I.K. Kim of South Korea is consoled by her caddie John Limanti after missing the potential winning putt from a foot away on the 18th hole during the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Sunday in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where Sun Young Yoo, also of South Korea, won her first major.
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — I.K. Kim raised her left hand to her mouth and turned her head away, unwilling to look at what just happened at her feet. Fans at Mission Hills gasped, groaned and screamed in a chorus of shared pain.
With a major championship resting on a 1-foot putt, Kim had just lived every golfer’s nightmare.
She had done the unthinkable. She had missed the unmissable.
A few minutes later, the Kraft Nabisco Championship was in a playoff — and with an improbable second chance to win, Sun Young Yoo didn’t flinch.
Yoo won the LPGA Tour’s first major of the season with an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole Sunday, earning her first major title after Kim’s mind-boggling miss on a tap-in on the final hole of regulation.
Kim, the 23-year-old South Korean who lives near Los Angeles, couldn’t explain any of it. After barely missing a long birdie putt, she lined up the 1-footer patiently, and thought she hit it decently — but the ball toured the lip of the cup before coming out on the same side it entered.
“I played straight, and it actually just broke to the right, even that short putt,” Kim said. “So it was unfortunate on 18, but … I feel good about my game. It’s getting better.”
After tapping in for a bogey that dropped her into a tie with Yoo, Kim raised both hands to her ears as she left the green, staring down blankly at the bridge while walking to the scorers’ tent. The playoff ended four strokes later, with Yoo confidently seizing her second career LPGA Tour victory when Kim couldn’t relocate her groove.
“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 lurked in the pack with steady play down the stretch of a frantic final round in which five players held the lead. After finishing with a par in the group before Kim, Yoo figured she would collect a fat runner-up check and head home to Orlando.
And then Kim 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.
“I thought I had no chance,” Yoo said. “I thought I.K. was going to make the putt, but it didn’t happen.”
The 25-year-old South Korean got to make the traditional leap into the frigid waters of Poppie’s Pond only after Kim’s epic 1-foot mistake.
“She’s a great putter,” Yoo said about Kim. “She really doesn’t miss those kinds of putts, but … that’s golf. You never know what’s going to happen. I was just watching from the putting green, and that’s some luck.”
Kim’s miss on the Dinah Shore course will go down in LPGA Tour infamy, but she’ll have more than $182,000 to console her — along with the knowledge she had been the most consistent contender amid the wild momentum swings of the final round. She went bogey-free through 17 holes, making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th and a 20-footer on the 17th to break a three-way tie for the lead.
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 Kraft Nabisco history, seemed a bit reluctant to celebrate after hugging Kim, but she joined her caddie for a high-energy leap into Poppie’s Pond. Yoo 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.
Tseng was one stroke back on the 18th fairway when Kim missed her 1-footer. Tseng realized her opportunity, but barely missed her tying putt, leaving her flat on her back in frustration.
Yet even the world’s best player was thinking about Kim afterward.
“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.
“I was here by myself,” Yoo said. “I just wish my family was here. My phone is still in my golf bag. I can’t wait to make some phone calls to my family.”
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.
“I thought I would be a lot more nervous than I was,” said Sjodin, who posted the best finish of her career. “It was extremely fun. A lot of people screaming Yani’s name. I was pretending they were yelling for me.”
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.
MAHAN WINS PGA TOUR'S HOUSTON OPEN:
HUMBLE, Texas — Hunter Mahan doesn’t dwell on bad shots anymore, and he says that’s leading to more good ones.
Mahan shot a 1-under 71 on Sunday to win the Houston Open, edging out Carl Pettersson by one stroke and becoming the first two-time champion on the tour in 2012.
The 29-year-old Mahan finished 16 under for the tournament and moved to No. 4 in the world ranking, the first time he’s ever been the highest-ranked American.
“That’s a pretty surreal thing to think about,” Mahan said. “It shows me what I can do, shows me what I’m capable of.”
The 29-year-old Mahan feels as if he finally has the mental approach to match his physical skills. He credits Canadian sports psychologist Jim Murphy with teaching him to enjoy the game more, and that’s led to better results.
“It’s easy to let your mind run wild and get down on yourself,” Mahan said. “That’s what I used to do. I’m trying to pump myself up more and just believe in myself.”
Mahan earned his fifth career victory. He has six top-25 finishes in seven starts this year, including a victory over Rory McIlroy in the final of the Match Play Championships in February.
“You’ve got to enjoy this stuff,” Mahan said. “It’s kind of an honor and a pleasure to be in these tough situations. This is what you work for, to be in these fun, tough, tight situations.”
The new attitude got another pressurized test on Sunday.
Standing on the 18th tee with a one-stroke lead, Mahan confidently hit his tee shot down the middle of the fairway, then knocked his 203-yard approach to 21 feet. He gave caddie John Wood a high-five when the ball landed safely on the green.
“Absolutely awesome,” Wood said.
The tournament became the run-up event to the Masters in 2007, and Mahan has never felt better about his game heading to Augusta.
“I feel very capable of playing great golf, and I feel like I showed myself I don’t have to be perfect to win,” he said. “That’s a great thing to feel, for sure.”
Pettersson (71) finished with eight pars for his second runner-up finish this year. Third-round leader Louis Oosthuizen (75) was another shot back at 14 under.
Mahan began the day two shots behind Oosthuizen, who lost the lead with two double bogeys on his front nine.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson (71), Keegan Bradley (71), Brian Davis (74) and Jeff Overton (68) all finished 12 under.
Three-time major champion Ernie Els finished 10 under and fell short in his bid to earn an automatic invitation to this week’s Masters. Els needed a victory to avoid missing Augusta for the first time since 1993.
“It’s not going to change my life, either way,” Els said. “I’ve played many out there. It’s one of those things.”
The Masters could offer a special invitation to Els, like tournament officials did for Greg Norman in 2002.
Els has played well this year, earning top-five finishes at the Transitions and Bay Hill. But he said Sunday he would decline an invitation if he received one at the last minute.
“To go through all of this, and then get an invite, I wouldn’t take it,” he said. “They can keep it.”
The problems for Oosthuizen began with a three-putt on No. 2. He holed a downhill 45-footer for a birdie on No. 3, but hit his tee shot on No. 5 into a divot and missed the green with his approach. He botched a chip and two-putted from 20 feet.
Oosthuizen pulled his approach to the par-5 8th into the native area, leading to his second double bogey.
“I’m not going to be bothered about the way I played the front nine,” Oosthuizen said. “I had a few horrific lies and bounces. It happens.”
Mahan parred the first eight holes, then finally took advantage of Oosthuizen’s collapse with a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 9. Pettersson missed a 19-foot par putt on No. 10, leaving Mahan in the lead by himself at 16 under.
Mahan found a greenside bunker on No. 14 and bogeyed, then hooked his tee shot to the 204-yard, par-3 16th. He pitched onto the green, and the ball rolled down a slope to within 16 inches for an easy par.
“I thought it was going to be good,” Mahan said, “but a tap-in there was huge.”
Pettersson left an 18-foot birdie putt short on the 488-yard 18th, the hardest hole on the course, with a pond running down the length of the fairway on the left. Like Els, Pettersson needed a win to earn a trip to Augusta.