Clutch par putts on the final hole of regulation then on the first hole of the sudden-death playoff has secured Kiwi Momoka Kobori a dramatic victory at the Women’s NSW Open at Forster-Tuncurry Golf Club.
For the first time since Jo Mills defeated Sarah Kemp at the fifth extra hole in the inaugural Women’s NSW Open in 2006, the tournament went into extra-time, but not before a wild chain of events that saw the lead change hands numerous times on the back nine.
Paired with amateurs Claire Shin and Sarah Hammett in the final group of the shotgun start for the final round that began at 1.50 pm, Kobori burst clear by four strokes with three straight birdies from the second hole.
But rather than an afternoon procession, her lead was slowly whittled away.
A bogey by the world No.208 on the sixth hole and a birdie by Shin reduced the deficit to just two strokes, the Avondale amateur edging one stroke closer again with a brilliant 3-wood to eight feet for eagle at the par-5 10th.
Kobori responded with a birdie at the same hole to stay one in front, but when Hammett birdied 11 and Kobori and Shin both dropped shots, the margin between the leading three was just two.
Kobori and Shin separated themselves somewhat with matching birdies at 13, but Kobori’s miss from close range on 14 for bogey saw her drop to eight-under and level with Shin, who played a spectacular up-and-down of her own to save par.
Hammett added her name to the leaders at eight-under with an eagle from 25 feet at the par-5 15th and then, as light rain began to fall, and darkness began to descend, took the outright lead with a birdie from 10 feet at the par-3 16th.
Yet more drama was to follow.
Hammett’s chip shot from the left of the green on 17 travelled through to the opposite side on her way to a double bogey, and then Kobori’s ball rolled off the tee just before she made contact on the final hole of the championship.
She subsequently had to play her second from the right rough and found the bunker left of the green, Shin left with a 10-foot putt for birdie from the back fringe for the win.
Shin missed, and Kobori converted her sand save from eight feet to force a playoff, the pair locked together at eight-under for the 54 holes that seemed unlikely to be completed when rain suspended play at 11.28 am on Saturday.
The pair moved to the par-3 ninth for the sudden-death playoff, where Shin almost jarred her tee shot for what in many ways would have been a fitting finale.
With Kobori coming up short of the green with her tee shot, Shin had a birdie putt to win for a second time.
Her first putt raced four feet past and after Kobori once again saved par from six feet, Shin’s par putt lipped out, effectively handing Kobori a predictable yet completely astonishing win.
The 24-year-old joins her friend and idol Lydia Ko as the only Kiwi winners of the Jan Stephenson Trophy, the significance of adding her name to one which already bears Ko’s not lost on her.
“That’s awesome. To be able to have won the same event as her – as someone that is trying to follow in her footsteps eventually – it’s definitely something I’m really happy about,” said Kobori.
Still in a state of shock at what had transpired over a 36-hole final day that began at 7.40am and didn’t end until 6.35pm, Kobori said that the final two putts were critical an emotionally fluctuating final round.
“Those were huge. They were both huge but that putt on the last, knowing what was on the line and knowing that I needed to make that to stay in it. And the same for this one as well,” she said immediately after the playoff. “Really happy that I was able to pull that off.
“It’s obviously been a grind trying to get through the 36 holes, trying to pace myself and as we got towards the end it was the adrenaline that helped.
“I wasn’t too tired which was great but definitely quite nerve-wracking coming down the last hole and knowing that I was tied for the lead and then obviously down to the playoff hole.
“It’s just been a bit of a roller-coaster but I’m sure it will sink in at some stage.”
Shin’s consolation was the honour of leading amateur, Hammett third at seven-under par with Breanna Gill (four-under) and Kiwi amateur Vivian Lu (three-under) rounding out the top five.