There was not much for New Zealand star Lydia Ko to do. Not much to say, either.
The world’s No. 1 golfer just tipped her hat to one of the best closing rounds in women’s major championship golf history — mainly because it beat her at nearly her best.
Get used to this name on the LPGA Tour — teenager Brooke Henderson of Canada. Her brilliant, bogey-free, 6-under-par 65 only got her into a sudden-death playoff with Ko, who fired a 67.
Both golfers finished at 6-under 278.
On the first extra hole, the duel went quickly to Henderson. Her short birdie putt won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club on Sunday afternoon.
Not only did Henderson win her first major title, she became the youngest champion in this tournament’s 62-year history (18 years, nine months), eclipsing Yani Tseng (19 years, four months), who won in 2008.
And Henderson became the second woman from Canada to win a major. Canada’s Sandra Post won this tournament in 1968, also in a playoff, at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Massachusetts.
“An amazing day, for sure,” said Henderson.
She let her shot-making do the talking.
This was a different Sahalee layout than from the first three rounds. It was set up for lower scoring.
It proved to be a genius move — many from back of the pack, including Henderson and Thailand’s 20-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn (66, finished third at 278), who started two strokes off Ko’s lead entering the day, made big moves.
Through the first three days, only 13 rounds in the 60s were recorded. On Sunday alone, there were 14.
“(The conditions) were a little bit softer,” Henderson said. “They had the tees up on a couple of holes … where I could go for the par 5s in two (shots).”
Ko, 19, remained steady, even making an unexpected birdie at the eighth hole to grab a three-stroke advantage.
But as Ko and the final group walked off the 10th-hole green, a thunderous roar could be heard nearly a half-mile away down No. 11.
It was for Henderson, who made an improbable 95-foot eagle putt from the front fringe, the ball traveling over a huge mound in the middle of the green. It put her within one shot of the lead.
“To have it go in was incredible,” Henderson said. “I was just trying to nestle it up and make sure I made birdie.”
Ko birdied the 11th hole, hitting a 50-yard wedge shot to tap-in distance. Oddly, it was the last birdie she made in the tournament.
Henderson wasn’t finished. She birdied No. 12 to move back to within one stroke of Ko. And at No. 17, she gained a share of the lead by rolling in a 35-footer across the green for birdie.
She got in trouble off the tee at the finishing hole, but ended up saving par with a 12-footer.
Even with all the excitement Henderson provided, Ko could have wrapped up her third consecutive major on the 71st hole — the same par 3 that Henderson birdied minutes earlier.
Ko was much closer, too, but her 4-foot birdie bid rolled by the right lip.
“I was kind of aiming right center, but it almost broke a little bit,” Ko said. “I didn’t feel it was a bad stroke.”
The playoff went to the 18th hole, the long, uphill par 4 that regularly plays as a par 5 for club members.
From 180 yards out, Ko’s approach shot landed in the middle of the green, some 20 feet away from the cup.
Some 20 yards closer, and from a better angle in the left fairway, Henderson had the green light to go pin-hunting.
Her second shot with a 7-iron never left its line, landing just in front and rolling up to 3 feet.
“I knew I would have to do something special to beat her,” Henderson said, “and I was able to do it.”
Ko missed, and Henderson calmly sank her winning putt.
“I just got outplayed,” Ko said.
This could be the start of something special for the talented, go-for-broke Henderson. And the Northwest has been good to her: She won her first LPGA Tour tournament last summer at the Cambia Portland (Oregon) Classic — and now her first major at Sahalee.
“I wish there were more tournaments in the Northwest,” she said with a grin.