Queenslander Katherine Kirk claimed her first LPGA title in seven years in a thrilling finish at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, holing for birdie from 3 metres on the final green to win by one shot from South African Ashleigh Buhai.
Kirk's final round 2 under par 70, after opening with rounds of 68, 63 and 65 was good enough for a total of 22 under par to claim her third LPGA victory.
The 35 year old, playing in her 14th season on the LPGA Tour had started the final day with a four-shot lead over Buhai, and a seven shot lead over the rest of the field.
Kirk appeared to be struggling at times during the final round, and after dropping shots at the 10th and 11th holes found herself back in a tie for the lead with Buhai and South Korea’s Sei Young Kim, who had set the clubhouse lead at 20 under par after a superb final round 9 under par 63.
With the pressure firmly back on the overnight leader Kirk responded brilliantly, with birdies at the 12th and 14th holes to again draw two shots clear, however a bogey from the greenside bunker at the 17th would narrow her advantage to one shot heading to the final hole.
Meanwhile, Buhai had been playing flawlessly and had not dropped a shot since the opening hole in the third round. She had looked all day to be the biggest threat to the leader, and playing alongside Kirk found herself just one shot back as the final pairing made their way to the 72nd tee.
Seemingly undaunted by the pressure both players hit solid tee shots, before Kirk stepped up to play her second shot, hitting a superb short iron approach shot to within 3 metres of the hole that looked to have sealed the victory.
However Buhai, a multiple winner on the LET and Sunshine Tours searching for her maiden LPGA title was not going to give up without a fight, and knowing that nothing short of a birdie would suffice hit a magnificent approach to less than a metre from the flag.
Kirk, knowing that she would most likely need to make her birdie putt to avoid a playoff stepped up to the ball confidently. Having needed just 77 putts in her opening three round the confidence with the flat stick was high and it didn't disappoint this time, the Aussie confidently fist-pumping the putt home before the tears of joy and relief began to flow.
Buhai would go on to make her birdie putt to finish in outright second place, her best LPGA finish so far.
Kirk’s last win on the US tour was back in in 2010, after also winning the Canadian Women’s Open in 2008.
Kirk was understandably delighted to be once again back in the winner's circle,
“So much hard work and patience, I had a rough couple of years, in ’15 and ’16. I have an amazing team behind me, my husband’s been 100 percent supportive the whole time. I can’t put it into words, it’s just a great feeling. It is an individual sport but it is certainly a team effort."
Kirk had struggled much of the final round, making bogeys at the 4th, 10th and 11th holes to open the door to rest of the field,
“To be honest, I hit a really low spot around the 14th where I said ‘I need something to happen here’, because I was just struggling,’’ she said. “But Ashleigh played great all day, she really put the pressure on me. It was a pretty fun finish there, I knew I had to make it.’’
Kirk earned US$300,000 for the win (approximately AUD$394,000) also securing a coveted spot next week in the U.S. Women's Open.
Minjee Lee was the next best placed ALPG member in the field, recovering from a slow start to the week to finish in 20th place, while Karrie Webb was well back in finishing in 75th position.
Final Results and Prizemoney can be found at lpgascoring.com
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