Danielle Kang had talked about being ‘‘comfortable with being nervous’’ because she had put herself into a position she wanted to be in. She had given herself a chance to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
That plan received a stern test Sunday when Kang, with a shaky stroke, bogeyed the 10th hole to fall a shot behind defending champion Brooke Henderson.
From there, though, Kang bounced back with a flourish.
Draining birdie putts on the next four holes, the 24-year-old California native opened a three-shot lead and held on to beat Henderson by one shot.
Kang shot a final-round 68 and finished with a 13-under 271 in the second LPGA major of the year. Henderson shot 66 to finish at 272.
‘‘I’m so happy,’’ Kang said. ‘‘I finished off the round the way I wanted to finish it off after a bit of a rough start. I told myself it was my week and my day.’’
Starting on No. 11, she rolled in birdie putts from 12, 25, 30 and 6 feet on four consecutive holes. She added a huge 21-foot par saver on No. 16.
‘‘Only 21? It looked like a 50-footer to me,’’ Kang said. ‘‘When you’re rolling the ball that well, you have this confidence. You know you’re going to make it. When I three-putted the 10th hole, that was the turning point for me. I didn’t realize I was hitting my putts that firm. I said to my caddie, ‘I’m not going to hit it as hard.’ The next hole, I took a little speed off. After that, they kept going in.’’
It is the first professional win in 144 starts for Kang, who won back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateurs in 2010 and 2011. Her father, who was her caddie at those tournaments, died of brain cancer in late 2013.
‘‘If I could wish anything, I wish my dad saw me win,’’ Kang said tearfully. ‘‘It’s been a really difficult four or five years. What are the odds that my first win is a major? I’m pretty sure he had something do with it.’’
Kang now lives in Las Vegas but remains close to many celebrities she met while playing at Sherwood Country Club as a junior and a college player at Pepperdine.
Wayne Gretzky, Jon Lovitz and Caitlyn Jenner are among the friends who reached out this weekend to encourage Kang.
Showing the flair of her entertainer friends, Kang provided plenty of drama down the stretch.
After scrambling for par with that 21-foot putt on No. 16, she dumped her tee shot in a deep bunker on the par-3 17th hole and made bogey. That opened the door for Henderson to tie Kang for the lead by birdieing 17 and 18.
Henderson had left her eagle putt a mere inch short on No. 18 in her bid to add a second consecutive Women’s PGA victory.
That allowed Kang to win with her own birdie on the 483-yard 18th.
The beaming Kang hugged her playing partner, Chella Choi, who shot 71 to finish third, three shots back. She hugged both of their caddies. And then she hugged her mother.
‘‘I missed it by an inch,’’ Henderson said of her eagle putt on No. 18. ‘‘But it was a great day. Danielle played great. She was 13 under pretty early in the back nine; I knew I had a lot of work to do. Really, she won this. I was just trying to maybe make it closer.’’
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