PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – There has been a sense lurking that, with an abundance of talent seemingly ready to burst into full bloom, the LPGA is poised for a magical year in 2018. How justified is that anticipation? Well, at the season-opening Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic the answer, my friend, was blowing in the wind.
A tournament blasted by breezes that topped 45 mph wind and shortened to 54 holes after nearly a day and a half of play, was lost due to unplayable conditions, ended with a lights-out finish as Brittany Lincicome closed birdie-birdie after the sun had set on Sunday to successfully defend her title - the title she won last year in a playoff with Lexi Thompson.
This was a tournament that had everything: Big-name players cluttering the final-round leader board; a virtual unknown trying to take them down as well as players and officials doing everything they could to keep from coming back on Monday as darkness not only loomed but descended.
Lincicome did her part. She birdied four of the last five holes to shoot 32 on the par-37 back nine and closed with a 66 on the par-73 Ocean Club Golf Course at Paradise Island to end at 12-under par, two strokes ahead of Wei-Ling Hsu, a 23-year-old from Taiwan looking for her first LPGA win.
Actually, Lincicome shot 10-under par on the day as she arrived at the course the way she left it – in the dark. She had to finish nine holes of the second round terminated Saturday by darkness Sunday at 6:59 a.m. and handled those holes three-under par to get into the mix.
“I try not to look at the leaderboard so I was just hoping whatever was happening was in my group,” Lincicome said about playing in the final group on Sunday with Shanshan Feng and Amy Yang, a threesome behind Hsu.
“I was just trying to keep up with those girls,” she said about Feng and Yang. “I played with two great girls today and I knew it was going to be tough and my putter really saved me all day. I made a lot of great par saves and birdies coming in, and I'm just on cloud nine.”
Actually, there was only one scoreboard on the course Sunday as they had been removed for safety reason because of the high wind. There were, however, tablets on tees for those who wanted to check their scores. Brittany didn't want to. She was just focused on winning her threesome.
The final round, played in wind under 15 mph rather than over 40 mph, started with Feng, the Rolex Ranking No. 1, at 7-under par; Yang at 6-under and Lincicome in a tie with Hsu, Lexi Thompson, Luna Sobron Galmes and Brooke Henderson at 5-under par. All but Galmes, a rookie who faded with a 79, stayed in the mix until Lincicome’s fantastic finish eliminated them.
Finishing tied for third, a stroke behind Hsu, were Yang and Feng at 9-under par; Danielle Kang was 8 -nder with Nelly Korda, Bronte Law and Thompson at 7-under, one-stroke ahead of Henderson.
When the final threesome of Lincicome, Feng and Yang got to the tee on the extremely difficult 16th hole only to find two other groups waiting to drive, it seemed unlikely that play would finish on Sunday. As they waited, Lincicome and Hsu were tied at 10-under par with Yang and Feng at 9-under and Thompson and Henderson 8-under.
And when Hsu chipped in to save par in the group ahead it seemed as if this might be her day. But Hsu, was done in by what is usually a symbol of good luck: The horseshoe. She had a short birdie putt horseshoe out on No. 14 and a short par putt do the same on No. 17.
“Yeah, I did,” she said about her bad luck. “My putt today was so great but still miss, like, three short putts coming in.” Then, showing maturity for her age, added: “Probably not my time. I was very happy for my performance this week.”
Lincicome, who had birdied Nos. 14 and 15, put the hammer down on No. 16. She made a par on the brutish hole, getting up and down from the greenside bunker while Yang, Feng and Thompson all made bogeys and Henderson made a double bogey.
All stops were pulled out to ensure a Sunday finish. Players on the par-5 18th were waving players to hit to the green and light towers were brought in and placed around the putting surface. After Lincicome, Yang and Feng all hit the par-3,17th green, Yang rushed up, putted out then ran to drive off No. 18 so they could finish that hole even if the horn sounded to halt play.
While that was going on, Lincicome rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt to take a two-stroke lead then, after driving to the left rough on No. 18, jogged down the fairway to her ball. A lay-up, followed by a wedge from 71 yards to six feet and a final birdie putt allowed her to pick up her eighth LPGA win and defend her title.
They like to say it’s better in The Bahamas, but it can’t get much better than this. As opening tournaments go, the Pure Silk was pure fun, even though finishing on Sunday was a close shave.