A tap-in par putt on the final regulation hole of any golf tournament — let alone a major — may never be the same on the LPGA Tour after what happened Sunday in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
It was no mirage that I.K. Kim missed a 1-foot putt on the 72nd hole of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, a gimme that basically would have sealed the deal and landed the South Korean native her first major title and the customary leap into Poppie’s Pond.
Any number of adjectives would describe the miss – stunning, unbelievable, astounding and shocking. They all fit.
A tournament that seemingly was over, suddenly continued, and the shell-shocked Kim never recovered from that errant putt.
It all ended when Sun Young Yoo (pictured) drained an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole – No. 18 – to earn her first career major championship.
“She’s a great putter,” Yoo said about Kim. “She usually doesn’t miss that kind of putt, but … in sports, you never know what’s going to happen.”
As for her surprising win, she said, “I don’t know how to say it. I don’t think any words can describe how I feel right now. I’m still nervous. I wasn’t nervous on the course, but now I’m really nervous (in front of the media).”
Kim and Yoo each shot 69 in the final round, but Kim had been the most consistent, going bogey-free through the first 17 holes. The coronation seemed assured when she left herself with a short putt for par.
She lined up over the ball, hit it – and watched as the ball spun out of the cup.
The gallery gasped, and Kim raised her left hand to her mouth in disbelief. She tapped in for a bogey that dropped her into a tie with Yoo, and Kim raised both hands to her ears in pain, staring blankly at the bridge as she walked to the scorers’ tent.
Images of other short-putt misses returned. This was reminiscent of Scott Hoch’s missed 2-foot putt that would have won the 1989 Masters, and Doug Sanders’ miss on a 3-footer to win the 1970 British Open.
“I played straight, and it actually just broke to the right, even that short putt,” Kim said. “So it was unfortunate on 18, but … I feel good about my game. It’s getting better.”
Kim’s miss dropped her into a share of the lead at the time, but top-ranked Yani Tseng lurked on the 18th fairway, knowing she needed a birdie to make it a three-way playoff.
Tseng barely missed her tying putt, leaving her flat on her back in frustration — but even the world’s best player was thinking about the agony that Kim was feeling.
“I feel so bad for her,” Tseng said. “I wish she had made it.”
Tseng, who started the final round tied for the lead, shot a final-round 73 to finish in sole possession of third.
Kim had been incredibly steady until her major miss, making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole and a 20-footer on the 17th to break a three-way tie for the lead. The 23-year-old South Korean reached the green on the 18th and barely missed a long birdie putt.
All she had to do is make a putt most high-handicapper amateurs would make.
Yoo and Kim returned to the 18thg hole in the playoff, and Kim’s drive cleared the water, landing in the rough. She left a birdie putt short from the fringe, and Yoo calmly reached the green before making her winning putt.
Kim handled the unbelievable loss with remarkable poise and class.
“On the playoff hole, it’s just hard to kind of focus on what’s going on right now,” she said, “because I was still a little bit bummed (about) what happened on 18, honestly.”
Defending champion Stacy Lewis closed strong with a 66 to finish in a four-way tie for fourth place with Amy Yang and late leaders Karin Sjodin — who shot a 74 after entering the final round even with Tseng — and Hee Kyung Seo, who had a three-stroke lead on the back nine before bogeying her final four holes.
* This was Yoo’s second career LPGA victory. Her first was at the 2010 Sybase Match Play Championship.
*Becomes the second South Korean to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship, joining Grace Park (2004).
*With this win, surpasses the $3 million LPGA career earnings mark and increases her total to $3,287,913.
*Earned 30 points toward the Rolex Player of the Year race, bringing her to 42 points for the year. She also earned $300,000 with her win and her season earnings are now $488,987.
*Previously recorded 23 top-10 finishes, including two runner-up finishes at the 2009 P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship and this season at the 2012 Kia Classic.
*Projected to jump from No. 21 to 16 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.
*Qualified last week for the season-ending CME Group Titleholders and will represent the Kia Classic.