Just when it seemed that the second female major of the season was a battle between two of the LPGA Tour’s best-known stars, so Mirim Lee sneaked in to grasp the Ana Inspiration glory.
The top Koreans might have stayed away from California because of coronavirus concerns - including world No 1 Jin Young Ko - but still the country’s dominance in the women majors continues.
Ranked 94th, Lee chipped-in twice in the last three holes at Mission Hills, Palm Springs to fight herself into the shootout against Nelly Korda, the world No 3, and Brooke Henderson, the world No 9. And when she birdied the first sudden-death hole the title was hers to enjoy. As was the traditional jump into Poppie’s Pond behind the 18th green.
“I spoke to my friends back at home before the play-off,” Lee said, through an interpreter. “And they told me just to go for it and come home soon.”
It is fair to say that Korda and Henderson were completely stunned. All day, it had been a head-to-head and yet neither of them prevailed. In the searing heat, the advantage changed hands between the duo, this way and that, and even with a few holes to play it was almost inconceivable that someone else would come through.
Credit to Lee, 29, who had not won for three years but who showed she had what it takes when finishing second at the 2016 AIG Women’s Open at Woburn, including a record-equalling 62.
Alas, there was controversy. This major was marred by the advertising hoard that was ridiculously erected around the 18th green. Usually a stand is there and that would mask the fact that it is an actually an island green in the same respect as the 17th at Sawgrass.
In years gone by, balls would disappear into the lake and that was not a danger this time around. So the players could be bold, knowing that they could not be long and not be wet, if they were semi-accurate.
Lee took the invitation and gained the generous drop from where she outrageously holed out for a second time in 30 minutes to enter the play-off with a 16-under total. And Henderson took similar relief to also get in the shootout with a 69, the same as Korda. It did not seem right. “It’s a very strange decision,” Dame Laura Davies said in the Sky Sports booth. “Hopefully they will rectify that next year.”
Georgia Hall, the 2018 AIG Women’s Open champion, finished with a 73 for a one-under total and a position outside the top 30. It was a disappointing week for the 24-year-old, but the English flag was proudly represented by Mel Reid, who finished in a tie for seventh on nine-under following a 71.
After Reid's third place in last year’s Women’s PGA Championship, this was another major display that highlights that the 32-year-old can still mix it with the best.