By Tim Maitland.
Angela Stanford ended a wait of 14 years and four months for an American victory in a LPGA event in Asia when she won a four-player play-off at the HSBC Women's Champions at Singapore's Tanah Merah Country Club. Stanford won with a par on the third play-off hole, finally knocking Korean teenager Jenny Shin out of the reckoning, after Korea's world number two Na Yeon Choi and China's Shanshan Feng had been eliminated in two previous trips up the tough 18th hole. All four had finished on 10-under-par 278 for the tournament.
Amazingly, the last victory for a US player in the LPGA's long history of staging tournaments in Asia was Juli Inkster's win at the Samsung World Championship of Women's Golf, from an invitational field of 16 LPGA players, in Seoul, South Korea in October 1997. The 2012 HSBC Women's Champions was the 39th event in the region since then.
Of the six Asian events on the LPGA's 2012 schedule, the last to boast an American champion was the Mizuno Classic in Japan which was won by Betsy King in 1993 when it was known as the Toray Japan Queens Cup. King's win, at the Lions Country Club in Hyogo, was the last US victory against a larger field, over 18 years ago.
"I'm the first American to win in Singapore. That's pretty cool!" said the 34-year-old Texan, unaware at the time of how long her compatriots' drought stretched back.
"It's funny; sitting at the Pro-Am party (on the Wednesday before the tournament) I was thinking we haven't had an American win this thing yet. Honestly, I thought, well, I'm an American. Might as well give it a go!"
Stanford, whose last win was in 2009, didn't do it the easy way; only converting the fourth of the putts she had to win the tournament. The cruelest of those was in regulation play after a violent thunderstorm struck with the final group on the 18th tee and all their rivals safely in the clubhouse. After a 90-minute delay, play resumed with 19-year-old Shin leading Stanford by one shot, but the young Korean found a water hazard off the tee and made double bogey, while Stanford's first chance for victory went begging when she missed a par putt from around five feet.
Making pars throughout the play-off, Stanford adds her name to a roll of honour that consisted only of players to have been rated the best in the world game, from defending champion Karrie Webb through Ai Miyazato and Jiyai Shin to the winner of the inaugural event in 2008, Lorena Ochoa.
"I feel extremely honoured to be in that group of players and to be the first American to get a win is pretty special. Everybody knows this is one of the premier events on tour and always has the best players," she said.
For Shin, who won the US Girls Junior Championship as a 13 year old in 2006, there was the whole range of emotions.
"It's a little bit of everything; I'm very excited but I'm very disappointed at the same time. The tee shot on the 18th was all from nervousness. In the play-off I wasn't nervous at all. I was really comfortable in the play-off. I really feel like I can do this again. I'm very surprised about how well I did. I'm happy... kind of: happy-sad. I'm accepting it," she revealed.
Shin's wasn't the only hard luck story. China's Shanshan Feng fell a fraction short of becoming the first player from her country to win an LPGA event, the third time in her short career that she has had to settle for second place.
Current world number one Yani Tseng of Chinese Taipei, who was Jenny Shin's main challenger for much of the day, finished one shot back in fifth place. She might have won had her approach shot to the 17th hole gone in for eagle rather than catching the lip of the hole as it span back, leaving her a birdie putt that she missed.
"I do feel disappointed. I just needed a little more luck. I've been very close for two years. Hopefully next year I won't be disappointed," said Tseng, who was aiming for back-to-back wins after her victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand the week before.
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