When Jiyai Shin missed her chip on the 54th hole by mere inches, a beleaguered Lorena Ochoa, who was watching on the sidelines, smiled, hugged people and let out a sigh of relief. She’d just won Player of the Year by a single point over Shin, after an intense rain-delayed battle at the LPGA Tour Championship.
After bogeying the 17th, Ochoa sank a tricky 16-footer for birdie on the 18th that put her alone in second place. Shin, who also bogeyed the 17th, needed a birdie on the final hole to become the first Korean player to win the POY award. Not to be.
After “struggling” in 2009 with only three victories, Ochoa, the world’s number-one player, was wistful. “Everything came down to the last hole and I am just really proud of the way I finished. I can be happy. I’m going to go home and rest and enjoy that top position.” Her upcoming marriage to AeroMexico CEO Andre Conesa next month has people wondering how focused she’ll be on golf, considering she’ll spend most of her time counting piles and piles of pesos.
Overshadowed by the Ochoa-Shin duel was Anna Nordqvist’s fantastic showing. The Swede played spectacularly on Monday, as she fearlessly tackled pins and carded eight birdies on her way to a two-stroke victory over Ochoa. Earlier this season, she won her first LPGA tournament and a major, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship.
Most of the headlines about the LPGA this year have been about the troubles in the boardroom, but with Michelle Wie (finally) winning her first professional event the week prior; the thrilling race for POY; and a great victory by Nordqvist — it’s brimming with promise for 2010.
Mike Whan assumes the commissionership in January with the challenge of making the LPGA relevant — a task that seemed impossible just a few short weeks ago. As long as the play on the course continues to be this compelling (when they actually, you know, have tournaments), he’ll at least have something to work with. It can only get better.
[Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images]