Fourth-year LPGA Tour member Hee Young Park of South Korea broke away from a loaded leaderboard of top-ranked players to win the LPGA’s final tournament of the year at the CME Group Titleholders.
Park, No. 58 in the Rolex Rankings, carded a final-round score of 2-under 70 to win by two shots at 9-under 279. Park became a Rolex First-Time Winner at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Fla., and earned the winner’s prize of $500,000 for the victory, jumping from No. 31 on the LPGA’s season money list to No. 12 with 2011 earnings of $851,781.
“It was difficult on the greens with tough pin positions today,” said Park, 24, who won three titles on the 2005 Korean LPGA, where she was the KLPGA’s 2005 Rookie of the Year. “I felt the pressure. I tried hard. I always felt I could win, so today I know that dreams come true.”
Park’s steady putter on the quick greens at Grand Cypress enabled her to edge out seventh-ranked Paula Creamer (70) and No. 44 Sandra Gal (72), who tied for second at 7-under 281. Gal and Park entered Sunday’s final round tied for the lead.
Park took her only bogey of the round on the par-3 fourth hole, but answered with three birdies on the front nine to make the nine-hole turn at 2-under 34.
With two top-10 finishes in 2011 coming into the CME Group Titleholders, Park faced the back nine with only a two-stroke cushion over Creamer and Gal. Creamer rolled in birdie putts on holes 11, 13 and 14, but her putter went cold over the stretch of the last four holes.
“I gave myself a lot of chances,” said Creamer, who finished the 2011 season without a win. “I started out shaky, but I had a good back nine. I probably wanted it too bad.”
Gal had two bogeys and two birdies on the back nine holes in Sunday’s final round, but like Creamer, she was not able to trim Park’s lead on the final holes.
“Hee Young played great and she really deserves to win,” said Gal, who was paired with the new champion in Sunday’s final round. “She had great composure all day long. She made some good birdies early on and I think that gave her the momentum for the round.”
Buoyed by words of encouragement from Cristie Kerr on the practice range before the final round began, Park played the front nine confidently and showed that she could hold off the LPGA’s finest players with steady putting on the final nine holes. Park saved par from five feet on the 12th hole, and got up and down for par again on the 14th from six feet.
With par-saving putts from four feet on the 15th, and from five feet on the 16th, Park had her third-year caddie Kylie Pratt in her ear, reminding her to stay steady and to focus on her targets on the greens as she rolled her final putts.
“The key today was she made the par saves when she had to make them,” said Pratt, a former LPGA Futures Tour player. “Hee Young has been in contention before and I think she feels more comfortable. She was really steady today.”
Two other 2011 tournament winners fell short of catching Park today. Tied for fourth at 6-under 282 was Rolex Rankings No. 4 Na Yeon Choi (70) and second-ranked Suzann Pettersen (72).
Top-ranked Yani Tseng carded a 2-over-par score of 74 to tie for sixth at 2-under 286 alongside Michelle Wie (70) and Cristie Kerr (71).
Trying to cap off the year with her eighth LPGA title, Tseng bogeyed three of her last six holes to fall short of adding one more trophy to her 2011 collection.
“[There is] some disappointment today,” said Tseng, who was honored as the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year for the second consecutive season earlier in the week. “I really, really wanted to win this tournament and it just didn’t go the way I wanted.”
The LPGA’s culminating 2011 event featured a field comprised of three players who qualified from 22 tournaments. A total of 59 players started the week, competing for a purse of $1.5 million.
Topics: Park, Hee Young