NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Amy Yang picked a lucrative time for her first LPGA title on American soil.
Yang birdied her last two holes for a 6-under 66 to win the CME Group Tour Championship and claim the $2 million prize, matching the largest in women’s golf.
“I was so nervous down the stretch,” Yang said. “But I try to tell myself: ‘I can do this. I can do this.’ I’m so happy I made it.”
The victory was her fifth on the LPGA Tour, the previous four coming in Asia.
Yang holed out for eagle on the 13th fairway to overcome an early three-shot deficit, and then she let Nasa Hataoka make the mistakes in crucial moments down the stretch. All 60 players who qualified for the season finale only had to win to become the Race to CME Globe champion.
Yang finished in style, making a 10-foot birdie putt. The 34-year-old from South Korea dropped her putter and cupped both hands over her face as a half-dozen players charged onto the green and soaked her with so much bubbly she wrapped a towel on her shoulders as she went to sign her card.
“I always want to win the first one in the U.S.,” said Yang, who won her first LPGA title in South Korea and three others in Thailand. “It’s a great honor to have my first victory here.”
Hataoka closed with a 69 and Alison Lee had a 66 to tie for second. Lee was never closer than two shots along the back nine at Tiburon Golf Club. Lee, still winless on the LPGA Tour, closed out her season with three runner-up finishes on the LPGA and a victory in Saudi Arabia on the Ladies European Tour.
“I put up a good fight today, did everything I could to put some pressure on the two girls,” Lee said. “Amy had a phenomenal round. Once she made her eagle on 13, I think that really turned the course of the whole entire day for her.”
Yang trailed by three shots through six holes of the final round when she charged back into the mix with three birdies over a four-hole stretch. The pivotal shot was holing out her approach on the par-4 13th, the ball landing near the pin and then spinning back about 6 feet into the cup.
Hataoka answered with a 10-foot birdie putt, and they were tied going to the final three holes.
That’s when Hataoka, a 24-year-old from Japan, blinked first. Her birdie putt from the fringe ran some 6 feet by the hole, and the par putt caught the lip. That ended 35 straight holes without a bogey, and left her one shot behind.
On the par-5 17th, Hataoka missed left down a steep ridge, with the pin cut to the left. She bumped her chip to 8 feet and missed the birdie chance. Yang, who also was left but short enough to hit a lofted pitch, nearly holed it and had a 3-foot birdie putt that gave her a two-shot lead going to the 18th.
She never looked anything but calm, splitting the soft fairway, and not even watching the full flight of her approach that rolled out to 10 feet below the hole.
Lee, a former UCLA star from California, had four birdies over her last eight holes.
Lilia Vu, a two-time major champion this year and No. 1 in the women’s world ranking, closed with a 65 to finish alone in fourth and picked up a valuable prize of her own. She won the points-based LPGA player of the year for the first time.
Yang finished at 27-under 261, breaking by four shots the tournament record set two years ago by Jin Young Ko.
Hataoka and Lee each won $445,000 for their tie for second.