Ariya Jutanugarn holds on to win the Kingsmill Championship

Dave Johnson
Contact Reporterdjohnson@dailypress.com
With a solid 14-under par in tough conditions, Ariya Jutanugarn wins the Kingsmill Championship.

JAMES CITY — Having turned 20 only last fall, Ariya Jutanugarn was setting the bar only so high for her second year on the LPGA Tour. She wanted a championship, emphasis on singular. Not that she wouldn't take plural, but there was no sense in being greedy.

That first win came two weeks ago in the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic. And it changed everything.

Playing with house money, and with nerves of steel, Jutanugarn doubled up by winning the Kingsmill Championship on Sunday. Her 14-under par held off Su Oh, who had just gone to 13-under with a birdie on No. 18, and she clinched it by parring the final two holes.

Two weeks earlier in Alabama, she was a bundle of nerves at the finish. This time, she looked like a seasoned winner.

"Last (tournament) was my breakthrough," she said. "I really wanted to win one tournament this year. After I did that, I just felt whatever it is, I'm just going to take it and have fun."

Jutanugarn, the first player from Thailand to win on the Tour, had plenty of fun on a cool, damp Sunday. Even when things looked pretty dicey for a few minutes.

She went to the 18th hole needing only a par to win the championship. Her tee shot was right in the middle of the fairway. Then, at the worst possible moment, came maybe her worst shot of the day.

It was from what she called "the distance between," so she had to hit a half swing.

"Normally, I don't really like half-swing shot," Jutanugarn said. "And I really didn't want to go left, so what I did was push it right."

Too right.

It landed on the edge of the green, at least 80 feet from the cup. But before you could say "playoff hole," Jutanugarn chipped it — three quick bounces, and then a nice roll. It went about 5 feet past the hole, setting up a fairly easy putt to save par.

"The third shot, I knew it wasn't hard," she said. "I was like, 'It's an easy chip for me.'"

Then came the putt for the championship. As always, not one to stand over it too long, Jutanugarn made quick work of it.

"(On) the last putt, I was a little bit excited," she said. "My hands were shaking, but just a little bit. Not like last tournament. Last tournament was so bad."

Jutanugarn began the day with a one-shot lead, but it was a crowded leaderboard. In all, 13 players were within three shots of her — names like In Gee Chun, So Yeon Ryu, Minjee Lee and Gerina Piller.

When she bogeyed No. 2, she fell into a tie for the lead. And when Pornanong Phatlum birdied No. 4 to go 11-under, the tournament had a new leader.

But Jutanugarn birdied the next two holes, and she was tied for the lead again. When she birdied No. 9, she regained the outright lead — for good, it turned out.

The last two weeks have changed the game for Jutanugarn. It would have been hard to see it coming on the first weekend of April.

In the ANA Inspiration, the first major stop of the year, Jutanugarn led by two shots with three holes remaining. Realistically, all she needed to do was par out.

Instead, she bogeyed each by three-putting 16, not getting up-and-down out of a bunker on 17, and hooking her drive into the water on 18. That opened the door for someone who doesn't need a door opened for her: Lydia Ko, the No. 1 player in the world.

Some players would need weeks, if not months or even years, to recover from that. Jutanugarn simply shrugged it off.

"After ANA, I didn't feel like I lost the tournament," she said. "I felt like I got something. I felt more confident, because I didn't think about the last three holes, I thought about what a great (tournament I) played. After that, I just had more and more confidence."

Not enough to approach cockiness, of course. A half-hour after her championship-winning putt, Jutanugarn was asked if she expects more wins — maybe even next week at the LPGA Volvik Championship in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"I expect more wins," she said. "But I don't know about next week."

Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
79°