Sports Outside the Beltway

Na Yeon Choi wins the Samsung World Championship

The 21-year-old South Korean finished one shot ahead of Japan’s Ai Miyazato. It was Choi’s first ever win on the LPGA Tour.

Before today, Choi was best known for her steady but winless play since beginning play on the LPGA in 2008. Choi’s best ever finish was a playoff loss to Helen Alfredsson at the 2008 Evian Masters. She was also runner-up to Yani Tseng in last year’s Rookie of the Year race.LPGA Tour Golf

Before Samsung, Choi had won over $700,000 in 2009. She had two third place finishes early in the year and eight top-10 finishes. Also Choi has never missed a cut in over 45 LPGA events in 2008 and 2009.

Choi began Sunday with a two-shot lead over Jiyai Shin. Shin who had a four-shot lead herself at one point on Saturday, continued to struggle today and finished in solo third place.

After six holes, Choi looked headed to a easy win. She had built her lead to seven shots. By the time Choi teed off 15, she stood one shot behind Miyazato. A 8-shot swing taking place over a period of eight holes. The opportunity to get her first win appeared to have gotten Choi out of sync. She would admit in press interviews after the tournaments she would admit to becoming mentally weak during the round.

Miyazato remained ahead by one till the 18th hole. This year’s Samsung Championship was played at the famed Torrey Pines golf course. The same place Tiger Woods won the dramatic 2008 U.S. Open in a playoff against Rocco Mediate. Torrey Pines 18th hole is a drivable par-5. Woods had to make birdie on 18 to both tie Mediate at the end of regulation play and to during the playoff to keep his championship hopes alive.

While 18 provides a chance for a closing birdie, it doesn’t come without risk. A large pond fronts the final green. Miyazato decided to go for the green in two but found the water instead. She finished with a closing bogey and suddenly Choi again had a piece of the lead.

Choi hit a perfect drive on 18. She too went for the green, using a fairway wood for the approach shot. While her 2nd shot caused Choi to grimace, the result was far from bad. Her approach finished short right but not in the water. Choi hit her chip shot to five feet and drained the putt for her first ever LPGA win.

The win was worth $250,000 to Choi and moved her to ninth on the money list for 2009. Choi’s win today was a breakthrough for this golfer. Much like wins for Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim in 2008 were. Ji and Kim built on those victories and solid play overall to have even more successful 2009 campaigns. Ji won the U.S. Open, and Kim has been in the mix of golfers for both Player of the year and leading money winner for 2009. I think Choi could do similarly in 2010.

Jiyai Shin is still at the top of the lists for money and Player of the Year. She however has one very serious challenger closing on her. It is Ai Miyazato. Going back to last July’s U.S. Open where she finished 6th, it is impossible to find a LPGA golfer who has played better than Miyazato. In her last 6 tournaments, she has a win, two seconds, a third, a fourth, and her worst finish a 10th. If anyone is to stop Shin, I’m betting it is Miyazato. At this point, I’m not predicting either Shin or Miyazato or anyone else to be the LPGA’s top player in 2009. All I’ll do is sit back and continue to watch the great displays of golf these two ladies keep putting on every week. With all due respect to Tiger Woods, it may be the best show in golf at this time.

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