There have been eight sister acts in the 68-year-history of the LPGA and only once – Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam – have both siblings managed a victory. Until now. Add to that exclusive club the Jutanugarn sisters as Moriya joined Ariya in the winner’s circle Sunday with a two-stroke victory over Inbee Park and Jin Young Ko in the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open.
Playing in the shadow of the famed “Hollywood” sign at historic Wilshire Country Club, this was truly the stuff of the movies as Jutanugarn, 23, gave an Oscar-worthy performance to hold off not only Ko but Park and her 19 career wins to join her 22-year-old sister, who has won seven times, as an LPGA champion.
The envelope please…
And the winner is…
“Just a lot of patience out there,” Moriya said after a two-putt par on the final hole ended a 68 that put her at 12-under-272 with Park and Ko at 274. So Yeon Ryu was fourth at 277 with Emma Talley and Eun-Hee Ji at 278. “I just kept doing what I’m doing and it finally happened. My sister cried more than me. I can’t tell you how I feel right now.”
Playing with a serene calm, Jutanugarn won in her 156th career start. She began the final round tied with Ko and two strokes ahead of Park. Over the last seven holes it was a four-person race between Jutanugarn, Park and Ko – who played together – joined by Ryu.
Moriya made a bunch of crucial putts on the slick, treacherous greens but perhaps none was bigger than her 15-footer for birdie on No. 12 that extended the lead to three over Park and Ko. It was a statement that Jutanugarn, who had three top-10 finishes this year and 21 in her career, was not going to go away easily this time.
She followed that birdie on No. 12 with a slippery 8-footer down the slope for another birdie on No. 13 that moved her four clear of Park and three ahead of Ko, who also birdied. There have now been nine events in this LPGA season with nine different winners from five different countries as the depth of golf’s global tour continues to impress.
Under the pressure of trying to get her first LPGA victory and under the pressure of being chased by Park – a Hall of Famer – and Ko – who had already won this year – Jutanugarn made no bogeys until No. 16 in a surgically perfect round. The precision with which she played made it feel very much like this might be the start of something big.
While Park was not able to take the title she reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Ranking after a two-year absence in part because of injury, ending Shanshan Feng’s 23-week reign. Inbee, who did not have her A game, uncharacteristically missed a few fairways and, even more surprisingly, missed a few birdie putts normally in her make zone and still shot 68.
Annika Sorenstam won 72 LPGA events while Charlotta captured one title. Marlene Bauer Hagge had 26 wins and Alice Bauer none. Donna Caponi took home 24 trophies while Janet Caponi LePera was shutout. Danielle Ammaccapane was victorious seven times and Dina failed to win. Jessica Korda has five titles while Nelly has yet to break through. Aree and Naree Song are both winless as are Numa and Russy Gulyanamitta.
Jutanugarn pretty much sealed the deal with a 12-foot birdie on No. 15 that maintained her lead at three strokes over Ko, who birdied from 10 feet, and moved her five clear of Park with three holes to play. Very much in the Think-Box, Play-Box mode of the Vision54 peak performance philosophy of her coaches Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, Moriya brilliantly played one shot at a time.
“Mo54 has incredible grit,” Nilsson said after Jutanugarn’s victory. “Personality wise, she is like Annika – steady, stays with her plan, hard working. We had a good chat before today’s round about what her playing focus would be. Her skill level is so high in all parts of golf. She has all the shots and her Think-Box, Play-Box, Memory-Box were perfect.”
Getting that first win is never easy and when Jutanugarn bogeyed No. 16 and Park birdied, Moriya was two up on Ko and three clear of Park with two holes to play. Then she had to endure a 10-minute wait on the 17th tee. But she drove safely down the left side – away from the water hazard – missed the green but made a rock-solid 5-foot par save to maintain a two-stroke lead going to the par-3 closing hole.
Joined by her sister over the last few holes as Ariya popped up in the gallery, Moriya made her younger sibling proud and they shared an emotional hug with their mother on the 18th green. What could make for a better movie? How about a Moriya versus Ariya shootout somewhere down the road? Now that would be a Hollywood ending. And the winner is...