Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith had to be content with her best-ever major championship finish despite a disappointing final day at the US Women’s Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama.
Smith, the 33-year-old Queenslander, finished tied-fifth behind Thailand’s world No. 5, Ariya Jutanugarn.
She closed with a six-over par 78 that included six bogeys, a double bogey at the par-five 11th hole, and two birdies, playing in the final group with Jutanugarn and starting out just four shots from the lead.
The Aussie was never really in contention from the time the Thai superstar made four birdies in the first six holes.
But she would leave the tournament with great memories having led the biggest tournament in women’s golf for two-and-a-half days until she was reeled in by Jutanugarn in the third round.
A cool $ US171,000 in prizemoney also would soothe her pains. “Obviously it feels a little disappointing right now,’’ she said. “In reality, I missed five cuts in a row over the last six weeks. So I feel like if you would have said after Kingsmill when I had missed my fifth one in a row, would you take a top five at the US Women's Open? I think I might have taken it. I have got to think of it that way, that I have lot of good progress in the last two weeks alone. Hopefully this is setting me up for a nice summer.’’
Smith has played 14 years on the LPGA Tour but never won a tournament, although her performances have steadily improved, and she will vault into the top 50 in the season-long tour points race.
Fellow-Australian Su Oh also had a good week, finishing tied-17th at one-over par.
The final day was full of drama, with Jutanugarn imploding on the back nine after taking a seven-shot lead to the 10th tee, where she flared her tee shot into trouble, took triple bogey, and opened the door for her competitors.
Ultimately the world No. 5 took a back-nine 41 and was caught by South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim, who closed with a 67 to force a playoff.
The playoff went four holes – a two-hole aggregate followed by two holes of sudden death – and Kim twice had putts to win the championship after she took the lead with an eight-metre bombed birdie putt at the first playoff hole.
But Jutanugarn found a way, ultimately winning it at the 18th green with a brilliant bunker save from the back trap. Kim, who had also found a greenside bunker, had a five-metre putt to extend the playoff, but missed.
The 22-year-old Jutanugarn came close to an epic meltdown, having previously thrown away a major. She bogeyed the last three holes to lose the ANA Inspiration in 2016, but she did win the Women’s British Open in the same year, and now she has two majors to her name.