RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Sun Young Yoo won the Kraft Nabisco Championship with an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole Sunday, earning her first major title after I.K. Kim missed a 1-foot putt on the final hole of regulation.
Yoo won the LPGA Tour’s first major of the season with steady play down the stretch, but she got to make the traditional leap into Poppie’s Pond only after Kim’s mind-boggling miss on the same green minutes earlier.
“She’s a great putter,” Yoo said about Kim. “She usually doesn’t miss that kind of putt, but … in sports, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Yoo, who earned her second career LPGA Tour victory, and Kim finished at 9 under, but Kim could have all but wrapped up her first major with the tap-in par putt.
Kim might have struck the ball oddly, and it toured the lip of the cup before coming out on the same side it entered. The gallery gasped, and Kim raised her left hand to her mouth in disbelief.
“I played straight, and it actually just broke to the right, even that short putt,” said Kim, a 23-year-old South Korean who lives in the Los Angeles area. “So it was unfortunate on 18, but … I feel good about my game. It’s getting better.”
Kim’s unbelievable miss on the Dinah Shore course will go down in tournament lore after a thoroughly wacky final round in which five players held the lead.
Kim had been the most consistent contender amid those wild momentum swings, going bogey-free through 17 holes — until she made a mistake reminiscent of Scott Hoch’s missed 2-foot putt that would have won the 1989 Masters, and Doug Sanders’ miss on a 3-footer to win the 1970 British Open.
“On the playoff hole, it’s just hard to kind of focus on what’s going on right now,” Kim said. “Because I was still a little bit bummed (about) what happened on 18, honestly.”
Yoo and Kim played the 18th again in the playoff, and Kim’s drive barely cleared the water, landing in the rough. She left a birdie putt short from the fringe, and Yoo calmly reached the green before burying her winning putt.
Yoo, who joined Grace Park as the only South Korean winners in the history of the tournament, seemed a bit reluctant to celebrate after hugging Kim, but she joined her caddie for the leap into Poppie’s Pond. She surpassed $3 million in career earnings with her $300,000 share of the $2 million purse.
“It’s huge. I didn’t think about winning today,” said Yoo, who began the final round in a five-way tie for fourth. “I didn’t want to let myself down, but I think I did better than what I was expecting.”
Kim and Yoo shot 69 in the final round.
Top-ranked Yani Tseng finished third at 8 under with a disappointing final-round 73. Even after blowing a Sunday lead at the Kraft Nabisco for the second straight year, the Taiwanese star had a chance to join the playoff on the 18th, but pushed a long birdie putt wide by an inch.
Kim had been incredibly steady until her miss, making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole and a 20-footer on the 17th to break a three-way tie for the lead. Kim comfortably reached the green on the 18th and barely missed a long birdie putt.
Kim needed only a tap-in to preserve her lead with Tseng one stroke back on the 18th fairway. Kim lined up over it patiently, but somehow missed the un-missable shot.
She tapped in for a bogey that dropped her into a tie with Yoo, and Kim raised both hands to her ears in pain, staring blankly at the bridge as she walked to the scorers’ tent.
Tseng then barely missed her tying putt, leaving her flat on her back in frustration — but even the world’s best player was thinking about Kim.
“I feel so bad for her,” Tseng said. “I wish she had made it.”
Defending champion Stacy Lewis closed strong with a 66 to finish in a four-way tie for fourth place with Amy Yang and late leaders Karin Sjodin — who shot a 74 after entering the final round even with Tseng and leading at the turn — and Hee Kyung Seo, who had a three-stroke lead on the back nine before bogeying her final four holes.
Yoo had never finished higher than seventh in a major, and she began the final round three strokes off the lead. She bounced back from two early bogeys with three birdies in five holes down the stretch, finishing with three straight pars — and after Kim’s historic miss, seized an unlikely opportunity to win.
Tseng gave away her share of the final-round lead in the first two holes to Sjodin, who went three strokes ahead with an eagle on the second hole. The winless Swede gave away the lead to Seo with back-to-back bogeys around the turn, but Seo made bogeys on the 15th and 16th, briefly creating a four-way tie with two holes to go.
Natalie Gulbis finished in an eighth-place tie with Se Ri Pak and second-ranked Na Yeon Choi at 6 under, shooting a 65 — the best round of the day. Gulbis, the pinup model and reality-show star, is still looking for her second career victory.