Kim Saiki waited so long for her first LPGA victory, she wasn’t going to let it slip away.
“Got the monkey off my back,” the 12-year LPGA veteran said after her 1-under-par 71 gave her a four-stroke victory over Rosie Jones (74) and Mi Hyun Kim (72) at the Wegmans Rochester LPGA.
The triumph came in Saiki’s 277th LPGA event. Only three LPGA players have gone longer without a victory at the start of their careers: Carolyn Hill, Cindy Figg-Currier and Laurel Kean. Hill went 14 years, 6 months before winning the 1994 McCall’s LPGA Classic at Stratton Mountain, Vt.
“It was incredible. No words could describe it,” said Saiki, who finished with a 14-under 274 total. “Chills!”
Saiki, 38, entered the week with four second-place finishes – all from 1996 to ’98 – and had only six top 10s in the past 51⁄2 years combined. The California native began the final round with a one-stroke lead over Jones, a two-time Rochester winner (1991, ’98) who, with 13 career LPGA victories, held the advantage in both experience on the Locust Hill Country Club course and in the winner’s circle.
Early on, it looked as if Saiki might fold under the pressure, as she made an early double bogey at the par-4 second hole and Jones took the lead on three occasions. But it was the 5-foot-4 Saiki who stood tall down the stretch, sinking a 5-footer for birdie at No. 14, a hole Jones three-putted for a double bogey and a crucial three-shot swing that gave Saiki the lead for good. She then sank a long putt to save par on No. 15 and made a final birdie on No. 17.
“I was very calm,” said Saiki, who climbed from 77th to 14th on the LPGA money list with the $225,000 top prize. “I was hitting the ball so solid. My tempo, my rhythm was so good. I had a lot of confidence.”
Annika Sorenstam, coming off a victory at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and using the Wegmans as a U.S. Women’s Open tune-up, couldn’t get things going on the weekend after a second-round 66 left her three shots off the lead. She finished 71-73 to tie for seventh.