In the end, the two players switched roles. The Hall of Famer became the runner-up. Her winless opponent became the champion.
Pernilla Lindberg slammed a 30-foot birdie putt into the back of the cup on the eighth sudden-death playoff hole Monday and made the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the LPGA Tour season, the first victory of her career.
Inbee Park, winner of seven majors and 19 tournaments, had a chance to extend the playoff, but her 20-foot birdie effort narrowly slid past the cup.
“I’m kind of speechless thinking about it,” Lindberg said of beating Park. “This game is hard; there have been so many times I've doubted myself.
“But to be able to do this wire to wire, under the pressure, against Inbee, it just proves so many things. I don’t have to doubt myself."
Lindberg’s putt, reminiscent of others she had made throughout this tournament, put an end to the longest playoff in tournament history, one that for the first time had extended to Monday morning. They played the 18th hole evenly four times Sunday (Jennifer Song had been eliminated on the third try), before darkness brought the two survivors back Monday to play holes 10, 17 and 18 until a winner was decided.
They were an unlikely pairing for an extended playoff. Park, the accomplished veteran and winner of this event in 2013, against Lindberg, the 31-year-old Swede who had never really sniffed a victory, finishing tied for third only once in 192 starts. But Lindberg had played the Dinah Shore course at Mission Hills Country Club all week with a resolve that belied her career record. She had at least a share of the lead after each round, and in the final group Sunday, as it appeared she would collapse under the magnitude of what she was accomplishing, she began a prolonged display of steely nerved putting that kept her apparent free-fall from happening and left her in a three-way tie for the lead at 15-under par.
She appeared on the 10th tee Monday smiling and chatting easily with her caddie and fiancé, Daniel Taylor. Park, serious and quiet, stood on the tee for about five minutes, rehearsing her swing.
Both players hit good drives and solid second shots on the par four. Lindberg, with the green surrounded by fans six and seven deep, left her 35-foot birdie putt two inches short. Both parred, and moved to the par-three 17th. Park made a 12-footer to save par. Lindberg, facing an eight-footer, did what she had done all week. She made it.
Two more pars on the 18th took them back to the 10th tee, and both players hit their second shots into about the same spots as the first time. This time, Lindberg’s ball smacked into the back of the cup, and when Park’s 20-foot putt missed, Lindberg began what seemed like an endless series of emotional hugs with friends and family members.
“I was frustrated with myself yesterday leaving so many putts short,” Lindberg said.
"I know what an incredible putter Inbee is and I know she’s not going to miss too many putts. So I wasn’t going to leave that putt short, that’s for sure.”
Lindberg becomes a member of an exclusive club of Swedish players who have won major championships, joining Annika Sorenstam, Helen Alfredsson, Liselotte Neumann and Anna Nordqvist on the LPGA Tour and Henrik Stenson on the men’s side. The victory might seem counterintuitive, considering that in Lindberg’s hometown of Bollnas, Sweden, only about 360 miles from the Arctic Circle, the golf season is barely four months long.