In the end, none of the obstacles mattered.
Not the 22-year-old rookie who has already won two LPGA Tour events.
Not the Hall of Famer with 19 tour victories and seven major championships.
Not the intense pressure of trying to win after falling short in her 155 tour starts.
In the end, all that mattered was that Moriya Jutanugarn persevered … and finally stood on top.
Jutanugarn, rookie of the year in 2013 but still looking for a first-place trophy, shot a three-under-par 68 Sunday at Wilshire Country Club to make the inaugural HUGEL-JTBC L.A. Open the first victory of her career. She finished at 12 under par, two shots ahead of Jin Young Ko, who had entered the final round tied with Jutanugarn, and Inbee Park, who began the day two shots back. Park also shot 68, Ko 70.
Jutanugarn, 23, had her best year in 2017 with 11 top-10 finishes but has never achieved the success of her younger sister Ariya, who joined the tour in 2015 and already has won seven times.
She spotted her sister in the gallery for the first time on the 14th hole and had an emotional meeting with her and her mother after the win. (Ariya Jutanugarn finished at even par.)
“The support from my sister and mom, it is great,” Jutanugarn said. “They actually cried more than me.
“It was a lot of emotion and feeling.”
Jutanugarn, of Thailand, moved into sole possession of the lead with a birdie at the par-five second hole, and with a display of extraordinary consistency, had built her lead to three over the rookie Ko and four over Hall of Famer Park by the 13th hole. It appeared she might coast to the victory that would make her and Ariya only the second sister combination behind Annika Sorenstam (72 wins) and Charlotta (one) to win on the LPGA Tour.
Jutanugarn had her first hiccup on the par-four 16th, when she failed to get up and down for par and Ko cut the deficit to two strokes. Then Jutanugarn, Ko and Park, playing in the final group, had to wait 10 minutes on the 17th tee because of a backup on the final two holes. After Jutanugarn pulled her tee shot, then left her second shot on the difficult par four 15 yards short of the green, her two-stroke lead over Ko seemed extremely tenuous. She saved par.
Still, on the 165-yard par-three 18th, Ko hit her tee shot to four feet; Jutanugarn to about 30 feet. A birdie by Ko would force Jutanugarn to two-putt to win. But Ko missed her birdie attempt, and the result became academic. Park birdied the hole to finish at 10 under. Her tied-for-second finish vaulted her to the No. 1 ranking in the world.
The last time the LPGA played at Wilshire, in 2001, Annika Sorenstam set a tour record by overcoming a 10-shot deficit on the final day to win the Office Depot Championship. There was no Sorenstam in the field Sunday; no one could sustain that kind of comeback, and Jutanugarn’s steady play created few opportunities for her pursuers.
Wilshire was a very different course from what it was in 2001. In 2009-10, it underwent a restoration to bring back architect Norman Macbeth’s original design of 1919, reshaping bunkers and green complexes and removing trees. And several years ago, a turf-reduction program converted about 20% of the property’s 104 acres from grass to decomposed granite sprinkled with clumps of grasses and native plants.
The tour, which has had only an intermittent record in the Los Angeles area, is looking to establish a foothold at Wilshire and become a fixture in the L.A. sports landscape, a regular visitor to the pricey real estate under the iconic Hollywood sign in the hills above.
The LPGA, sponsors and Wilshire have a three-year commitment that LPGA commissioner Mike Whan hopes is much longer. Thursday and Friday crowds were sparse, but the weekend crowds surrounded tees and greens throughout the course.
“It’s been a home run,” Whan said of the initial event.