AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Rose Zhang never had an easy time Saturday until the final shot in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, a par putt from inches away on the second playoff hole that brought as much relief as satisfaction.
Staked to a five-shot lead, Zhang stumbled her way to a 4-over 76 with suspect shots and one questionable decision. The final mistake belonged to Jenny Bae, a Georgia senior who lost her shot at winning with one bad swing.
Bae, who rallied from a six-shot deficit with a 70, had a 20-foot birdie on the 18th in the playoff for the win and left it short. From the 10th fairway on the second extra hole, she pulled her approach left of the green and under a bush. With a restricted swing, she punched out through the green and into a bunker.
Zhang was some 35 feet above the hole, long shadows across the line of her putt. It grazed the edge of the cup and settled inches away, which was all she needed.
The 19-year-old sophomore was mobbed by her Stanford teammates, one of them giving her a red rose.
It was the second playoff in the four-year history of the tournament.
Zhang has been the best amateur in women’s golf for the last three years, and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was the biggest title she hadn’t won.
She was flawless for two rounds at Champions Retreat, where she set tournament scoring records two days in a row with an opening 66 and then a 65 to lead by five.
Augusta National was a different story, with gusting wind as storms moved in, followed by a 3 1/2-hour weather delay after she had played seven holes.
With a double bogey from the fairway bunker on the opening hole and three other bogeys, she already was 4 over for the round and her lead was down to three.
The break didn’t necessarily help. She steadied herself with pars, but Bae and Andrea Lignell, an Ole Miss senior from Sweden, were making enough birdies to close the gap.
Zhang was two shots ahead when she stood in the 15th fairway and watched Bae make par in the group in front. She still chose to hit fairway metal, and it never had a chance, landing in the pond in front of the green.
Bae was running out of holes, and Zhang gave her help with a bogey. Now only one back, Bae caught her with an approach to a foot on the 17th, and she made par on the 18th that ultimately forced a playoff.
Lignell birdied the opening two holes of Amen Corner, the 11th and 12th, and was within two shots of Zhang until she could no longer keep up. She closed with a 74 and tied for third.
Zhang now has won the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the U.S. Junior Girls and the NCAA title. In what likely will be her last year as an amateur, Augusta was the missing piece.
She got the trip to Butler Cabin, the trophy from Masters Chairman Fred Ridley. It just took more work and more nerves than she imagined.
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