Ji earns first LPGA career victory

Bryan Sullivan

Eun Hee Ji faced a daunting challenge entering Sunday’s final round of the Wegmans LPGA.

The South Korean, who is in her first season as an exempt player on the tour, trailed third round leader Suzann Pettersen by three shots going into Sunday. It appeared that first LPGA victory would elude her when she sat in that same predicament after 12 holes.

Six holes later though, Ji was getting champagne dumped on her after becoming the LPGA’s fourth first time winner this season.

Ji played the final six holes in three-under par to overtake Pettersen and win the Wegmans LPGA at Locust Hill Country Club by two shots. Ji fired a five-under 67 Sunday to finish at 272, two clear of Pettersen (274).

“I’m like a fly in the sky,” Ji said through a translator. “I cannot describe what I feel right now.”

Ji’s luck began to change at the par-4 13th when she birdied and Pettersen bogeyed to get her within one. Ji drained a 30-foot putt to seize momentum from Pettersen.  Two holes later, Ji took the lead for good when she birdied the par-3 15th. She hit a 58 degree wedge to nine feet and holed the birdie putt  Each player birdied the 17th, but Ji parred the 18th and Pettersen bogeyed to secure Ji’s win.

“I mean that was one bad tee shot from my side,” Pettersen said about the 13th hole. “That was pretty much my first one all week. I had kind of a show out there. You better hit it wide over there, it opens up.” 

Ji cut into the overnight deficit early into the final round recording birdies on one and three to tie Pettersen. Ji’s strong iron play was evidenced on both holes, as she stuck her approach shots to 13 feet on one and six feet on three.

Pettersen responded with birdies on the par-3 seventh and par-5 eighth to take a two-shot lead. The lead grew to three after a birdie on the par-4 12th.

“Today I played a lot of good shots,” said Pettersen, who recorded her third top-three finish this season. “It feels like I just got outraced a little bit. Of course, I’m disappointed but at the same time I can’t let myself down at the moment. I just got to try to stay where I am and next time, try to finish it off.”

Ji’s round on Sunday completed a strong weekend at Locust Hill. She shot a 64 Saturday to play into Sunday’s final group.  Ji entered this week’s tournament 42nd on the money list with two top-10 finishes this year. This was her first top-25 finish since she came in ninth at the Stanford International Pro-Am back in April.

“This year I have more of chance to play the round, the tournaments, but in the beginning of the year, my (rounds) were not so good,” Ji said. “So this tournament was really kind of a big change for me. I didn’t have a good (round) until the very last tournament. But this tournament I had very good shots and very good (rounds).”

2006 Wegmans LPGA champion Jeong Jang (-12) and Hee-Won Han finished in a tie for third, while Cristie Kerr came in fifth (-11).

Annika Sorenstam shot a 69 Sunday to finish in a tie for 33rd (-2) in her final trip to Rochester. Michelle Wie shot a 69 to finish in a tie for 24th (-4) in her Wegmans LPGA debut.

Defending champion Lorena Ochoa finished in a tie for sixth (-9). 

“I played good today,” Ochoa said. “I left some birdies out there, so that made it hard to catch the leaders. (Ji and Pettersen) played well today, so there was nothing I could do. I tried my best, and I will look forward to coming back next year.”

Bryan Sullivan can be reached at (585) 394-0770 ext. 273 or bsullivan@messengerpostmedia.com.