Kim's Birdie-Birdie-Birdie Finish Overtakes Olson at Women's Open
December 14, 2020
HOUSTON, Texas -- At the start of the final round of the U.S. Women's Open, Hinako Shibuno was leading at 4 under par (209), Amy Olson was second at 3 under (210), and two players were tied for third at 1 under. Seven holes into the final round on Monday, there were still four players under par. By the time Olson finished the 11th hole, she was the only one under par. She was 2 under and leading by two shots.
That trend suggested that if she played even par the rest of the way and could finish at minus 2, she would win.
Olson did exactly that -- but she didn't win. The 28-year-old former U.S. Junior Girls champion from Fargo was ambushed down the stretch by A Lim Kim, a 25-year-old South Korean playing in only her third LPGA Tour event. Thanks to three nearly flawless approach shots, Kim birdied the last three holes on the Cypress Creek course at the Champions Club and pried the Open trophy loose from Olson's grasp.
It was the first time anyone has finished with that kind of flourish in a major golf championship -- women's or men's -- since 2011, when Charl Schwartzl birdied the last four holes to win the Masters.
Kim's heroics down the stretch resulted in a 4-under 67 and a 72-hole total of 281 (3 under), which was worth $1 million. Olson shot 72 and finished at 282, tied for second place with the No. 1 player in the Rolex Women's World Rankings, Jin Young Ko, who birdied two of the last three holes for a 68. They each made $487,286.
Having started the day five shots behind and tied for ninth, Kim matched the biggest comeback in tournament history. The last time the winner came from five back was 1995, when Annika Sorenstam rallied from five behind 54-hole leader Meg Mallon to win the first of her three U.S. Open titles -- and the first of her 10 major championships.
Shibuno, 22, who plays mainly on the Japanese LPGA Tour, struggled with her swing for much of the round. She hit only three of the first 11 greens in regulation. But she rescued quite few pars from difficult positions, and after making bogeys at the 10th and 11th holes and falling back to even par for the tournament, she played the last seven holes in 1 under. The 2019 Britsh Women's Open winner finished with a 74, and her aggregate of 283 was good enough for fourth place.
As it turned out, each of the top four finishers birdied the 18th hole.
Everyone else in the field ended up over par.
Megan Khang claimed fifth at 285 with a closing 72. Inbee Park, who won the first of her seven major championships at Interlachen in the 2008 U.S. Women's Open, tied Ko for the second-lowest round of the day, a 68. That lifted her into a tie for sixth at 286, along with Moriya Jutanugarn and the defending champion, Jeongeun Lee6.
Jutanugarn's sister Ariya, who won this tournament two years ago, had the most eventful round on Monday. After birdying the first hole, she parred the second and didn't make another par the rest of the front nine. In addition to the one par, she had four birdies, three bogeys and a double. She was 4 over in one three-hole stretch (5, 6 and 7), yet she was still within three shots of the lead after 15 holes, at even par for the day, 1 over for the tournament. Bogeys on two of the last three holes relegated her to a 73 and a tie for ninth at 287.
Kaitlyn Papp, the low amateur, also finished at 287, after posting a 74.
This tournament was supposed to be played months ago, but was pushed back because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Playing a tournament in December, even in Texas, poses weather risks, and the conditions in the Houston area weren't exactly ideal. There was heavy rain Friday, mostly after the second round was completed, which saturated the course for Saturday's round (causing a lot of mud balls for the players), and there was more rain on Sunday morning, which is why the fourth round was being played on a Monday.
The temperature when the final group of Olson, Shibuno and Moriya Jutanugarn teed off was 44 degrees, and the wind chill was reported as 37. It looked even colder than that. Players were wearing stocking caps and ear muffs, and putting on winter jackets and mittens between shots.
In those conditions, club selection was a problem (the ball was going nowhere in the cold air), and so was having mud on the golf ball, once again. After making a routine par at the first hole, Olson hit her tee shot into the fairway at the second hole, a 386-yard, par 4, and you could see some mud attach itself to the ball as it landed. She then hit what looked like a good second shot. It got to the green, but she came up 60 feet short of the cup, which led to a three-putt bogey. She then missed the green at the 367-yard, par-4 third, made another bogey and three-putted again for her third bogey in a row at the par-3 fourth (178 yards).
It was a rough weekend psychologically for Olson. In addition to the stress of playing in a major championship, she had to deal with the loss of her father-in-law, Lee Olson, who died suddenly on Saturday.
"Coming out this morning, I had no idea what to expect," she said on Monday after her round. "I felt very weak and helpless the last couple of days. I really believe the Lord just carried me through. It makes you realize how much bigger life is than golf."
But she bounced back from the three bogeys in a row with a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-5 fifth, and then hit a gorgeous short-iron approach to within 5 feet of the pin at the 414-yard, par-4 sixth. That got her back to 2 under for the tournament, and when Shibuno, who had bogeyed the second hole, made another bogey at the seventh, Olson was tied for the lead.
She pulled ahead when Shibuno bogeyed the 10th. There was a lot going behind her on the leader board -- as contenders appeared, then disappeared -- but Olson stayed where she was, at 2-under, making one par after another for 11 holes in a row.
Then along came Kim, a regular on the Korean LPGA Tour. (As the U.S. Women's Open champion, she now has the option of joining the LPGA Tour.) Her late birdie spree started at the par-3 16th hole, the same hole where Olson made a hole in one with a 139-yard 8-iron shot on Thursday, on her way to an opening 67 and the first-round lead. Except that on Monday the 16th was 37 yards longer than it had been four days earlier. Kim hit 5-iron shot to 4 feet and made the putt to get to 1 under for the tournament. Her 8-iron second shot at the par-4 17th might have been even better. It landed 30 feet short and trickled to within 2 feet of the hole, for a tap-in birdie. At the 18th, she it a 3-wood off the tee and a wedge from 120 yards, then drilled a 10-footer for a concluding birdie.
"I was eyeing the leaderboard throughout the round," Kim said through a translator, after accepting her trophy, "and I knew how many shots I was back. That's probably the reason why I tried to hit more aggressive, and tried to attack the pins."
By the time Olson got to the 16th tee, she knew that Kim was in the clubhouse at minus 3. The 16th was playing 176 yards during the final round, and Olson had just come up short with a 5-iron from a similar distance at the 15th. That 5-iron ended up on the front fringe, and she burned the edge of the hole with her birdie putt from 35 feet. She was left with 4-foot come-backer for par and made it to stay within one of Kim.
"My 5-iron went only 152 yards on 15," she noted. "I knew it wasn't enough for the shot on 16; so I hit my (4) rescue. When it was in the air, I thought it was a perfect shot."
But it was too much club and went over the green into a nasty lie, from which Olson was unable to save her par. That meant she was two behind with two holes to go.
She hit her only bad iron shot of the day at the 17th, blocking it into the right greenside bunker, but saved par from there with a 5-foot putt. Now she needed to hole her second shot at the 18th, and she didn't -- but she did make an 18-foot birdie putt to lift herself into a tie for second with Ko.
With the victory, Kim moved up 64 spots in the Rolex Rankings, to No. 30. Olson moved up 29 spots to No. 39. And the money that she made with her second-place finish increased her 2020 season earnings to $763,832 and moved her up from No. 32 on the LPGA Tour money list to No. 5. (Kim isn't an official member of the American Tour; so she isn't listed.)
Olson was home schooled and started college a year early at North Dakota State, less than two months after she turned 17. (That was the same year she won her second Minnesota PGA Junior Girls title and the U.S. Juniors Girls crown, as well.) In spite of starting so young, she was able to win an NCAA Division I-record 20 tournaments in her four years with the Bison.
She made it easily through Q-School in the fall of 2013 and ventured out onto the LPGA Tour with the expectation that she would win early and often. But it hasn't happened that way. In seven seasons, even though she's made nearly $2.2 million, Olson hasn't won any tournaments.
"Yes, I've been surprised that I haven't won," she has said in answer to the question that she gets asked a lot. "I thought I'd win right away, but it's really hard to win out here. There are a lot of great players."
Monday was another example of just how hard it is to win on the women's tour.
"I'm happy with the way I played this week," Olson said after her round, with a kind of sad smile on her face. "I drove the ball really well all four rounds; I hit my irons well; and I putted really well. Sometimes you play great, but someone else plays even better. That's golf."
75th U.S. Women's Open
At Champions Golf Club
Cypress Creek (par 71)
Jackrabbit (par 71)
Final results (the final two rounds were played entirely at Cypress Creek)
1. A Lim Kim $1,000,000 68-74-72-67--281
T2. Amy Olson $487,286 67-72-71-72--282
T2. Jin Young Ko $487,286 73-70-71-68--282
4. Hinako Shibuno $266,779 68-67-74-74--283
5. Megan Khang $222,201 70-69-74-72--285
T6. Moriya Jutanugarn $177,909 68-72-72-74--286
T6. Inbee Park $177,909 71-72-75-68--286
T6. Jeongeun Lee6 $177,909 73-69-73-71--286
T9. Kaitlyn Papp (a) -- 71-68-74-74--287
T9. Ariya Jutanugarn $177,909 70-70-74-73--287
MIssed the cut -- 145 (+3)
T149. Kim Kaufman 78-79--157