Ana Inspiration: victory and controversy
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Never before has the first major of the season seen so much coverage... and so many tears. The final round of the Ana Inspiration, the first stage of the women's Grand Slam, turned out to be as suspense-filled as a blockbuster before concluding with victory by the South Korean So Yeon Ryu at the expense of the leader Lexi Thompson. A somewhat unusual and particularly controversial refereeing decision.
On Sunday 2 April, the Mission Hills course in Rancho Mirage, California, became the setting for an incredible series of unexpected developments. The final strait. The American Lexi Thompson, in the lead since round 2, calmly approaches hole 12. Victory was in sight, if it hadn't been for the reaction of a particularly observant TV viewer whose email to the event's organizers points out that when Lexi Thompson replaced her ball on the 17th green during the 3rd round on the previous day, she moved it forward a few centimetres. After having watched the footage of the 3rd round, the rules committee confirms the breach of the rules and informs Lexi Thompson, in the lead by 1 shot at that point, as she leaves hole 12.
The sanction is severe: 2 penalty points for the mistake and 2 points for having signed an incorrect scorecard. "Is this a joke? it's ridiculous" a stunned Lexi asks before bursting into tears, overwhelmed to find herself 3 shots off the lead in just a few seconds.
Full of fight despite the shock, the young American returns into battle and manages to catch up with So Yeon Ryu with 3 birdies in 5 holes. A last stand stopped in its tracks by the South Korean's birdie on the first hole of the play-off. So Yeon Ryu, a little unsettled by this strange win, nevertheless leaps into Poppie's Pond, which surrounds the 18th. The attractive Asian player, aged 26, already with a Major to her name (Open 2011) and world n°2, sees her regularity and her 4 Top 10 finishes since the start of the season rewarded.
Ryu also puts herself in good contention in the race for the Rolex Annika Major Award, which crowns the champion of champions at the end of the 5 Majors of the season (following Michelle Wie in 2014, Inbee Park in 2015 and Lydia Ko in 2016).
But the controversy grows and spreads like wildfire on social media with calls for #justiceforlexi. Even Tiger Woods has his say with his tweet: "Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes". For the LPGA, rules are rules and the rules committee is there to make sure they are adhered to. You can bet that the affair will continue to cause a stir and complicate things for the Royal & Ancient...