SHOAL CREEK, Ala. (Reuters) - Ariya Jutanugarn’s collapse at the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday ranked among the most memorable in major championship history, eight-times PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon said after watching the Thai squander a seven-shot lead before winning in a playoff.
Faxon, who followed Ariya for the final 36 holes at Shoal Creek, compared the meltdown to that of Arnold Palmer at the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Palmer also squandered a seven-shot lead over the final nine holes but while Ariya managed to right the ship and win in sudden death, the American great lost in a playoff to Billy Casper.
Ariya had looked poised to stroll to the title, padding her lead at the turn after starting the day four in front, but Faxon said the warning signs were there.
“The first tee shot she hit was the first really bad tee shot I saw her hit in two days,” Faxon, who was working at the championship for Fox Sports, told Reuters.
“It was a low push, low and off the toe. It didn’t have any height to it and then she hit a bad iron shot on two, a big pull-hook.”
But those errant shots did little to hint at what was to come as Ariya improved to 16-under-par at the turn, matching Juli Inkster’s 1999 record as the most under par at any point of a U.S. Women’s Open.
And then came the par-four 10th.
Ariya blocked a tee shot into a hazard and ran up the only triple bogey at the hole by anyone all week.
“She then hit a low snap hook at 11,” Faxon said, recalling an observation of former U.S. Open champion Ken Venturi.
“Ken said when somebody’s playing great they have great distance control, great accuracy and great trajectory, and the first thing they lose is their trajectory. I noticed Ariya lost her trajectory.”
Ariya does not carry a driver in her bag but has such power that she hits her three-wood further than most women do with the ‘big stick’.
“She’s battled having to deal with driver yips, or whatever she had,” Faxon said. “Today they showed up in three-wood.”
So much so that Ariya resorted to hitting her two-iron down the stretch, but even that she struggled to hit straight with any regularity.
Faxon said that Ariya, at her best, evoked comparisons with a young Tiger Woods, and with nine LPGA victories, including two majors, the 22-year-old seems capable of dominating the women’s tour.
But while Woods always seemed impervious to pressure, Ariya has sometimes struggled to close the deal.
Paul Azinger, the 1993 PGA Championship winner, said Ariya’s confidence would have taken a real blow had she not found a way past Kim Hyo-joo in the playoff.
“She was that close to getting her heart ripped out,” he told Fox.
Editing by Peter Rutherford