HONOLULU – Australian rookie Grace Kim won the LOTTE Championship on Saturday at breezy Hoakalei Country Club for her first LPGA Tour title, beating Yu Liu and Yu Jin Sung with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff.
While Liu and Sung scrambled after hitting their second shots to the left of the green on the par-5 18th, the 22-year-old Kim went over the water to the right, then chipped to 8 feet to set up her birdie.
“I definitely wanted to have a good go at it knowing that the green wasn’t the best, I guess, angle in from where we were,” Kim said. “I would have to admit that I wasn’t planning to go that aggressive. I did push it right. So just letting you guys know. Yeah, I guess, yeah, I got lucky.”
Liu made a par and Sung had a bogey, hitting her third over the green and past Kim’s second.
“I really didn’t have high expectations,” Kim said. “Just really tried to play my game. Didn’t try to force anything. Just trying to I guess go with the flow. I’m still speechless that it’s kind of done already and I got the job done.”
Playing alongside Sung in the final threesome, Kim shot a 4-under 68, rebounding from a bogey on the par-4 14th to birdie the last two holes. She got up and down from the front-left bunker on 18 in regulation, making a 7-footer.
“I think after bogeying 14, I just tried to give it my all.” Kim said. “I tried my best and it came out to be a good result. Birdie on 17, of course, was a great momentum forward, so definitely gave it an aggressive go on 18, and birdied it twice, which is good.”
Sung finished with a 69, getting up and down from the front right bunker on 18 with a 9-footer. The 22-year-old South Korean played on a sponsor exemption after winning the LOTTE Open last year on the Korean LPGA.
“Very interesting and good experience for my golf life," Sung said. "Very good experience.”
Liu began the round five strokes behind Sung in a tie for 15th, then shot a 64 — the best score in the two years at Hoakalei — to post at 12-under 276. The 27-year-old from China finished about an hour before the final group.
“It was a bit unexpected to be honest,” the former Duke player said. “I felt pretty over-achieved today.”
Linnea Strom, the Swede playing in the second-to-last group, missed a 10-foot birdie try on 18 to finish a stroke back with Peiyun Chien. Strom shot a 69, with a double bogey on the 14th. Chien, from Taiwan, closed with a 67.
"Hit a good putt. Just misread it a little bit," Strom said.
Thailand’s Natthakritta Vongtaveelap, tied for the lead after each of the first two rounds, had a 70 to tie for sixth at 9 under. The 20-year-old Vongtaveelap made her second LPGA Tour start. In February, she won her first two events as pro on the Thai LPGA Tour, then was second behind Lilia Vu in the LPGA Thailand.
Lauren Hartlage (70) and Georgia Hall (71) also were 9 under.
Brooke Henderson, at No. 7 the highest-ranked player in the field, had a 71 to tie for 11th at 7 under. She’s the only multiple winner in event history, taking the 2018 and 2019 titles at Ko Olina.
The Chevron Championship, the first women’s major championship of the year, is next week in Texas.
Kim got an unexpected trip to Houston.
“I actually didn’t register until Superstition week because I thought I had no chance of getting into Chevron,” Kim said. “Hearing other people saying that they could get a chance, I was like, `Oh, yeah, you know what? I’ll just enter.′ Just topped it off today. Very excited.”