3rd April 2017 | Sunshine Ladies Tour
Ryu wins ANA Inspiration in playoff
American Lexi Thompson was denied a second ANA Inspiration title after she was hit with a four-stroke penalty for a rules infraction the previous day and then lost to South Korean Ryu So-yeon in a playoff at the first Major of the season.
Thompson was leading by three shots when LPGA Tour rules official Sue Witters approached her on the way to the 13th tee at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club.
Witters informed Thompson of a rule breach stemming from the way she replaced her ball on the 17th green during Saturday’s third round. She incurred a two-shot penalty for the breach and another two-shot penalty for returning an incorrect scorecard.
The LPGA said in a statement that a television viewer had alerted them to the infraction on Sunday and that after a review they had informed Thompson of the breach.
“Is this a joke? Oh my God. Four-stroke penalty, that’s just ridiculous,” Thompson said when notified of the penalty.
Thompson survived the shock and tears, and she forced a playoff with three gutsy birdies that had the crowd on their feet, but Yeon Ryu birdied the first extra hole to win.
It’s easy to understand that Thompson felt blindsided for an infraction she had accidentally committed 24 hours earlier.
The 2014 champion was stunned by the decision that stopped her from cruising to what looked like an easy victory. The ruling cost her more than a strong chance at her second major title: Ryu won $405,000 with the victory, and Thompson went home with just over $250,000 in second place.
“Every day is a learning process,” said Thompson, who still stopped to sign dozens of autographs after her heartbreak. “I wasn’t expecting what happened today, but … it happens, and I’ll learn from it and hopefully do better.
“It’s unfortunate what happened. I did not mean that at all. I didn’t realize I did that. I felt strong through the finish, and it was great to see the fans behind me.”
The fateful email arrived during Sunday’s final round, alerting officials to the violation committed Saturday. Thompson marked a 1-foot putt with a coin on the 17th green during her third round, but she replaced the ball perhaps 1 inch out of position.
After an extensive video review, Witters had to deliver the verdict.
“I couldn’t go to bed knowing I let a rule slide,” Witters said. “It’s a hard thing to do, and it made me sick, to be honest with you.”
Ryu birdied the 18th hole in regulation and again in the playoff, but she didn’t find out she was in serious contention to win until officials informed her of Thompson’s penalty on the 16th tee.
“I just cannot believe the situation,” Ryu said. “I didn’t even check the leaderboard. I thought Lexi played really, really well. I didn’t expect what happened to Lexi. It’s a very unfortunate situation. I didn’t expect it. I thought I’m well behind, so all I wanted to do was play my game.”
They both finished regulation at 14-under 274, but Thompson still nearly won it in regulation after crushing her approach shot on the 18th.
With emotions visible on her face amid loud chants of her name, Thompson gathered herself — and left a 15-foot winning eagle putt inches short.
Ryu, who also won the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open in a playoff, buried a 5-foot birdie putt to claim her second major title after a bogey-free final round 68.
Although she cried with joy, her celebration was a bit muted because of the bizarre circumstances — at least until she made the traditional leap into Poppie’s Pond with her caddie and friends.
“It definitely feels a bit weird,” said Ryu, who is expected to move to number two in the world.
“It was kind of a weird atmosphere, even after I won the tournament. But I think the most important thing is no matter what happened during the round, we ended up going to a playoff. Then I was able to handle the tough situation well.”
Norway’s Suzann Pettersen barely missed a birdie putt on the 18th to force a three-way playoff. She finished tied for third with Inbee Park and Minjee Lee.
World number one Lydia Ko finished in a tie for 11th at seven-under 281, while South Africa’s Paula Reto finished joint 63rd at four over 292 after carding rounds of 71, 74, 76 and 71.
Compatriot Lee-Anne Pace missed the cut after finishing the first two rounds at eight under.
PHOTO – Ryu So-Yeon of South Korea celebrates with her caddie Tom Watson; credit Getty Images