RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA | It’s not supposed to be easy. And it wasn’t, which makes Patty Tavatanakit’s maiden LPGA Tour victory at the ANA Inspiration all the sweeter.
Tavatanakit entered the final round with a five-shot lead. She shot a bogey-free 68 and never fell from the top spot. But if that sounds boring, you weren’t paying attention. This was one of the best and most exciting ANA Inspirations and one of the best major championship finishes in history.
That was because Lydia Ko, who started the final round eight shots off the lead, looked like the Lydia of old, hitting crucial shots close and making almost everything. Ko shot a front-nine, tournament-record 29, which included five birdies and an eagle. Then she birdied Nos. 10 and 11 – 9-under par for her round through 11 holes – which put her on “59 Watch.”
“It was for the
most part stress-free,” Ko said. “But I think when I got in the rough, I had
decent lies. When it's your day, those things kind of follow.”
Just like that, Tavatanakit’s lead went from five shots to two despite the fact that the leader shot 33 on the front nine, with a chip-in eagle at the second hole and a solid 10-footer for birdie at the par-3 eighth.
Tavatanakit made one more birdie at the 12th while Ko simply ran out of holes. But this was one for the record books in more ways than one. Ko’s 62 equaled the lowest round shot at the ANA Inspiration, while Tavatanakit became the first player in the 50-year history of the event to make the ANA Inspiration her first victory as a rookie.
“I didn’t know that,” she said after being told. “Amazing. You know, coming into this year I didn't really set any goals just because I knew how tough (everything in golf) was last year. I just wanted to come out and learn to be a better player.
“My dad told me that if anything, you should set a goal of being inside the top 100 Rolex Rankings and top 60 in the (Race to the) CME Globe. But the goal in the back of my mind was that I really wanted to win. I told Grant (Waite), my coach, about it. But I didn't expect to win here.”
“I tried my best out
there but Patty has been playing amazing golf, especially at a major,” Ko said.
“Coming down the last at 18-under par, I think that's super impressive.”
Tavatanakit won with tremendous play down the stretch, including two up-and-down pars on the back-nine par-3s, chip shots her caddie Ryan Hogue, a former PGA Tour player, called “sick good.”
In the end, a superstar wants to beat the best playing their best. Tavatanakit might not accept the label, yet. But she came within one shot of Dottie Pepper’s ANA Inspiration scoring record and held off a 62 by a former world No. 1.
Throw in her prodigious length, her preternatural calm, and the swagger she had all day on Sunday and superstar might be the only title that sticks.