OF the nine majors played in 2016 across the men’s and women’s games, two stand out for sheer thrill-a-minute golf and entertainment: the Open at Royal Troon and the Women’s PGA at Sahalee.
A month before Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson went toe-to-toe in the final round of the 145th Open Championship in July, Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson and Ariya Jutanugarn engaged in a punch-and-counter punch Sunday for the ages near Seattle.
Combined, their ages at the time added up to just over 58 years, but in golf years, all three are already veterans and played like it at one of the toughest course set-ups the women have encountered in recent memory.
After 72 gruelling holes, it was Ko and Henderson tied atop the leaderboard at six-under while Jutanugarn, who had capitulated on the back nine of the year’s first major some three months earlier, was alone in third a shot behind.
Playing in the final group of the day and on track for a third-straight major when she opened a three-shot cushion through 11 holes, Ko ultimately made a mistake that decided the tournament.
PLAYER PROFILE LYDIA KO:
Henderson was three groups ahead and already in the clubhouse with a best-of-the-week six-under 65 when Ko rifled an iron to five feet at the par-3 17th.
The birdie would have given her a much-needed one-shot cushion heading to Sahalee’s difficult par-4 18th but, in an almost unbelievable turn of events, she missed.
A four at the last saw the pair head back to the 18th tee and it was Henderson who seized the moment in extra time, stuffing a 140-metre seven-iron to less than three feet for a winning birdie.
It was one of the shots of the year on a hole that had yielded just six birdies all day and confirmed the Canadian teenager’s position as one of the truly elite players in the game.
For Ko, it was an opportunity missed but she handled the defeat with grace and acknowledged that her fellow teen had simply been better on the day.
“I played really solid today,” she said. “Brooke just outplayed me.”
Between them, Ko, Jutanugarn and Henderson claimed 11 of the 33 titles on offer on the 2016 LPGA Tour including three of the five majors.
They also set up a rivalry at the top of the women’s game that promises to entertain for years to come and Sunday at Sahalee will always be remembered as the place it all began.
HIGHLIGHTS OF BROOKE HENDERSON'S HISTORIC WIN AT SAHALEE: