[PHOTO: NurPhoto]

Lilia Vu returned to the Meijer LPGA Classic in her first start since March, and it felt like the 2023 Player of the Year never left. Vu delivered a closing seven-under 65 on the final day at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, Michigan, playing her way into a three-way playoff between herself, Grace Kim and Lexi Thompson. Here’s how the No.2 player in the Rolex Rankings came from eight shots behind to win after three extra holes for her fifth career title.

What it means

Vu, winner of two majors last year, has seen this season so far defined chiefly by her absence. She withdrew from two events in South-East Asia in February, played the first two US contests in March, and then missed the tour’s last seven tournaments due to a back injury. That included not defending her Chevron Championship title in April. Vu’s low point came a couple of months ago when she cried on the range in frustration because her body was not letting her compete.

“I think the breaking point, the tipping point was [missing] Chevron,” Vu said. “Not being able to compete there really killed me. I feel like I thought I was taking the steps in the right direction, but I’m glad that I was able to take a couple of months off and re-evaluate my body, let it recover, do what I needed to do to get back out here again.”

In slowly building her body back up, the Californian had not played 18 holes since the Ford Championship in late March. The two-time major champion now re-asserts herself with the victory before the LPGA’s next pair of majors. The 26-year-old notched the fourth come-from-behind win of her career and overcame the largest deficit to win on tour this season, besting Linnea Strom’s 60 to come from seven back at the ShopRite LPGA Classic last week.

The $US450,000 first-place cheque puts her career earnings ($US4,983,897) just shy of the $5 million club.

How it happened

Kim was five shots ahead of the field at the start of the final day, but her spot in first place dissolved in only five holes, including a bogey-bogey opening. And while the 23-year-old Sydneysider stabilised with pars, Ally Ewing birdied the third through fifth holes to catch Kim at 15-under.

Both Ewing and Kim birdied the sixth to sit tied for first. But the co-leaders stalled, remaining at 16-under over the next nine holes. Vu and Thompson carded three birdies apiece on the first six holes of the back nine to get to 15-under.

Vu then birdied the 424-metre par-5 18th to finish a seven-under 65, the day’s best round, and take the clubhouse lead at 16-under. She walked off the course in a four-way tie for the lead with An, Ewing, and Kim.

The four-way tie for the lead dropped to two players after the 16th, as both Ewing and Narin An bogeyed on the slippery green to fall a stroke behind. Ewing bogeyed the 17th to fall two back before a window-dressing birdie on the 18th put her in fourth.

Kim, at 16-under and in the final group alongside Thompson, teed off with a 3-wood on the 18th. She still ended up in the fairway bunker, had to punch out and eventually made par.

In Thompson’s first start since the US Women’s Open, where she announced her retirement from full-time play at the end of the season, the 11-time winner needed a birdie to make the playoff. The 29-year-old put herself just behind the green in two, and her downhill chip stopped a revolution short of dropping in for an eagle and Thompson’s first LPGA win in 1,834 days, since the 2019 ShopRite LPGA Classic.

Among the trio, Thompson had the least success in playoffs, going 0-4 in her career. Kim won the 2023 Lotte Championship in a three-way playoff, while Vu won the ’23 Chevron Championship in a playoff against Angel Yin and lost in extras to Yin at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

This playoff went twice to the 18th, with each player making birdie, before moving on to the 492-metre fourth. Kim’s 30-foot birdie putt came up inches short, and Thompson’s 15-footer darted just past the left side of the cup. And it was Vu, the only player to go for the green in two, who got up and down from a bunker and made a six-footer for birdie to win.


“I think this is the most meaningful win [of my career] because there was a time two months ago where I was just crying on the range, not being sure if I would ever play a tournament again without pain,” Vu said. “To be here today is just incredible.”

Kim, meanwhile was naturally disappointed but remained upbeat.

“Going the three playoff holes with the Player of the Year last year, two major champions and obviously Lexi just being an icon for women’s golf says a lot about my game, I guess,” said Kim, who now moves on to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club.

“Obviously didn’t get it done. Yeah, it sucks, but I think I can see myself I guess in the future as well. Just how much I’ve grown. It’s only my second year out, and to be in this position it’s, as you can tell, overwhelming. All the credit goes to my team to push me this far.

“To get to these opportunities is, you know, unbelievable. To be able to play against these players in certain conditions and playoff for three holes, I think we all know we played some good damn golf.”


Winner: Lilia Vu (-16)

T-2: Lexi Thompson (-16)

T-2: Grace Kim (-16)

4th: Ally Ewing (-15)

T-5: Narin An (-14)

T-5: Allisen Corpuz (-14)