Jeju, South Korea
Even after 36 holes and a three-stroke lead, Jee Young Lee wasn’t at all sure she had what it took to win her first LPGA event.
Her eight-shot lead had shrunk dramatically down the stretch in Round 2 of the CJ Nine Bridges Classic, thanks to a pair of double bogeys and a bogey in her final five holes. That led to a night with little sleep and more than a few doubts running through the mind of the 19-year-old rookie on the Korean LPGA circuit.
“In the afternoon, I played terrible,” Lee said after her troubles Saturday. “I would love to win, but I don’t know if I am qualified.”
Lee, who won the Korean Women’s Open earlier this year, needn’t have worried. She more than held her own against some of the world’s best players – including top two LPGA money winners Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer – shooting a final-round 1-over 73 in cold and windy conditions Oct. 30 to finish off a wire-to-wire victory.
“I made a lot of mistakes yesterday and I made a lot of mistakes today, but I held on to it,” said Lee, who finished at 5-under 211 to win the $202,500 top prize by three strokes over Carin Koch (71) and Mi Hyun Kim (73). “I only slept a couple of hours last night, and I even had a dream about playing the last hole.
“I never thought that I would win this tournament until the third shot of the 18th hole. I was so nervous, so I didn’t know if I was going to make a mistake or not. I didn’t want to think that I won until it was over.”
Lee’s victory was similar to the one two years ago in this event by then-19-year-old Shi Hyun Ahn, another Korean LPGA pro who was virtually unknown outside her home country before winning by three shots over Se Ri Pak, Grace Park, Gloria Park and Laura Davies. Lee will have nonexempt LPGA status in 2006 and exempt status in ’07.
Lee became the fourth South Korean in four years to win at The Club at Nine Bridges, following Pak in 2002, Ahn in ’03 and Grace Park in ’04. Her victory came mainly because of a career-best 7-under 65 in Round 1 in which she opened with pars on Nos. 10 and 11 before birdieing seven of the next eight holes, including a 50-foot birdie on the par-3 17th and a 40-footer on No. 1.
The next two days weren’t quite as easy for Lee, who, in addition to her shaky second-round finish, made three consecutive bogeys on Nos. 15-17 Sunday before finishing with a par. But because of the cold, wet and windy conditions, no one else could make a serious run after Lee posted three birdies in her first 12 holes.
Four Koreans finished in the top five, as Hee Young Park (73) and Jeong Jang (74) tied for fourth at 1-under 215. Koch finished second for the third time in the event’s four years.
– Staff and wire reports