South Korea’s Ha Na Jang has roared home with three birdies and an eagle in her last six holes to win the ISPS HANDA Women’s Australian Open by three shots.
The energetic World No.6 was four shots from the lead at the start of the final round. But all of the leading players came to grief at some stage during the final day, handing enough shots back to drag a host of players back into contention.
One of those players was Jang, who grabbed her opportunity with both hands. She started her round with a bogey but 11 consecutive pars saw her climbing the leaderboard as the likes of Su Oh, Sarah-Jane Smith and American Lizette Salas began to struggle in the conditions.
Jang began her charge for the title with birdies at the 13th and 14th holes. The 24-year-old then took control of the championship when she eagled the par-5 17th and walked to the 72nd hole with a three-shot lead.
RIGHT: Ha Na Jang rolls in her eagle putt on the 71st hole en route to winning the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open. PHOTO: Brenton Edwards/AFP/Getty Images.
The crowd favourite piped a drive down the 18th fairway, before smoothing a wedge inside three feet. She rolled in another birdie to card a four under 69 and set the clubhouse mark at 10 under. Given she was one of only three players to break 70 on the final day, her short wait to be confirmed as the Women’s Australian Open was not a nervous one.
“The win is exciting … like really amazing,” said Jang of her 12th LPGA Tour title. “I just tried for top-five this week … and now a win today right now, so exciting.
“10 under par is really clear, it’s my mission today.”
Jang said she noticed the players in front of her on the leaderboard were starting to back up, which motivated her to remain patient for the birdies to come.
“I’m just looking for the score board (early on the back nine) and it’s not really good scores for the other players,” Jang said. “I said, ‘OK, you can do it, just you try simple’.
“Then on hole number 13 and 14 (I made) birdie. I’m starting more, like my mind is more exciting and I can do it more,” she bubbled.
“I try like consultation and conversation, too, and then hole number 17, I try to think about the speed and it (was) very, very exciting.
“(The putt is) feeling good, touching (my blade) solid, looks good, `Oh my God, that one is (to) make eagle – eagle, yeah!
“So my mind is more nervous, (the) pressure is gone. Hole number 18 is easy. It’s very exciting today.”
VIDEO: FINAL ROUND HIGHLIGHTS
The excitable Jang has promised to return in 2018 to defend her title at Adelaide’s Kooyonga Golf Club.
“I love Australia because food is good, people (are) really kind, I love the golf course and the weather is so good, because it’s not really hot. Strong windy and a little dry, I like dry arid conditions, so, really good,” she smiled.
“I like the golf course because (they’re) firm. I like fast green and firm green. Korea’s (courses are) really soft and (have) long grass, (with) little, soft green. But in Australia … every hole is happy, you know why? I hit driver 300 yard, because it’s long on the fairway. Always I’m looking, and it’s oh, 300 yards, it looks like little girl’s Bubba Watson. That’s funny.”
It’s no wonder the Adelaide crowds have really warmed to Jang.
The champion’s four round total of was three better than runner-up Nanna Madsen, of Denmark. Madsen, who plays predominantly on the Ladies European Tour, finished the tournament at seven under after grinding out an even par round of 73, which included one bogey, one birdie and 16 pars.
The final pairing of Oh and Salas had a day to forget.
Oh struggled off the tee early and missed the first three fairways right. A blocked shot on the short par-4 3rd hole found trouble in the pines, and she had no option but to chip back onto the fairway. The 20-year-old got a knock down approach shot to bite within three metres and rolled in a calming par.
When Oh birdied the par-5 5th hole things appeared to be clicking into gear. But her round collapsed when she bogied five of her next 11 holes.
“It was really disappointing, I just played bad,” said Oh, who slipped to a tie for 14th after signing for a four over 77 . “I was pretty calm, I just didn’t execute any shots out there… I said I was going to fight for it – I lost today.
“It's disappointing but 'don't get too sookie' and pick myself up.” – Su Oh.
Salas looked nervous early, hitting a chunky wedge into the 1st hole, which resulted in a dropped shot.
The World No. 68 went on to make back-to-back bogies at the 5th and 6th holes, before rallying to make birdies at 9 and 10. As she headed to the 11th tee she walked past a scoreboard and saw she was leading by three.
That may have rattled Salas, and she played her next eight holes at four over to finish in a tie for seventh.
“I was aware that I was a couple in front (at the 11th tee), but this course is so tough it bites you in the butt anytime and that’s what it did to me,” the Californian said.
Three Australian players – Minjee Lee (T3), Sarah-Jane Smith (T3) and Hannah Green (T7) –finished inside the top-10 at their national Open. Lee, who is Australia’s highest ranked player, shot an impressive three under 70 in a round that included three birdies and an eagle.
“I think because the Aussie Open is either the first or second event of the year I was a little rusty,” Lee said.
The talk around the course in the morning was all for Brooke Henderson. The Canadian was charging early and carded five birdies on her outward nine.
But when the southwesterly winds picked up she appeared to struggle with her yardages. A sloppy bogey on the 10th hole was followed by three more, and the run of the World No.8 was over. There was hardly a better ball striker than Henderson all week, but she seemed to struggle in the wind at various stages.
“All week I felt my game was really close to being really good – I just made some dumb mistakes here and there,” Henderson said.
Defending champion Haru Nomura, of Japan, and World No.2 Ariya Jutanugarn finished in a tie for third with Lee and Smith. Jutanugarn seemed to revel in the windy conditions and the Thai was smoking her 2-iron off the tee, but a bogey at the 15th cost her the lead and any momentum she was building.
“The last few holes I didn’t really commit with my shot, but I still feel good,” Jutanugarn said.
South Korea’s Hye-Jin Choi, who won the Australian Amateur Championship, was the low amateur of the tournament at five under par, five shots behind compatriot and new Open Champion Jang.
“I was very happy to take part in the tournament again and my goal was to get better than last year,” Choi said. “I had some disappointing moments, but I’m very satisfied with my tournament and score.”