There have been many memorable Sundays in the 46-year history of what is now the ANA Inspiration, but never has any LPGA major championship had a finish quite like this. In fact, there wasn’t a finish. With a leaderboard littered with more Cinderellas than a Walt Disney movie, this magical day at Mission Hills careened through a Mister Toad’s Wild Ride of a final round that finally went four playoff holes and still that was not enough to determine a winner.
Two of those in the playoff – Pernilla Lindberg and Jennifer Song – are true Cinderallas – while the third – Inbee Park is every inch a princess among players. Song was eliminated when she could not match the birdies by Park and Lindberg on the third extra hole while Inbee and Pernilla both scared the hole with birdie tries the fourth time around, putting through the shadow of lights hastily erected to offset the fading sunlight.
Now Park and Lindberg will return to Mission Hills on Monday for an 8 a.m. start on No. 10. If it remains tied after the fifth playoff hole, they will go to 17 and then 18.
To say this tournament had everything is to sell short the drama that unfolded. There were two sister acts in the mix and among those who made appearances on the final-round leaderboard were a few who’d never won a major – Jessica Korda, Charley Hull and Caroline Masson among them – and a slew who had never even won a regular LPGA event, including Lindberg, Song, Nelly Korda, Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Ayako Uehara, Moriya Jutanugarn and Amy Olson.
Meanwhile, Park is trying for her 20th LPGA victory and eighth major championship. She was, once again remarkably in control, making putt after putt, including a difficult, downhill 25-footer on No. 17 as she birdied four of her last six holes. Through 72 holes, she used only 107 putts.
As it often does at the ANA, the championship was decided on No. 18 at Mission Hills – only this time it came down to the 18th hole five times and still that wasn't enough. First, Song spun back a wedge to 5-feet and got in the clubhouse at 15-under par after 72 holes. Then, playing in the group behind her, Park hit her wedge even closer and joined Song at 273. Then, Lindberg also put a wedge to 4-feet and made it a three-way playoff.
Ariya Jutanugarn and Jessica Korda tied for fourth place at 274, Jutanugarn closing with a 65 and Korda with a 66, including a hole-out for eagle from the fairway on No. 9. Hull and Moriya Jutanugarn were at 275 with Uehara at 276 and Masson, Shadoff and Sung Hyun Park at 277.
In the playoff, all three had longish birdie putts the first time around and got down in two. On the second extra hole, Song had a 7-foot chance to win and missed. The third time, Song again missed from 7-feet, while Lindberg made from 5-feet and Park from 3-feet for birdies that eliminated Jennifer.
“I know that I can be up there,” Song said when asked what she learned from this ANA. “I’m disappointed I missed those putts in the playoff, but I learned a lot. I definitely see myself in contention in more playoffs.”
No one was more emblematic of the chaotic day than Jessica Korda. In a hectic matter of minutes, she took the lead with a birdie on No. 11, lost it with a double bogey on No. 12 and got it back with a birdie on No. 13 and then holed out from the bunker for another birdie on No. 14, but she was done in by a bogey on No. 16.
Meanwhile, Lindberg who showed clear signs of nerves early in the round, making bogeys on two of the first three holes, fought back furiously, especially on the greens. She made a mistake on No. 11 when she hit her third shot on the par-5 in the bunker, but saved par with a 4-footer. She saved another par with a 6-footer on the next hole after again hitting a green-side bunker and followed that with an 8-footer on No. 14 to save her third par in four holes out of a bunker.
Lexi Thompson, last year’s hard-luck runner-up, closed with a 71 to be at 7-under par, So Yeon Ryu, who birdied the first playoff hole last year to take the title from Thompson, finished at 2-under par after a closing 68.
That playoff needed only one hole. This one used four – and it still isn’t over. This was literally a day of golf so good, it needed another day to finish.