Danielle Kang ‘blasts it down’ to win
OLYMPIA FIELDS, ILL. — Danielle Kang birdied the final hole to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on Sunday for her first LPGA Tour title, edging defending champion Brooke Henderson of Canada.
Kang bogeyed the tricky par-3 17th, and Henderson closed with two birdies to move into a tie for the lead, coming up just short on a 30foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th. But Kang responded with two solid shots to get to the green in two, and then two-putted for the victory.
“I just told myself it was my week. It was my day,” Kang said.
It was another great finish for the LPGA Tour’s second major of the season. The 19-year-old Henderson beat Lydia Ko in a playoff last year at Sahalee in Washington.
The 24-year-old Kang trailed Henderson and Chella Choi by one after she bogeyed the par-4 10th at Olympia Fields. But Kang moved in front with four straight birdies on Nos. 11-14, getting hot with her putter at the right time.
Kang also had a clutch 21-foot par putt at 16 on her way to a 4-under 68 and the winner’s check of $525,000. Henderson closed with a 66 to finish a stroke back, and Chella Choi, who was tied with Kang for the lead coming into the day, was third at 10 under after a 71.
Kang’s previous best finish in a major was a tie for 14th in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open.
Henderson, from Smiths Falls, made a strong bid for a second straight title in the event, jumping up the leaderboard three birdies in her first seven holes. But the Canadian had nine straight pars in the middle of the round.
“I kind of had a mix of really good putts that had a chance to go in, and some that maybe I would have liked to give a better opportunity for,” Henderson said.
Mi Hyang Lee (67), Amy Yang (68) and Sei Young Kim (68) tied for third at 9 under, and Lexi Thompson (69) and Inbee Park (68) were another two strokes back. Hamilton’s Alena Sharp (73) tied for 36th at even par.
Kang received some high-profile support as she tried for her first title since turning pro, hearing from Wayne Gretzky and Caitlyn Jenner — friends from her days at Sherwood Country Club in California — over the weekend. Four-time major winner Hollis Stacy also reached out, but it was some sage advice from brother Alex that set the tone for her breakout performance.
Feeling overwhelmed after her last practice round on the tree-lined course near Chicago, Kang called her brother to help formulate a game plan. Alex Kang, who plays on the Web.com Tour, told her to “just blast it down.”
“Alex is the one that I called to map out the golf course. He’s one of the people that I lean on for everything,” Kang said.
Guided by that simple strategy, Kang posted four rounds in the 60s. The two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion had just five bogeys, with each of them coming in the final two rounds.
Thompson looked ready to make a charge, beginning with three birdies and no bogeys on her front nine. But she sputtered down the stretch.
Thompson contended for the first major title of the year, but was penalized for a controversial rules violation and lost to So Yeon Ryu in a playoff in the ANA Inspiration. The top-ranked Ryu shot a 72 in the final round at Olympia Fields and tied for 14th.
“The back nine, I think I honestly got really tired,” Thompson said. “I don’t really know what hit me. Overall the whole week, I played very well. Just missed a few putts that I needed to make, and kind of my wedges let me down a little bit.”
Danielle Kang watches her tee shot on the fifth hole during the final round of the Women’s PGA Championship golf tournament in Olympia Fields, Ill., on Sunday. Kang edged defending champion Brooke Henderson, from Smiths Falls, Ont.