Ariya Jutanugarn made history on the Marquess’ Course at Woburn by becoming the first player from Thailand – male or female – to capture a Major Championship at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
With rounds of 65, 69, 66 and 72, the 20-year-old from Bangkok ended on a total of 16-under-par 272, three ahead of South Korean Mirim Lee and the 2014 champion Mo Martin from the United States.
Another former American champion, Stacy Lewis, finished in fourth position, with Scotland’s Catriona Matthew the leading Briton in a tie for fifth with South Korea’s Ha-Na Jang and Australian Karrie Webb.
The fair weather continued for the final round, which was played under sunny skies and attracted huge crowds, with more than 54,000 attending over the championship week.
Jutanugarn, who removed the driver from her bag for the tournament, began the final round with a two stroke lead over South Korean Mirim Lee and it looked set to become a procession after she increased her advantage to six strokes in as many holes. However, things became interesting down the stretch as her lead was cut to a stroke.
Jutanugarn was in cruise control until she dropped a shot after finding sand on the ninth, yet after a tidy front nine of 35, she was still four ahead of Martin, who hit the turn in 34.
Lee, who opened the championship with a record-equalling 62, made an unimpressive start with three bogeys over her first nine but hit back with three straight birdies from the 10th, narrowing the gap to three strokes.
When Jutanugarn air mailed the 13th with her second shot and her chip ran back across the green, another chip and two putts for a double bogey saw her lead cut to one. Suddenly back into serious contention, Lee’s drive on the 16th crashed into the trees, but both players escaped with pars. Jutanugarn then made a cracking birdie putt of around 20 feet, which slid from left to right, at the difficult par-3 17th.
A simple par on the last proved enough to secure a comfortable win and afterwards, Jutanugarn said: “I felt really stressed because I missed a lot of birdie putts today. I just wanted to make one. My goal was to win a Major, so I hope I can inspire some players in Thailand.”
A phenomenal natural talent, Jutanugarn showed huge promise from an early age. She first won on the Ladies European Tour as a 17-year-old rookie at the 2013 the Lalla Meryem Cup. At that stage, she looked ready to conquer the world, but a freak injury to her right shoulder when she stumbled off a tee box during the LPGA Championship meant that she couldn’t touch a club for eight months. When she returned, she wasn’t the same player and had to make some major adjustments to her swing.
Now in her fourth year as a pro, she learned from the experience of letting the ANA Inspiration title slip away in April and went on to capture three straight titles on the LPGA in May. With her first Major victory, worth £310,838, she moved up to second in the world rankings behind Lydia Ko and next up is a trip to Rio for the women’s Olympic golf competition on August 17-20.
She will be joined in Rio by a number of other young guns, including Woburn’s Charley Hull, who tied for 17th and Ireland’s Leona Maguire, who claimed the Smyth Salver as the leading amateur in a tie for 25th place.
Incredibly, the average age of female major winners this year now sits at 21.5 years of age and three of the season’s first four major winners have been aged 20 or younger. The fifth and final Major of 2016 is the Evian Championship in September.