Shortened to 54 holes by brutal weather, the Kingsmill Championship was just too good to end in that abbreviated time frame and instead needed two extra holes before Ariya Jutanugarn outlasted In Gee Chun and Nasa Hataoka to take the title. Jutanugarn, who won this tournament in 2016, closed with a 66 to finish at 14 –under-par 199, tied with Hataoka, who posted a 67, and Chun, who closed with a 68.
In the playoff, both Jutanugarn and Hataoka birdied the first extra hole – No. 18 – and that eliminated Chun, who made par. Ariya again birdied the 18th while Hataoka made par and that gave her the eighth title of her LPGA career. The 22-year-old from Thailand won five times in 2016, including the Ricoh Women’s British Open, and twice last year, capping the season with the CME Group Tour Championship.
“Actually, I feel it,” Jutanugarn said asked how she blocked out the pressure in the closing round. “I was just really excited about that. I did not feel that much pressure because I did a great job today. So whatever, I'm going to win or lose, I'm very proud of that.” And proud she should be. To birdie the difficult 18th twice in a playoff is a stunning accomplishment.
After 12 events, there still hasn’t been a repeat winner this LPGA season, but at least now we have repeat sisters. Moriya, a year older than Ariya, picked up her first tour title in April at the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. On this day, Ariya sizzled the soggy course on the banks of the James River with power and precision.
She started the final round two strokes behind Chun but took control with birdies on Nos. 3, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11. She stumbled when she made a bogey of the par-5 15th hole. Then Hataoka birdied No. 15 to pull even at 14 under par and Chun birdied the 17th, setting up the three-way playoff.
Meanwhile, Brooke Henderson made a ferocious run with birdies on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 to finish one stroke out of the playoff at 13-under par 200. Megan Khang was at 201 and Austin Ernst, who birdied the first four holes on the final round before she hit a couple of speed bumps, was at 203.
One of the longest hitters on tour, Jutanugarn, who almost never hits a driver, averaged 270 yards off the tee in the final round but was sharp with all her shots as she missed only three fairways and two greens while using only 29 putts.
That the tournament ended on Sunday was a tribute to the maintenance staff of the Kingsmill Resort, which was battered by rain virtually every day. The inclement weather forced officials to reduce the tournament to 54 holes but in then end a quality course produced a quality champion.
A decade ago, Annika Sorenstam picked up the last of her 72 LPGA victories at Kingsmill, and in Jutanugarn the tour may be identifying another star. It is a tribute to her talent that after her breakout year in 2016, Ariya was considered to have slacked off in winning only twice last year. Who knows what lay ahead for her now.
Jutanugarn is a momentum player who won three events in a row in 2016 with Kingsmill the second in that run. This win could very well launch a similar outburst. Her coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, say Jutanugarn is much more prepared to handle success this time. That could make for a very interesting rest of the season.