Gaby Lopez and Nasa Hataoka to continue playoff on Monday, while John Smoltz takes celebrity title again
ORLANDO — On Sunday, Tranquilo Golf Course was getable. The low round of the day at the LPGA's Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions was eight under. Yet the leader after three rounds, Inbee Park, failed to take advantage of birdie opportunities. Her putter, usually the strength of her game, was cold throughout the day. Park shot an underwhelming, even-par 71, and found herself in a playoff with Nasa Hataoka and Gaby Lopez, all three women having finished regulation play at 13 under.
Five holes into the playoff, darkness intervened with Lopez and Hataoka still alive and scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. on Monday.
The playoff format is sudden death, playing the par-3 18th hole until you get a winner. The hole played tough all week, and yielded only five birdies during regulation play, two of those coming from Lopez. From an elevated tee box, players had to hit a 197-yard shot to a pin tucked on the left side, unnervingly close to the water that runs along the left side of the hole.
It took three playoff holes for someone to get knocked out.
After all three players parred the 18th the first two times, Park lost her third tee shot to the left, the ball splashing in the water. She re-teed, and nearly flew that attempt into the cup. It bounced over the green. Hataoka and Lopez both made par, eliminating Park.
On the fourth playoff go-round, Lopez and Hataoka again made pars, this time with flood lights turned on around the greens to help offset the setting sun. It was getting dark enough that the head rules official gave the players the option of whether or not to continue playing. Both players agreed to go down the 18th for a fifth playoff hole, the rules official throwing his hands in the air, evoking cheers from the crowd.
Again, both players made par.
The sun had fully set at that point, making go at the 18th impossible. Lopez and Hataoka must sleep on the thought of hitting that difficult tee ball again in the morning.
The result was far more decisive in the celebrity tournament, which was played alongside the LPGA event. Baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz defended his title, winning by nine points over Mardy Fish.
The 49-person celebrity field played a modified Stableford format where a double bogey is worth zero points, a bogey is worth one, a par, two, birdie, three, eagle, five, hole-in-one, eight and a double eagle, 10.
The top female celebrity finisher was Blair O'Neal. Playing while six-months pregnant in a field dominated by men, O'Neal finished sixth overall.
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