Fourth time's the charm: Brittany Lincicome wins year's first LPGA major

Brittany Lincicome wins ANA Inspiration after battling Stacy Lewis for three playoff rounds, all at No. 18

Hole No. 18 at Mission Hills is a 485-yard par-five. Tournament organizers here, where the LPGA plays the year's first major, the ANA Inspiration, are so taken with it that they have made it the center of their tiebreaking procedures.

It's a simple system. The golfers play No. 18 — over and over again — until a winner emerges. Never had a playoff in the current format lasted more than one round.

That is, until Sunday.

Brittany Lincicome and Stacy Lewis would play No. 18 four times in a row, including three playoff rounds, before Lincicome rolled in a short par putt to claim her second major title, both in this event.

Four players made an assault on the lead at the 18th hole in regulation, with Lincicome making a 10-feet eagle putt to catch Lewis at nine under par and force the playoff. It was as turbulent an ending in a major as golf fans are likely to see — all condensed on one hole.

"Gosh, we've played that so many times," Lincicome said.

Approaching No. 18, four women in the last three groups had a shot at the lead. Lewis led at nine under. Lincicome and Morgan Pressel were two strokes back, as was Sei Young Kim, the 22-year-old rookie who carried a three-stroke lead into Sunday.

Pressel's group was first. As she sized up her third shot, she thought of Karrie Webb, who, on the same hole here in 2006, eagled from the same area, 116 yards out, to force a playoff.

"I said, 'Hey, let's just hole it like Karrie did,'" Pressel said.

It missed by inches. Her birdie brought her to eight under par, and she would finish in third.

From behind the hole, she watched the next group. There, Lincicome made her final gamble. Her second shot nestled 10 feet from the hole.

Only one golfer, male or female, had ever won a major tournament by one stroke by eagling the final hole. That golfer? Lincicome, here, in 2009. It was her only major win. Before Sunday, she hadn't won on the LPGA Tour since 2011.

Now, she could do it again.

Her eagle putt dropped in. She jumped in the air. She was tied for the lead.

Standing in the tee box, Lewis and Kim were too far away to hear the roars for the group ahead. But as they approached the green, they glimpsed the scoreboard.

Kim knew her final chance was a chip from the fringe for eagle. It was short. She finished tied for fourth.

Lewis, meanwhile, knew she would win with a birdie. She set up a makable putt, to the left side of the hole, just above pin height.

It missed left. Lewis and Lincicome would go to a playoff. Back to the tee box they went, like a record album stuck on repeat.

On the first playoff hole, Lewis missed a mirror image of her previous birdie putt. Then, in the playoff go-round, she missed a 10-footer, right after Lincicome missed from two feet behind.

"I gave myself plenty of looks," Lewis said.

By the third playoff hole, darkness was swallowing the course. The players had enough light to play 18 one more time.

Back to the tee box they went.

It would be the final time. Lincicome's opportunity came when Lewis' lay-up approach found a divot. Her pitch went short and she bogeyed.

Lincicome had her chance now. She two-putted from 10 feet for the win, the clincher measuring about 18 inches.

Moments later — before Lincicome held hands with her caddy, her father and her fiancé and jumped into Poppie's Pond in the traditional victory celebration here, and before Lewis sat slumped over in the scorer's tent — the two players embraced.

Lincicome told Lewis she was sorry it ended this way. The two are close friends.

"It was nice to be out there with her to play this hole," Lincicome said. "Over and over again."

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