2005: LPGA - Kang continues Koreans’ victory charge

Portland, Ore.

Soo-Yun Kang waited a long time for her first LPGA victory. When it finally came, it seemed almost too easy. But then that’s the way it has been for Korean players in 2005.

Kang went wire-to-wire at the Safeway Classic, following a first-round 64 with rounds of 68-69 to win by four shots over Women’s British Open champion Jeong Jang. Kang, 29, finished at 15-under 201 at Columbia Edgewater Country Club and became the ninth first-time winner on the LPGA this season – and the fifth Korean player to do so.

The leading money winner on the Korean LPGA in 2001 and ’02, Kang said she didn’t think it would take her this long to taste victory in the United States.

“I waited so long for the past three years,” said Kang, whose previous best finish was a tie for second at the 2003 LPGA Takefuji Classic. “I guess I was in a slump for three years and working very hard on it. I didn’t give up, and I practiced hard and put a lot of effort into it.”

Her efforts paid off in Portland, where she was 12 under on the front nine for the week. Kang, who led Jang and Gloria Park by three shots heading into the final round, made four birdies in her first seven holes Sunday, including a 60-foot birdie putt on the par-3 second, but still led Jang by only two heading into the back nine.

With Jang trying to close the gap even further, Kang got a fortunate bounce when her tee shot hit a tree on the 12th hole and kicked back into the fairway, leading to a birdie that put her back up by three strokes.

“Before that hole, J.J. was keeping pace and trying to come after me. . . . But after that birdie, I felt confident that I was going to win,” said Kang, who stretched her lead to five after Jang made bogeys on Nos. 14 and 17.

After Kang punched the sky in victory, a pair of her friends – U.S. Open winner Birdie Kim and Grace Park – showered her with champagne.

Kang led a contingent of Koreans who landed the top-5 positions. Jang, in her first event since winning the Women’s British wire-to-wire late last month, finished second at 11 under, followed by Park at 10 under and rookie Joo Mi Kim at 8 under. Soo Ah Yim tied for fifth at 7 under with American Beth Daniel.

Jang wasn’t shocked to see Kang in the victory circle. The two played together on Korea’s national team and have competed against each other many times.

“She’s kind of late, but it’s not really a surprise. . . . She’s a good player,” Jang said.

As the rest of the LPGA is finding out, there are plenty of those coming from Korea.

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