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Ji defeats Furue to capture LPGA Match-Play crown

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – South Korean Ji Eun-hee won the LPGA Match-Play tournament on Sunday, defeating Japan’s Ayaka Furue 3&2 in the championship match at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas.

At 36, Ji became the oldest South Korean winner of an LPGA title, taking her first tour victory since the 2019 Tournament of Champions.

Ji called it the hardest victory of her career.

“Very much. It was really hard,” she said. “We have to play 36 holes (Saturday and Sunday). That makes it a lot harder.

“My feet almost not moving last couple holes. My back hurts. Really tired now.”

Ji, ranked 83rd, claimed her sixth career LPGA triumph and the last berth in next week’s US Women’s Open. Ji’s only major title came at the 2009 US Women’s Open.

“Definitely day off tomorrow and then try to work hard again,” Ji said. “I hit it pretty well this week. I was really positive going to play.”

Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea poses with the champions trophy. PHOTO: AFP

World number 27 Furue, who turned 22 on Friday, is a seven-time winner on the LPGA Japan Tour who earned her way onto the US LPGA circuit for 2022 at qualifying school.

In the morning semi-finals, Ji ousted American Andrea Lee 4&3 while Furue defeated American Lilia Vu 2&1.

Vu beat Lee 3&2 in the third-place match, each earning her best LPGA finish.

In the final, Ji won the par-4 third hole with a par, but par putt lip outs at the par-5 fifth and seventh holes handed Furue a 1-up lead. Ji responded by winning the next three holes, taking the par-3 eighth with a five-foot birdie putt after Furue made a sand-save par putt from 12 feet.

Ji holed out from the fairway for eagle at the par-5 ninth, her approach landing and rolling two feet ahead into the cup, then sank a six-foot par putt at the 10th to seize a 2-up advantage.

Furue won on Ji’s concession at the 11th after finding greenside rough out of a bunker but Furue missed a four-foot par putt to drop the 12th and fall 2-down to Ji once again.

Ji’s seven-foot par putt at the 14th kept her 2-up while Furue holed a 12-footer to par the 15th and stay 2-down with three holes remaining.

At the par-5 16th, Ji needed two shots to escape greenside rough but sank a clutch 10-foot par putt while Furue missed a par putt from just inside 10 feet to drop the hole and the match.

In the semi-finals, Ji emerged from a nip-and-tuck front nine with a 1-up lead after Lee three-putted the ninth. She went 2-up at the 13th and won 14 and 15 with pars.

Furue handed Vu her only defeat of the week. She was the only player to come through three round-robin matches, the round of 16 and quarter-finals with a perfect record.

Furue led most of the match, but Vu made some gritty late par saves to prevent her from closing it out early. They halved the 13th with bogeys, Furue finally closing out the victory at the 17th.