As Danielle Kang walked to the 13th tee Sunday afternoon, she did not need to pull out her cellphone to know she was five shots down to playing partner Lydia Ko.
Kang had just three-putted for a double bogey on 12 at the Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio, but before any disappointment or negative thoughts could set in, Oliver Brett decided to intervene.
“My caddie looked at me and said, ‘You’re still right in it,'” Kang stated. “I said, ‘I’m five down, five back’. He said, ‘Six holes to go, five down’. I kind of liked that mentality. The way he said it, I went into match play mentality.”
Kang was able to record three birdies coming in and Ko’s lead in the Marathon LPGA Classic presented by Dana completely evaporated after she recorded a double bogey on the par-5 18th hole.
When Kang tapped in for par, she had won both events held in northwest Ohio, which restarted play on Tour.
Kang is the first person to pull off back-to-back victories since Shanshan Feng in 2017. Feng was the victor at the TOTO Japan Classic and the Blue Bay LPGA.
“I mean, it’s pretty cool to win back to back,” said Kang. “Ohio has been really good to me and this week has been kind of a tester for a lot of different parts of my game. The golf course is a very ‘cut’ golf course and I don’t usually play left-to-right shots, so that was a bit difficult. To come out on top after last week, it’s kind of exciting.”
For Ko, she would have earned her 16th career victory and first since the 2018 LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship.
While Kang birdied the 13th and 14th holes, Ko bogeyed 14 and all of a sudden it was clear that there would be a fight to the finish.
“Obviously not the finish that I had envisioned, but Danielle played great today,” Ko said. “Every time she made a mistake she fought back with a birdie, so credit to her.”
Ultimately, the decision that Ko will look back on was when she was between clubs on the 18th hole after her approach to the par 5 sprayed far right.
Ko had taken relief from a cart path and she decided to hit a shot based on the ground being firm and in trying to be aggressive all week did not stray from the game plan, though in this instance it backfired.
The third shot was skulled across the green and into the rough.
“It was going to be a risky shot either way,” said Ko. “Maybe now when you look at it, maybe I should have hit the higher shot in. You don’t know what the right option was, but I was so in between, like just being between the bunkers.
“If I had been in the bunker probably I would’ve been able to get on and maybe two-putt for a bogey. I think it’s God’s way of telling me it wasn’t my day.”
Ko then found the fringe which trickled her ball back into the bunker and set her up for a double bogey. Kang was able to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker, cleaning up her par. Ko still had a chance to save her bogey and get to a playoff, but as her putt missed left, she offered a knowing smile.
“I was trying to bump it there. It was in a pretty fluffy lie,” Ko said. “It was probably going to be a tough one for me to hit a high one. With how the greens are reacting, I think if I had hit a high one, I was probably going to end up on the other side of the hill.
“So I just don’t think I hit it as hard as I should have maybe into the bank, but it’s, you know, very like minimal things. Even my first chip. If I had hit it four feet shorter, then maybe it would’ve stayed on the green. Who knows?”
What made the proceedings perhaps even tougher was that the two are close friends. Kang won and she certainly did her part, however Ko also had control of the tournament and the two-time champion of this Marathon LPGA Classic was unable to finish.
“There are really no words, to be honest,” said Kang. “As a competitor, friend, I mean, she’ll bounce back and she’s a great player and she’s proven to be one of the best players in the world. I’m excited to see what she’s going to bring to the table for the rest of the year.”
Jodi Ewart Shadoff secured her second consecutive top-five placement with a third-place finish at Highland Meadows, which gives her some momentum as the LPGA plays in Scotland for the next two weeks.
“I feel a lot more confident than I did yesterday,” she said. “In hindsight obviously I wish I would’ve putted like I did today yesterday. These things happened and all you can do is learn, so hopefully I can take the game I have today and go to Scotland with it.”
Like Ewart Shadoff, Minjee Lee booked a second consecutive top-five finish, with a four-place showing in the second week of this Ohio Swing.
Lee was able to offer a slamming eagle on 17, perhaps the shot of the day given the circumstances to secure her standing.
“I pretty much wasn’t expecting it,” Lee said. “I was just trying to get it as close as I could to the hole because it was quite a tough shot and it was landing in the downslope. I think I hit it a little bit too hard, but it ended up going in. It was just lucky.”
🔥 SLAM. DUNK. EAGLE. 🔥
— LPGA (@LPGA) August 9, 2020
Marina Alex, Andrea Lee and Emma Talley all tied for fifth place at 8-under par.
Additionally, 10 players earned spots in the AIW Women’s Open based upon their finishes at Highland Meadows Golf Club and will tee it up at Royal Troon Aug. 20-23.
Lee, Talley, Kendall Dye, Maria Fassi, Sophia Popov, Kelly Tan, Patty Tavatanakit, Peiyun Chen, Dottie Ardina and Lindy Duncan all qualified. Duncan advanced over Elizabeth Szokol and Matilda Castren by virtue of a tiebreaker.
MARATHON LPGA CLASSIC PRESENTED BY DANA FINAL LEADERBOARD
1. Danielle Kang -15
T2. Jodi Ewart Shadoff -14
T2. Lydia Ko -14
4. Minjee Lee -13
T5. Marina Alex -8
T5. Andrea Lee -8
T5. Yu Liu -8
T5. Emma Talley -8
T9. Carlotta Ciganda -7
T9. Cydney Clanton -7
T9. Kendall Dye -7
T9. Maria Fassi -7
T9. Maria Fernanda Torres -7
T9. Stacy Lewis -7
T9. Pernilla Lindberg -7
T9. Sophia Popov -7
T9. Kelly Tan -7
T9. Patty Tavatanakit -7
T9. Lindsey Weaver -7
SHE SAID IT
Kang, assessing the LPGA Tour and its COVID-19 protocol in its first two weeks back:
“I am really encouraged. I’m hoping for a better tomorrow. I know 2020 has been really rough for everybody around the world. I’m just so thankful to be able to be standing here able to play, being where I’m at. All in all in how they’re doing the protocols and everything, it’s just been very stable, in my opinion.
“I really respect Commissioner Mike Whan’s decision on when to start and how the tournament has been running. Everyone has gone through extra steps to make it really safe for us, all the volunteers, everyone. Without them we can’t host the tournament, even without the tournament directors as well, the staff and all that.
“I just really thank them from the bottom of my heart to be able to host an event that’s been around for over 30 years, and to be able to present a stage for us to compete.”