WISCONSIN • Seven years after Katherine Kirk's last victory on the LPGA Tour, she returned to the winner's circle for the first time on Sunday.
The 35-year-old Australian held off Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa with a two-under 70 in the final round and won the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic by one shot in Oneida, Wisconsin.
Kirk finished the first-year event at Thornberry Creek on 22-under 266, coming up short of the LPGA 72-hole scoring record of 27 under, but it was enough to edge out Buhai, who closed with a 67.
It was the third win of her career but her first since the 2010 Navistar LPGA Classic, a span of 152 starts.
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"So much hard work and patience," said Kirk, who topped the US$4 million (S$5.54 million) mark in career earnings with her US$401,864 winner's cheque. She also earned a trip to this week's US Women's Open at Trump Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey.
"I had a rough couple of years like 2015 and 2016, and just an amazing team behind me. My husband has been 100 per cent supportive the whole time.
"I can't put it into words. It's just a great feeling."
She began the final round, a mix bag of six birdies and four bogeys, with a four-stroke lead and was challenged by Buhai before making a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-four 18th hole to finally secure the victory.
Buhai said: "Yeah, I got within close range, but it was a great birdie on 18."
She moved to 20 under with four birdies on the front nine, but she parred the next eight holes before closing with a birdie. The South African's runner-up finish was a career best.
"We both played great this week," Buhai said. "Today, five under, no bogeys.
"I had three lip-outs on the back nine, but I hit the putts and the shots that I had to just keep hitting."
Kim Sei Young of South Korea finished third at 268 after a final-round 63. Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand shot the best round of the week with a 62 and took fourth spot at 269. Cristie Kerr rounded out the top five at 270 after a closing 66.
One of the more interesting finishes came from Taiwanese Tseng Ya-ni, who was joint-11th, noted GolfDigest.com.
The former world No. 1 is now ranked 210th and made only her third cut from 14 tournaments this year. But her rounds of 69-68-69-67 showed an ominous return to form.