SAMMAMISH, Wa. – Two of the brightest young stars on the LPGA Tour played in different groups during Sunday’s final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club.
And then they played on – in a battle of teenagers.
When the final putt fell on the first playoff hole – fittingly No. 18 — 18-year-old Brooke Henderson of Canada had capped a remarkable come-from-behind victory over 19-year-old World No. 1-ranked Lydia Ko.
Henderson calmly retrieved the ball, smiled with gusto, and accepted congratulations for the first majors victory of her brief professional career. At the same time, Ko was deprived of winning her third consecutive major and 13th LPGA title.
Henderson’s final iron shot of the day on the 412-yard, par 4 finishing hole, a 7-iron from 155 feet, rolled to within three feet of the cup and the assembled fans roared their approval. After Ko missed her birdie attempt from about 20 feet, Henderson stepped up and nailed the putt that made her a two-time Tour winner.
“It was an amazing day for sure,” said Henderson, who became the youngest player in LPGA history to win the PGA Championship. “That’s amazing as well, to think about all of the incredible players that have come before me. And even I was reading some of the names on this trophy.
Henderson becomes the second-youngest winner in a major championship, with Ko the youngest last year in the Evian Championship in France. Henderson also is the second Canadian woman to win a major championship, following Sandra Post’s victory in the 1968 event. After Sunday’s win, she is projected to climb from fourth to second in the world rankings, which come out on Monday. Her first victory came last year in Portland, Ore.
But this one was major super.
“It’s very, very cool,” Brooke said. “(Ko) is a great competitor, she’s already won the last two majors on the LPGA Tour. I knew I had I would have to do something special to beat her, and I was able to do that.”
Indeed she was and the vocal support she received from the Northwest crowd helped.
“The way the noise echoed here was really cool,” Henderson said. “I’d never experienced that before. … And then a lot of those cheers ended up being for me, which was even cooler.”
Henderson, who started the day 2 shots behind Ko, went 34-31—65, the best round of the Championship, and Ko had a steady 33-34—67. Neither of them made a bogey the entire 19 holes.
“I played really solid today,” Ko said. “Brooke just outplayed me. For Brooke to shoot 65 on the final day at a major, at a course like this, is very impressive. You can see her confidence is really high. And for her to go right at the pin on the 18th in the playoff is amazing. I know I played solid. That’s all I can do.”
A late charge by Ariya Jutanugarn nearly made it a three-way playoff.
Using exclusively irons, the Thailand product went on a birdie binge starting on the 176-yard, par-3, 9th hole, which put her at 2-under. She also birdied Nos. 12, 16 and 17 to pull within one shot of the co-leaders.
But she also had to birdie No. 18 for a shot at winning the fourth consecutive tournament she played. It was wide left.
Henderson’s comeback started on the 506-yard, par-5, 11th hole, the longest hole in the Championship. Her second shot came up a few feet short of the green and a long way from the cup. But she decided to use her putter.
“When that putt went in, that was kind of like the huge jump forward, huge momentum changer,” she said. “And then things just went pretty well.”
Ko answered Henderson’s eagle with a birdie on the same hole to create more of a gap, only to have her Canadian foe counter with a birdie on the par-3, 13th.
The diminutive Ko, from New Zealand, hit her tee shot on the par-3, 17th to about four feet from the cup, giving her an excellent chance to re-take the lead. The putt started out right of the hole and stayed there.
“I don’t know if I pushed it or not,” Ko said. “I didn’t think it was a bad shot.”
Henderson, the first-round leader after coming out of the gates with a stellar 67, including an ace on her fourth hole of the Championship, started Sunday’s final round at even-par and in the third-to-last threesome. She covered the first nine in 2-under 34, but was still three shots behind the unflappable Ko.
It was steady as she goes for third-round leader. Ko birdied the 383-yard par-4 first hole and added birdies on No. 6 and 8 to seemingly take control at 5-under and ahead of her closest pursuer by 3 shots. She played bogey-free golf, shot her best round of the Championship, but still could not win in regulation.
Gerina Piller, who started the final round in the final grouping – one shot behind Ko – birdied the second and seventh holes to reach 3-under and get within one shot of the lead, but had bogeys on the eighth, 10th and 12th holes to fall out of contention, finishing with a 1-over 72 and even-par 284.
“I just didn’t get it in the hole quick enough,” she said. “It’s not an easy golf course and you have to execute. I don’t think I did a good job of that today, but I took a lot of positives away from it.”
After yielding only 12 sub-70 rounds during the first three days of the championship, the tree-lined, danger-at-every-turn layout was much friendlier in Sunday’s final round. There were 13 sub-70 rounds, the lowest being Henderson’s 65.