Matilda Castren Puts Finland in LPGA Winner’s Circle at MEDIHEAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Golf’s global tour added another country to its roster of winners on Sunday. Matilda Castren of Finland captured the MEDIHEAL Championship after a final-round start that was so hot it’s surprising it didn’t burn away the thick marine layer hugging Lake Merced Golf Club.
Castren, tied with Lauren Kim, two strokes behind Min Lee when the final round began, opened with three consecutive birdies, paused with a par and then eagled No. 5 to move from two down to two ahead. A birdie on No. 9 capped a front-nine 30 that put her three up as she chased her first LPGA Tour victory and the first by any player from Finland.
Then Castren, making just her 15th LPGA Tour start but swinging with a gloriously repeating rhythm all day, protected her lead with the maturity of a veteran. Despite the insistent play by Lee and with major championship winners Hannah Green, So Yeon Ryu, Danielle Kang and Lydia Ko lurking in her rearview mirror, Castren simply motored ahead.
A closing round 65 left Castren at 14-under-par 274, two strokes ahead of Lee. Green and Ryu were at 280 with Kang, Celine Boutier, Jenny Shin and Jenny Coleman at 281 and Ko among those at 282. Kim finished at 284.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Castren said after receiving a bubbly shower on the 18th green that was almost as wet as the persistent fog that hovered over the course all day. “I knew someday it would happen, but I didn’t know it would be so soon,” she said. “I was thinking about it all day – winning.”
Both Castren and Lee played with the poise and precision of polished players instead showing the nerves of two talents looking for their first LPGA Tour win. Lee, who waved to the TV cameras, smiled to those who could see her through the fog and punctuated great shots with pumped fists, gave Castren all she could handle on the back nine, making birdies on Nos. 10 and 15 to pull within one stroke.
Her only misstep came on No. 17 when, faced with a tricky 40-foot putt over a hump, three-putted for her only bogey of the day to fall two strokes back. The Finn maintained her lead only because of two really good par saves on Nos. 10 and 11 then closed things out with a birdie on No. 18 after hitting her approach to three feet.
Truly, Lee did not squander her final-round lead; it was taken from her by Castren’s great early play and then Lee was held at bay by Castren’s gritty resolve. It’s not often a player starts the final round with a two-stroke lead, shoots a 69 – and loses. But that’s what happened to Lee.
If there was ever any doubt that the Epson Tour is the road to the LPGA, that was answered clearly in the misty marine layer near the San Francisco Bay. All three players in the final group – Castren, Lee and Kim – have Epson Tour victories on their resume, including Castren last year. Lee of Taiwan won just two weeks ago and Kim of the United States took a Epson title in 2018.
Castren earned her Tour card for 2020 with a T-26 finish at the LPGA Q-Series and had her rookie status extended into 2021, as did all rookies last year because the season was shortened by the pandemic. Her victory was the most impressive performance by a Finn since Minea Blomqvist, only 19 at the time, fired a major-championship record 62 in the third round of the 2004 AIG Women’s Open at Sunningdale GC. Blomqvist, who finished T-8 that week, never won on Tour.
Castren, 26, was born in New York City. Her family moved back to Finland and then she played college golf at Florida State University, where she earned a degree in International Affairs. She was T-30 in the U.S. Women’s Open last week and is now in the mix for Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors, which is currently topped by ANA Inspiration winner Patty Tavatanakit.
There have now been 13 different winners from eight countries in 13 LPGA Tour events this year, including Yuka Saso who, last week at the U.S. Women’s Open, became the first player from the Philippines to win an LPGA Tour major championship.
Next up is the Meijer Classic at Blythefield C.C. in Grand Rapids, Mich. and then comes another major at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. The question is which player will be the next winner – and from which country. That’s the way it is on golf’s global tour.