Cristie Kerr birdied the first playoff hole to defeat Helen Alfredsson and Sophie Gustafson and win the Safeway Classic. It is the first victory of 2008 for Kerr and the 11th of her career. Katherine Hull finished at -11 in fourth place two shots out of the playoff while Hee-Won Han finished fifth at -10.
For most of the afternoon, the Free-for-all was on. Alfredsson and Gustafson both went out in 35, which opened the door for any early hot-hands. Kerr rattled off four straight birdies (5 through 8) to reach -10 and draw within one of the lead. Hull birdied three of her first six to get within two while Annika Sorenstam reached that same level with five birdies through 12. Playing even farther ahead of Annika was Han, who went out in 32 to reach -8. Hee Young Park eagled twice (at 5 and 7) to join Hee-Won at -8.
As the last groups made the turn, 10 players were within four strokes. Hull birdied 10 to draw within one. Sorenstam bogeyed 15 to fall three behind. Han birdied 16 to get within two. ESPN went on-air just as Alfredsson birdied 10 to take a two-shot lead at -12. Gustafson immediately answered at the same hole to go -11. Hee Young bogeyed 14 to fall four back and she stumbled the rest of the way. Han tapped in for birdie at 17 to go -10 – she would take that number to the clubhouse. Kerr’s bogey at 11 dropped her three back with only seven to play. The board now read Alfredsson -12, Gustafson -11, Han and Hull -10, Kerr -9, with Sorenstam and Ochoa (yes, Ochoa) -8. Birdies at 11, 12 and 13 had brought Lorena into the mix but a missed six-footer for birdie at 15 and then bogey at 17 ruined her run. Sorenstam rolled in a beauty from the fringe at 17 to reach -9 but three-putted from six feet for a double-bogey at 18 to end on an ugly note.
So it boiled down to Helen, Sophie, Katherine and Cristie. At the par-5 12th, Gustafson’s second found a greenside bunker but she got up and down for the tying birdie. At 13 Sophie gave it back when her birdie try went three feet past and she missed the comebacker. Kerr birdied 14 to get back within one. Alfredsson’s bunker shot at 14 came up short into the rough but she chipped it in to save her par. At 15, Helen coaxed her birdie putt into the hole to reach -13. Sophie made her four-footer to stay one shot back and leave Cristie two behind. Gustafson bounced her tee shot at 16 off the right front fringe and it rolled up to four feet, where she made birdie to again tie for the lead.
The Dueling Swedes each pulled their drives at 17 into the left rough. Up on the green, Hull rolled in a 25-footer from the fringe to get within two and Kerr made her four-footer to get within one. Helen plugged her second into the bunker left of the green, blasted across to the back fringe and two-putted for bogey. Sophie had recovered to the front half of the green but left her first putt six feet short. Which she proceeded to miss, creating a three-way tie for the lead with Hull only one back.
At the final hole, Hull’s second found the bunker at the back of the green. She nearly holed it but had to settle for par and -11. Kerr had 10 feet for birdie and she dropped it to take her first solo lead of the day. Needing birdie to tie, both Swedes rose to the occasion. Alfredsson put her approach to six feet while Gustafson played hers to eight. Sophie rolled hers down the hill and in, to force the playoff. Helen dropped hers as well, and we had a three-way (so to speak).
They replayed 18 (don’t they always?). Gustafson found the right-side rough while the other two were in the fairway. All three played good approaches – Kerr to 14 feet, Alfredsson to 20 and Gustafson to about 20 in the fringe. Sophie missed just left and tapped in for par. Helen did the same. Cristie drilled hers dead-center and the title was hers.
Congrats! - to all three participants for making birdie at 18 just to get in the playoff, to Katherine Hull for making another great run one week removed from her improbable Canadian win, and to Cristie Kerr for winning an event for the fifth consecutive season. Despite the lateness of this recap, I’ll have an Epilogue later today.