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Kim tops Gulbis in sudden death

Just when Mi Hyun Kim and Natalie Gulbis had endured everything Mother Nature could throw at them, including torrential downpours and smoldering temperatures in the 90s, they had to endure three suspenseful sudden death playoff holes in the final round of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic in Sylvania on Sunday.

Kim won after her 18 foot birdie on the third playoff hole put all the pressure on Gulbis and she failed to sink her 7 foot putt, missing just millimeters to the right.

Missing close putts was something that had plagued her on all of the play-off holes and much of the back nine.

Despite the loss, Gulbis was clearly the crowd favorite, something Kim said did have an affect on her.

“She had so many friends with her, so many friends,” she said. “Still I can hear her name. There were like 300, 400 people cheering for her like, ‘Go Natalie’, ‘Go Natalie.’ I feel a little bit sad, you know, but sometimes when I walk over by the hole, between holes, some few people say ‘Go Mi Hyun Kim’. I’m so happy with that.”

Maybe it was the heat or the rush to beat traffic but as soon as Gulbis’ putt went wide there was a mad rush toward the gates.

“After I won [the fans] left, everybody left,” Kim said.

Less than 100 remained to watch the trophy presentation.

“I understand the American fans cheering for Natalie,” Kim said. “I’m just a little bit sad but I understand.”

Coming into the round tied with Kim at 12-under-par, Gulbis started out hot with her putter scoring five consecutive birdies and jumping out to a four stroke lead at 17-underpar.

“I was dropping putts on the front nine and I had chance after chance until probably 16 and 17,” Gulbis said.

But Kim answered with three straight birdies of her own to pull back within one.

Kim said playing with good friend and fellow S. Korean Se Ri Pak helped keep her spirits up while Gulbis was on her five hole tear.

Pak, who has won this event four times, finished two strokes off the lead in fourth place. Kim thinks it is more than coincidence that Korean players have enjoyed success at Highland Meadows Golf Club.

“I think a lot of Korean play, style is the same. Korean people like the kind of a same course,” she said.

Pak, who usually has a strong finish on this course, enjoyed her return to the glass city.

“I like to see all the crowd here and some of the fans out here – they’re out there for me and I like to see that,” Pak said. “I’m just happy to be here.”

Kim said she prefers this type of course because its a little bit tighter on the fairways and has fast greens.

However, this year the course was playing a little slower. The area was pummeled with 5 inches of rain throughout the week and part of the second round had to be pushed into Saturday because of it. But despite large puddles and an overflowing creek that crosses several of the holes, the fairways and greens were still in excellent shape on Sunday.

“Hands down the superintendent did a great job, him and his staff. It’s unbelievable,” said third-place finisher Paula Creamer.

Annika Sorenstam, who finished at 9-under-par, was equally impressed.

“I’m amazed that we are playing,” she said during the second round. “With all that rain and all that humidity and the river it’s just amazing.”

Even with the soggy conditions, it was actually the heat that had the greatest affect on the golfers Sunday.

By the second play-off hole, Kim had almost had enough of the sweltering conditions.

“I don’t want to go back to playoff because, ah so tired,” she said. “I’m seven years older than [Gulbis] so I’m so tired.”

Pak also felt the heat in the final round.

“All day I tried to find the shade but it’s a cart course and the trail ways are wide open so I couldn’t find any shade,” she said.

Creamer, who finished just ahead of Pak at 17-under-par, also had a chance to be in the playoff after four straight birdies on the back nine but a par on the eighteenth ended her bid.

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