Jang holds her nerve to land first title

 

Women's British Open: Paired with Annika Sorenstam for the final round of the British Open, Jeong Jang performed like the imperious Swede at her best yesterday as she secured not just her first major tournament victory but the first tournament victory of her career. It was a hugely deserved win, not least because the Korean led the event from start to finish.

Her margin of victory was four shots over Sophie Gustafson, with Young Kim and Michelle Wie, who won the Smyth salver for finishing as the top amateur, another shot back on 10 under par. It was an excellent performance from Wie in what is expected be her last event as amateur. After a summer competing against the best of the LPGA tour, the PGA tour and the US amateur circuit, the 15-year-old will return home to Hawaii, where she starts high school on August 25th.

"I can't say I am really looking forward to it," she said afterwards. One date she will be looking forward to is October 13th, when she is expected to join the professional game - a switch that will enable her to accept prize money (her joint-third-place finish, and the accompanying £62,500, brought her - uncollected - winnings for the summer to just under £500,000) as well as sign a $10 million sponsorship contract with Nike.

Judging by the blank space on the front of her golf cap, Jang is not in receipt of much sponsorship contracts, although that will change now, not least because women's golf is a huge sport in her homeland. "I don't think this will turn me into a superstar in Korea but I'm going there this week so I guess I'll find out for certain," she said after picking up the £160,000 winner's cheque.

Jang's record - she has collected numerous top-10 finishes on the LPGA tour - hints she may not be superstar material but she deserves a reception committee at Seoul airport.

Given her magnificent ball-striking for most of yesterday's final round, her score of 69, three under par, was the absolute worst she might have returned. It was all the more impressive because she was playing alongside Sorenstam, as well as at the top of a leaderboard crammed with the best players in the game - Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Wie and, of course, Sorenstam.

The Swede's presence in the final group had been expected to induce some form of nervous collapse from her less experienced partner but in the end it was Sorenstam who buckled.

"I'm not disappointed at all. I am pretty happy with the way I played all week, even though I didn't finish too good," said Sorenstam, who lost a ball off the final tee. "JJ just played incredibly."

From the very first ball she struck last Thursday, in the midst of a downpour, Jang played links golf the way it should be played - with patience and with the understanding sometimes great shots do not get their reward.

"I just felt comfortable on this course right from the very first practice round. I hit my drives very low and my iron shots don't spin very much, and that is what you need on a course like this," she said.

"I hardly got any sleep, and when I got to the first tee I was shaking with nerves," she said, adding she had spent most of the night playing golf on her Gameboy.

Jang seemed to take inspiration from Sorenstam's presence. To give her the highest compliment of all, she played like the Swede, especially over the front nine holes, when she outshone her playing partner with her driving and the precision of her iron shots. Only on the greens did the Korean show vulnerability.

She birdied the first hole from six feet but thereafter she spurned chances to stretch her lead. Five times in the next eight holes she had putts from eight foot or less, and five times she missed. Jang stuck to the advice offered all week by her caddy Les Luark - just smile. Now Luark has something to smile about: 10 per cent of €231,752.71.