RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Blame the Indio effect.
How else do you explain I.K. Kim missing a 12-inch putt to lock up the Kraft Nabisco Championship with the sun sinking over Mission Hills Country Club?
The mysterious force blamed for drawing putts toward the city of Indio in the Coachella Valley pulled so much more with it Sunday at the Dinah Shore Course. It pulled a player’s most cherished hopes and dreams with it.
This dizzying finish was so stunningly inexplicable it made Kim’s head hurt as much as it made her heart ache.
At least that’s what it looked like as Kim staggered off the 18th hole after missing a putt that couldn’t be missed. She put her hands on her head as if she were trying to contain a memory more brutal than a migraine.
Kim’s putt reminded us how cruel this game can be.
At the end of what looked like a flawless day in the making for Kim, she made her first and only bogey at the 18th hole, pushing a putt that would hit the right side of the hole and horseshoe out.
“I played it straight, and it broke to the right,” Kim said. “Sometimes things happen. It’s tough because it’s Kraft Nabisco.”
Did anyone think Kim had a chance in the playoff after that?
Sun Young Yoo defeated Kim to win the year’s first major, holing an 18-foot birdie putt at the first playoff hole.
“It was kind of hard to focus on the playoff after what happened,” Kim said.
The miss left thousands of fans gasping in unison around the 18th hole.
Scott Hoch’s miss at the Masters in 1989 looked like a monster putt in comparison.
Doug Sanders’ miss at the British Open in 1970 seemed three times as long.
Nobody has ever faced a shorter putt to win a major championship and missed it.
“I.K. is a great player,” said Yoo, 25, a fellow South Korean claiming her second LPGA title and first major. “She really doesn’t miss those kind of putts. You never know what’s going to happen. I got some luck.”
Rolex World No. 1 Yani Tseng was as stunned as anyone as she stood back in the 18th fairway watching Kim.
“I was just so shocked,” Tseng said. “It was just a fluke.”
The miss gave Tseng an unexpected last chance to try to get into a playoff and win. All of a sudden, she was a shot back playing her approach into the 18th. With Kim stumbling to the scorer’s trailer, Tseng carved a 9-iron to 30 feet for a birdie chance.
Tseng’s day would end with more disappointment, though, when her putt trickled away from the hole. She crumpled onto her back before tapping in for a 73 that left her tied for third.
Maybe the Indio effect pulled Tseng’s chances away, too, because her final-round sluggishness was difficult to figure.
Tied for the lead at day’s start, Tseng knocked her opening tee shot right and into the trees, slapped her second through the trees and failed to get up and down for par. She lost her share of the lead with that opening bogey and never got it back with three bogeys on the front nine.
Tseng, going for her third victory in a row, her third major championship title in her last four tries, seemed a lock to win given her momentum.
“I tried my best,” Tseng said. “I don’t feel like I played really badly today. I’m disappointed, but it’s not the end of the world. I’ll come back next year and try to win this tournament again.
“Maybe this is the day the golf gods wanted another player to win.”
Gary Gilchrist, Tseng’s swing coach, was among those in disbelief after witnessing the miss.
“It’s sad what happened there,” Gilchrist said.
It didn’t seem fair, or right, that this would happen to Kim, 25, given her remarkably generous spirit.
When Kim won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational two years ago, she donated her entire first-place check to Ochoa’s charity and to one other charity.
“I was nervous the whole way, but I think I executed good shots,” Kim said.
She executed marvelously, until missing that putt that couldn’t be missed.