RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – The list of players who had the opportunity to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship Sunday must be listed on two hands. The tournament went from a probable sixth major title for Yani Tseng to a game of hot potato during a chilly final round at Mission Hills. High desert winds forced the tee sheet to be condensed – threesomes were sent off Nos. 1 and 10 tee over a two-hour span – which made for a raucous afternoon as cheers echoed from all sides of the golf course as players ran up, and dove down, the leaderboard.
In the end, Sun Young Yoo, 25, capped a sudden-death playoff against I.K. Kim with a birdie at No. 18 and a subsequent jump into Poppie’s Pond.
1. Unbelievable. Yoo couldn’t quite find the words to describe her new title of major champion once she reached her post-round press conference. Wearing the traditional white robe given to Poppie’s Pond bathers, Yoo held a microphone close and shook her head slightly as she explained that she hadn’t even thought about winning when the round started. Holding that microphone might have made Yoo more nervous than gripping any club in her bag.
“I don’t think any words can describe how I feel right now,” she said. “I’m still nervous. I wasn’t nervous on the course, but now I’m really nervous.”
Yoo had trailed co-leaders Tseng and Karin Sjodin by three shots when she teed off Sunday. She shot a final-round 69 to pull into second, and still didn’t think there was any way she’d leave Mission Hills a major winner. Not with two groups still to come in – groups that included solo leader Kim and World No. 1 Tseng.
“I thought I had no chance,” she said.
Yoo hadn’t spoken to her family yet when she took the podium but was looking forward to digging her phone out of her golf bag to deliver the news. Her win makes her the second South Korean to win the Kraft, following Grace Park in 2004.
2. That’s no April Fools joke: I.K. Kim’s missed par putt for the win at No. 18 was so short, it’s better measured in inches, not feet. It would eventualy cost the 23-year-old her first major title, but by the time Kim had played down the 18th hole again and watched Yoo hole a birdie to end sudden death, she was able to walk away from the green with a smile and shake hands with assembled fans.
Sunglasses remained on as Kim answered numerous media requests and spoke in a strong voice about the missed putt. She left her large shades on as she put it in perspective.
“If I try 10 times, I think I can make it 10 times,” she said.
The overall message? This isn’t the last you’ll hear from Kim.
3. Slammed shut: Yani Tseng fell to the ground on the 18th in disbelief as her 30-foot birdie putt stayed above ground. Frankly, she was lucky to have a chance at getting into a playoff against two Koreans after her lackluster round.
Weak chip shots on the first two holes caused her to open the day bogey-par and fall into an early three-stroke deficit. Tseng didn’t post a birdie until the 12th hole, a truly uncharacteristic day for the World No. 1.
“Maybe this is the day the gods wanted another player to win this tournament,” said Tseng.
She went on to note that after last year’s tough loss to Stacy Lewis the tears were already falling. This time, a more mature Tseng correctly stated that “it’s not the end of the world.” And then smiled.
4. Close call: It looked like Stacy Lewis’ week at the Kraft might end on Friday. The defending champion opened with a 2-over 74 and got to 4 over midway through her second round. And then the putts started to fall.
Credit an early-morning putting switch on Friday to an Anser-style blade and a flood of confidence. Lewis dined at the same burger joint she went to last year – Islands – before the final round. She’s a low-key kind of gal (and maybe a little superstitious). It looked like Lewis might script another fantastic finish as she roared back with eighth birdies in her final round. She posted 7 under and sat back, hoping the wind and pressure would get her into a playoff.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Lewis said of her afternoon plans.
Alas, it wasn’t enough. Lewis wound up tied for fourth, two strokes back.
5. Picture this: It’s been a long time since Natalie Gulbis was asked to come into the interview room. A final-round 7-under 65, however, put her under the bright lights at something other than a photo shoot.
“You always want to spend as much time as you can during majors in the media room,” said Gulbis, who finished tied for eighth. It’s her first top 10 since a tie for seventh at Kingsmill in 2009. The last time she carded a 65 was the third round of the ’09 Jamie Farr.
Gulbis teed of the 10th hole and played the front nine two groups behind the leaders. She posted nine birdies in her final round and had 26 putts. For the last three weeks Gulbis has had David Brooker on her bag, a man who has 29 wins and three majors to his credit.
“He helps me tremendously,” Gulbis said. “He’s really helped me this week, especially with reading greens, and I trust him. If I say a break is outside right edge and he says right edge, I have confidence in him that he’s right, and he is always right.”
– Julie Williams and Beth Ann Baldry