Ariya Jutanugarn claims US Open in play-off after back nine collapse

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Ariya Jutanugarn lost a seven shot lead over the back nine but still claimed the US Open title after surviving a play-off against Hyo Joo Kim. 

After a front nine 32 at Shoal Creek, Jutanugarn stood on the 10th tee with a seven shot lead, and it seemed the title was already a foregone conclusion. But as she sailed her 3-wood in to the water on her way to a triple bogey on the first hole of the back nine, it all started to change. 

"After that, I kind of played a little bit scared," she said.

The World No.5 carded a solitary birdie at the par-three 16th during a back-nine 41, adding further bogeys at the 12th, 17th and 18th holes, missing a 12-foot putt on the final hole to find herself tied on 11-under with Kim. 

Meanwhile, Kim's putter caught fire, holing from 40-feet for birdie on 12 and then making another from 50 feet on hole No.15 to get within one, eventually scoring a bogey-free 67 to force extra holes. 

In the first use of the new two-hole aggregate playoff for USGA Open championships, it was Kim who gained the advantage after rolling in another monster putt for birdie on the first hole (No. 14) - while Jutanugarn made par. But Jutanugarn managed to steady the ship to force the contest to sudden death as Kim failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker on the second hole (No.18).

Going back out to No. 14, Kim barely missed a 20-foot birdie try that would have won it and then Jutanugarn rolled in a 4-footer after a brilliant bunker shot. On the fourth and final playoff hole, both players had bunker shots with Kim leaving hers 15 feet from the hole while Jutanugarn produced a moment of brilliance as she hit hers to 18 inches. Kim missed, giving Jutanugarn her second major title, and her first since her three-shot win at the Women's British Open two years ago.

"I'm really honored to join the list of winners before me,” said Jutanugarn, who adds her name to Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park as the only ones to win both the U.S. Women’s Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.  “On the front nine, I did everything I want to do, but that back got me a lot.” 

After the errant tee shot on No. 10, which soared into the right-side hazard, Jutanugarn said she was “a little bit scared my next shot.” Then her caddie, Les Luark, stepped in. “So I tee off on 11, I told my caddie, ‘I don't know how to hit this one,’” Jutanugarn said. “He's like, ‘Come on, do you want to win?’ I'm like, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Okay. Then we have to do it.’”

The 22-year-old Kim, who set the major championship scoring record when she shot a 61 in the first round of her victory in the 2014 Evian Championship, was brilliant all week. She led the field in driving accuracy, hitting 91.7 percent of the fairways and missing only one on Sunday, and was second in total putts, using only 25 in the final 18 holes and averaging 26.63 for the 72 holes of regulation. 

“I started off quite a few strokes behind the leader, so I didn't really think that I was going to come through this much,” Kim said. “I feel very good about how I played, especially that I did not have any bogey today on the final round. When I made that putt [on No. 15] I felt like the luck was with me today.”