(The Sports Xchange) - Seven years after Katherine Kirk’s last victory on the LPGA Tour, she returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since then on Sunday.
The 35-year-old Australian held off Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa with a 2-under-par 70 in the final round and won the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic by one shot in Oneida, Wis.
Kirk finished the first-year event at 22-under 266, coming up short of the LPGA 72-hole scoring record of 27 under, but it was enough to edge Buhai, who closed with a 67.
The win was the third of Kirk’s career but her first since the 2010 Navistar LPGA Classic, a span of 152 starts.
“So much hard work and patience,” Kirk said. “I had a rough couple years like 2015 and 2016, and just an amazing team behind me. My husband has been 100 percent supportive the whole time. I can’t put it into words. It’s just a great feeling.”
Kirk began the final round at Thornberry Creek with a four-stroke lead and was challenged by Buhai before making a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th hole to finally secure the victory.
“When we got even, I just knew I had to ... keep hitting the shots, and I did that,” Buhai said. “There’s not much more you can do, and she made a birdie straight away. She bounced back well. Yeah, I got within close range, but it was a great birdie on 18.”
Kirk’s final round mixed six birdies with four bogeys.
“Ashleigh played great all day,” said Kirk, who qualified for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open with the victory. “I put the pressure on her. Pretty fun finish there. I knew I had to make it.”
Buhai moved to 20 under with four birdies on the front nine, but she parred the next eight holes before closing with a birdie on No. 18. Her runner-up finish was a career best.
“We both played great this week,” Buhai said. “Today, 5 under, no bogeys. I had three lip-outs on the back nine, but I hit the putts and the shots that I had to just keep hitting.”
Sei Young Kim of South Korea finished third at 20 under after a 63. Pornanong Phatlum of Thailand shot the best round of the week with a 10-under 62 and took fourth at 19 under a career-best 62.
Cristie Kerr rounded out the top five at 18 under after a closing 66.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Steve Keating