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Marathon Classic: All joy for Choi

07/20/2015, 12:00am EDT
By By STEVE JUNGA BLADE SPORTS WRITER

South Korean defeats Jang in 1-hole playoff for her 1st tour victory

Marathon Classic: All joy for Choi
Chella Choi holds the trophy after winning the LPGA Marathon Classic. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

Chella Choi holds the trophy after winning the LPGA Marathon Classic. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

After she had led the field following all four rounds of regulation play in the Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club, rookie Ha Na Jang was left with only an agony-of-defeat runner-up finish for her efforts on Sunday.

She failed to convert a potential winning birdie putt on the 72nd hole, blew her approach shot in a playoff with fellow South Korean Chella Choi, then bolted the Sylvania course in the blink of an eye.

Then there was the flip side, the thrill-of-victory experience of Chella Choi, who won her first LPGA tournament in seven seasons as a tour member. It was her 157th LPGA event, and her longshot triumph came with a check for $225,000.

“It’s amazing,” Choi said. “First win [took a] really long time. Seven years, so it’s so exciting, and I’m really, really happy. It’s a dream come true.”

PHOTO GALLERY: 2015 Marathon Classic final round

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Choi saved par on her 72nd hole despite a botched tee shot on the par-5 18th, then converted another par to win the playoff with Jang.

She had plenty of time to celebrate in the post-tournament din of the 30th LPGA tournament here.

Choi overcame a 2-over-par 73 from Thursday’s opening round to close with a superb 66-65-66 line for the final three rounds for a 14-under 270.

Jang shot 66-67-69-68 to post her own 270, which proved not good enough to secure her first LPGA win. She won $139,217 for second place.

On the 72nd hole, Choi hooked her driver into the left rough behind a pine tree, forcing her to punch out. Facing a potential bogey on the 18th green, she calmly sank a nine-foot putt for par.

“I missed my tee shot, so I was a little bit nervous,” Choi said. “So, I tried to focus, and my father [caddie Ji Yeon Choi] said, ‘It’s okay. You don't have chance, but try to be patient, and try make a par.’

“So, I tried to be patient and focus on just trying to make par. I made a par. I was so excited.”

Choi’s par conversion came after Jang had missed a chance to close out her own first LPGA victory on a 10-foot birdie putt. That missed opportunity left Jang squatting and bowing her head in frustration.

After returning to the 18th tee, both players were roughly the same distance — about 90 yards — from the pin two shots into the playoff before their subsequent third shots basically decided the tournament.

Choi, hitting first, landed her wedge on the green 25 feet of the cup.

Jang followed by sailing her approach off the back of the green into the rough. She chipped 10 feet past the cup, failed to save par, then watched helplessly as Choi tapped in from eight inches for a winning par.

With her hasty exit, Jang was not available for comment after her best LPGA finish to date. Her Jekyll-and-Hyde final round included six birdies that were somewhat undone by a bogey on No. 6 and a double-bogey on No. 11.

“Ha Na played really good,” Choi said. “Her putting and short game is really good. But I win.

“She's a good friend. We are friendly a really long time ago. She said ‘congratulations,’ so I’m really happy.”

Tying for third place at 13-under were last year’s champion Lydia Ko of New Zealand, and Shanshan Feng of China. They picked up $89,559 each.

“I played really solid the front nine, and that’s all I could really do,” said Ko, who rallied into contention after an even-par 71 on Thursday. “I know it would have been great if I could continue that on the back nine, but it just wasn’t going.”

Ko started out red hot, using birdies on Nos. 2, 3, 7, and 8 to get to 13-under and take the lead by her turn. But that momentum stalled there, and Ko played even on the back nine, with a bogey at 13 and a birdie at 17.

“I’m happy that I could give it a run for it to defend the title,” Ko said. “Four under is, I think, a good score at the end of the day. Seeing how average my first day score was, to be in the top five is a good finish for the week.

“Normally I’m not a huge leaderboard looker, watcher, whatever. Today, I knew that I was having a good run at it, so I was having a peek now and then.”

Jeng gave herself a chance late, making birdie at both 17 and 18, including a firmly struck 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole that may have rolled six feet past had it not dropped.

“I think I did very well, even though I did miss some birdie putts on the weekend,” Feng said. “The last two holes today I made two great putts, especially the last hole.

“Overall, I did very well, especially after last week when I missed the cut [at U.S. Women’s Open]. That was the first time I missed the cut in two years, but it didn’t hurt my confidence. I picked up my game really quickly again.

“I was not going to leave [the past putt] short. I wanted to see my target and commit to it, which I did. Good thing it caught the center of the hole.”

In a three-way tie for fifth place at 11-under were Texan Brittany Lang, who was the top American finisher, and South Koreans Hyu Joo Kim and Q Baek. That trio won $52,465 apiece.

Texan Angela Stanford, Spaniard Azahara Munoz, and South Korean Inbee Park tied for eigth place at 10-under to collect $34,173 each, and Americans Cristie Kerr and Austin Ernst tied for 11th with Japan’s Haru Nomura with each picking up $26,753.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.

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Chella Choi reacts to winning the LPGA Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania. Choi shot 66 in the final round and won in a one-hole playoff over Ha Na Jang. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

Fans react to Shanshan Feng sinking a putt at No.18 to finish with a final-round 67 and a 271 total to tie for third place. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

Fans react to Shanshan Feng sinking a putt at No.18 to finish with a final-round 67 and a 271 total to tie for third place. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

Ha Na Jang reacts after missing a birdie putt on No. 18 that could have won the Marathon Classic. She had led after each of the first three rounds. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

Ha Na Jang reacts after missing a birdie putt on No. 18 that could have won the Marathon Classic. She had led after each of the first three rounds. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

Ha Na Jang, left, watches as Chella Choi pumps her fist after saving par on No. 18 to send them to a playoff in the final round of the LPGA Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

Ha Na Jang, left, watches as Chella Choi pumps her fist after saving par on No. 18 to send them to a playoff in the final round of the LPGA Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

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Tag(s): Pro  Golf  Steve Junga  Marathon Classic