Golf: South Korea's Lee6 wins first major title at US Women's Open

Lee6 Jeong Eun of South Korea hits a tee shot on the 17th hole during the US Women's Open Championship at the Country Club of Charleston on June 2, 2019 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Lee6 Jeong Eun of South Korea hits a tee shot on the 17th hole during the US Women's Open Championship at the Country Club of Charleston on June 2, 2019 in Charleston, South Carolina. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Lee6 Jeong Eun captured her first major championship and a record US$1 million (S$1.37 million) prize on Sunday (June 2) by outduelling France's Celine Boutier for a two-shot victory at the 2019 US Women's Open.

South Korea's Lee - who had never won on the LPGA Tour - stumbled to the finish with two bogeys in her final three holes but managed to shoot a one-under 70 to finish at 278 at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina.

"Throughout the year I couldn't imagine coming this far, winning the first LPGA tournament, also a major championship," she said. "I worked so hard and I feel proud of myself."

It was a six-under winning total for the player who became known as Lee6 Jeong Eun when she became the sixth player of that name on the Korean LPGA Tour. She has embraced the designation as her lucky charm, even writing the number in bold red ink on her golf ball.

She also collected the biggest single-tournament payout in women's golf history after organisers decided to increase the first-place prize money this year to US$1 million.

The 23-year-old Lee started her round two shots behind co-leaders Boutier and Liu Yu of China.

She made bogey on her first hole but then came right back with a birdie on the par-four second.

She got hot on the back nine, making birdies on three of five holes starting at the par-three 11th.

"I felt pretty nervous starting on the holes 16, 17, and 18, but I tried the best that I can. I know I made two bogeys, but I just didn't want to think about it too much," said Lee, who is also the 12th different winner in 13 tournaments this year.

Boutier looked like she might make a run at Lee and possibly force a play-off but her bid ended in flames with a missed short putt on the 16th for birdie, followed by a bogey-double bogey to close her round. She shot a 75 and finished in a tie for fifth with four others - including 54-hole co-leader Liu (75).

South Korean's Ryu So Yeon (70) and American's Lexi Thompson (73) and Angel Yin (68) shared second on 280.

Lee made two previous appearances in the US Women's Open, finishing tied for fifth in 2017 and tied for 17th last year.

The par-three 11th proved pivotal for her as she was one of just three players to make birdie on the hole on Sunday.

She reached eight under with a birdie on the 15th but instead of cruising from there, her two late bogeys made for an closer finish than she would have liked.

Boutier had a two-foot putt on the 16th for birdie and a chance to cut into Lee's lead but her ball lipped out. She said the wind caused her to mis-hit the putt on the 16th.

"When I was at address, the wind kind of blew in the opposite direction so I kind of pushed it as a reaction," she said.

She came to the 18th tee needing a birdie to force a play-off but her approach shot landed in the bunker on the right. Her next shot made it onto the green but rolled off and down a steep slope.

"I knew it was a tough hole," she said. "I just wanted to be on regulation in two, and then if I made the putt, but I missed the green so ...."

Asked to rate her performance on the day, she said, "Well, on a scale of one to10, probably a one. I feel pretty bad right now. So, hopefully, I'll learn from this."