When Brooke Henderson’s command of the Lotte Championship grew questionable, she didn’t play it safe. Didn’t dial it back. Oh no. Henderson pounded driver off the tee and off the deck to expand her lead over a host of major winners and a hard-charging Azahara Munoz.
When Henderson came to the par-3 16th, a hole she had four-putted in Round 3, the tough-minded Canadian knocked in a short putt for birdie to all but lock up her sixth LPGA title.
“Watching Pernilla Lindberg win her first major,” said Henderson of the recent ANA Inspiration, “it was actually a lot of motivation and it really inspired me. I watched the playoff and the grit and determination that she had, I was like I can do that too. I kind of owe a lot to her this week.”
Henderson closed with a 3-under 69 in challenging conditions at Ko Olina to finish at 12-under 276, four ahead of Munoz and five ahead of current No. 1 Shanshan Feng and former No. 1-ranked Inbee Park and Ariya Jutanugarn. Park had a chance to reclaim the No. 1 ranking had she finished first or solo second. Instead she settled for a tie for third after two closing bogeys.
Henderson, a former hockey goalie, dedicated her victory to the hockey team from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, that suffered unimaginable loss. She wore a ribbon on her visor throughout the week.
The 20-year-old from tiny Smiths Falls, Ontario, is now two wins shy of Sandra Post for most wins by a Canadian player in LPGA history. Already a major winner, Henderson has $3,826,202 in career earnings.
While confident in her ball-striking all season, the putter has caused Henderson some concern. She looked exasperated at times on the greens, but the misfires weren’t enough to keep her down.
“There were a couple times that I was a little bit shaky with it,” she said, “but I remembered all the great putting that I did the first two days. Just tried to be calm, be relaxed. Just see the line and hit it there.”
Azahara Munoz can’t remember the last time she enjoyed such a strong ball-striking week. The former NCAA champ carded a closing 67 to vault into solo third, her best showing since the summer of 2015.
After the round, Munoz revealed to Golf Channel that she’d been suffering from low energy, anxiety and hair loss. She was eventually diagnosed with a thyroid problem, and it has taken some time to get her medication up.
“I was so run down I could barely do anything,” Munoz. “Finally I’m feeling how I used to feel and I’m really excited about that.”
Park felt like she was cursed in Friday’s third round, with an abnormal wind direction leaving her more than a little confused. On Saturday, she was perplexed by a cold putter.
“Probably missed about two- to three-footers, about three to four times today,” said Park, “which you’re not going anywhere with that putting. Just a horrible putting round.”
Strange words from one of the best putters in the game, but an off day on the greens kept Park from rising to No. 1 for the first time since Oct. 25, 2015.
When Park came back to the game after a long layoff in 2016 and won Olympic gold in Rio, she expressed an interest in winning majors but not necessarily the top ranking.
“No. 1 doesn’t motivate any anymore,” Park said around this time last year. “Being a money winner, Player of the Year, everything really doesn’t motivate me as much as it did before.”
And yet here she is on the brink of becoming to No. 1 in the world for a fourth time, without really even endeavoring to get back there. Gwk