American teenager Jessica Korda announced herself on golf’s world stage on Sunday when she emerged from a pressure-packed six-way play-off to win the Women’s Australian Open at Royal Melbourne.
The 18-year-old rolled in a six-metre birdie putt on the second extra hole to win the crown in the LPGA co-sanctioned tournament and in so doing emulated the feat of her father Petr, who won the 1998 Australian Open tennis title.
Six players finished the Open at three under the card – Korda, Koreans Hee Kyung Seo and So Yeon Ryu, Americans Brittany Lincicome and Stacy Lewis and Paraguay’s Julieta Granada.
All six parred the 18th the first time around and returned to the tee.
Ryu, the US Open champion, dropped out with a bogey at the second play-off hole and only Korda could manage to birdie, taking her first LPGA crown.
Korda began the day with a one shot lead and increased it to two with three early birdies. But a double-bogey six at the ninth and four more dropped shots after the turn halted her run until a birdie at the 17th brought her back into contention at three under.
As the two Koreans both dropped shots with bogeys on the final hole, the four players a shot behind them were brought into the play-off.
Korda was faced with virtually the same birdie putt from the back of the 18th green on the second play-off hole and said she knew what to do.
"I was thinking really clearly," she said. "I was really calm. I knew what the putt did because I had it before and it didn’t move. I knew the line and I knew the speed and all I had to do was just hit it."
Earlier in the day she slipped from the outright lead when she bogeyed three holes in a row on the back nine.
"I said to myself, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I was flipping out and just not reading my putts correctly."
The last US Tour event with six players in a shoot-out was the 1999 Jamie Farr Classic, won by Korean star Se Ri Pak.
World No.1 and defending champion Yani Tseng produced a brave fightback after being treated by a doctor for abdominal pain before teeing off.
The Taiwanese had dropped four shots by the seventh but regained them all with birdies, including four in six holes on the back nine, ending her tournament defence with a 74 to be one under par for the event.
Canberra’s Nikki Campbell, who was second overnight, started steadily with three straight pars before stumbling with a double bogey at the sixth where she hit her approach shot into a trap.
Campbell and fellow Australian Sarah Kemp were tied for 12th at one over, while four-time champion Karrie Webb battled through another disastrous day as she tried to fine-tune swing changes.
Webb was six over par at the start and dropped seven shots as she closed out an ugly final round 80 to finish 13 over and in joint 56th place.
Lydia Ko, the 14-year-old New Zealand schoolgirl who won the recent NSW Open, was in a share of 18th place among the high-class international field and collected the medal for leading amateur.
Victorian Jody Fleming fired a fine final round two under par 71 to finish on 302, 10 over par for the event.
Korda said she had worked hard over the American winter to be ready for 2012.
“A lot of the hard work I put in, in the off season, all the times I was down last year, it is all worth it," she said. "It made me grow up. It made me realise that you’ve got to change your life to live out here and this is proof. I know that all the hard hours I put in and will keep putting in are really worth it – every moment.”
Korda, who collected $US165,000 for her victory, said she was delighted her first LPGA Tour win had come in Melbourne, where she feels a strong family connection.
“When we spoke on Monday Dad said Melbourne had been good to him. As I was walking around here, there was a Melbourne sign on every green. It made me smile because it reminds me of the good times," Korda said.
"I love watching Melbourne tennis. I watched all the time. It is a really special place for my family. For my first win, I honestly could not have thought of a better place,” Korda said.
She is set to jump from 285th to 30th in the world rankings and becomes the sixth youngest winner in LPGA Tour history and the fourth youngest to win a 72-hole event.
Meanwhile, Victorian Aaron Baddeley has finished an impressive fourth behind American Phil Mickelson, who won the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the fourth time on Sunday.