Lilia Vu produced a Sunday masterclass at Walton Heath to land the AIG Women’s Open and end the year as she started it – with a major victory.
The American kept her composure as fellow challengers faltered, compiling a near-faultless five-under 67 to finish on an imperious 14-under-par, six shots clear of Charley Hull.
The charge for the trophy became a two-horse race across the final round but home favourite Hull was unable to locate the momentum which saw her rocket to a share of the lead on Saturday, a chip-in from the bunker for an eagle on 11 the highlight of her one-over-par 73.
By contrast, Vu was in a clinical mood throughout on her way to securing her second career major following Chevron Championship success in April, birdies either side of the turn opening up a five-shot advantage.
The 25-year-old Californian never looked like letting it slip down the stretch and finished in fitting fashion with a birdie on the 18th as she became the ninth American winner of the AIG Women’s Open and first since 2014.
Jiyai Shin claimed third on seven-under, a shot clear of Amy Yang and Hyo Joo Kim, while Charlotte Heath claimed the Smyth Salver as this year’s leading amateur.
VU TOO GOOD
Vu had rocketed into contention with consecutive rounds of 68 and 67 though there remained a sense she was flying under the radar heading into Sunday, with most of the attention on Hull’s bid for a victory on home soil.
The way the American went about her business suggested that suited her just fine.
The tone was set at the 2nd, a fantastic approach with the hybrid leaving her a 10-foot putt for birdie which she sunk to draw first blood.
She had to battle to save par after missing the green with approaches at the 3rd and the 5th but having done so successfully, Vu soon cashed in.
A 12-footer at the par-3 9th dropped into the cup as she reached the turn in 33 and when she followed suit on the following green, her score suddenly read 12-under and a cushion was in place.
Another excellent approach set up a birdie at 12, the perfect response to Hull’s moment of magic on the previous hole, though Vu did not have it all her own way down the stretch.
A drive into heather at the 15th, which also saw her visit a bunker, brought back brief memories of Ashleigh Buhai’s travails at the same stage 12 months ago – when the runaway leader carded a 7 and was forced into a play-off.
Vu avoided that fate and though the end result was just her fifth bogey of the week, her lead was unchanged as Hull followed suit.
The 16th has been to Vu’s liking all week and she recorded her fourth consecutive birdie at the hole to put the outcome all but beyond doubt.
And there was time for one final flourish, her birdie putt finding the heart of the cup on 18 to spark celebrations which saw the Champion soaked with champagne on the green.
HULL FALLS SHORT AT HOME
Hull arrived with plenty of expectation from the crowd and received a hero’s reception as she arrived on the 1st tee, the 27-year-old looking to follow in Georgia Hall’s footsteps by becoming an English winner of the AIG Women’s Open on home soil.
She successfully negotiated the opening hole but paid for errant drives at 2 and 3, back-to-back bogeys surrendering the momentum Hull had built up on Saturday evening and giving her ground to make up.
A birdie putt horseshoeing out the hole on at the 5th was perhaps a sign it was not to be Hull’s day but she received a much-needed shot in the arm at 11 with a champagne moment.
Having picked out a bunker at the front left edge of the par-5, Hull’s chip out rolled into the hole to bring the biggest cheer of the day around Walton Heath and take her back within three.
Another eagle chance arrived on 16 but her putt started and stayed right of the cup, with a bogey on the following hole sapping the last of the belief among the home faithful.
Hull’s round had the finish her week deserved, a long birdie putt finding its target on the 18th, but she is left to reflect on a second runners-up finish of the season having also come within a whisker at the US Women’s Open.
POTENTIAL CONTENDERS FALTER
At one stage, it looked as though Hyo Joo Kim would be Vu’s nearest challenger.
Backed by a significant Korean presence in the crowd, Kim had a wobbly start with three bogeys in her opening six holes but back-to-back birdies at 8 and 9 took her back to her overnight score of eight-under.
Those were cancelled out by dropped shots at the 11th and 12th, however, a feat repeated by her playing partner in the penultimate group.
Angel Yin started a shot off the lead but was never truly in contention and carded a four-over 76 to end level with Ally Ewing on four-under for the week.
Ewing, of course, had set the pace throughout the first two days at Walton Heath but she will not remember her weekend with much fondness.
Having equalled the record for the biggest halfway stage lead since 1995 by moving five shots clear by Friday evening, the Mississippi native carded a 75 on Saturday and three bogeys down a birdie-less front nine ended her challenge for good.
Yang leapfrogged Yin and Ewing with a two-under 70 while Allison Corpuz’s round of 69 saw her finish in a share of sixth as Nelly Korda, Linn Grant and Andrea Lee, among others, all finished with over-par rounds.