Eun Hee Ji wins Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions; John Smoltz wins celebrity flight
If you looked at the LPGA leaderboard at any point during the last four days, you probably thought, that's a pretty good leaderboard. That's because there's no way it could not have been -- the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions was made up of all, well, champions.
Eun-Hee Ji emerged the winner of the 26-player field that included only those LPGA players who have won in the past two seasons. Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz won the a celebrity field of 49 playing alongside the LPGA player at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club in Orlando, Fla.
With LPGA players playing alongside musicians, actors, and professional athletes from other sports, and concerts and parties each night, the vibe of this event has been different from the usual LPGA event -- in a fun way. There's no escaping the fact that the points and the money are real for the LPGA players, however. And as the temperatures dropped and the wind picked up on Sunday, some of the frivolity gave way to grinding. It was a harder day, with only 12 of the tour players finishing under par on the round. Lyida Ko started the day in a tie for the lead with Ji, but a back nine that included two double bogeys and two bogeys dropped her to eighth on the leaderboard. Ji's 1-under 70 was enough for a two-shot win over Mirim Lee.
Ji, a 32-year-old from South Korea, has won four other times on the LPGA tour, including the 2009 U.S. Women's Open. Ji said after the win that she'd only planned on playing until she was 30, but she's having enough fun on the LPGA tour to continue competing. Winning helps, of course. Ji did not win again after the 2009 U.S. Women's Open until 2017. "I couldn't hit a ball for eight years," says Ji of the winless stretch. "I was hitting it left and right." But now she's won once in each of the 2017, 2018 and now 2019 seasons.
She said that this week playing with the celebrities helped make her less nervous.
"It makes it more fun and [I] relax more," said Ji. "I love this tournament, and I'd love to come back here."
Playing in the final group with Ko and Ji was Smoltz, who prevailed in the celbrity modified Stableford format. In the points system, players got one point for a bogey, two for a par, three for a birdie, five for an eagle, eight for a hole-in-one, and 10 for a double eagle. Smoltz said he was focusing on the math coming down the stretch.
"I was counting in my head. With the system we had, I was trying to figure out which points would put me over the top," said Smoltz. "I never thought the bogey I would make on 17 would be the difference, but it ended up being the difference."
He won by three points over Mark Mulder, another All-Star pitcher.