CARLSBAD, CA – Two years after finishing runner-up at the Kia Classic, this time Mirim Lee is going home a winner.
Lee took a one-stroke lead into the final round, sleeping on the 54-hole lead at the Kia Classic for the second time in her career. Sunday, Lee put her foot on the accelerator and didn’t look back - she made birdie on the first and then every other hole on her outward nine to extend her lead. The world No. 21 carded a final round seven-under par, 65 to win by six-strokes ahead of So Yeon Ryu and Austin Ernst. Lee’s winning total of 20-under par matched the Tournament record set by Cristie Kerr in 2015, when Lee finished runner-up.
“It's been a long time to be winner of the tournament, so I kind of nervous before I start of game. But I try to focus and then gives me good result,” Lee told the media through a translator. “When I practiced this course I think tee shot was most important thing, so I focused on good tee shot so that makes this good result.”
In a strange case of history repeating itself, Lee slept on the 54-hole lead this week just as she had done in 2015. That year, Kerr trailed Lee by three-strokes, just as she did again on Sunday. In 2015, Kerr went on to post a final round 65 to win by two-strokes ahead of Lee who managed a final round 70. This week, it was Lee who posted a 65 to win and Kerr who shot 70 to finish T-4 for the week.
“At that time I did not think I loser, I just thought I didn't play very well at that time. So today I just try to not think about it,” Lee explained about 2015.
Throughout much of Sunday’s final round, it was So Yeon Ryu giving chase. She started the final round at eight-under par, five-strokes back of Lee. Ryu pulled within three-strokes with three holes to play, but the world No. 5 failed to convert several birdies on her second nine. Ryu’s six-under par, 66 earned her a T-2 finish and fourth consecutive top-10 of 2017.
“I think everything is right there,” Ryu told the media. “I just need to keep it patient and need to trust myself I'm good. Even though I haven't won any tournament I just cannot really blame anything. I felt like everything is pretty great. Like, well, when your game is kind of like perfect you're able to win. Mine cannot called perfect yet, but I think it's good enough.”
Ryu works with Jordan Spieth’s instructor Cameron McCormick, who will be on-site next week at the ANA Inspiration for their first session since before the Tour's February swing through Asia.
"Sometimes better not to have him at the majors; sometimes better to have him at the major. Hard to say," Ryu told the media. "But I haven't seen him so long, so that's why I'm going to have him."
Austin Ernst finished in a share of second alongside Ryu with a bogey-free, 67. Ernst started the day at nine-under par, four back of the lead and said she kept an eye on the leaderboard. But after seeing what Lee was doing, she knew she wouldn’t be able to catch her.
“She was at 20-under. I knew at that point you're basically playing for second place unless she does something coming down the stretch,” Ernst told the media. “My game was really sold. Today was really a solid round of golf. Hit a bunch of greens. Gave myself a lot of the good looks.”
The runner-up finish is Ernst’s third top-10 of 2017.
Non-LPGA member Shi Hyun Ahn, who plays primarily on the KLPGA, received a sponsor invite to compete this week and made the most of that invitation on Sunday. Ahn posted a new Tournament and course record on Sunday with a nine-under par, 63.
“I try to every shot and I make it. Just feel like easy today,” Ahn said after the round.