Choi’s fair­way ea­gle leads to NW Arkansas win

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY KURT VOIGT

Even Na Yeon Choi wasn’t sure i f Sun­day was the time for her ninth ca­reer LPGA Tour ti­tle as she strug­gled through­out much of her round at Pin­na­cle Coun­try Club.

The South Korean couldn’t make putts, was off with her irons and heard the roars in front of her as lo­cal fa­vorite and de­fend­ing cham­pion Stacy Lewis surged past her and into the lead.

A dou­ble dose of timely 8-iron magic, how­ever, fu­eled a shock­ing and sud­den late vic­tory for Choi — whose dra­matic ea­gle on the par-4 16th sparked her two-shot win in the NW Arkansas Cham­pi­onship.

“I thought it was go­ing to be good, but I didn’t ex­pect it to go in,” Choi said. “I was very happy af­ter that shot, but un­for­tu­nately I couldn’t see the ball go­ing in. I just heard a lot of scream­ing around the green.”

Choi, the sec­ond-round leader, trailed Lewis by a shot af­ter her tee shot on the 16th. What fol­lowed was an 8-iron from 142 yards that one-hopped into the hole to give her a one-shot lead.

She fol­lowed with another 8-iron to a foot on the par-13 17th, lead­ing to a sec­ond straight birdie and an even­tual 2-un­der 69 for the day — enough to fin­ish 15 un­der over­all for her first win since a sea­son-open­ing vic­tory at the Coates Golf Cham­pi­onship in Florida.

Choi won de­spite need­ing 33 putts in her fi­nal round, and she was 1 over for the day be­fore her ea­gle on the 16th. She man­aged to re­lax fol­low­ing her sec­ond bo­gey of the day on No. 13, re­main­ing con­fi­dent while watch­ing the leader­board closely and Lewis miss sev­eral birdie at­tempts in the group ahead of her.

That con­fi­dence even­tu­ally led to the nearly per­fect back-to-back 8-irons that were enough to over­come any other strug­gles for the day.

“Those two shots, I think I have to re­mem­ber for my fu­ture,” said Choi, who earned US$300,000.

Mika Miyazato fin­ished sec­ond at 13 un­der af­ter a 67.

While Choi cel­e­brated, the end­ing was a dif­fi­cult fin­ish to han­dle for Lewis, who bo­geyed her fi­nal hole for a 68 to tie for third with Aza­hara Munoz (66) and Anna Nordqvist (70) at 12 un­der. Sec­ond-ranked Ly­dia Ko had a 63 to tie for sixth at 11 un­der.

Lewis has gone 27 tour­na­ments with­out a vic­tory, her long­est since a 25-tour­na­ment stretch be­tween her first and sec­ond ca­reer wins in 2011-12.

“It’s tough, but hon­estly it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been in this po­si­tion and a few months, re­ally, so you can’t be too up­set,” Lewis said. “When some­body holes out and makes birdie on 16 and 17, you know, it’s one of those things that it’s kind of meant to be for (Choi).”

While Choi strug­gled for much of her round, shoot­ing a 1-over 37 on the front nine, Lewis — who be­gan the day four be­hind — surged to the lead with her fourth birdie of the round on No. 10 to reach 13 un­der.

How­ever, the for­mer Univer­sity of Arkansas player had birdie at­tempts lip out on Nos. 11 and 12 and she was un­able sink a num­ber of birdie putts on her back nine. That in­cluded a 6-foot at­tempt on No. 17 that came mo­ments af­ter Choi holed her fair­way ap­proach a group be­hind on the 16th.

Choi’s shock­ing ea­gle sent her to 14 un­der, a shot ahead of Lewis.

The 20th-ranked South Korean then fol­lowed her re­mark­able 8-iron make by nearly ac­ing the par-3 17th, with her ball hit­ting short and rolling to a foot short of the hole. She made the birdie putt to reach 15 un­der and over­came an er­rant tee shot on the 18th with a 12-foot par putt.

“I didn’t give up,” Choi said. “I didn’t putt well, but I hit it well and thought I could win with­out putting.”

AP

Na Yeon Choi, of South Korea, holds the tro­phy af­ter win­ning the NW Arkansas Cham­pi­onship LPGA golf tour­na­ment at Pin­na­cle Coun­try Club in Rogers, Arkansas, Sun­day, June 28.

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