It was a duel to the very end, but Na Yeon Choi managed to best Yani Tseng with a clutch birdie on the par 3 17th to win the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And it truly was an extraordinary battle.
You had two of the best players within one shot of each other virtually all day long. Tseng started in a four-shot hole and played in the group in front of Choi. And she played 100%, full out, nothing held back.
She started with a birdie on 1 and then gave it right back with a bogey on 2. But got it back with a birdie on 3. The second birdie must have settled her because she never made another bogey and made nothing but pars and birdies the rest of the way in; five of them. She was relentless. Watching this unfold hole-by-hole was exciting through the whole round. Starting four back, you knew she had to do something special and then, birdie-by-birdie, you could watch her mastery unfold. Every time she made another birdie, it telegraphed her determination to win. She got to 6-under on the day through 16, but couldn’t make another on 17 or 18. Her problem ended up being that Choi did.
Choi’s round was sluggish, dragged down by a double-bogey on 2. And then the birdies to get the double back torturously unfolding on 6 and 8. It looked like she was out of it. She didn’t get to 1-under until 12, 2-under until 15 and the coup de grace until 17. She was slow and steady, maybe more like steadfast in the face of Tseng’s relentlessness.
The thing that was so captivating about this was the two of them didn’t wither under the intense pressure of the day. For Tseng, it was another opportunity to shut down all conversations about her dominance with her seventh victory of the year. But for Choi, after all of her brilliant success in her first three years, it was her opportunity to make a statement with her first of the year. It was lightning in a bottle versus slow and steady, do what you have to do. And it pretty much ran all comers off except last year’s Rookie of the Year, Azahara Munoz.
Munoz finished 3rd by herself with a generally steady play under that kind of pressure. She bogeyed 5 and then spread four birdies across 8 through 16. She had it to 3-under at that point but slipped a little with a closing bogey on 18. It was the best finish of her two-year career and having watched a couple of her swings, clearly only just the beginning for her. She now knows that she can contend with the two best players in the world.
And icon for all the Korean players, Se Ri Pak, had a fine, surprisingly good showing finishing 4th by herself. It was her best finish of the year and surely welcome after her DQ last week in Korea. You never want to DQ yourself, especially in your home country. She had a nice, solid 2-under with four birdies.
Brittany Lang has to be very disappointed. She started out in 2nd by herself and played very steady most of the day with birdies on 3 and 11. But then, when it was time to close the deal, the wheels started to come off on 13: bogey, bogey, birdie, double-bogey, par, bogey. She will hopefully take away from this misfortune that to earn her first victory will require relaxed intention, not earnest effort. She finished +2 on the day and finished T5 with Stacy Lewis who could only manage 1-under from her starting place of T4.
Those are the basic facts on the finish of the tournament and I may have more to say about it after the post-round interview transcripts are out.
In the meantime, this day was important because the Tour moves on to its next two, golf-crazed Asian stops, Taiwan and Japan. With the stellar play in Korea and now Malaysia, hopefully the buzz will spur the ladies on to stirring results there too. It would be nice to have a solid Asian package to be talking about in promoting the Tour for next year.
And the Tour is clearly worth promoting. There has to be a place in the public’s appetite for the game for people who play it so well.