ROGERS, ARK | For the second time in 2022, 19-year-old Thai Atthaya Thitikul prevailed in a playoff on the LPGA Tour. This time the teenage phenom shot 17-under in the 54-hole Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and then beat American Danielle Kang on the second extra hole after a final-round shootout that saw birdies, chip-in eagles, a couple of nervy misses, and a total of 15 players within five shots of the lead.
Thitikul, who shot 61 on Saturday and started the day final round with a one-shot lead, got off to a slow start, bogeying the par-5 second hole. She made the turn at even par on the day, the kind of number that loses round in an event where players regularly go low. But she turned things around on the back nine with three birdies, none bigger than the 20-footer she rolled in on the par-3 17th. Thitikul didn’t realize it at the time, but that putt was to tie the lead with Kang.
“I didn’t see a leaderboard until 18,” The teenager said. “I thought a par would be good enough (for the win).”
It wasn’t, because Kang, playing three groups ahead, had put on a charge with five birdies through the first 17 holes, and the capstone of the week, a pitch-in eagle on the 18th from left of the green. Her ball was so far below the putting surface that she couldn’t see the bottom of the flagstick. That eagle also moved Kang to 17-under.
The 29-year-old major champion pumped her first after the ball disappeared. She said earlier that she was in tears just being in contention after taking months away from the game to treat what she described as a tumor on her spine.
A playoff began on the par-3 15th, which sits next to the 18th green. Both players made pars and moved on to the difficult par-4 16th. Thitikul hit a clutch approach shot to 8 feet from 153 yards. She drained that putt for birdie and the win.
“On the second hole (of the) playoff, I had a chance to make a birdie, because it was not that far. Then, in my mind, I just told myself, ‘Do your best, even it's not going in. Just do the best you can.’
The best she could was good enough.
Ealier in the year, Thitikul won the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol, also in a playoff. She was also the 2021 Player of the Year on the Ladies European Tour.
With this victory, she is projected to jump to No.4 in the LPGA’s season-long Race to the CME Globe.