Ariya Jutanugarn, of Thailand, stands with the LPGA Volvik Championship trophy after winning the golf tournament at the Travis Pointe Country Club, Sunday, May 29, 2016 in Ann Arbor, Mich. Jutanugarn is holding up three fingers to signify that she has won three LPGA tournaments in a row. Photo: Jose Juarez / Associated Press
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ariya Jutanugarn’s strength and skill helped her become the first player to win three straight LPGA Tour events in three years.
The 20-year-old Jutanugarn closed with a 5-under 67 for a five-stroke victory Sunday in the Volvik Championship. She’s the first player since Inbee Park in 2013 to win three consecutive tournaments and the first ever to make her first three career victories consecutive.
“Ariya is very difficult to describe, there really hasn’t been a player like her in my generation,” said 32-year-old Christina Kim, who finished second after a 71. “The way she powers the ball, it’s remarkable. And she has such imagination around the golf course and incredible touch.”
Jutanugarn finished at 15-under 273 at Travis Pointe after starting the day with a one-shot edge thanks to a closing eagle in the third-round.
She became the first Thai winner in tour history three weeks ago in Alabama and followed that up last week with a victory in Virginia. Jutanugarn isn’t playing the next event in New Jersey, where she would have had a shot to become the first since Lorena Ochoa in 2008 to win four scheduled tournaments in a row.
“I just need rest right now,” she said.
Jutanugarn will have an opportunity to resume her run at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in two weeks in Sammamish, Washington.
“She’s going to have a lot of majors under her belt,” Kim said. “She’s peaking at the right time.”
A year ago, Jutanugarn was mired in a slump in which she missed 10 straight cuts.
“Last year, I had chance to win a few tournaments, but I didn’t know how to play with pressure,” she said. “This year, I know how to play under pressure.”
Jessica Korda (72) and Canada’s Brooke Henderson (68) tied for third at 9 under. The 18-year-old Henderson has nine top-10 finishes this season. Third-ranked Lexi Thompson shot a 67 to tie for seventh at 7 under. The top-ranked Ko a 70 to tie for 16th at 4 under.
Before the breakthrough winning streak, Jutanugarn was best known for a pair of final-round meltdowns. Last month in the ANA Inspiration, she had a two-stroke lead with three holes left and closed with three bogeys to finish fourth — two strokes behind winner Lydia Ko.
“I didn’t know how to control when I got very nervous,” Jutanugarn said. “After that, I got a lot more confident.”
In the 2013 LPGA Thailand at age 17, Jutanugarn blew a two-stroke lead with a closing triple bogey in a one-stroke loss to Park.
Jutanugarn opened the inaugural tournament at Travis Pointe with a 65, leaving her a shot behind Kim. Jutanugarn surged into the lead by two strokes with a 68 on Friday, and finished off a 73 on Saturday with a 15-foot eagle putt for a one-stroke lead over Kim and Korda.
The powerful player didn’t need a driver this week, and still often outhit the competition off the tee with her 2-iron and 3-wood, which she uses to send balls 270 yards.
“She can hit it 320, 330, when she hits driver,” Kim said.
And even if she was in the rough or sand at the Volvik Championship, Jutanugarn’s deft touch put her in position to make par-saving putts or birdies.
Lightning in the area led to a 50-minute rain delay toward the end of Jutanugarn’s front nine when she was 1 under for the day after a birdie at No. 6.
Facing a stiff, flag-flapping wind, she sent a tee shot into the right rough at No. 9. Her approach left her short of the green, but she got up and down for a par.
“She does things that I can’t fathom,” Kim said. “It’s beautiful to watch.”
As Jutanugarn walked off ninth green, she stopped to shake the hand of Army specialist Zachary Loughrige, who was tending the U.S. flag that was used in hole.
She pulled away from the field with birdies at Nos. 13, 14 and 16, earning a five-shot cushion at 14 under.
“I thought she was bored because she was sitting down,” Korda said. “She sat down on like the 16 tee and 18 tee, sitting, chilling in the shade.”
Long before that moment, everyone else was vying for position on the leaderboard behind Jutanugarn.
Korda said she was “speechless,” after playing in the final group with Jutanugarn.
“As long as she can keep that ball in play off the tee, watch out,” she said. “Keep watching out.”
Story: Larry Lage / Associated Press