The final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship was supposed to be uneventful, perhaps even boring. World No. 1 Yani Tseng, whose dominance of late has triggered comparisons to Tiger Woods in 2000, was expected to coast to the winner's circle for the third consecutive week and for the fourth time in six starts in 2012.
Yet as the sun faded behind the San Jacinto Mountains at Mission Hills Country Club on Sunday, the title was still up for grabs. The back nine was producing more twists and turns than an episode of 24. Even Tseng, at 23 already a five-time major champion, was caught up in the excitement. Standing in the 18th fairway while waiting for the group on the green to clear, she wandered over to a reporter and said, "There's some drama, huh?"
In the end 25-year-old Sun Young Yoo of South Korea walked away with the trophy, playing the back nine in three-under 33 and winning with an 18-foot birdie putt on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff over I.K. Kim.
Yoo was fortunate just to be in the playoff. After dropping a 30-foot birdie at the par-3 17th, Kim, 23, took a one-shot lead to the 72nd hole. She reached the island green at the par-5 18th in three shots and lagged her 18-foot birdie putt to kick-in range. Kim, a three-time winner on the LPGA tour, let out a huge sigh of relief. Still, she kept with her preshot routine, marking the 10-inch putt, looking at the break from behind and finally taking her stance.
Then the unthinkable happened. Kim's par putt caught the right lip, circled the cup and spun out. The gallery let out an eerie gasp. Kim, who after winning the 2010 Lorena Ochoa Invitational donated her $220,000 check to charity, turned her head and covered her mouth with her left hand in disbelief, fighting back tears.
"You know, after the playoff, she said that maybe she should have gone right up and tapped it in instead of taking the time to go through her routine," said Kim's caddie, John Limanti. "But it's one of those things, what if she had done that and missed?"
Suddenly, Tseng, who after bogeys on three of her first eight holes had rallied with birdies at the 12th and the 17th, needed only a birdie at the last to get into the playoff with Kim and Yoo, whose only LPGA victory was at the 2010 Sybase Match Play Championship. But Tseng's 30-foot birdie attempt slid by on the right side. She fell backward on the green, holding her head in her hands.
Unlike last year, however, when she cried after losing the final-round lead to Stacy Lewis, Tseng didn't come close to shedding a tear. "I was shocked that I couldn't make that last putt," she said. "But I tried my best again. I don't feel I played really bad today. I think I just needed a little more luck to drop some putts. A little disappointed but not really. You know, it's not the end of the world."
In the opening round, Tseng fired a solid four-under 68, putting her two shots behind Amy Yang. That led one veteran writer to quip, "She's two back and nobody can catch her."
That appears to be the consensus on the LPGA these days. Asked if it felt as if everyone is playing for second place when Tseng is anywhere near the top of the leader board on Sunday, Tiffany Joh said, laughing, "I think that's kind of how you start the week."