling Jane Park to go hit balls on the range.

Meena dropped at birdie from six feet at 15 to take a one-shot lead. A couple of groups ahead, Ai Miyazato had good chances to birdie 16 and 17 but couldn’t drain them. Seon Hwa couldn’t cash in at 16 and McPherson just missed a long one at 17. Meena took an aggressive line at the 17th flag and came up short of the green. Her chip rolled seven feet past the hole and she missed the comebacker. She was tied again with Seon Hwa and Jane.

The 18th is also a par-5 (Pinnacle CC has five of them) and Seon Hwa played her third perfectly, landing beyond the hole and spinning back to within three feet. She dropped the putt to take the lead and (finally) eliminate Jane Park. Needing birdie to force a playoff, Meena played her third just a little too far up the hill and it didn’t come back. From about 20 feet away, she rolled it down the hill and missed it to the left.

Someone out there is going to write that “the fact that nobody stepped forward down the stretch to take charge of this tournament” proves something very negative about the LPGA. I’ll be the first to say that Seon Hwa Lee DID step forward, just like I expected her to when I posted this morning. Her birdie at 18 was her only one on the back nine but it WAS a birdie on the last hole to win – when Tiger Woods does that, everybody starts bowing and chanting "We're not worthy" – and you’ll find no bogeys on her card today (only one over the three days). Hopefully my apprehension on this is unfounded.

Highlights and Epilogue coming tomorrow.

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