Na Yeon Choi gets doused on the 18th hole after winning the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday.
Potter realizes dream with first PGA Tour win
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Ted Potter Jr.'s first PGA Tour victory means a lot more than a big paycheck. The 28-year-old rookie can take a trip to Augusta National off his wish list.
By making a 4-foot birdie putt on the third hole of a playoff Sunday to beat Troy Kelly in the Greenbrier Classic, Potter earned a spot in the Masters, something he listed as career goal.
Simply winning, though, had been the top priority for a player who first joined the former Nationwide Tour in 2004 and didn't have much success until last year.
"When you're missing cuts every week, you get down on yourself," Potter said. "I mean, it's hard to pick yourself back up. But the plus side for me is I was still young. I just knew I had plenty of time and just be patient and it will come back around again."
Potter finished second on the Nationwide money list last year to advance to the PGA Tour. He tied for 13th in his first event of the year but had missed five straight cuts entering the week.
His fortunes changed Sunday.
"It was just a big relief," Potter said. "All the struggles the last few weeks, knowing that now I've got a couple years to try to improve on my game and win some more tournaments."
The left-hander became the sixth first-time winner on the tour this season. He earned $1,098,000 and jumped from 173rd to 51st in the FedEx Cup standings.
He also gets a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. And Potter, Kelly and Marc Leishman — who won two weeks ago at the Travelers Championship — can pack their bags for the British Open, which starts July 19 at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
Ranked 218th in the world, Potter overcame a four-stroke deficit with four holes to play, finishing with his second straight 6-under 64 to match Kelly at 16 under. Kelly closed with a 66.
It marked the third straight year of close finishes on the Old White TPC course. Scott Stallings beat Bob Estes and Bill Haas on the first hole of a playoff last year, and Stuart Appleby shot a 59 to beat Jeff Overton by a stroke in 2010.
Webb Simpson lost a one-stroke lead on the back nine at the tournament for the second straight year. The U.S. Open champion made three straight bogeys, shot 73 and tied for seventh at 11 under.
During the fourth round, Potter made long putts for a birdie at No. 15 and an eagle at No. 17, and his 5-footer for birdie at No. 18 tied Kelly, who could have avoided the playoff but missed birdie putts on the final two holes.
Both made par on the first two playoff holes, with Potter missing a 5-footer at No. 17 that would have won it on the second extra hole. Moments before, Kelly made a 22-footer for par after finding trouble from the greenside bunker.
Playing the par-3 18th for the third time on the day, Kelly's tee shot was short of a steep ridge in the middle of the green, while Potter sent his 9-iron onto the top of the ridge and it trickled close to the pin.
Kelly missed his 45-foot birdie putt, then watched Potter close out the win as thunderstorms moved in.
Despite the disappointment, Kelly earned his best career finish. He previous one was a tie for 37th.
"I had a lot of fun," Kelly said. "And looking forward to kind of getting in that position some more."
Kelly underwent hip-replacement surgery in September 2010 after being diagnosed with arthritis. He resumed playing golf five months later and was 11th in Nationwide winnings last year.
Charlie Wi and rookie Charlie Beljan tied for third at 14 under. Wi shot a 65, and Beljan had a 67.
Daniel Summerhays finished fifth at 13 under after a 64. Martin Flores (67) was another stroke back.
Simpson, the third-round leader, had gone 50 consecutive holes without a bogey but made three of them in a row starting at the par-5 12th.
"I felt really confident and then just got on a bad run there," Simpson said. "I'm probably going to learn something from it. Have to learn the hard way."
Joining him at 11 under were Robert Castro (63), Kevin Na (65), Sean O'Hair (66) and Ken Duke (70). Duke was within a shot of the lead on the 14th hole before fading with a pair of double bogeys.
Simpson can now focus on family — his wife, Dowd, is due to give birth to the couple's second child within three weeks. That means skipping the British Open.
KOHLER, Wis. — Na Yeon Choi was cruising to victory in the U.S. Women’s Open when her trademark consistency suddenly deserted her.
After yanking her tee shot into the woods on the 10th hole, Choi wound up making a triple bogey — cutting her lead over playing partner Amy Yang from five to two strokes.
“That moment, maybe I thought I might screw up today,” Choi said. “But I thought I needed to fix that. I can do it. So I tried to think what I have to do.”
Choi birdied the next hole, danced around a few more potential pitfalls on the back nine and went on to win by four strokes Sunday at Blackwolf Run.
It’s the first major and sixth career LPGA Tour victory for the 24-year-old South Korean star, who came into the tournament ranked fifth in the world.
Choi shot a 1-over 73 on Sunday and finished at 7 under. Yang, also from South Korea, had a 71 to finish second.
Choi’s victory comes at the same course where Se Ri Pak won the Open in 1998, a victory that inspired Choi and many other young South Koreans to try to make it on the women’s tour.
“And 14 years later I’m here right now, and I made it,” Choi said. “My dreams come true. It’s an amazing day today, and like I really appreciate what Se Ri did and all the Korean players, they did. It’s really no way I can be here without them.”
Pak was among a group of friends who met Choi after she putted out on the 18th green, showering her with hugs — and victory champagne.
“She (said), ‘Hey, Na Yeon, I’m really proud of you. You did a really good job, and you (were) really calm out there,’” Choi said. “She talked to me a lot, and she was hugging me.”
Choi is the fourth South Korea player to win the event in the five years, following Inbee Park (2008), Eun-Hee Ji (2009) and So Yeon Ryu (2011).
And while Choi’s performance on the 10th wasn’t pretty, she could afford to have one bad hole Sunday thanks in large part to her remarkable performance Saturday when she matched the fifth-lowest round in Open history with a 65.
Choi and Yang were the only players to finish the tournament under par.
Yang was expecting Choi’s best effort.
“I knew she was going to play well,” Yang said. “She’s very consistent player.”
Sandra Gal of Germany shot a 74 and finished at 1 over. Il Hee Lee of South Korea, Shanshan Feng of China and Italian Giulia Sergas finished 2 over.
Michelle Wie finished at 10 over. After shooting a 66 on Friday to close within a stroke of the lead, she had weekend rounds of 78 and 80.
“Contention for me kind of got my juices flowing and kind of made me want it more and felt like what it was like again,” Wie said. “So I’m really looking forward to the next tournament and there’s a lot of positives to take from this week.”
Top-ranked Yani Tseng finished 14 over, and still needs an Open victory to complete a career Grand Slam.
The afternoon belonged to Choi, who was even through the front nine, making bogey on No. 1 and making a birdie putt on No. 4.
Then she found trouble.
It started on the par-5 10th hole, when she put her tee shot way left into woods and deep rough. Choi was 8 under at that point — five strokes ahead of Yang, who was 3 under.
After a long delay for a fruitless search for her ball, she went back to the 10th tee with a penalty. Choi wound up with a triple-bogey 8 and appeared to be on the verge of unraveling. Yang made a par on 10, cutting Choi’s lead to 2 strokes.
Choi birdied No. 11 but got in trouble again on No. 12, putting her approach shot in the long rough short of the green. She managed to chip out of the rough and hit the green, then rolled in a putt of about 20 feet to save par — and, perhaps, her Open title.
Choi then came within inches of putting her tee shot in the water on No. 13, but her ball bounced to safety — appearing to skip twice off of a wall that lined the water hazard — and she made another par.
She then made birdies on No. 15 and 16.
After taking the lead with her big round on Saturday, Choi talked about how Pak’s dramatic 1998 victory was one of the main things that inspired her to success in golf. Choi recalled watching that tournament on television and remembered how it changed her goals, helping her dream of something bigger.
Pak, who finished at 4 over after a 71, was holing out on No. 18 at about the same time as Choi was finishing No. 9. But Pak intentionally stayed out of Choi’s way at the time.
“I don’t want her to lose her focus, so I’m trying to not give her (a) look,” Pak said. “But you know, she’s already been there many times. She won five times already, and of course, this is a little different than a regular event. But of course, having a lot of pressure herself, but she’s good enough to be out there.”
Pak is happy to hear that her victory in 1998 inspired so many people in her country.
“They were watching TV back then, and they didn’t know what’s going on in golf,” Pak said. “And after I won the U.S. Open, they’re watching this moment here, and they know what is golf and they think of their dreams.”