RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Mirim Lee chipped in three times Sunday, the last one for eagle on the final hole that got her into a three-way playoff at the ANA Inspiration that she won on the first extra hole with a birdie.
It was another wild finish in the LPGA major that moved from the first weekend of April to the 100-degree heat of September, and no one was more surprised than the 29-year-old Lee.
She was never in the lead at any point until she calmly holed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th to beat Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson, who each had the lead on the back nine.
Lee pitched in from long range for par on the 16th, dropped a shot on the next hole and appeared to be out of it until her chip from behind the 18th green rammed against the pin and dropped for eagle and a 5-under 67.
Korda, the 22-year-old American going for her first major, had a two-shot lead with four holes to play and couldn’t hold it. With a one-shot lead going to the par-5 18th, Korda missed the fairway, had to lay up and missed the green to the right, having to scramble for par and a 69 just to match Lee at 15-under 273.
Henderson lost the lead with a double bogey on the 13th hole that nearly cost her. But she birdied the 16th and was saved by the wall, a blue-covered structure behind the 18th that kept her second shot on the 18th from running through the green and into the water behind the island green.
She got up-and-down for birdie and a 69 to join the playoff.
On the first extra hole, Korda again missed the fairway and had to lay up, and her wedge was 25 feet short for a birdie putt that never had a chance. Henderson’s second shot came up just short, and she used putter for her eagle attempt that rolled out some 7 feet past the cup on the sun-baked, fast greens of Mission Hills. Her birdie putt missed on the left side.
Lee hit 5-wood just over the back of the putting surface, chipped to 5 feet and made the winner.
Even with world No. 1 Jin Young Ko and US Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6 staying home because of travel concerns with the coronavirus, Lee made it 10 consecutive years with a South Korean winning a major.
It was her fourth LPGA Tour victory, and first since the Kia Classic three years ago.
Her victory spared more conversation about the blue wall behind the 18th green, which the tournament erected in place of a hospitality chalet that was not needed this year because there were no spectators.
It was talked about all week, and the chalet in a normal year has blocked shots hit too hard. But it nearly decided the tournament. Henderson was one shot behind with her ball sitting up in the rough on the 18th in regulation. She hit 5-wood through the green and under the blue bunting, allowing for a drop.
She chipped down to 2 feet for birdie to join the three-way playoff.
Henderson needed a break after having to spend the final hour trying to catch up to Korda. The Canadian took her only lead on the 12th hole when Korda made bogey, and it didn’t last long.
Henderson drove into the right rough on the 13th and 6-iron in the wrong place — right again, with a bunker guarding the front right pin. She flopped that into the bunker and didn’t get up-and-down, leading to double bogey.
Korda answered with a tee shot into 5 feet for birdie on the par-3 14th, and suddenly her lead was at two. But she couldn’t hang on. Henderson’s 8-foot birdie putt curled in the left side of the cup on No. 16 with perfect speed. Korda held onto the lead at the 17th with an 8-foot par putt, and that set up the big finish on the 18th.
Through it all, Lee was an afterthought until her stunning finish.
She already chipped in for birdie from short of the green at No. 6. Lee gave herself a chance by pitching in from short of the 16th green to a back pin. And after a bogey on the 17th, she went long on the 18th and chipped in for eagle, dropping her head with a soft smile in disbelief.
Lexi Thompson, going after a second title at Mission Hills, was never a serious factor after bogeys that slowed her momentum. She closed with two birdies on her last three holes for a 69 to finish two shots out of the playoff.
US Women’s Amateur champion Rose Zhang birdied the 18th for a 72 to tie for 11th. She finished at 8-under 280, setting the record for lowest score by an amateur.
PGA — Stewart Cink won the season-opening Safeway Open at 47 years old for his seventh PGA Tour victory and first since the 2009 British Open.
Cink closed with a 7-under 65 at Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif., — rebounding from a bogey on the 17th with a birdie on the 18th — for a two-stroke victory over Harry Higgs.
Cink is the oldest PGA Tour winner since Phil Mickelson at 48 at Pebble Beach in February 2019. Cink’s last victory came at the expense of then-59-year-old Tom Watson at Turnberry, with Cink winning a four-hole playoff.
Cink did it the old fashioned way Sunday, with a short game that repeatedly put him in great shape on the greens. He one-putted 10 times, scrambled for pars after driving into the sand twice and had eight birdies to finish at 21-under 267.
Champions — Miguel Angel Jimenez completed a wire-to-wire victory in the Sanford International in Sioux Falls, S.D., the PGA Tour Champions' first event with fans since returning from a break for the coronavirus pandemic.
Jimenez closed with a 5-under 65 at Minehaha Country Club to beat Steve Flesch by a stroke. The 56-year-old Spanish star won for the second time this season and 10th on the 50-and -over tour.
Tied for the second-round lead with Steve Stricker, Jimenez eagled the par-5 12th for the second time in three days and played the four par-5 holes in 4 under with birdies on Nos. 4 and 16. He parred the final two holes to finish at 14-under 196.
Flesch eagled the 16th in a 63.
Korn Ferry — Curtis Thompson, the brother of LPGA Tour star Lexi Thompson, won the Evans Scholars Invitational in Westchester, Ill., for his first Korn Ferry Tour title.
The 27-year-old Thompson closed with a birdie for a 2-under 70 and a one-stroke victory over Will Zalatoris and Jimmy Stanger.
Thompson finished at 17-under 271 and earned $108,000 and jumped from 52nd to 12th in the points race for PGA Tour cards. He joined brother Nicholas as a Korn Ferry Tour winner.
Points leader Zalatoris shot a 64, and Stanger had a 66.
European — South African George Coetzee shot a 5-under 66 to win the Portugal Masters by two strokes.
Coetzee finished at 16 under par after birdies on two of the last three holes to seal the victory over Englishman Laurie Canter, who also shot a 66.
Tommy Fleetwood (64) ended another shot back after making a late charge with four birdies in his last seven holes, including the final two. The Englishman was tied for third with Swede Joakim Lagergren (65), who also finished strongly with birdies on Nos. 14, 16, and 17.
The 34-year-old Coetzee clinched his fifth European Tour title with a bogey-free round that included some key par saves at the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura. He also won last week on the Sunshine Tour.