Perhaps this is one of the reasons we love the heat of tournament golf so much – waiting for an accident to happen or waiting to applaud and acknowledge a convincing winner.
Today, on day four of the US Women’s Open in Birmingham in Alabama, we had both during various stages of the final round.
22 year old Thai star and former world number one Ariya Jutanugarn threatened to self-implode over the final nine holes of the female game’s greatest championship allowing a seven shot 63 hole lead disappear before eventually winning a playoff over Korean golfer Hyo Joo Kim.
As we have seen over many years and in indeed even in more recent years there are some very good examples of no lead being safe in the final stages of a major championship.
Greg Norman’s demise over the closing round of the 1996 Masters is one that sticks in the mind of most Australians who felt that one of their own was finally going to secure the Green Jacket.
Norman of course had a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo heading into the final round that year but would eventually lose and given that he had not recorded a finish outside the top twenty in his previous ten majors, six of those finishes inside the top 6 his demise was almost unfathomable.
The eventual margin between Norman and Faldo was five shots so an unbelievable 11 shots turnaround between two of the game’s occurred that day.
Adam Scott led by four with four holes to play at the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes but would eventually lose by one to Ernie Els.
Rory McIlroy took a four-shot lead into the final round of the 2011 Masters and was still ahead at the turn but a triple bogey at the 10th and a double bogey at the 12th, which he four-putted, saw him eventually finish with a round of 80, tied for 15th and ten shots from winner Charl Schwartzel, a fourteen shot swing.
They are but a few examples of how a lead at times can be too great. On occasions the larger the lead the greater it is to manage as the mindset required to stay in front is so different from playing with the pressure off and coming from behind.
Today Jutanugarn led by four over Australia’s Sarah Jane Smith heading into the final round and with an outward nine of 32 and struggles from Smith, the engraver could have been forgiven for starting to write Jutanugarn’s name on the trophy right then. After all it is a long name and was going to take some time and he would have been tempted to start his work.
Then came the triple bogey at 10, the bogey at 12 and the two closing bogeys and when combined with a rock solid round of 67 by Kim that lead was gone in a flash and the playoff was needed.
To her absolute credit however Jutanugarn hit two beautiful bunker shots on holes 3 and 4 of the playoff and when Kim finally succumbed the title went to the Thai.
Not only was Jutanugarn tough when she needed to be she showed tremendous class and respect for her fellow competitors often clapping the efforts of her playing partner in regulation, Sarah Jane Smith, but producing similar gestures during the playoff against Kim.
Jutanugarn won many hearts today for overcoming a gut wrenching demise that could potentially have scarred her for life, but also for the class she showed as a brilliant, tough and yet respectful competitor.
Golf can give with one hand and very quickly take with the other but today Ariya Jutanugarn was rewarded in every respect and deservedly so.