By Kim Jeong-kyu
It was an unforgettable week for Lee Seung-hyun.
Lee, 27, fired bogey-free rounds of 67-68-64 to romp to victory at the 12th S-OIL Championship. She finished the event three strokes clear of the runners-up, Lee Jeong-eun6 and Park Gyeol.
Going into the final round at 6,604-yard Elysian Jeju Country Club, Lee was part of a three-way tie for the lead with Kim Char-young and Park Gyeol. A cluster of four contenders was trailing her one stroke behind, with two other contestants lurking two shots adrift. Meanwhile, a batch of nine challengers was three shots back, firmly determined to supplant her.
Briefly, roughly 20 players were bunching up within three shots. They were nearly treading on each other's feet, causing spectators to wonder who would win. But no one could foretell who would snatch the title. Players gathering like the fish in a nearly dried-up puddle were muddying the waters. A fierce battle was brewing from the start.
Lee got through the first hole with par. Then, she achieved a rare feat of making five birdies in succession, from the second through to the sixth. Shaking off co-leaders Kim and Park, Lee became the lone leader. Kim and Park birdied two holes each on the front nine to stay three strokes behind Lee.
Lee added another birdie on the ninth before she made the turn.
Heading for the 10th, Lee was one shot ahead of Cho Jeong-min. Cho, playing in a group ahead of her, had an awesome 7-under-par 29 on the front nine with five birdies and an eagle. Spectators saw curiously Cho pulled up furiously to threaten Lee when Cho reached the turn with one stroke adrift. More thrillingly, Cho birdied the 10th to catch Lee.
At that stage, the competition looked ready to turn into a one-on-one battle between Lee and Cho on a hot streak. Spectators sat on the edge of their seats.
Lee made a birdie on the 12th from a way long distance. It was a tricky, long putt that could have ended up a bogey.
Lee's marvelous putt was a great theater only Lee can provide.
The birdie allowed her to pull ahead, giving her a two-stroke lead over Cho. At that stage, Lee did not seem to have any difficulty withstanding the charge from Cho, who was just treading water.
On the par-5 15th, Lee mistakenly pushed her tee shot, leaving spectators impatient to confirm the result. Luckily for her, the ball was resting in the rough, which she escaped with ease. Then, she hit her approach shot to several feet, setting up an easy birdie. Granted, she birdied the hole.
Meanwhile, Cho, hitting an errant tee shot on the par-3 16th, had a repulsive bogey thrust on her. The bogey left her with little chance of catching Lee.
Lee showed up in the spotlight, strutting up the 18th fairway with a big smile on her face. She held off the pack to emerge from the bunch to clinch the title and her seventh career victory.
With a two-putt par, she polished off a faultless round of the day with a superb score of 8-under 64. Her overall score of 17-under 199 matches the 54-hole score record.
Indeed, it was her unbelievable putting mettle that propelled her to the champion's position. Throughout the day, every shot she faced looked like a foregone conclusion. Most of her shots, especially her putts, looked as if she had made them already. All she had to do was just stroke gently.
Asked what led to her triumph, she mentioned her magical putts falling into the cup without betraying her.
Lee first picked up a golf club when she was in elementary school. Her placid nature makes her a good putter. Her putting in the championship averaged 27 per round.
The overnight co-leaders Park Gyeol and Kim Char-young2 had to be content with ties for second and seventh place respectively. Cho, who had once threatened Lee, settled for fourth place.