Kang edges Boutier to capture 1st title of LPGA return

WASHINGTON • Danielle Kang held off France’s Celine Boutier over the final holes on Sunday to win the LPGA Drive On Championship, the tour’s first tournament since February after a Covid-19 shutdown.

It was the fourth career title for the 27-year-old American, whose first win was a major — the 2017 Women’s PGA Championship — and whose other two came at Shanghai in 2018 and 2019.

“I worked really hard for the last seven months,” Kang said. “I’m really excited right now.”

Kang fired a two-under par 70 to finish 54 holes at Iverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, on seven-under 209, one shot better than Boutier, who missed a 4ft birdie putt on the last hole that would have forced a playoff.

Boutier was alone in second after a closing 71 with Australian Minjee Lee third on 212, Japan’s Yui

Kawamoto fourth on 213 and England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff fifth on 214 after a closing 75.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) managed to play only two events in January in the US and two more in February in Australia before the season was stopped by the global pandemic.

The comeback event, played without spectators on the host course for next year’s Solheim Cup team matches between the US and European teams, was played ahead of the LPGA Marathon Classic in nearby Sylvania so players could stay in the same area for both events, easing concerns about contracting the deadly virus.

The LPGA return came with safeguards and social-distancing protocols that were apparent on the 18th green as Kang celebrated her victory.

Friends wearing masks poured champagne on Kang while she made hugging gestures with her arms, in place of the embraces that would have followed the victory before the virus outbreak.

Kang birdied the par-5 second and par-4 fourth to grab an early edge over Boutier, who shared the lead with Kang and Shadoff when the day began, but fell three adrift after a bogey at the par-3 fifth.

Boutier matched a Kang birdie at the par-4 11th, then birdied the par-3 12th, watched Kang bogey the par-5 13th, and birdied the par-4 14th to grab a share of the lead and all of the momentum.

Kang missed an 8ft birdie putt at 15, but Boutier lipped out a 6ft par putt, the ball hitting the left edge and staying out for a bogey that put Kang back in front.

At the par-4 18th, Kang had a 12ft birdie putt to clinch the victory, but missed and settled for her fifth par in a row to close out the round.

Boutier had a chance at a birdie to force a playoff, but her putt lipped off the left edge and she settled for par and second place.

“I think just keeping patience and trusting all aspects of your golf game brings it out in your golf game,” Kang said.

“You have got to respect the golf course. Even little putts, I didn’t take it for granted.” — AFP