EVIAN-LES-BAINS – Moriya Jutanugarn held a three-stroke lead when she hit her tee shot at the par five, 13th. Once she walked off the green, she trailed by one.
She was caught by Anna Nordqvist.
The Swede mounted a Sunday charge with a five-under par, 66 to come from five-strokes back of Jutanugarn, the 36-hole leader, to force a playoff with Brittany Altomare. Tied at nine-under par, the pair returned to the par four, 18th where Nordqvist defeated Altomare with a bogey in the pouring rain and hail to win the Evian Championship.
On the first playoff hole, Nordqvist stood over a must-make, four-footer for bogey on the 18th green. She rolled it in for the win and doubled over with emotion, bent at the waist, her face in her hands.
The last three months have been a struggle for the world No. 13 who has battled glandular fever, more commonly known as mono. The condition sidelined her throughout the summer, resulting in her coming up one event short of the required number events needed to qualify for the European Solheim Cup team. Nordqvist instead had to rely on a pick from captain Annika Sorenstam, but she delivered for her Team, winning three and a half points for her team including a halve in her epic Sunday singles match with Lexi Thompson.
“I love competing and I prove practicing, and staying in bed hasn't been the most exciting,” Nordqvist said about being on bed rest. “My grandpa was always my biggest role model. He always used to tell me to never give up, and that's what I never did today.”
The par five, 15th played a critical role in Sunday’s outcome. It was there that Nordqvist continued her charge, having already picked up three birdies and an eagle to offset the two bogeys with which she had to start the day.
“I just felt like I wanted to go out there today and focus on what I could do. Winning didn't really cross my mind until I was having a great couple birdies and eagles there down the stretch,” said Nordqvist.
Two holes behind, Jutanugarn was struggling at the 13th hole. Leading by three at 10-under par, the Thai hit her tee shot out of bounds and made bogey while Nordqvist was up ahead making eagle at the 15th.The swing put Jutanugarn one-stroke back of Nordqvist who made birdie on at the par three, 16th to take the lead at 10-under par.
But Nordqvist wasn’t the only one making a Sunday charge.
Lydia Ko, the 2015 Evian Champion, began the day three-strokes back of Jutanugarn. When she combined for a birdie at the 14th and a chip in for eagle at the 15th, she found herself tied at the top at nine-under par with Nordqvist, Altomare and Jutanugarn. Ko missed a short putt for par at the 18th hole to finish one-stroke outside the playoff.
“It was probably the shot of the year for me, the chip-in on 15,” said Ko. “It was really cool to play here, and I feel like the support was immense.”
It was at the par three, 16th where Nordqvist was able to break free of the pack and take the outright lead at 10-under par, but a bogey at the last dropped her back and she was left waiting and watching in the clubhouse to see what the outcome would be.
Wading among a group of veterans, it was Altomare who would go head-to-head with Nordqvist. She drained a huge putt to save par at the 18th to remain at nine-under par and cap off a Sunday, 66 to match her low round of the year.
“I really didn't know that that putt was to keep tied for first. I thought it was just for second,” said Altomare. “But I was still super nervous over the putt. But it was a cool experience.”
Altomare has been on an upswing since starting the 2016 season ranked No. 566 in the world. With a victory on the Symetra Tour and a string of made cuts on the LPGA, the 2014 rookie picked up her first top-10 on Tour two-weeks ago in Portland and Sunday was positioned to win her first event on Tour.
Just as the pair returned to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole, the rain forecasted for the afternoon arrived right on schedule. A downpour ensued as the pair found the rough off the tee. Both punched out short of the green and remained short of the hole with their fourth shots. With adrenaline pumping, Altomare sent her first putt sailing past the hole, but drained the six-footer coming back for double bogey to put pressure on Nordqvist.
“Crazy. There's no other word to describe it,” Altomare said about the weather.
Nordqvist’s victory is the eighth of her career and second of the season. She also won the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in March. She began working with Cameron McCormick, the same instructor who works with So Yeon Ryu and Jordan Spieth. Ryu captured the 2017 Rolex Annika Major Award on Sunday for the most consistent performance in the season’s major championships.