The 2018 Women’s U.S. Open may be forever remembered as the rise, the fall then the rise of Ariya Jutanugarn.
It was a long day Sunday at Shoal Creek and what looked to be a stroll to victory by Jutanugarn became a near-epic collapse.
The 22-year-old from Thailand started her final 18 with a dream nine — she went out and shot four-under par 32 on the front nine and built a massive seven shot lead with just nine to play.
Then golf and Murphy’s Laws of Golf happened.
She made triple bogey seven on the par four 10th then added bogey at the 12th and opened the door for her only competition — Hyo-Joo Kim. Jutanugarn’s game suddenly became frayed. She missed fairways and greens and was struggling mightily. By the 15th hole her lead was down to one then she perked up with an incredible birdie at 16 and the lead went back up to two.
Kim parred her way in after making a 60-foot bomb of a birdie at 15, posted 67 and 11-under.
But Jutanugarn made an ugly bogey at the par five 17th, then another at 18, she shot 41 to Kim’s 34 and it was tied.
This would be the first event with the USGA’s new aggregate two-hole playoff. After shocking Ariya with a 25-footer for birdie at 14, Kim bogeyed 18. Jutanugarn’s two pars sent it to sudden death.
After two pars at 14, Jutanugarn finally found a fairway the second trip down 18, as did Kim. Kim then hither worst iron shot of the afternoon, one that sailed way right, leaving her in a bunker 100 feet from the hole. Jutanugarn flushed a seven-iron over the green into the back bunker. Kim’s shot came up 13 feet short then Jutanugarn hit a shot she will remember forever. She hit a gem from the sand that nearly went in, stopping a foot away.
Kim missed, Jutanugarn tapped in for her second major. She also avoided an Arnold Palmer-type collapse. It was Palmer who blew a seven shot lead over the final nine in 1966 at the Olympic Club then lost the Monday 18-hole playoff to Billy Casper.
There would be no such heartbreak for Ariya.
“I hit a pretty good bunker shot,” she said in a soft voice after fellow players doused her with water.
“It was pretty tough for me,” she said with a wry smile at the end of a very long day.
And “tough” doesn’t really cover how hard it really was at this 2018 U.S. Open.
How about — beyond tough?