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Kang Wins Corning Classic by Two Shots

May 30, 2005

CORNING, N.Y. (AP) _ Jimin Kang had an ace up her sleeve, and it caught Annika Sorenstam by surprise.

Just moments after a double bogey dropped her two shots off the lead with four holes to play Sunday at the LPGA Corning Classic, Kang made the first hole-in-one of her brief career and won for the first time on tour.

``I still can’t feel it. It’s not coming yet,″ Kang said after beating Sorenstam and rookie Meena Lee by two strokes. ``Hopefully, it’s coming soon. Once the check goes into my bank, I might feel it.″

A year after she rallied from behind on the final day to win the LPGA Corning Classic for the first time, Sorenstam couldn’t duplicate the feat. Hampered by a lingering cold, she shot a closing 69.

``I did have a chance,″ said Sorenstam, who did manage three birdies over her last seven holes. ``Obviously, I wish I would have felt a little better so I could have given it a little more, but I didn’t have much more to give.″

Still, Sorenstam, a runner-up for the 39th time in her amazing 11-year career, earned $87,085 to boost her total for the year over $1 million.

Before the final round began, it seemed Sorenstam was in a perfect position to make a run for the title. She trailed third-round leader Karine Icher of France by two shots and was seeking her 61st career victory. The other 73 golfers who made the cut had won 79 tournaments combined _ and 46 had never won on tour.

But there was no stunning rally like the one at the Safeway International in March, when Sorenstam came back from four strokes behind with three holes to play and beat Lorena Ochoa in a playoff.

Blame it on her cold.

``It’s just one of those times where the timing wasn’t right to get a cold,″ said Sorenstam, who was sick all weekend despite doses of antibiotics, cough medicine, and doctor visits. ``Obviously, I wish I would have felt better. I would have wanted to sleep a little better the last few days and be a little more rested. I had to hit one club more because I don’t have the energy to swing as hard, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.″

Kang, whose best previous finish was a tie for 19th at the Michelob Ultra Open four weeks ago, shot a career-low 66 and won $165,000, twice what she had pocketed since joining the tour in 2003. She finished at 15-under 273, eclipsing her previous best 72-hole score by 11 shots.

Kang and Lee, playing in the group ahead of Sorenstam, began the final hole tied at 15 under. Lee then suffered a meltdown after her drive at the 18th sailed under a tree. Her second shot clipped some branches, leaving her with a difficult, slanting lie at the right edge of the green. When her pitch fell short, she two-putted for double bogey, and Kang made a short par putt for the win.

``I’m very happy with my round, I just had bad holes,″ said Lee, who had birdied No. 17 to set up the dramatic finish. ``I’m a young player and this is my first time in contention. Me being young cost me today, but I will have more chances.″

After her disastrous play at the par-5 14th, a victory seemed remote at best for the 25-year-old Kang. She had missed a 5-foot putt for par and pulled her 3-foot bogey putt coming back.

``I kept telling myself at the corner of the green, `It’s OK, it’s fine, just move on,‴ said Kang, who became the seventh first-time winner in the tournament’s 27-year history and deprived Sorenstam of her fifth victory in seven starts this year. ``I think it worked.″

It did.

Kang hit a 9-iron right at the pin at No. 15, and the ball bounced twice on the green and rolled into the hole. It was the fourth hole-in-one of the weekend, a tournament record.

Just like that, Kang again was tied for the lead, leaping up and down in jubilation and pumping her fists in joy as she beamed broadly.

``When I heard she made a hole-in-one, I just realized, wow, she was three shots up,″ Sorenstam said. ``That was quite big. For me to catch up would be really hard.″

Icher fell apart with three double bogeys in a six-hole span on the back nine and finished with a 1-over 74, five shots behind Kang.

Divots: Two-time Corning winner Rosie Jones, who’s retiring at the end of the year, made a good showing in her final appearance at the event. Jones brushed away tears after shooting a closing 68 that left her in a three-way tie for ninth at 9-under 279. ... Icher’s winnings put her at No. 34 on the money list with $124,859, good enough to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open.

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