Posted by: happyfan08 | January 6, 2014

2013 SeoulSisters Awards (3 of 6): Shot of the Year and more

Clutch Performance of the Year

And the Winner Is: Inbee collects herself and wins LPGA Championship

Inbee Park during round 4 of the LPGA Championship

Inbee Park could scarcely have started the 2013 season better.  She had already won the year’s first Major, and after three and a half rounds at the year’s second Major, the Wegman’s LPGA Championship, she was in a perfect position to make it two for two.

But due to bad weather, the final 36 holes of this tournament were played on Sunday, and as the final nine holes wore on, it was clear that Inbee was running on fumes.  She was missing fairways right and left, deadly on this particular course.  Several players had finished their days following great rounds, setting a bar below which Park could not dip.  Somehow (she called it ‘a miracle’) she was able to hang on and end her day tied for the lead with Scot Catriona Matthew.  But now she would have to play a playoff with a woman who had just shot a 68 in her own final round.

In the few minutes between ending her regulation play and starting the playoff, Park regrouped. She told herself that she was going to hit the fairway on the next drive no matter what. Hitting the fairway became her sole purpose in life at that moment. As further motivation, her caddie promised to buy her a dinner every time she hit the fairway during the playoff.

Inbee throws the ball following her win

Remarkably, when the playoff started, it was Matthew who struggled, while Park was suddenly on her game.  They played three playoff holes, with Park hitting two fairways and missing the third by a foot.  Matthew, meanwhile, was the one missing the short grass.  On the third hole, Matthew wound up in the heavy stuff, and her third shot did not reach the green.  She wound up with a bogey, and Inbee sank an 18 foot birdie on the same hole to wrap up the title and her second straight Major.  It was one of the most amazing turnarounds this season, and it all was due to Park’s mental fortitude and ability to focus on the task at hand and forget her previous struggles.  In other words, it was the very definition of ‘clutch’.

Major trophy #2 of 2013

Honorable Mention: Hee Young Park, final round, Manulife

Hee Young Park’s second career LPGA trophy

Hee Young Park was involved in a titanic battle for the crown at the Manulife Classic in July.  The course was playing very easy, and even after shooting a career low 61 in round 3, she still found herself losing ground to Angela Stanford and Catriona Matthew (again!) in the final round. But Park’s nickname is Rocket for a reason: when she gets her game in gear, she can rocket up the leaderboard like few in the game.  And that’s exactly what she did in Ontario.  Park wound up making birdie on 7 of her final 8 holes, including all three holes in the playoff.  Her final score of 26 under par is the lowest total four round score against par ever achieved by a Korean golfer on the LPGA tour, breaking the record of 25 under set by Se Ri Pak way back in 2001 in Phoenix.  It was an absolutely blistering display of what makes her great, and in the end she needed every one of those birdies to get the win.

Inbee rallies at the end of the year for two straight top fives to win POY.

Inbee Park, her fiance, and the Player of the Year trophy

Inbee struggled after winning the US Women’s Open in late June.  In fact, she would not make another top ten for several months.  While she languished, first Stacy Lewis, then Suzann Pettersen, made runs at her position atop the Rolex Rankings and atop the Player of the Year standings.  Inbee wanted desperately to be the first Korean to win the Player of the Year on the LPGA tour, and she felt it slipping away.

Finally, in the penultimate event of the year, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Inbee knew what she had to do: beat Pettersen.  She had not finished ahead of the Norwegian in some time, but Pettersen was now the only person who could deny her the POY.  To make matters more interesting, the two were paired together in the final round, and both were in contention for the title.  Neither won, but Inbee managed to dig deep and finish with a 69 in fourth place, one shot ahead of Pettersen.  It was all she needed to claim the Player of the Year.

She still had to worry about losing the #1 ranking and the money list lead, but the next week, at the CME Titleholders, she finished fifth, ahead of both Pettersen and Lewis, the only two players who could prevent her from winning the money list.  For good measure, she threw in a third place finish at the non-LPGA event the Swinging Skirts in December, which padded her Rolex lead even more.

It was a clutch way to end a trying year for her.

Biggest Disappointment

And the ‘Winner’ is: Na Yeon Choi and Hee Young Park let the British Open slip between their fingers

Na Yeon Choi at St. Andrews

Na Yeon Choi had a lackluster 2013 by her high standards.  After winning at least twice most years since breaking through in 2009, she did not manage a single win in 2013.  She did come close at the HSBC Women’s Champions in March, but just missed a few too many makeable birdies when it counted most.

But the stars really seemed to be aligning for Na Yeon at St. Andrews, where the Ricoh Women’s British Open was contested in 2013.  Inbee Park, trying for her fourth straight Major, was done in by pressure and the course.  Na Yeon shot a fantastic second round 67 to move herself into the final group.  The Koreans had won five straight Majors and seemed poised to make it six.

The first problem came when bad weather forced the postponement of round 3.  Once again, they would play 36 holes on Sunday at a Major in 2013.  Still, Choi continued to shine as the action wound on.  Her strong play earned her a three shot lead with just six holes to play.

Choi hits an iron at the British Open

Meanwhile, Hee Young Park was also having a great week and looked like she might be able to collect her first Major trophy.  But Hee Young hit a roadblock when she made three straight bogies and had to play from both the notorious Hell Bunker AND the Road Bunker.  Despite all those struggles, she hung in there until the end, when her playing partner Stacy Lewis made two straight improbable birdies to knock Park out of the running.  It was a great week for her, and her best ever Major finish, a tie for second; but oh, how close to a win it was!

Hee Young Park had a roller coaster final day, but still notched her best ever Major finish

Choi looked like she was going to make all that academic, but she also began to make bogies on the final few holes and slid back towards the field.  On the 17th hole, she needed to make par to stave off the charging Lewis, but made a crushing bogey.  She wound up tied with Hee Young for second, losing for a second time in 2013 to Lewis (she also lost to her at the HSBC).

Park’s loss was sad but understandable; she had never been in that position before.  But Choi had a lead AND had won a Major the previous year.  She should have been able to avoid the kind of mistakes that cost her the title.  Choi was winless the rest of the season.

Honorable Mention: So Yeon Ryu loses Hanwha thanks to extraordinary luck

So Yeon Ryu was the defending champion of the KLPGA’s Hanwha Classic in 2013, and although she was no longer sponsored by Hanwha, still wanted the win badly.  She had yet to win anywhere in 2013 when she arrived at the event in September.

By the third round, So Yeon Ryu had firm control at the Hanwha Classic

She dominated most of the week, and with ten holes to play had a six shot lead.  Certainly the win was hers for the taking.  But at that moment, Sei Young Kim began playing unearthly golf.  She started her run by making a hole-out eagle on the 9th hole. Ryu made birdie, though, so the lead was still five.

The lead remained five with five holes to play. Ryu had a brief hiccup when she missed the green on the par 5 14th and couldn’t get up and down, reducing her lead to 4. On the next hole, she had to scramble a bit, but made par. But Kim made birdie, and now the lead was three.

Ryu in round 4

Still, a three stroke lead with three to go seemed secure. When Kim missed the fairway on 16 and was in trouble, while Ryu striped it perfectly, things looked good again. But Kim smashed her approach from there and ran it improbably up the green to ten feet, after which Ryu overshot the green and wound up in the rough. Uh oh.

Not to worry. Ryu got up and down, Kim missed the birdie, and they both walked off with pars. The lead was now 3 with two to go.

Then Kim stepped to the par 3 17th and made a hole-in-one! Her second hole out from the fairway in less than nine holes! Ryu missed the green, but still got it up and down for par. The lead was now only one.

So Yeon Ryu and her chaser, Sei Young Kim

Kim’s second on the par 5 final hole ended up in trouble, while Ryu’s was perfect. But again, Kim somehow punched her third onto the green, while Ryu was short. In deep rough, So Yeon chipped to four feet and had to watch and wait while Kim missed her birdie chance. Now Ryu had a four footer for par to win. Which, of course, lipped out.  Tie game.

Ryu would go on to lose a one hole playoff, probably too shell-shocked to believe it had come to that.  This disappointment wasn’t at as important a tournament as the Ricoh, so it doesn’t win this award, but this loss has to be the most disappointing from the pure standpoint of how dominant Ryu had been all week and how much luck was involved for Kim to get the trophy.

So Yeon was disappointed but still congratulated the winner Kim

Shot of the Year

And the Winner Is: Jiyai Shin hits pitch-in birdie from behind sign, final round, ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

How sweet it is! Jiyai Shin collected the Australian Open title thanks to a brilliant pitch shot

The situation: Jiyai Shin was locked in a fierce battle with teen star Lydia Ko for the title in Australia.  Ko had won the previous week’s New Zealand Women’s Open and was looking for a matching Aussie Open win.  Meanwhile, world #1 Ya Ni Tseng was charging hard.  By the time they reached the 14th hole, the battle was at its height.  Shin hit a poor approach that nestled into deep rough next to an advertising sign.  The sign partially blocked her view of the green, and she would have to nestle up against it to hit her third shot.  At that point, Ko had caught Shin and was tied with her, while Tseng was just one shot back.

An up-and-down for par from there would have been amazing enough, but Shin hit a high, arcing pitch that plopped gently onto the green and rolled right into the hole for birdie!  From that point on, Shin had the momentum, and she went on to collect the crown, with Tseng finishing second and Ko third.

Honorable Mention: Sei Young Kim hole in one on 17th hole, Hanwha Classic

See also Biggest Disappointment – Honorable Mention for more details.  Sei Young Kim was three shots behind So Yeon Ryu with two holes to play at the Hanwha Classic.  She proceeded to make a hole-in-one on the par 3 17th, her second hole-out for eagle during that round.  She went on to win the event in a playoff.

Amy Yang approach in playoff, Ha Na Bank

Amy Yang put herself into trouble off the tee during the playoff with Hee Kyung Seo at the Hana Bank.  She hit a poor second as well, but her third shot was magic, putting her close enough to make a straightforward birdie for the win a few minutes later.

Inbee Park, winding hilly birdie putt, round 3, US Women’s Open, to end bogey train

This is the putt of the year on the LPGA tour, hands down.  Inbee Park, a magician with a putter, was leading the US Women’s Open during round 3 when she hit a rough patch.  Without particularly playing poorly, she made three straight bogies.  On the 14th hole, she put her approach on the top level of a very undulating green, with the flag alas on the bottom level.  That putt was going to have a lot of speed, and a three putt (and fourth bogey) seemed a very likely proposition.  But Inbee read the putt to perfection, it rolled down the hill at just the right pace, tracked perfectly to the hole and dropped in.  The resulting birdie saved her tournament.  Not a single LPGA highlight package for 2013 is complete without showing this magical putt!

Most Dramatic Hole

And the Winner Is: Final hole, Honda Thailand, where Ariya Jutanugarn messed up a sure win with a triple bogey.

Inbee Park was in the clubhouse, two shots behind teen wunderkind Ariya Jutanugarn.  The event was the Honda LPGA Thailand, and Ariya had a chance to not only become the first Thai player to win an LPGA event, but to do it in her home country.  The atmosphere was electric.  On the final par 5, all the long-hitting Ariya had to do was make bogey and the win was hers.

Her first shot was OK.  The only play from there was to lay up, get on the green in three (maybe four), and give a great trophy acceptance speech.  Instead, Ariya decided to go for the green in two.  Her approach wound up in a fairway bunker, plugged.  She had to take a drop from within the bunker to get a shot to play.  She overshot the green from there, hit a poor chip back, then three putted for a triple bogey 8.  Without playing another shot, Inbee went from being the runner-up to the winner.

Honorable Mention: Final hole, Hana Bank. 

Amy Yang can’t believe she has finally won the Hana Bank title

Hee Kyung Seo came close to winning, but it was another playoff loss for her

The par 5 18th hole at the Hana Bank was the scene of a lot of drama this year.  First Michelle Wie reached the greenside rough in two shots, got close to the hole with her third, and made birdie to post an 8 under total.  Sei Young Kim, a KLPGA star, got to 9 under, where she still was when she reached the final hole.  But she hit her approach into deep rough near the green, and her pitch did not get to the green.  She made bogey and fell into a tie with Wie.  Meanwhile, both Amy Yang and Hee Kyung Seo made  clutch birdie putts to move to 9 under, eliminate Wie and Kim, and force a playoff with each other. Yang made the winning birdie putt on the first playoff hole after hitting a great approach to set herself up.

Bahamas hole where hitting off-line ends up on beach

At the 2013 Pure Silk Bahamas, rain so affected the event that they were forced to play only 12 of the 18 holes of the course, and thus changed the order of the holes to accommodate this new setup.  The second to last hole they played was extremely dramatic.  On the right was deep rough, but on the left was a wall beyond which was a beach bordering the ocean.  It was possible to hit over the wall and cut the corner, making the hole shorter, but if you didn’t carry it far enough, you’d be hitting your next shot off the sand next to someone’s sand castle.  It was fascinating watching the players struggle here.  Some ended up in the sand, some in the big weeds on the right, some in the gnarly rough near the wall.  Il Hee Lee cut the corner successfully and went on to win the tournament.

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