Na Yeon Choi emerges for South Korea
South Korean women fill 15 of the top 40 spots in the Rolex World Rankings, including four of the top 11. Yet, despite the small country's disproportionate muscle in the game's talent pool, there remains one significant shortcoming.
That would be a No. 1.
Not since Se Ri Pak bounded onto the scene in the late 1990s, lighting a fire in her homeland that grew into an assembly line of talent, has South Korean golf enjoyed a solo flag carrier to validate its global power in the game.
Until possibly now.
Na Yeon Choi, No. 4 in the world rankings, but previously without a 2011 victory, broke through Sunday, winning the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, beating world No. 1 Yani Tseng by 1 shot.
After a season of coming close -- nine top-10s, including a second last week to Tseng -- Choi, 23, may finally have identified herself as South Korea's leading talent.
Choi's victory, the fifth of her three-year career, was the 100th LPGA title for a South Korean player. She joins U.S. Women's Open champ So Yeon Ryu as the only South Korean winners on tour this year.
"I don't know why. I try hard over time," Choi told reporters Sunday night. "I feel great right now. I have confidence. So I want to go next week and then do my best again."
Choi finished 15 under at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club and earned $285,000. She birdied the par-3 17th to pull ahead and parred the par-4 18th to prevent Tseng from winning for the second straight week and seventh time this year.
Particularly satisfying, the 1-swing decision over Tseng came after Choi finished 1 shot back of the world No. 1 the week before.
"I keep watching the leaderboard today, and she's so intimidating player this year, especially this year," Choi said. "I think she made me like more nervous today. But it's a great experience really.
"I took something from last week. I had a great experience from last week. And then this week, I had a great feeling about my game. I played so well this week."
Tseng, who has held the world No. 1 ranking the entire season, began the day 4 shots back but played her way into the hunt with a 6-under final round.
"Today before I'm going to play, I tell myself, just shoot 6 under and finish 14 under," Tseng told reporters afterward. "So this is my goal today, and I achieved my goal and didn't win.
"Na Yeon played great and she made a couple birdies on the back nine. You know, it's fun and I enjoy it, and I finished second this week, that means I still have space to improve next week."
American Brittany Lang came close.
Lang, looking for her first LPGA career victory, finished in a tie for fifth after a final-round 73.
It was Lang's sixth top-10 finish of the 2011 season. She also finished runner-up to Tseng at the Women's British Open.
"Yeah, keeping a positive attitude and really a carefree attitude through all of this, it's a huge shot saver and it makes you have a lot more fun," Lang said.
The tournament's second and third rounds were delayed by lightning that sent the days into darkness.
The result was night golf as lights were turned on at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club to allow the golfers to finish. It was the first time anyone can remember the LPGA using lights on holes other than No. 9 and 18 to complete a round.
"I was so thankful they had them," Lang said. "I was just so thankful we got done. You see a few shadows, but other than that they are very helpful."
• 11: Top-10 finishes by Stacy Lewis in 2011 after Sunday's tie for fifth, second on tour to Tseng's 12.
• 75: Three-over final round posted by Michelle Wie, to finish 2-under and tied for 18th.
• 21: Strokes over par by American rookie and Solheim Cup captain's pick Ryann O'Toole after rounds of 82-75-74-74.