July 19, 2010
BLOOMFIELD, Conn., July 18, 2010 - Leave it to Tiffany Joh to totally underestimate her prodigious talent or to downplay her ability to chase down a strong tournament leader and come out on top after a four-hole playoff.
The affable and always entertaining second-year pro did just that on Sunday when she roared from five shots back to win the $100,000 ING New England Golf Classic, finally ending the head-to-head battle in extra holes against Gerina Mendoza with a birdie on her last trip to the 18th hole at Wintonbury Hills Golf Course.
Joh fired rounds of 67-65-68 to finish at 10-under 200 for the $14,000 winner's check. Mendoza, who set tournament scoring records this week for 18 holes and 36 holes, posted rounds of 62-65-73--200, before losing in the playoff.
"Honestly, just getting into the playoff was an accomplishment," said Joh, 23, of San Diego, who earned her first tournament win on the Duramed FUTURES Tour. "This is just completely unexpected because I was five back, and because Gerina is such a great player."
Mendoza started the day with a five-shot cushion and birdied her first hole to go up by six, but that advantage dwindled when the big hitter wrestled with her approach shots. By day's end, Mendoza had hit only eight greens in regulation and recorded five bogeys. That was far too much scrambling for a leader with hungry young pros like Joh breathing down her collar.
Mendoza's only other birdie came in regulation on the 18th hole when she had to birdie to force a playoff with Joh. She hit a sand wedge from 97 yards and spun it back to four feet, making her putt. But those shots didn't come often enough in the final round.
"I was good off the tee, but I just wasn't hitting the greens," said Mendoza of Roswell, N.M., who added her third runner-up finish in 2010. "It's hard to score well when you're chipping for birdies all day. I'm disappointed that I didn't win, but Tiffany played great."
Today's final round was mostly a duel between Joh and Mendoza, playing in the final pairing. Tour veteran Libby Smith of Essex Junction, Vt., made a charge, playing two groups ahead of the final group. The Vermonter stuck a 21-degree hybrid to 10 feet from 218 yards and rolled in the putt for eagle on the eighth hole. She added a birdie on the 13th from 25 feet and seemed to be picking up steam on the back nine, moving within one shot of Joh and two shots behind Mendoza with five holes to play.
But when Smith three-putted the 16th hole from 20 feet and could do no better than par on her final two holes, all eyes turned back to Mendoza and Joh.
Tied after 72 holes, Mendoza and Joh returned to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole. Joh drove down the middle, hit her approach to 20 feet and watched her birdie attempt just miss on the right side. She tapped in for par. Mendoza hammered another beauty off the tee, but her approach shot hit the front of the green and spun off to the front fringe. She two putted from 40 feet for par.
They returned to the 18th tee once again for the second playoff hole. This time Joh's approach shot spun back to 27 feet. She left her birdie effort three feet short uphill and then tapped in for par. Mendoza's approach landed 30 feet above the hole and she left her birdie attempt two feet short, making par.
The pair then moved to the 186-yard, par-3 17th hole for the third extra hole. Joh's tee shot landed 45 feet behind the hole and she ran her birdie attempt four feet past the cup. She made the come-back putt for par. Watching Joh's putt on nearly the same line, Mendoza's 40-foot effort for birdie stopped three feet short. She made her par.
"I was pretty nervous, but in the past, I was really shaky," said Joh. "This time, I was so nervous that I almost got tired."
At some point, the Californian's mind flashed back to her college days at UCLA, where she was a four-time All-American. During her 2007 sophomore year at the Pac-10 Championship, Joh won a playoff against Arizona State's Anna Nordqvist. The next year at the 2008 NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship, she lost in a playoff to Arizona State's Azahara Munoz.
And today, as she wrestled to take this tournament away from Mendoza, her mind also flashed back to only a year ago at this same tournament in her rookie season, where she carded rounds of 76-74 to miss the cut by five shots at 10-over 150.
For the player who started the day with birdies on three of her first four holes and who, at that point, told herself that if she just played solid, she probably "had second place locked up," suddenly, Joh saw a different picture of herself.
Back on the 18th for the fourth playoff hole, Joh calmly pounded her drive down the middle and then stroked her pitching wedge from 113 yards to 3 1⁄2 feet to set up her last birdie chance. Mendoza uncharacteristically pushed her tee shot into the right hazard and never found her ball. She dropped, and her third shot, a 9-iron from 123 yards, sailed across the green to the back left rough. Mendoza hit a stunning 60-degree wedge shot to three feet to set up her bogey-5. All Joh had to do was roll in her birdie putt for the win.
"I wasn't completely sure which way it was going to break, so I hit it center," said Joh.
And the putt dropped in for her first regular-season victory as a pro.
Today's playoff was compelling enough that some 12-15 fellow pros remained on the course to see which of their two comrades would earn her first win. Everybody knew that Mendoza has been regularly knocking on the winner's door for three seasons. And everybody also new that Joh, a two-time U.S. Women's Public Links champion and former U.S. Curtis Cup team member, was capable of winning on this level in her steady progression as a pro.
"When I think about how many times Gerina has been in contention, I feel sad for her because she deserves it more than me," said Joh. "She's been in contention more."
And when asked how it made her feel to move into the No. 10 spot on the Tour's 2010 Money List, once again, the self-effacing Joh took the back door.
"I was just trying to get into the Top 20," she said, and then paused. "Maybe I need to set my goals a little bit higher."
And maybe also become a little more comfortable as a champion.
Story by Lisa Mickey, Duramed Futures Tour writer
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