LPGA Kia Classic
Eun-Hee Ji Hoists The Trophy After Winning the 2018 Kia Classic
Eun-Hee Ji has been a bit of an enigma in her LPGA career, a tease really who might now be ready to deliver on her full promise. She won for the first time in 2008 at the age of 22 and the next year grabbed the U.S. Women’s Open with 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to take the title by one stroke over Candie Kung, two clear of Cristie Kerr and In-Kyung Kim. It seemed as if Ji was yet another star in the making from South Korea.
But it was eight years before she grabbed her next LPGA title at the 2017 Swinging Skirts Taiwan. This time, she did not wait as long to back up her victory. On Sunday, the 31-year-old Ji held off both Kim and Kerr once again as she closed with a scintillating 67 at the Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif., to capture the Kia Classic by two strokes over Kerr and Lizette Salas at 16-under par 272, three better than Kim, Jane Park and Kris Tamulis.
Beginning the final round tied for the lead at 11 under par with Salas and Kim, Ji birdied Nos. 4, 6, 7, 8, 10 and then made a hole-in-one on the 14th hole to put the tournament away, extending her lead from one stroke to three. The ace also earned Ji a Kia Sorento. She then coasted home, cautiously – and wisely – protecting her lead.
On Sunday, Ji was simply sensational as she hit 13 of 14 fairways and all 18 greens. “I hit it pretty well,” she said, in what was somewhat of an understatement. “I drove the ball very well and putted great.” In fact, her only two bogeys came after her ace when she was driving her Kia on cruise control.
Salas, who had fans from her Southern California hometown of Azusa on hand, hung in well on Sunday. “I'm really pleased, “ she said about her closing 69. “You know, things just went Eun-Hee's way today. I kept fighting and I woke up a little late, started making birdies on the back nine. Overall, I putted a lot better than I did yesterday. Didn't miss any short ones. Four rounds in the 60s I think is a pretty good thing for me. Bogey-free on a Sunday? I couldn't ask for anything better.”
That will make Salas a factor to consider as we go to the first major championship of the year – the ANA Inspirational – with a bunch of players well on their game. Brittany Lincicome, who has already won this year, is a two-time-winner at the ANA and was 11-under at the Kia. Lexi Thompson, who took the ANA in 2014 and will be looking to erase her painful runner-up finish last year, was two-under.
Michelle Wie, with five top-six finishes at Mission Hills, and a winner earlier this year in Singapore, was eight-under at Kia along with Brooke Henderson. Last year’s winner at the ANA winner, So Yeon Ryu, was six under in Carlsbad. And now Ji has to be considered a factor as well.
“I feel really confident now,” she said, “And I’ll try to feel that same way next week.”
Ji has been a steady but unspectacular player since winning the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open, finishing inside the top-56 on the money list every year. But she went 203 tournaments between her second and third LPGA victory. Now she has won two of her last eight starts.
Kerr, who grabbed a five-stroke lead with a 64 on Friday, let about a dozen players back into the tournament when she stumbled to a 75 in the third round as Ji shot 67 to pick up eight strokes on her. The 40-year-old Kerr proved she could very well be a factor at the ANA by closing with a 68.
“I just had to give myself a chance,” Kerr said about her Sunday punch back. “Eun-Hee is playing some great golf. Seems like she's going to get two cars today from Kia: hole-in-one and then another one (for winning),” Kerr said.
“I did my best,” Kerr added. “I had a tough day yesterday. It would've taken a super low round today to catch Eun-Hee. I'm happy with my first good tournament of the year. Just got to be a little bit more consistent mentally; maybe everything happens for a reason.”
Ah, the words of wisdom that come with age. When Ji won that U.S. Women’s Open in 2009, Kerr had already been on the LPGA for more than a decade and had won the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open. Now, as Ji seems to be getting back into the mix, Kerr is still there. It all sets the stage nicely for what should be a compelling first major of the year at the ANA Inspiration.
Ji Wins Two Cars With Victory at 2018 Kia Classic
When asked after her thrilling victory at the Kia Classic how she planned to get the two cars she won from Carlsbad to Palm Springs for this week’s ANA Inspiration, Eun-Hee Ji simply laughed.
“I have no idea,” Ji said laughing. “This is my eighth hole in one, but I never have a car for hole-in-one. This is my first one. I don't know what I'm going to do.”
Ji captured her fourth career win on Sunday at Aviara Golf Club with an incredible ace at the par 3, 14th hole. She jarred a 7-iron from 166 yards and playing partner Lizette Salas saw going it going in all the way.
“I called her hole-in-one,” Salas said after finishing runner-up to Ji. “It was in the air and I said, ‘Dunk,’ and it went in. So, she's welcome.”
The ace earned Ji her first of two cars of the day, a Kia Sorento. Ji is also taking home a new Kia Stinger as the winner of the Tournament.
LPGA STARS HEAD BACK TO CARLSBAD AND THE 2018 KIA CLASSIC
For the ninth consecutive year, the LPGA will descend on Southern California in March for the Kia Classic. The week of March 19-25, 2018, the world’s best female golfers will take to Carlsbad’s Aviara Golf Club and compete for $1.8 million in prize money.
LPGA star Mirim Lee will look to defend her 2017 title, when she carded a 7-under 65 in Sunday’s final round en route to a runaway six-stroke win over So Yeon Ryu and Austin Ernst. Lee slept on the 54-hole lead at Aviara for the second time in three years, and after ultimately falling to Cristie Kerr in 2015, she was relieved to finally raise the tournament’s distinctive red glass trophy.
“It's been a long time to be winner of the tournament, so I was kind of nervous before I started,” said Lee, who set the tournament’s 72-hole record at 20-under 268. “But I try to focus and that gives me good result.”
While the 2018 field will not be finalized until next year, the Kia Classic historically boasts one of the strongest fields of the LPGA season. The 2017 field included the top 100 players off the 2016 LPGA Money List, including past Kia champions Sandra Gal (2011) Kerr (2015), Lydia Ko (2016), Anna Nordqvist (2014), Beatriz Recari (2013) and Yani Tseng (2012).
With its beautiful San Diego-area weather and world-class golf course, the Kia Classic is always one of the season’s most popular stops for the LPGA stars.
“I love everything about this week,” said California native Mo Martin. “It's pretty much home territory. I was born and raised in L.A., but just a chance for all my family and friends to be out. Weather is perfect. I mean, the course in and of itself I love playing it. Love the setup. Keeps you on your toes all day. When you're not hitting shots you've got beautiful scenery, wildflowers. No complaints about the week. It's perfect.”
A variety of ticket options are available at http://www.kiaclassic.com/tickets. Juniors age 17 and under receive complimentary admission for the entire week, making the Kia Classic the ultimate family destination. Thursday, March 22, features a Women’s Leadership Day, while a junior clinic will be held on Saturday, March 24.
2017 Kia Classic Final Round Highlights
CARLSBAD, CA – Two years after finishing runner-up at the Kia Classic, this time Mirim Lee is going home a winner.
Lee took a one-stroke lead into the final round, sleeping on the 54-hole lead at the Kia Classic for the second time in her career. Sunday, Lee put her foot on the accelerator and didn’t look back - she made birdie on the first and then every other hole on her outward nine to extend her lead. The world No. 21 carded a final round seven-under par, 65 to win by six-strokes ahead of So Yeon Ryu and Austin Ernst. Lee’s winning total of 20-under par matched the Tournament record set by Cristie Kerr in 2015, when Lee finished runner-up.
“It's been a long time to be winner of the tournament, so I kind of nervous before I start of game. But I try to focus and then gives me good result,” Lee told the media through a translator. “When I practiced this course I think tee shot was most important thing, so I focused on good tee shot so that makes this good result.”
In a strange case of history repeating itself, Lee slept on the 54-hole lead this week just as she had done in 2015. That year, Kerr trailed Lee by three-strokes, just as she did again on Sunday. In 2015, Kerr went on to post a final round 65 to win by two-strokes ahead of Lee who managed a final round 70. This week, it was Lee who posted a 65 to win and Kerr who shot 70 to finish T-4 for the week.