HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. (AP) — In her rookie year on the LPGA Tour, playing in only her third major championship, 19-year-old Yani Tseng felt lucky to become the youngest winner of the LPGA Championship on Sunday.
After the day she had at Bulle Rock, that was hardly the case.
First, she went 18 holes with Lorena Ochoa and closed with a 4-under 68 in searing heat, denying the No. 1 player in women’s golf a chance to win a third straight major. Then came a sudden-death playoff with Maria Hjorth that lasted four holes.
Tseng finished it off by choking down on a 6-iron out of the first cut of rough and hitting the perfect shot, the ball stopping 5 feet behind the hole for a birdie that made her the first rookie to win an LPGA major in 10 years.
“I can’t believe I just won a major,” Tseng said. “Everything is coming so fast.”
It felt like slow motion for Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam, both desperate for their own brand of history.
Ochoa, who only two days ago appeared to be sailing toward a third straight major, went 14 holes without a birdie. The drought ended on the 16th hole when a 20-yard pitch for eagle banged off the pin, and a birdie on the final hole only made it look close. She closed with a 71 and wound up one shot behind.
“It wasn’t my time,” Ochoa said, showing more emotion than she had all week. “I am not ashamed. I’m proud of my finish. Now I move on and try to win the next few tournaments.”
Sorenstam, trying to join Mickey Wright as the only four-time winner of the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, also closed with a 71 and could count more than a dozen putts on the weekend that she could have made. She twice missed inside 5 feet on par 5s in the final round, and she had a 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th to get into the playoff.
It was weak and well short.
“It’s a tough time,” Sorenstam said. “I was determined today, really this whole week. I felt like I could do it.”
Hjorth appeared to have fate on her side when a fairway metal headed for the hazard instead ricocheted off the rocks in a creek and bounded across the green, turning bogey into birdie. Then she chipped in on the next hole for birdie and the lead.
She closed with a 71, and had 18-foot and 12-foot birdie putts to win in the playoff, both narrowly missing.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me, but I’m sure I’m going to be very, very tired pretty soon,” Hjorth said. “But I’m very happy with the day. I played solid golf all day, and just very proud of myself for hanging in there.”
Despite her age and inexperience, Tseng felt right at home in the playoff, which is all about match play. She won 19 times as an amateur, first gaining recognition in 2004 when she rallied to beat Michelle Wie – at a time when Wie was on top of her game – at the U.S. Women’s Public Links Amateur. A year later, Tseng beat Morgan Pressel in the North & South Amateur.
With power and poise, and a 6-iron she won’t soon forget, Tseng became the second-youngest winner of an LPGA major behind Pressel, who was 18 when she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year.
Tseng became the first rookie to win a major since Se Ri Pak, who won the LPGA Championship 10 years ago at age 20.
Playing the 18th hole for the third time in an hour, Tseng took her hand off the driver when it sailed to the right, taking a good hop out of the deep grass and into the first cut. Then came a 6-iron, drawing toward the flag.
“I wasn’t that nervous when I teed off,” she said. “I just tell myself, ‘Make this putt and win a major.”’
That was something T.C. Chen, her countryman and part-time mentor, failed to do in the 1985 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, where he became infamous for a double-hit on a chip out of deep rough and wound up one shot behind Andy North.
“He always teach me something because I’m a rookie,” Tseng said.
Tseng and Hjorth finished at 12-under 276.
Laura Diaz (70) was one birdie away from the lead throughout the back nine until a three-putt bogey on the 17th. She finished fifth.The Ochoa-Sorenstam duel on a searing hot day at Bulle Rock never developed. Instead, five players had a share of the lead at some point in the final round, and the back nine was up for grabs to the very end.
Ochoa opened with a 10-foot birdie and didn’t make another one until the par-4 16th.
She had eagle chances on consecutive holes, both times to get within one of the lead. But she three-putted for par from 45 feet on the 15th, and her eagle pitch from 20 yards lipped out on the 16th.
“I never lost the hope,” she said. “I though something good was going to happen, that miracles exist. But it wasn’t my time.”
Still, it was her seventh consecutive top 10 in a major.
Equally disappointed was Sorenstam, playing the LPGA Championship for the final time and applauding the fans walking up the 18th.
“I left a lot of shots out there,” Sorenstam said. “I wish I could have converted one or two; it would have been enough. But I didn’t.
Both were part of the carnage on the 13th in which the top six on the leaderboard were a combined to play the toughest hole at Bulle Rock in 7-over par.
Sorenstam was the only player in the fairway, but she missed the green to the right, her chip ran over the cup and her 4-foot par putt never hit the hole. That ended a streak of 42 consecutive holes at Bulle Rock without a bogey.
Worse yet, she never made another birdie the rest of the way.