For the fifth time at Highland Meadows, Se Ri Pak celebrates on the 18th green. She had a two-shot lead going into yesterday's final round, fell behind by three shots, then rallied for a three-shot victory.
Things did not start out so well yesterday for Se Ri Pak as she sought her record-tying fifth championship at the 23rd Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.
But - after seeing her two-shot lead dissolve into a brief three-shot deficit when runner-up Morgan Pressel fired her first career hole-in-one - Pak came alive at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania and simply refused to lose.
Now one Meadows victory shy of a six-Pak, the LPGA Hall of Fame player from South Korea closed with a 4-under 67 to finish the tournament at 17-under, three strokes better than the 19-year-old Pressel, who shot 68 yesterday.
"I didn't really start great, but I was still solid all day," Pak said. "I felt great about my game and great about the golf course."
It was the ninth consecutive round in the 60s here for Pak, and her 28th in 42 career rounds in the Farr Classic.
She picked up $195,000 for first place, pushing her 11-year total here to $995,073 and allowing her to join fellow LPGA hall-of-famers Annika Sorenstam and Mickey Wright as the only players to win five times at the same event. Sorenstam has performed the feat at two tour stops.
Title No. 5 did not come as easy for Pak, even after surging to a five-shot lead at the Farr Classic's midway point.
That's because Pressel - whose only prior title, a major, came in April at the Kraft Nabisco Championship - turned red hot during Saturday's windy third round.
Morgan Pressel reacts after missing a birdie putt on the 13th hole. She fi red a 3-under 68 yesterday to fi nish in second place.
"I hung in there," Pressel said. "I started the day behind, so I gave it all I had."
Matching a career low with a 7-under 64 on Saturday, Pressel got to within two shots of Pak (13-under to 11-under) entering final-round play. Her momentum did not stop there.
Pressel sank a 10-footer for birdie on No. 2 to trim the lead to one shot. When she dropped another 10-footer for a birdie on No. 4 and Pak missed a six-foot par putt there, suddenly the Farr master trailed by two strokes and looked vulnerable.
That momentum swing continued a hole later when Pressel electrified the gallery by bouncing in her first career ace on the 148-yard, par-3 sixth hole. Her fortuitous 7-iron effort kicked left off a green-side mound and found the cup, giving Pressel a brief three-shot lead.
It was brief because the steely Pak, perhaps feeling things slipping away, rose to the occasion to dead-eye a 22-foot putt for birdie and stay within two strokes.
"After that [birdie on No. 6], I felt really great," Pak said of the round's turning point. "For some reason my game was a lot more solid, and I had lots more confidence. I'm pretty much a good fighter, and I just did my best all day long. After she made the ace, it made me [think], 'Hey, you better work really hard. Otherwise, the game's over.'•"
Pressel sensed her big moment would be short-lived.
"I got right back in there and even had a two-shot lead at one point," Pressel said. "But my grandpa said, 'You shouldn't have made that hole-in-one. It woke her up.' That's true. She started making birdies after that, and she played great."
Pak would prove to have more game down the stretch.
After Pressel's ace fell, Pak played the remainder of her round at 6-under, while her challenger managed even-par over her final 12 holes.
"As soon as she made the ace, it actually woke me up right away," Pak said. "I didn't know who was going to win this event. She was close, and I was close, and I just didn't want to give up at all."
Pak followed with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 to pull even at 14-under, matched pars with Pressel over the next five holes, then closed with a champion's flurry.
Pak, whose late approach shots seemed locked in by radar, birdied 15, 17, and 18, while Pressel parred 15 and 16, matched Pak's birdie on 17, but bogeyed 18 after driving her tee shot left of the fairway.
"She was firing right at it after that," Pressel said, "and I couldn't quite make 'em. I kind of knew that I would probably need three birdies. I got one, but unfortunately a bogey and a par, and that doesn't cut it."
To the delight of the crowd, Pak nearly holed out her final approach for eagle. The ball rolled about an inch left of the cup before stopping a foot behind the hole.
"I hung in there," Pressel said. "I didn't really make too many mistakes other than that drive on the last hole. As it turned out, I would have needed a lot of help anyways."
"She's a tremendous player, and it was great to watch her battle it out and hang in there today and pull it out. There's a reason why she's in the Hall of Fame."
In the less dramatic battle of also-rans, Laura Davies, Carri Wood, Laura Diaz, and Wendy Ward all shared third place at 8-under for the tournament.
Davies, the 1988 Farr Classic champion, had the best chance at placing alone in third. But her final birdie try on 18, a seven-footer, drifted right to keep her at 2-under for the day.
"It's disappointing," Davies said. "It ruined a good finish actually."
This was Wood's best finish in LPGA play.
"I'm excited," said Wood, one of the four to collect $63,020 for third. "It's my best finish now. My first top-10 ever out here. I two-putted the last hole. I made some birdies coming down the stretch that I didn't expect to make."
Diaz left feeling the Meadows might have owed her a few strokes.
"I hit it a lot better than 8-under," Diaz said. "So, it's a little disturbing. But, what are you going to do? I hit it really good today, but I missed a lot of putts out there. That was a little disappointing."
Ward was just happy to complete play without further aggravating her aching ribs.
"It's just nice to have a good solid week and actually feel somewhat healthy," Ward said. "Today was much better."
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