2006: Gulbis becomes Kim’s latest victim

Sylvania, Ohio

It looked like Natalie Gulbis’ time. The LPGA’s All-American poster girl had a long-awaited first victory squarely within her sights at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. She began the final round July 16 tied for the lead, birdied six of her first 10 holes and didn’t make a bogey all day. And yet somehow she was one stroke shy at the end.

It wasn’t the first time diminutive

Mi Hyun Kim had flown in under the radar and stole a victory from a more-heralded opponent. And it almost certainly won’t be the last.

Kim, 29, rolled in an 18-footer on the third playoff hole to end Gulbis’ dream and extend her 41⁄2-year winless drought. The three top finishers each closed with 6-under 65s, with Kim and Gulbis completing regulation at 18-under 266. Paula Creamer, who birdied Nos. 14-17, missed a 12-footer at 18 that would have gotten her into the playoff.

It was Kim’s seventh career victory and second this season (Ginn Open), putting her in an elite group of two-time 2006 winners. The other three members: Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb. The $180,000 top prize pushed Kim over $1 million for the season and put her fourth on this year’s money list.

And the 5-foot-1 South Korean, nicknamed “Peanut,” had to overcome an obviously pro-Gulbis gallery to do it.

“She had soooo many fans!” Kim said. “I still cannot hear.”

Gulbis had plenty of opportunities to send her fans into a frenzy. After her fast start, Gulbis’ solid iron game continued to give her short birdie attempts, but she could manage only pars on her final 11 holes.

“I had chances,” Gulbis said. “It’s not like I didn’t have chances.”

After missing 12-footers to win on the first two extra holes, Gulbis could only watch as Kim hit her clutch putt on the final playoff hole. Then the American’s last chance – a 9-foot birdie putt to continue the playoff – went wide, leaving Gulbis with a career-best second-place finish and a large void.

“I’m always smiling. But it’s very upsetting,” said Gulbis, who said she would try to dwell on the good things.

“It’s not like I finished last. There’s a lot of positive stuff here.”

Just not a victory.

Grab bag: Her regular clubs lost in travel two weeks ago, Reilley Rankin survived just fine with a patchwork set, hanging around the top of the leaderboard all week at Highland Meadows.

Rankin’s clubs were lost on a June 30 flight to see her instructor prior to the HSBC Women’s World Match Play. She played with last-minute replacement clubs in the opening round at the Match Play, where she lost in 20 holes to U.S. Women’s Open runner-up Pat Hurst.

Nike rushed her a new set of irons that she received just prior to the Jamie Farr first round. She also had to use a different driver and putter.

“I just tried to turn it into a positive,” she said. “I think it’s all about attitude.”

Rankin, whose bag was embroidered with the name “Jeff” for the first two days of the tournament, was tied for second after each of the first three rounds before finishing fifth, only her second career top 5.

“I think I’ll be Jeff the rest of the week,” she said after Round 2.

Short shots: Thanks to Friday’s heavy rains, a couple of holes featured island greens Saturday because of overflowing Ten Mile Creek. Players on the first three holes had to be driven in carts through foot-deep rapids. “You hope you make it through,” Annika Sorenstam said. “It’s kind of like you’re

at Disney World on one of the flume rides.” . . . Nancy Lopez, 49, making her first start in more than a year, shot 81-77 and missed the cut, but she finished with a flourish, chipping in for birdie on No. 18 to complete her second round and prompting a lengthy standing ovation from the gallery. . . . A.J. Eathorne had her second career hole-in-one in Round 2, holing an 8-iron shot on the 134-yard sixth hole.

– Staff and wire reports

On the tee

Next up: Evian Masters,

July 26-29, Evian-les-Bains, France. Defending champion: Paula Creamer.

The buzz: Creamer dominated last year’s star-studded field by eight shots, but hasn’t won on tour since. Will a return

to Paris end her sophomore drought?

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