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Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Jiyai Shin's marathon win a turning point

By Mechelle Voepel

The Kingsmill Championship had one of the most bizarre finishes on the LPGA Tour last year. For eight playoff holes that Sunday, neither Jiyai Shin nor Paula Creamer could quite finish off the other. They were deadlocked. Eventually, though, the setting sun prevailed over both.

So it was back to the course Monday, when players are typically making their getaways and the tournament is doing its final cleanup. It didn't take long to end things, though, as Shin won on the ninth playoff hole.

It was the longest playoff on the LPGA Tour between two players and the second longest of any kind. There was a 10-hole playoff among three players in 1972.

Now, Shin has returned this week to defend her title at Kingsmill's picturesque River Course in Williamsburg, Va. For Shin, last year's marathon win ended a two-year drought without a victory. For Creamer, it prolonged a dry stretch that continues.

The timing of the event is different. Last year, the Kingsmill tournament was in September, just before the Women's British Open. Shin, who was coming off wrist surgery, ended up winning the British as well. It was quite an amazing two weeks for her. She finished last season No. 7 on the money list at more than $1.2 million and started 2013 well.

She won the Women's Australian Open in February and has one other top-10 finish this year. That was at the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April. Shin is only 25 but said she felt that winning at Kingsmill last year was a turning point in her career.

"I was really hungry for the win at the time," Shin said Tuesday when she met with the media at Kingsmill.

As for her chances of repeating this year, Shin jokingly said that if it comes down to experience at the 18th hole, she's in great shape. She played the 18th several times during the playoff last year, so nobody other than Creamer knows that hole better.

However, having the tournament in Virginia's springtime rather than in the fall will affect every hole on the course.

"Definitely the weather is a little bit different, because last year we played in September, but this year we're playing [in] May," Shin said. "The greens and fairways are much softer than last year. I know the weekend is [predicted as] really good weather, so it can change a little bit. But at this moment it's pretty wet, so I need to hit harder with my driver."

Nobody on tour is hitting any club much better right now than Shin's South Korean countrywoman Inbee Park. Park won her third title of the year Sunday at the North Texas LPGA Shootout, which solidified her No. 1 ranking.

Park didn't play at Kingsmill last year, but she's in such a good groove that course familiarity is not likely to be much of a factor. In Texas last week, she shot 67-70-67-67 to win by one stroke.

She finished first on the money list last year, and that's where she is right now, at $841,068 after seven events. Park has what Shin -- and several other LPGA players -- is targeting: the No. 1 ranking.

The truth is that not everybody thinks of that as a destination point, or even wants the pressure. Shin, however, has not been hesitant about saying it's her goal. By the same token, she is extremely impressed with how Park has played and handled herself.

As for Creamer? She's going on three years without a victory; her last was at the U.S. Women's Open in 2010. But it's not as if she's played badly. She bounced back from the disappointment of losing the Kingsmill playoff last year by finishing third at the Women's British. In 2013, her best finish is third. She tied for 11th last week in Texas.

Does Kingsmill kind of "owe" her one after she came so agonizingly close last year? We'll see. But one thing seems pretty sure: It's unlikely anyone will have to work more overtime to win than Shin did last year.