Date: July 10, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

Seven-year drought over as Kirk wins

Katherine Kirk is an LPGA Tour winner again for the first time since 2010, rolling in a three-metre birdie putt at the 72nd hole to win the Thornberry Classic.

Queenslander Kirk, 35, won the tournament in Oneida, Wisconsin when she completed a pressure-packed final round  with a two-under par 70 today.

But it was close and tense, and Kirk was tearful at the end after breaking her seven-year drought in America. At 22-under, she won by a shot from South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai.

She had started the final day with a four-shot lead, and even had a two-shot buffer with two holes to play. But a brilliant, closing 63 by South Korea’s Sei Young Kim put her under pressure, and a bogey from the left bunker at the par-three 17th only increased the issues for the woman from the Sunshine Coast who has spent 14 years on the US Tour.

Buhai was the biggest threat, playing in the same group and just a shot back as they stood on the 18th tee.  Undaunted, Kirk stepped up, hitting a gorgeous short iron shot at the par-four 18th hole that might have closed the deal right there. That was until Buhai hit an even better approach, stopping her ball just a metre from the flag.

It meant that Kirk needed to make her birdie putt to avoid a playoff. But having had just 23 putts on Friday and 25 on Saturday, the short stick served her well. The Aussie buried the putt and fist-pumped. Even though Buhai made her birdie to finish outright second, the deal was done.

Kirk’s last win on the US tour was in 2010 and she also won the Canadian Women’s Open in 2008.

“So much hard work and patience,’’ said Kirk afterward. “I had a rough couple of years, ’15 and ’16. I have an amazing team behind me, my husband’s been there. I can’t put it into words, it’s just a great feeling.’’

Kirk never had the auto-pilot that was running for her in the opening three days. She made bogeys at the fourth, 10th and 11th holes and gave ground back to the field on a day when the scoring was low.

 “To be honest, I hit a really low spot around 14 where I said ‘I need something to happen here’, because I was just struggling,’’ she said. “But Ashleigh played great all day, put the pressure on me. Pretty fun finish there, I knew I had to make it.’’