Lexi Thompson almost pulled off one of the most dramatic victories in the history of golf on Sunday, overcoming a four-shot penalty, but So Yeon Ryu was too much for her to overcome in a playoff in the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first LPGA major.
Ryu made a short birdie putt on the first playoff hole to win at Mission Hills Country Club.
Most of the drama, however, came long before the playoff.
Thompson was leading the tournament and had just completed the 12th hole when she was informed by a rules official that a TV viewer had emailed officials and asked them to look at the video of Thompson marking her ball on the 17th hole on Saturday. Officials determined that she replaced it in a slightly different position relative to her coin than it had originally been in.
“Is this a joke?” Thompson asked.
Thompson was assessed two two-stroke penalties – one for the improper marking and another for signing an incorrect scorecard.
That changed her score, as she went to the 13th tee, from 16 under to 12 under, and gave Suzann Pettersen and Minjee Lee a two-stroke lead.
Thompson fought back – and fought back tears – to birdie the 13th and 15th holes, and at one point was in a five-way tie for the lead with Pettersen, Lee, Ryu and Inbee Park. The crowd gave her thunderous ovations and chanted “Lex-i, Lex-i.”
Ryu birdied the par-5 18th hole after hitting a delicate chip shot from behind the green, giving herself a one-shot lead. Thompson and Pettersen came to the 18th needing birdie to tie.
Thompson hit a clutch approach to about 12 feet, and came up just short on her eagle putt, tapping in for a tying birdie. Pettersen had a 5-foot attempt for birdie, but missed.
The sudden-death playoff took place on the 18th. Ryu hit the fairway off the tee, and though her 5-wood approach faded dangerously close to Poppie’s Pond, it stayed dry. Thompson’s drive found deep rough to the right of the fairway, and she laid up before hitting a wedge to 15 feet. Ryu chipped 4 feet past, the ball going over the right edge of the cup. Thompson’s birdie bid came up short, and Ryu ended the drama by making her birdie putt.
“It’s great to have the fan base that I do,” an emotional Thompson said afterward. “They got me through the whole round. It’s unfortunate what happened. I did not mean that at all. I didn’t realize I did that (improperly replaced her ball). I fought strong through the finish and it was great to see the fans behind me.”
”I just cannot believe the situation,” Ryu said. ”I didn’t even check the leaderboard. I thought Lexi played really, really well. I didn’t expect what happened to Lexi. It’s a very unfortunate situation. I didn’t expect it. I thought I’m well behind, so all I wanted to do was play my game.”