Choi claims first LPGA Tour victory alongside her father

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Choi claims first LPGA Tour victory alongside her father

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Chella Choi, front left, and father and caddie Choi Ji-yeon, right, are doused after winning the Marathon Classic golf tournament on the first playoff hole at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio, on July 19. [AP/NEWSIS]

SYLVANIA, Ohio - Choi Ji-yeon promised his daughter he would caddie for her until she won the LPGA Tour.

Chella Choi (Choi Woon-jeong) isn’t so sure she’s ready to break up the team after winning the Marathon Classic on Sunday.

“My father wants to retire because we promised, but I don’t know,’’ Choi said. “We will talk later.’’

The 24-year-old Korean player broke through in her 157th start on the tour, beating compatriot Jang Ha-na with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff at Highland Meadows.

“You know, a first-time win is hard,’’ Choi said. “I cannot believe it. Hopefully, this is a turning point for me. ... It’s been a long time, seven years. So, I was really, really excited and happy.’’

In the playoff on the par-5 18th, Choi chipped onto the green from 87 yards and two-putted from 25 yards for the par - holing a 1-footer for the victory. Jang bogeyed the hole after hitting approach long into high rough.

Choi closed with a 5-under 66 to match Jang at 14-under 270. Jang, the leader after each of the first three rounds, finished with a 68.

Jang didn’t speak to the media after the round.

Choi opened with a 73, then moved into contention with rounds of 66 and 65.

“I made just one birdie on Thursday,’’ Choi said.

Her father was a police officer before joining her on the course.

“I’ve worked with my father for eight years, and somebody said that’s why I don’t win, just for my caddie,’’ Choi said. “So I’m so excited with my father.’’

Choi earned $225,000. She will jump from 40th to 25th in the world ranking.

Second-ranked Lydia Ko, the winner last year, had a 67 to tie for second with Shanshan Feng at 13 under. Feng also shot 67.

“I’m happy that I could give it a run to defend the title,’’ Ko said. “Seeing how average my first day score was, to be top five or whatever, I think it’s a good finish for the week.

“I played really solid the front nine, and that’s all I could really do. I know it would have been great if I could continue that on the back nine, but it just wasn’t going.’’

Playing a group in front of the leaders, Ko was looking for a birdie on No. 18 to reach 14 under, but made a par.

“I hit a great 3-wood off the tee and miss-hit it on the second shot,’’ Ko said. “I guess it’s not the worst place to be, but it’s not the best place to be, either.’’

Choi, who started playing golf from age 11, had never won a trophy until Sunday. She has three second place finishes in the LPGA Tour, at the Manulife Financial Classic in 2012, Mizuno Classic in 2013 and ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open last year.

After going to the United States in 2007, she started in the second-division tour and joined the LPGA Tour in 2009. Her prize money ranking has steadily increased. Starting from 86th in her debut year, she moved up to 20th in 2012, 17th in 2013 and 10th last year.

With Choi’s victory, Koreans now have a combined 11 wins in the LPGA Tour this year, tying the country’s record for most wins in a single season, which was also accomplished in 2006 and 2009.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON, AP [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]

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