AUGUSTA, Ga. — In the end, the balance of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur came down to a golfer with no expectations entering the week against a player who had the world on her shoulders before the first tee shot was struck. Rose Zhang, the top-ranked amateur in the world, prevailed. Barely.
Zhang, 19, squandered the six-shot lead she owned through three holes on Saturday while also dealing with a three-hour weather delay. But the Stanford sophomore righted herself just enough to shoot four-over 76 and finish in a tie at nine under with Georgia native Jenny Bae, who mounted a comeback by tying the day’s best score of two-under 70.
After they tied with pars on the first playoff hole, the 18th, Zhang made a routine par on the 10th, while Bae suffered a bogey when her approach went long and left under a low-hanging magnolia tree, and that handed Zhang her first victory at Augusta National Golf Club in four tries.
“I greatly wanted to win this,” Zhang said. “It was a huge desire, but at the same time, I didn’t want myself to get too ahead in terms of my thinking and where my head was at.”
The Augusta victory completes a quadrilateral of top amateur wins for Zhang, following triumphs in the U.S. Women’s Amateur, U.S. Girls’ Junior and the individual portion of the 2022 NCAA Division I Championship.
Bae, 21 and a senior at Georgia, said earlier in the week that she had no expectations for results because she missed the cut last year in her only previous appearance. But the woman who grew up 150 miles to the west of Augusta in Suwanee, Ga., overcame a double bogey on the second hole and twice got to within one stroke of Zhang before ultimately tying her by stuffing her iron approach into the 17th hole to two feet.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt happier on a golf course that much in my life,” Bae said later of the shot. “I saw it and I marked it and I hit it. I mean, I’ve never heard such big-like yelling on a golf course. It just felt amazing.”
Of pushing Zhang to the end and the experience she got in that, Bae, who will turn pro after the college season, said, “It will definitely give me a lot of confidence, especially I just shot nine under in one of the most stressful and pressuring environments.”
Starting with a five-shot lead at 13 under after record-breaking performances in the first two rounds at Champions Retreat, Zhang opened Saturday’s round with a nervous-looking tee shot, pushing her drive to the right and into the massive fairway bunker. She was close enough to the front lip that she could only lay up, and eventually made a double bogey.
Still, when Zhang got a shot back with a birdie at No. 2, she was six shots ahead of Bae, who birdied the second hole but double bogeyed the third to drop six shots back.
From there, Bae made par after par directly in front of Zhang and birdied the ninth. The leader bogeyed the fourth and fifth, and, after being stopped for the weather while on the eighth hole, she made the turn only two shots ahead. When Bae birdied the par-5 13th, she was briefly only one behind, but Zhang topped her with a birdie.
Then disaster struck Zhang at the par-5 15th. From the fairway, she decided to go for the green with a wood, but hit it thin and the ball came up well short in the water. Zhang then hit her fourth shot well past the flag and two-putted for a bogey that dropped her margin to one. Bae then tied her with the tremendous birdie at the 17th.
Zhang had a look at winning the championship outright on the 54th hole with a 20-foot birdie putt, but it wasn’t firm enough and drifted short of the hole.