Lopez wins LPGA Tournament of Champions after playoff duel


Miami (AFP)

Gaby Lopez drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the seventh hole of a sudden death playoff to win the LPGA Tour's season-opening Tournament of Champions on Monday.

The 26-year-old from Mexico City clinched the second win of her career after draining the putt on the par-three 18th hole at the Four Seasons Orlando.

Lopez's long putt left Nasa Hataoka needing to make an easier 12-footer to force an eighth playoff hole, but the 21-year-old Japanese ace pushed her effort wide of the cup to concede defeat.

Lopez had birdied the 18th on Sunday to force her way into the playoff with a closing five-under-par 66, and the Mexican said that had given her confidence for the shootout.

"I was mentally prepared for the last 24 hours," Lopez said after her win. "Coming down the stretch yesterday, I knew I had to birdie the hole to have a chance.

"I was very lucky to have a good look at it above the hole today and I made it. I know I don't need to fear anyone else apart from myself, and I proved to myself I can win in any situation.

"I put all those moments together and recall them when I'm walking down the fairway, just staying in the moment."

The playoff had been halted on Sunday evening due to darkness with Hataoka and Lopez unable to break the deadlock after replaying the 18th hole five times.

South Korea's Park In-bee had been eliminated after the third playoff hole, leaving Hataoka and Lopez to slug it out.

When play resumed just after 8am local time on Monday, it looked as if another protracted battle was in store.

Both players secured pars on the sixth playoff hole, sending it back to the tee.

Lopez's tee-shot on the seventh playoff hole easily found the green and rolled around to leave her a long birdie chance.

However Hataoka's tee-shot was even better, arcing around the back of the green and rolling down a slight slope to settle around 12 feet from the pin.

Lopez judged her birdie putt perfectly, finding an ideal line and length to roll her ball gently to the edge of the cup and in.

That left Hataoka with a pressure-laden putt to save par and a chance for her fourth LPGA Tour event.

But her putt drifted well wide to leave Lopez the victor.