Hee-Won Han is becoming accustomed to playoff pressure. She should be, because she sure has been in enough of them the last couple of years.
Han birdied the 18th hole twice in a span of several minutes – the second time in a playoff against Lorie Kane – to capture the Safeway Classic Sept. 19. It was the 26-year-old Korean’s first victory of the season and her third overall, and it improved her record to 2-3 in playoffs.
Last month, Han missed a 5-foot par putt on the first hole of a playoff against Catriona Matthew at the Wendy’s Championship for Children. She had won the Wendy’s the previous year, beating Wendy Ward in a three-hole playoff. Han also lost playoffs at the 2003 Mobile LPGA Tournament of Champions (to Dorothy Delasin) and the 2002 Sybase Big Apple Classic (to Gloria Park).
“This time, I just enjoyed my play. No pressure,” said Han, who birdied the par-4 18th in regulation to force the playoff, then put her approach to 4 feet in the playoff to earn $180,000. With the victory, she improved three spots to No. 23 in the Golfweek/ Sagarin Performance Index.
Han, who trailed co-leaders Kane (70) and Candie Kung by three shots at the start of the final round, closed with a 5-under-par 67 for a 9-under 207 total. Grace Park (68) made birdie on No. 18 to finish third at 8 under, followed by Kung (72), Annika Sorenstam (70) and Kristal Parker-Manzo (65) at 7 under.
“Playing from behind is better than being the leader – not as much pressure,” said Han, who has three top 5s in her last five events and climbed into the top 10 on the LPGA money list at No. 8 with $695,620.
In the playoff, Han stuck her approach, and Kane landed on the green about 80 feet from the hole. Kane’s birdie putt narrowly missed the hole, and she made an 8-footer for par. Han then stepped up and knocked her birdie putt right in the center.
Kane, 39, was looking for her first victory since the 2001 LPGA Takefuji Classic, and has struggled at times this season. After seven consecutive seasons in the top 15 in earnings, she entered the Safeway at No. 26 on the money list.
“I’m very disappointed, but I’m also encouraged, too,” Kane said.
Sorenstam, going for her third consecutive victory in this event, bogeyed the par-4 11th hole to fall three shots off the pace.
“I tried and I played well,” Sorenstam said. “It was just one of those days when it wouldn’t flow.”