Atthaya Thitikul Defeats Kang in Playoff to Take Home Second LPGA Tour Title
When Danielle Kang’s pitch shot from the rough found the bottom of the cup on the par-5 18th for a closing eagle, and when the roar from the crowd went up, LPGA Tour rookie Atthaya Thitikul didn’t know who caused all the commotion. Kang’s hole out helped her to her third bogey-free round at Pinnacle Country Club, a 7-under 64 that gave her the clubhouse lead at -17. After draining a lengthy birdie putt on the par-3 17th to tie Kang, Thitikul came to the final hole needing another one to drop to give her the win. Her putt just slid by. It’d be rookie vs. veteran in the playoff for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G title.
The pair matched pars on the 15th, a short par-3 that was extra tricky as the afternoon winds picked up. Both found the fairway off the tee on No. 16 and both had looks for birdie – Kang just off the back in the fringe and Atthaya from just about fifteen feet. Kang’s putt raced by, leaving the six-time LPGA Tour winner with a knee-knocker for par, giving the advantage to Thitikul. With the poise of a player well beyond her years, the 19-year-old’s birdie try toppled into the heart of the cup, a triumphant exclamation point on a stellar week of golf in Rogers, Ark.
“Actually, for the playoff first hole I hit a really good shot as well, but the wind pick it up a little bit. Just make two-putt, not that much,” said Thitikul. “But on the second hole that we played I had a chance to make a birdie, because like it’s not that far. And then in my mind I tell myself just do your best, even it’s not going in or whatever. Just do the best you can. Actually didn’t think about anything at all. Just look at the line, get the speed right, and pretty much that’s it.”
Thitikul became a Rolex First-Time Winner earlier this season at the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol, and with today’s victory, she becomes the fourth player from Thailand to have multiple wins on the LPGA Tour, joining Ariya Jutanugarn (12), Jasmine Suwannapura (2) and Moriya Jutanugarn (2). She’s also now the fourth player with multiple wins this season alongside Jennifer Kupcho (3), Minjee Lee (2) and Brooke Henderson (2) and is the second teenager ever to win two playoffs in the same season alongside 17-time LPGA Tour winner Lydia Ko (2015). Although she already has two Tour titles under her belt, Thitikul has no plans to step off the gas pedal with just a few events left this season and felt like she really proved herself on Sunday in Northwest Arkansas.
“I have to say that I really want to win. When I go out and play every event, I think every player wants to win the tournaments,” said Thitikul. “It means a lot to me as well to get my second win, because it seems like you prove that you can do it, even you’re not like three or four group before the final group. But I’m in the final group, and then just prove myself that, yeah, you can do it. Even if you have pressure on yourself, and it means a lot to me and to my team as well, because they know that I can do it, like many times. But, here it’s second win. It’s really special for me.”
Although she wasn’t the one hoisting the trophy at the end of the day, Kang was still incredibly proud of her effort on Sunday and took a lot of pride in what she was able to accomplish this week in Arkansas. She was bogey-free for 54 holes and the solo second is her best result since the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, as well as her best finish since her return to competitive golf in August after undergoing treatment for a tumor on her spine. It’s been a tough road for the 29-year-old this season and today’s finish is a sign that her game is trending in the right direction, especially important as she looks ahead to the last few events of 2022.
“I kept telling my caddie that I just wanted to finish at 17 under. On the last hole, I miss-hit the 5-wood a little bit and we didn’t want to be long. As we walked up I said, ‘I really want to make an eagle. I’ll chip that in.’ He was like, ‘You can chip that in easy.’ We chipped it in,” said Kang. “This place is really special for me. It’s the first time as a pro I ever played. I have a family here for 13 years. This is the last domestic tournament that my dad ever watched. There is a lot riding on this event, but with that going on, the way my team had built me into coming here is where I get emotional and so thankful.”
Korean Chella Choi backed up her second-round, 8-under 63 with a 6-under, 65 that was good enough to finish solo third at -16, her best result of the 2022 season. Thai veteran Pornanong Phatlum, who gave it everything she had with a 6-under 65, came in fourth, just two shots back of Choi. She collected her first top 10 of the year and first top five since the 2018 AIG Women’s Open. “I’m so proud of myself,” Phatlum said. “I try hard on (mentally) and (physically), too, and it’s worked very good right now and I tried to keep focus on what I have to do.”
Seven players round out the top 10 in a tie for fifth at -13, including 2016 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G winner Ko, 2022 Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational champion Lizette Salas and Frenchwoman Celine Boutier. University of Arkansas alums Gaby Lopez and Alana Uriell finished T64 and T69, respectively.