Nerves before a clutch win for Ariya

Ariya Jutanugarn being sprayed with champagne as she celebrates winning the Yokohama Tire Classic with her sister, Moriya. The Thai golfer had needed a par putt in her final hole to confirm her victory.
Ariya Jutanugarn being sprayed with champagne as she celebrates winning the Yokohama Tire Classic with her sister, Moriya. The Thai golfer had needed a par putt in her final hole to confirm her victory. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Three-stroke lead almost evaporates before she becomes first Thai to win on LPGA Tour

LOS ANGELES • Ariya Jutanugarn fought off nerves at the back nine to make par the 18th hole and win the Yokohama Tire Classic on Sunday, becoming the first Thai player to win on the LPGA Tour.

The 20-year-old had started the fourth round in Alabama with a three-stroke lead, but needed to sink a clutch four-foot par putt on the final hole - watched by her sister Moriya, who also plays the LPGA circuit, and mother Narumon - for an even-par 72 to secure the narrow one-stroke victory.

She finished at 14-under-par 274, while South Korean Amy Yang (67) and Americans Stacy Lewis (68) and Morgan Pressel (68) were tied for second on 13-under 275 on the Senator Course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Prattville.

"I felt like, the last three holes, I can't control anything," an emotional Ariya told the Golf Channel as she stifled tears.

"My hands shake, my legs shake. But I'm very proud right now."

JITTERS BEFORE THE JOY

I feel like, the last three holes, I can't control anything. My hands shake, my legs shake. But I'm very proud right now.

ARIYA JUTANUGARN , on her nerves before winning the Yokohama Tire Classic.

The Bangkok native has had three top-10 finishes this year and has come close to winning on several occasions.

Earlier this season at the ANA Inspiration, the first Major of the year, she led by two shots with three to play in the final round, but bogeyed her final three holes to lose to world No. 1 Lydia Ko.

In 2013, a 17-year-old Ariya also let a two-stroke lead slip through her fingers at the 2013 LPGA Thailand with one hole remaining. Her triple bogey in that final hole resulted in her finishing one shot behind.

It was also a special win for another reason as her mother was in attendance - fittingly, on Mother's Day.

"Thank you for being with me all the time to support me and happy Mother's Day," said Ariya.

She looked to be cruising to victory after a kick-in birdie at the 15th, only to bogey the par-five 17th after thinning her third shot into the rough.

That left her with a one-shot lead at the par-four 18th, where she made another nervous swing, this time with an iron off the tee, leaving herself more than 200 yards from the rough for her second shot.

Ariya came up short of the green, but hit a nice chip and coaxed home the winning putt.

Both Yang and Lewis will be ruing what might have been, especially at the 17th, which Yang bogeyed after sending her third shot across the green into a hazard beyond.

Lewis, who has won 11 times on the LPGA Tour, has now gone 49 tournaments without a win. Her runner-up finish Sunday was her 11th second-place finish during her title drought.

South Korean Ryu So Yeon, who led after 36 holes, had a 72 and finished at 10-under 278.

First round leader Laetitia Beck of Israel also shot 72 to finish alongside three others six shots back of Ariya.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Nerves before a clutch win for Ariya'. Print Edition | Subscribe