INCHEON, South Korea (AP) — Carlota Ciganda overcame an early five-stroke deficit, blew a late five-stroke lead and needed a big break to get in a playoff in the rainy LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship.
The 26-year-old Spaniard then left Alison Lee in tears, beating the American on the first extra hole for her first LPGA Tour title. Ciganda made a 6-foot birdie putt after Lee’s birdie chip from the rough off the back edge missed a half-inch to the right.
“I was just trying to stay in the present and hit as best I could,” Ciganda said. “In the end, it was so close. I think I was the lucky one today and I’m very happy.”
Ciganda lost a five-stroke advantage on the final five holes — getting into the playoff when Lee bogeyed the par-5 18th after hitting her third shot into the water.
“The last three, four holes I was pretty nervous,” said Ciganda, who played in the group ahead of Lee. “I was looking more and I was 1 up, and then I was on 18 I saw I was 1-down and I couldn’t believe it. So it’s just golf. Only one can win.”
Lee is winless in two seasons on the tour.
“I feel like I had a battle with myself out there,” the 21-year-old UCLA student told Golfweek. “I came back at the end, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Ciganda’s breakthrough victory made her the third European winner this year, joining Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and Germany’s Caroline Masson.
“It’s very special because it’s been a tough few years for me,” Ciganda said. “My coach (Rogelio Echeverria) passed away two years ago and I had to look for a new coach. I changed caddies, too.
“It’s been a long journey, but at the same time it’s really nice to get the win. I love competing and playing and being an athlete. I couldn’t ask for a better life.”
She’s now working with Terry McNamara, Annika Sorenstam’s former caddie, and instructor Jorge Parada.
Ciganda played the final five holes in 4 over — making a double bogey on 14 and bogeys on 16 and 18 — for a 2-over 70 at Sky 72 in the event that had an emotional start with Se Ri Pak ending her Hall of Fame career Thursday in front of her home fans.
Three strokes ahead of U.S. Women’s Open champion Brittany Lang entering the day and five ahead of Ciganda, Lee had a 75 to match Ciganda at 10-under 278 on the Ocean Course.
Ciganda birdied five of the first eight holes, taking a one-stroke lead with a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth. The two-time European Solheim Cup player added a 20-footer on the par-4 10th for a four-stroke margin and was five ahead soon after.
“I didn’t look at the leaderboard until I think it was on No. 12,” Ciganda said. “I saw I was winning by five. I wasn’t expecting that.”
She compounded trouble in and then just above a greenside bunker into a double bogey on the par-4 14th, dropped another stroke on the par-4 16th and three-putted 18.
“I was positive,” Ciganda said. “I just tried my best and I tried to play each shot the best I could. So it’s not that I was giving up or anything.”
Needing a par on 18 for her first victory, Lee hit an 8-iron from 130 yards that smacked into the front bank and bounced into the water. She was able to drop a few feet off the right edge of the green, chipped past and made a 5-footer to force the playoff.
Lee had four bogeys in a five-hole stretch in the middle of the round to seemingly fall out of contention. But while Ciganda faltered in the group ahead, the American made a 5-foot birdie putt on the par-4 15th and a 12-footer on the par-3 17th.
“It was tough. It was windy at the end and a little bit of rain, so it wasn’t easy,” Ciganda said. “But I’m from the north in Spain, which is cold and rainy in the winter, so I’ve been practicing a lot in those conditions.”
China’s Shanshan Feng (70) and South Korea’s Min-Sun Kim (71) tied for third at 8 under. Feng had her third straight top-four finish in Asia after tying for fourth in China and finishing second last week in Taiwan. The tour will return to China next week for the Blue Bay LPGA on Hainan Island, then make stops in Malaysia and Japan.
Lang had three bogeys in a 75 to tie for third at 7 under.
Lexi Thompson, the winner last year, had a 73 to tie for 13th at 4 under. Second-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (69) and No. 3 Gee Chun (71) also were 4 under.
Top-ranked Lydia Ko closed with a 74 to tie for 51st at 3 over. She has four victories this year, one behind Jutanugarn for the tour lead.
Fourth-ranked Brooke Henderson also struggled, shooting 78-72 on the weekend to finish at 5 over. The Canadian teen plans to play all six weeks in Asia.