2005: Kang aces tough test at Corning

Corning, N.Y.

It looked as if Jimin Kang had just allowed her golden opportunity to slip away. After turning an almost certain birdie into a three-putt bogey on the 14th hole, Kang went from a tie for the lead to trailing Meena Lee by two shots. Instead of letting dejection overwhelm her, however, the 25-year-old Korean gave herself a pep talk with four holes to play May 29 in the final round of the LPGA Corning Classic.

“I kept telling myself at the corner of the green, ‘It’s OK, it’s fine, just move on,’ ” said Kang, a former All-American at Arizona State University. “I think it worked.”

Kang pulled a 9-iron out of her bag on the 125-yard 15th hole and produced magic. Her ball bounced short of the flag, and found the hole for an ace, vaulting her toward her first LPGA victory. The third-year pro went on to birdie No. 16, posted a 15-under 273 total, and won when Lee made double bogey on No. 18 to finish two shots back along with Annika Sorenstam.

Kang, who earned her LPGA card as the Futures Tour’s top money winner last year, shot a final-round 66 and became the second player in 2005 to win a tournament that included Sorenstam, who entered with five victories in six ’05 events.

Kang won $165,000 and her 273 total was 11 shots better than her previous low 72-hole performance on tour. In 24 career events prior to Corning, she had only one top 20 – a tie for 19th at the Michelob Ultra Open earlier this month – and had finished with a sub-par total only once.

Sorenstam, who suffered from a cold all weekend, birdied three of her last seven holes, including Nos. 16-17, but couldn’t catch Kang, who was playing a group ahead.

“I did have a chance,” said Sorenstam, who was trying for her second consecutive Corning victory. “Obviously, I wish I would have felt a little better so I could have given it a little more, but I didn’t have much more to give.”

Lee gave Kang a big gift with her double bogey on the 72nd hole. The 23-year-old rookie, who had just birdied the 17th to pull back into a tie for the lead, sent her drive on No. 18 sailing under a tree, and her second shot clipped some branches, leaving her with a difficult, slanting lie at the right edge of the green. After her third shot came up short, she finally chipped on, then two-putted for double.

“This is my first time in contention,” Lee said. “Me being young cost me today, but I will have more chances.”

Kang got her second chance Sunday, and made the most of it with her first career ace at the most opportune of times. After putting her third shot to 4 feet on No. 14, Kang missed her birdie putt, then pulled her 3-foot par putt coming back. On the next tee, however, all of that was forgotten, as Kang hit a 9-iron right at the pin. The ball bounced twice on the green and rolled into the cup. Kang leapt up and down and pumped her fists in joy.

“Did you see my reaction? I was jumping this high,” she said. “That was unbelievable. I just hit it and tried to get it close to the pin so I could make a birdie. And I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s (a) bonus.’ ”

– Staff and wire reports

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