Ariya Jutanugarn avoids historic collapse with playoff victory at U.S. Women’s Open

SHOAL CREEK, AL - JUNE 03: Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand poses with the trophy after winning the 2018 U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek on June 3, 2018 in Shoal Creek, Alabama. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
SHOAL CREEK, AL - JUNE 03: Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand poses with the trophy after winning the 2018 U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek on June 3, 2018 in Shoal Creek, Alabama. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images) /

Ariya Jutanugarn saw a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play disappear but recovered to defeat Hyo Joo Kim on the fourth extra hole to win her second career Major Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn nearly let the trophy slip from her grasp. But the Thai star survived long enough to defeat Hyo Joo Kim on the fourth playoff hole Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open.

The 22-year-old Jutanugarn led by four coming into the final round at Shoal Creek. A four-under front-nine and she led by seven shots with nine holes to go. What followed could have been one of the most dramatic collapses in golf history.

It started when her tee shot at the 10th found the water, leading to a triple bogey. Jutanugarn admitted after the round she didn’t felt completely comfortable on the tee box.

“On 10 I didn’t feel comfortable to hit three-wood and honestly I should’t hit 3-wood but I did,” she said after the round. “After that I was a little bit scared, like my next shot. So after that I’m not really hit 3-wood anymore.”

Another bogey followed at the 12th. Suddenly her formidable lead was down to just two.

As Jutanugarn started to struggle, Kim was applying pressure. The 22-year-old Korean dropped a 50-foot birdie putt at the 12th. Then at the 15th she holed a putt from off the green for another birdie to cut the lead to just one.

Kim says she wasn’t thinking about the huge deficit she faced. Only after the putt on 15 did she realize she had a chance to come back.

“Actually, I wasn’t keeping up with the score at the time so I didn’t really know about it. When I made that putt I felt like the luck was with me today,” she said.

Jutanugarn needed a break, and she got one at 16. A long wait to tee off gave her time to collect herself and regain her composure. It worked, as she hit a superb approach to the par-three and sank the birdie.

Now with a two-shot lead with just two to play, Jutanugarn looked like she would escape. But her struggles were not over yet. A bogey at the par-five 17th and the lead was again one. Finding the bunker on her approach to 18, she failed to get up-and-down for par and the collapse was complete.

Kim had the only bogey-free round of the day, a 67 to finish at 11-under. Jutanugarn shot one-over 73.

Despite losing her big lead, Jutanugarn says she wasn’t feeling nervous going to the two-hole playoff.

“It’s really tough for me because, you know, I didn’t have good finish the last two holes. But, I’m not nervous or excited anymore when I have playoff,” she said.

Extra holes needed to decide champion

Kim wasted no time taking the lead in the playoff. Time and again on Sunday she made long putts, and she wasn’t about to stop making them now. A birdie at the first extra hole, the 14th, gave her a quick advantage.

Going to the 18th for the final playoff hole both Kim and Jutanugarn missed the green. Kim found a greenside bunker and missed a par putt. Jutanugarn chipped from under the green and converted her par attempt to draw level. They would need extra holes to decide who would win their second Major Championship, and who would lament missed opportunities.

Back at the 14th Kim finally missed a birdie attempt that would have won the title. That brought both players back to the 18th for the fourth extra hole.

They again missed the green, Kim in a bunker to the right and Jutanugarn over the putting surface in another bunker. Kim’s sand shot came up well short, and she missed her par putt.

Jutanugarn, however, hit a great bunker shot. When Kim missed, suddenly Jutanugarn had just a tap-in par to win.

Disaster had been averted. It took four holes more than she would have wanted, but Jutanugarn was still able to celebrate her victory with sister Moriya, who finished in 41st.

To pull out the victory after such a dramatic collapse took mental toughness that Jutanugarn lacked earlier in her career. At the 2016 ANA Inspiration she lost a two-shot lead with three holes to play. She realized she wasn’t ready to win at the time.

What she needed was some inspiration. She found it by helping kids, sponsoring schools in her native Thailand.

“I feel like I want to inspire the kids. Not because I want them to play golf, but because I want them to have a good life,” she told Golfweek.

Jutanugarn plays to help others and not just herself. It was that sense of purpose that allowed her to push through her disastrous finish and end the playoff strong.