RANCHO MIRAGE, CA – After a wait of nearly three years, So Yeon Ryu is once again a winner on the LPGA Tour.
Sunday, Ryu defeated Lexi Thompson with a birdie on the first playoff hole to win the ANA Inspiration. The victory is the fourth career win for Ryu and second major victory – she also captured the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open.
“Yeah, I just, you know, cannot believe this situation. During play, I didn't even check the leaderboard, but I thought Lexi played really, really well,” Ryu said after her round. "I thought, I'm well behind, so all I wanted to do was just play my game and enjoy my game. I was paired with my best friend, Inbee Park today, so I just really wanted to have a really good, strong finish.”
Sunday, the world No. 3 came from three-strokes back of Thompson, the 54-hole leader, to take the clubhouse lead with a final round four-under par, 68 at 14-under par. Ryu then waited on the putting green awaiting the final groups, including Thompson, who was rallying from a difficult back nine.
Sunday afternoon, a viewer submitted feedback via LPGA.com that they believed Thompson had incurred a penalty during Saturday’s third round.
The viewer witnessed Thompson, during the third round on Saturday, fail to properly replace her ball prior to putting out on the green at the par three, 17th hole. After being reviewed by LPGA Rules officials, Thompson was deemed to have in fact breached Rule 20-7c. Sue Witters, Vice President of Rules and Competition, notified Thompson between the 12th green and 13th tee that she would be assessed a two-stroke penalty for the infraction and an additional two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard.
When Thompson was notified, she had just made bogey at the 12th hole and held a two-stroke lead ahead of Pettersen. After the penalty, Thompson dropped to 12-under par and two-strokes back of the lead.
“Wasn't expecting that on whatever hole that was. I did not intentionally do that," Thompson said about the penalty. "So to the officials, or whatever called in, that was not my purpose. I didn't even realize I did that.”
In tears on the tee at the par four, 13th hole Thompson pulled her tee shot wayward to the left. But in a display of incredible resilience, she drained a 20-footer for birdie to move back into a share of the lead.
“My caddie helped me out tremendously. We have a great relationship and he just said, ‘stay with it.’ You can still win and we can birdie this hole and I just tried to gather myself before I hit that tee shot,” Thompson said after her round. “Made a great putt there. But it's all to the fans. I mean, they helped me get through the rest of the round which helped a lot.”
Thompson continued to battle back, making birdie again at the par, four 15th to take a one-stroke lead with three-holes to play. Thompson then made a critical bogey at the par four 16th hole, while Ryu was ahead at the 18th hole with an opportunity to make birdie.
Thompson arrived at the 72nd hole one-stroke back of Ryu, needing eagle to win or birdie to tie. Thompson went for the green in two, leaving herself 10-feet for the eagle and the win. Chants of “Lexi! Lexi!” came from the grandstands surrounding the 18th hole, where Thompson had celebrated her victory in 2014. Tears streaming down her face and visibly overwhelmed with emotion, Thompson slapped high five’s with fans who reached out between the stands to show their support as she made her way past Poppie’s Pond and onto the 18th green.
Thompson’s eagle try putt finished within inches of the hole, which she tapped in for birdie to force a playoff with Ryu.
“I learned a lot about myself and how much fight I do have in me. Every day is a learning process, and I wasn't expecting what happened today but it is what it is. It happens, and I'll learn from it and hopefully I'll do better,” Thompson said.
Thompson held the 36 and 54-hole lead this week at the ANA Inspiration. Her runner-up finish is her third consecutive top-10 since her win at Mission Hills in 2014.
Inbee Park, Minjee Lee and Suzann Pettersen finished T-3 at 13-under par. Michelle Wie finished sixth at 11-under par. Defending champion Lydia Ko finished T-11 at seven-under par.