Haikou, China: Friendship was put to one side as Ryu So-yeon came from one stroke behind fellow South Korean Park In-bee to capture her first World Ladies Championship title at Mission Hills Haikou.
With rounds of 72, 73, 65 and 69 on the par-73 Blackstone Course, the world number eight from Seoul ended on 13-under-par, one ahead of the overnight leader.
Norwegian Suzann Pettersen and China’s Lin Xiyu shot matching final rounds of 70 to share third place on 10-under, with Finland’s Ursula Wikstrom in fifth, a stroke further behind.
“I didn’t expect that I had a chance to win this tournament, because in the second and first rounds, I didn’t play really well,” Ryu said. “Fortunately I was able to shoot eight-under in the third round so after that I was in contention.
“I’m really proud of myself, because it’s good to be back in contention and our group was exciting, with In-bee and Suzann [Pettersen]. It was good to play with In-bee, my best friend on the Tour. She is not number one right now, but I believe she is the true number one, so it was great to compete with her.”
World number two Park, the 2014 champion, had tied or held the outright lead after each of the first three rounds and began a hot and sunny final day with a one-stroke advantage. That was extended to two when Ryu three putted on the first green and then three when Ryu double-bogeyed the par-four seventh hole.
Having hit left from the tee into the treacherous black lava rocks, Ryu declared her ball unplayable and took a penalty drop onto an area full of stones. She then hit her third shot over a huge bed of tall tropical vegetation into a greenside bunker and after playing a terrific sand shot, her bogey putt from five feet lipped out of the hole.
Undeterred, the 24-year-old made three birdies in four holes from the ninth and was the outright leader after 12.
Park birdied 16 to regain a share of the lead, before Ryu again edged ahead with a birdie on 17. Both faced similar birdie putts on the par-five 18th, but could not convert them and Ryu tapped in a two-foot par putt for the win.
“I missed quite a few birdie putts but In-bee wasn’t able to make a lot and the pressure was a little less, which was helpful,” said Ryu, the 2011 US Women’s Open champion, who finished third at Mission Hills in 2014. “The winning putt, no matter how long it is, is always nervous. My hands were literally shaking.”
Park said: “It was a consistent day today but my putts wouldn’t drop. It was really just the putting that was the only problem and So-yeon played well. Even with the double-bogey, she played really well and I’m happy for her. If I didn’t win, I kind of hoped that she would win, so it’s kind of good that my best friend won the tournament and I’m ready to congratulate her.”
For the second consecutive year, Ryu and Park were the runaway winners of the team event for pairs, representing South Korea. With an aggregate total of 559, they ended 15 strokes ahead of Norwegians Marianne Skarpnord and Pettersen.
For China’s rising star Lei Ye, who finished in 55th place to claim the leading amateur prize, the event was a learning experience.
The 13-year-old, who attends international school in Shanghai, said: “I played really well the first day and that gave me more room to make the cut. I’ve noticed from playing in professional tournaments that putting is my weakness. I hope to improve and turn professional someday.”
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