Dominant 20: There was no stopping Ariya Jutanugarn in 2018

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Jutanugarn stands with her haul of accolades after winning the LPGA CME Group Tour Championship in November.

Ariya Jutanugarn is No. 4 on ESPN The Magazine's list of the most dominant athletes of the year.

Ariya Jutanugarn won all the awards in 2018: the Race to the CME Globe, the Vare Trophy and the Rolex Annika Major Award, plus the money title and a player of the year award to go with the one she earned in 2016. But the most telling day of her season came June 3, in the final round of the U.S. Women's Open at Shoal Creek.

Teeing off with a four-stroke lead over Sarah Jane Smith, Jutanugarn, 23, who'd won one major to that point, led by seven after a front-nine 32. But after a disastrous 10th hole began a collapse that led to a back-nine 41, Jutanugarn displayed how she earned all those awards.

LES LUARK, JUTANUGARN'S CADDIE: We had a good lead, so we kind of thought we'd just cruise around the back nine.

SARAH JANE SMITH: The previous 27 holes I'd played her was probably the most flawless golf I'd seen. When you're watching golf like that, you feel she's never going to make a mistake.

RON SIRAK, GOLF WRITER: I never saw it coming, then she hit off No. 10. Her miss is usually left, and she blocked that so far right. With that one bad swing, it was like her confidence went away. Confidence in golf is a fragile thing.

*

Jutanugarn's resulting triple bogey on the 10th cut her lead to four.

BRIANNE WIGLEY, TOUR MEDIA OFFICIAL, LPGA: We started the day looking up the biggest margin of victory. Halfway through the round, we switched to looking at the biggest leads lost.

LUARK: The tee shot on the 11th was the only moment on the back nine I really got in her face and said, "We can do this." I told her we weren't hitting the shot until she told me she was ready and she felt like she could win.

*

Jutanugarn recovered, playing the next six holes at even par. But a bogey-bogey finish left her tied with South Korea's Hyo-Joo Kim at 11 under and headed to the championship's new playoff format: two aggregate holes followed by sudden death, if needed.

HYO-JOO KIM: In the final round, I really didn't know where I was positioned. It wasn't until after the 18th that I checked. That's when I thought I had a chance.

SMITH: I felt she just needed 72 holes to be over and start again. For her to hang in there was an incredible testament to her character.

SIRAK: The way she regrouped for the playoff is really astounding. It's a minor miracle.

*

Kim went birdie-bogey to Jutanugarn's two pars in the aggregate playoff; they posted pars on the third playoff hole. When they returned to the par-4 18th, both hit their approaches into bunkers, leaving lengthy sand shots. Kim couldn't save par; Jutanugarn blasted to 18 inches to set up a winning 4.

JUTANUGARN: I was so confident with my bunker shot. I had no doubt I was going to hit it close to the pin. I did not feel any pressure because I saw the shot and committed to it.

LUARK: Once she gets it into her head that she's going to beat you, she's going to beat you. It doesn't matter how she's got to do it.

Related Content