CARLSBAD, Calif. – Eun-Hee Ji stepped onto the par-3 14th tee with a one-shot lead over a charging Cristie Kerr at the Kia Classic. The diminutive Ji put the gas pedal down, holing a 7-iron for a perfectly timed ace. She took home not one car but two for the effort, not to mention her fourth LPGA trophy.
“Mine!” said 31-year-old Ji of her new Kia Sorrento as she walked toward the 14th green at Aviara Golf Club. Of her eight career holes-in-one, this was the first time she nabbed a car.
For the tournament victory, Ji takes home a Kia Stinger. Caddie Martin Bozeic tried to negotiate his way into getting that second car as a bonus. He deserves it, as he’s not only Ji’s caddie but her swing coach too, helping to rebuild her game two years ago.
South Koreans used to say that winning the U.S. Women’s Open was a curse. Win it and you might not win again. Such was the case for Ji, who endured a victory drought of eight years, three months and 10 days after winning the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open. She finally broke through at last year’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship, routing the field by six.
Now that Ji has won twice in her last eight starts, she has a new goal – become No. 1 in the world. While Ji woke up every hour the night before she won in Taiwan, the victory in chilly Carlsbad might have come as more of a surprise. Truth be told, she doesn’t really care for Aviara Golf Club. But in some ways, it’s trickiness fits her M.O.
“I think I focus more,” she said.
Kerr looked primed to run away from the field after shattering the 36-hole record to lead by five. A shocking 3-over 75 on Saturday, however, brought a host of players back into the fold, and the final-round leaderboard was stacked up until Ji’s ace.
The breathing room carried to the finish, with Ji topping the field by two strokes after a closing 67 for a 16-under 272. Lizette Salas and Kerr finished tied for second, while Jane Park, Kris Tamulis and In-Kyung Kim came in fourth.
Kerr said she couldn’t hear the ace, but Salas, who played alongside Ji, yelled “Dunk” while the ball was still in mid-air. That pure strike from 152 yards became the difference-maker, as Ji bogeyed two of her last four holes.
“I mean, if you make an ace in the final round when you’re leading or tied for the lead,” said Kerr, “you’re going to win a golf tournament.”
Salas made nine consecutive pars on the front nine before making birdies on Nos. 10 and 11.
“I woke up a little late,” she said.
Salas, for the record, has one ace in competition and it came on a Thursday in Malaysia. No car, but she does have a nice little trophy.
This marked Park’s best performance since 2008, when she posted a pair of runner-up finishes, and Tamulis’ finest showing since she won for the first time at the 2015 Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic.
As for 40-year-old Kerr, she said a hug from son Mason on Saturday night helped her bounce back with a closing 68. She heads to the ANA Inspiration, a major that has eluded her, liking her chances.
“Just gotta be little bit more consistent mentally,” Kerr said. “Maybe everything happens for a reason.” Gwk