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World No. 2 Sei Young Kim wins inaugural LPGA Pelican Women’s Championship

It’s the 12th career victory for the South Korean golfer since joining the tour in 2015.
Sei Young Kim shows off her trophy after winning the Pelican Women's Championship at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020.
Sei Young Kim shows off her trophy after winning the Pelican Women's Championship at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 22, 2020
Updated Nov. 23, 2020

BELLEAIR — A final putt at the 18th hole Sunday was the ticket for a champion­ship and a second consecutive victory for Sei Young Kim.

The world’s second-ranked player won the inaugural Pelican Women’s Championship the same way she had competed during the entire LPGA Tour tournament: comfortable and confident. Now, she might just need one of the royal blue jackets — worn by Pelican Golf Club members — to hang in her closet, too, after her victory, worth $225,000.

Kim shot par 70 to finish at 14-under 266 for a three-stroke victory over Ally McDonald (68). A stellar three-day performance had given Kim a five-stroke lead over McDonald heading into the fourth and final round.

Immediately after hugging caddie Paul Fusco, Kim’s friends on tour doused her in champagne. The 27-year-old South Korean leaned her head back as a fellow golfer poured from a bottle of vintage 2008 Dom Perignon and into her mouth.

“(A) win is always great,” said Kim, who also triumphed in her previous start, the Women’s PGA Championship, in October. “(I) feel great. It means a lot to me. …

“My friends put (the champagne) on my head and then my T-shirt and everything. Feel like (taking) a shower in the champagne. I still smell. And then drink a little bit … feels, you know, like a little drunk.”

Kim said her big lead helped her stay relaxed on the course during the final round.

“I think I’m more confident (when I’m relaxed),” she said.

Related: Ally McDonald has second ace of Pelican Championship

There was a lot of back and forth between Kim and McDonald as they played in the same group during the final two rounds, but ultimately Kim’s consistency kept her in control.

McDonald got as close as three strokes during the final round after Kim bogeyed the par-3 ninth, dropping to 14 under. Kim knew she hadn’t played the hole as well as she had over the previous three days, making par each time before Sunday.

“So I (was) trying (to get) the good feeling back, so a little bit of struggling in my instincts,” Kim said. “(But after I made) the (No.) 14 birdie, everything (was) good.”

McDonald, like Kim, also was coming off a win in her previous tournament last month, the Drive On Championship, her first victory on tour.

“I’m really happy with how I played,” McDonald said. “I hung in there. … So I’m really pleased. Obviously, following a win to get another second and be in contention, that’s all I can ask for.”

Stephanie Meadow (69) was third at 9 under. Lydia Ko (69) and Austin Ernst (68) were 8 under, and Brooke Henderson (69) was another stroke back with Jessica Korda (64), Angela Stanford (65) and Jennifer Song (65).

Related: Bianca Pagdanganan swings hard, dreams big, takes golf world by storm

Kim finished the tournament with 20 birdies and six bogeys, shooting bogey-free for 30 holes between Rounds 1 and 3.

She has now won nine of 13 tournaments where she has held the 36-hole lead. Kim is the first player since Ariya Jutanugarn — who captured the Women’s British Open and CP Women’s Open in 2016 — to win the first event played after winning a first major; Kim won the Women’s PGA Championship on Oct. 11 in Pennsyl­vania.

Kim has 12 victories on tour, breaking a tie for third on the South Korean victory list with Jiyai Shin, behind only Inbee Park (20) and Se Ri Pak (25).

“She has taken ownership,” Fusco said after Sunday’s win. “If I give her information, she knows what to do. If she doesn’t, she asks, which is great. But for the most part, she’s got it. I mean, you can just see it, she looks comfortable and it’s fun.

“She’s in the right spot, now we just have to keep her there and see how long we can do that.”

Instead of playing in the tour’s next event, the Volunteers of America Classic in Texas, Kim plans to take time to practice on the courses for the U.S. Women’s Open in Houston (Dec. 10) and the Tour Championship in Naples (Dec. 17).

“(The) U.S. Open course is very challenging and difficult,” she said.

In the world rankings, Kim trails only Jin Young Ko, who shot 71 and finished tied for 34th at 3-over 283 in her season debut on tour. Ko, who has been No. 1 for the past 68 weeks, had been home in South Korea since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would mean a lot because world ranking No. 1 is (on) my wish list this year,” Kim said. “That’s my biggest goal in this year.”

Information from Times news services was used in this report. Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.