|Cho Jeong-min kisses her trophy after winning the Celltrion Queens Masters at Bora Country Club in Ulsan, Sunday. / Yonhap|
By Kim Jeong-kyoo
Cho Jeong-min clinched the first Celltrion Queens Masters title Sunday, winning for the fourth time on the Korea LPGA Tour.
She hit an even-par 72 Sunday at the 6,674-yard Bora Country Club in the southern city of Ulsan to clinch a one-stroke victory over Lee Seung-hyun and Kim Bo-ah.
In a roller-coaster final round, she fought a good battle to become the ultimate winner.
Many expected an enthralling four-way battle among Cho, Lee, Kim and Park Min-ji. Indeed, no player emerged quickly as the front-runner.
Until the early part of the back nine, the event looked like it was a fierce duel between Cho and Park.
However, the combat entered a new phase when two leaders, Cho and Park, made fatal mistakes on the 12th, 13th and 14th holes. Moreover, Kim made an incredible eagle on the par-5 15th to take a sudden lead by three strokes. Kim looked set to win the championship.
No one could know, however, Cho would capture the crown with a birdie on the penultimate hole.
In a televised interview, Cho said, "I was not quite sure I could win, and I'm deliriously happy to clinch the title."
Cho began Sunday at 7-under-par 137, a stroke ahead of Park and two clear of Lee and Kim.
Cho's fans felt uncomfortable as her bogey on the 18th hole on Saturday looked as if it boded badly for her.
As she was concerned, she got off to a nervy start with a bogey on the first hole, coughing up her one-stroke lead. But she bounced back on the spot, birdying the second hole to get her lone lead back.
Making the turn, she was sharing the three-way lead with Park and Kim at 7-under.
On the par-4 12th hole, Cho found a sand trap off the tee, where she pulled her second shot into a water hazard. She had a double bogey thrust on her, all but blowing her chances for triumph.
But standing on the 16th tee, she was still in the hunt for the trophy. Birdying the hole, she shared second place with Lee with a shot back of the leader.
She stood on the final tee, sharing the three-way lead with Lee and Kim who bogeyed the last hole. After a successful tee shot on the penultimate hole, Cho hit a great approach near the hole, creating a birdie chance.
When she set up to her ball for her birdie try for a win, all was quiet and still. And Cho calmly birdied the final hole to win the crown.
Cho received 160 million won in prize money.
Playing a group ahead of the penultimate group, Kim became the sole leader when she was playing on the 14th hole. Cho blundered on the 11th and 12th holes, coughing up three strokes. Similarly, Park incurred a triple-bogey on the par-3 13th.
Kim, on the par-5 15th, hit a great second shot near the hole, making an impressive eagle to lead the field by three strokes. She looked set to clinch the title. However, Kim bogeyed the 16th hole to share the lead, making the tournament more enthralling.
Failing to overcome the pressure on the last hole, Kim had a three-putt bogey to share the three-way lead with Lee and Cho playing right behind her. And when Cho birdied the last hole, she had to settle for second place.
Lee once dropped down into sixth place when she bogeyed the par-5 6th. Making the turn, however, she was two shots behind the leaders.
Collecting her second birdie of the day on the 15th, Lee found her a shot back of the sole leader, Kim. She stood on the final tee, sharing the lead with Cho and Kim. And when Cho birdied the last hole, she had to share second place with Kim.
Rookie Lim Hee-jeong hit a one-under 71 for a sole fourth-place finish.
Another rookie Cho A-yean reeled in seven birdies against a bogey for an impressive 6-under 66, setting a course record. She ran amok but her 11-stroke deficit was too much to make up. She closed with a 2-under-par for an overall score of 214, sharing the fifth place with Kim A-lim.