LONDON, Ont. – It took until the 70th hole of the week for So Yeon Ryu to finally feel some nerves.
Ryu set the course record in her first round, held a four-stroke advantage going into Sunday and led by six going into the back nine. A bogey on No. 15 and Na Yeon Choi’s birdie shrunk the lead to one.
“I thought, ‘Everybody’s nervous and Na Yeon’s nervous, definitely,’ so I just accepted my nervousness so I just tried to enjoy it,” Ryu said. “And I hit a great shot.”
Ryu’s birdie on the 16th hole Sunday restored her lead to two as she wrapped up her first victory in more than two years by capturing the US$2.25-million Canadian Pacific Women’s Open with a 23-under 265.
The 24-year-old South Korean bested the tournament record of 18 under but couldn’t break Annika Sorenstam’s LPGA Tour record of 27 under.
“I’m a bit disappointed I couldn’t reach Annika’s record, but it still feels good,” Ryu said minutes after getting soaked in champagne by friends Inbee Park and I.K. Kim. “I’ve been waiting so much (for) the champagne. I was ready to get champagne. I smell like champagne right now, but I’m still so happy.”
Ryu’s last win came at the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic in 2012. Since then, she put up 27 top-10 finishes and conceded blowing more than a few chances.
“One of my friends asked me, ‘So Yeon, do you want to finish top 10 every tournament or you just want to win one tournament and miss the cut every tournament?”’ Ryu said. “I said it’s a really hard question, but at this stage I really need to win.”
In earning the winner’s share – $337,500 – of the purse at London Hunt and Country Club, Ryu became the tournament’s first wire-to-wire champion since Michelle Wie in 2010. Ryu set a course record with a 9-under 63 Thursday and never fell from the top of the leaderboard.
Along the way, Ryu was remarkably consistent, finishing with 26 birdies and just three bogeys. Two of them, though, almost ruined her week.
With a six-stroke lead after nine holes, Ryu felt confident she could win, but a bogey on No. 10 and a birdie by Choi on 11 got her thinking. Another two-stroke swing on No. 15 gave Choi hope.
“When she misses that putt, I thought, ‘Maybe I could have a chance, too,”’ Choi said.
Choi, who shot a bogey-free 67 to get to a career-best 21 under, went into the bunker on No. 16. Ryu watched with relief as her friend missed a putt before she sank a birdie and went on to win by two strokes.
Park, like Ryu and Choi part of South Korea’s International Crown team, finished third at 18 under after winning last week’s LPGA Championship. Spain’s Azahara Munoz, who tied Ryu’s course record Saturday, was fourth at 17 under.
Brooke Henderson of Smith Falls, Ont., shot a 74 Sunday to finish as the low Canadian and low amateur at 2-under 286, two strokes better than Calgary’s Jennifer Ha. Jennifer Kirby of Paris, Ont., shot a 76 to drop to 3 over, and Sue Kim of Langley, B.C., shot a 78 to drop to 7 over.
Henderson, who received medals to commemorate being the low Canadian and low amateur, said of Ryu’s prize: “I look forward to being able to hold up this trophy some day.”
It was Ryu’s to enjoy Sunday night after holding off Choi, who herself hasn’t won since the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. But the 26-year-old couldn’t feel bad about her performance given Ryu’s.
“Sometimes I finish runner-up and sometimes I have a lot of regrets, but this week not really,” Choi said. “She’s playing well, so I can’t control her score.”
Ryu set a goal of seven birdies so she could at least tie Sorenstam’s record. She wanted eight so that she could break it.
When that was out of reach, she was more than happy to have a long-awaited victory to fall back on.
“I had quite a lot of experience, especially failed experience,” Ryu said. “I think that experience helped me a lot. … I’ve been waiting so much. I really want to hug myself.”