Golfer Cristie Kerr. Photo courtesy of her website
Golfer Cristie Kerr. Photo courtesy of her website

American Cristie Kerr fired a seven-under-par 65 Sunday to overcome a three-shot deficit at the start of play to win the $1.7 million Kia Classic by two shots over South Korean Mirim Lee.

Kerr began the round at the Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad tied for third, three shots behind Lee, the third-round leader. She took the lead for good with a birdie on the 14th hole, the second of four consecutive birdies.

Kerr’s birdie on the 16th hole gave her a three-shot lead over Lee and Lydia Ko, the world’s top-ranked women’s player.

Lee, playing in the group one hole behind Kerr’s, eagled the par-4 16th to pull within one shot of the lead. However, her hopes of a victory ended with a double-bogey on the 17th.

Kerr walked to the 18th tee with a three-shot lead and was able to record her 17th victory on the LPGA Tour and first since 2013, despite a bogey on the final hole.

The victory was also Kerr’s first since the Dec. 8, 2013 birth of her son Mason via a surrogate. He ran to his mother after she walked off the 18th green.

“It was amazing having him there,” the 37-year-old Kerr said. “He just gave me a big smile and a squeak. I always hoped this day would come and now it has and just so proud.”

Kerr entered the final round of last year’s Kia Classic tied for the lead, but shot a one-over-par 73 to finish fifth, four shots behind tournament champion Anna Nordqvist.

“When I got in contention last year, I thought about winning a little too much, wanting him to be on the green,” Kerr said. “Everything happens for a reason and last year, he couldn’t have run out to meet me, so maybe that was fate too.”

Kerr’s four-round score of 20-under-par 268 is the lowest in the tournament’s six-year history, breaking the previous record of 14-under-par 274 set by Yani Tseng in 2012 when it was played at the La Costa Resort and Spa.

The previous low score among the three years it has been played at the Aviara Golf Club was Nordqvist’s 275 last year.

Kerr’s round Sunday included nine birdies and two bogeys.

Kerr received $255,000 and a Kia K900 luxury sedan for the victory. Her career earnings of $16,283,200 are the third highest in LPGA history.

The tournament was the LPGA’s seventh of the year. Kerr was the seventh winner, the first not to be born in South Korea. She is also the first American to win the Kia Classic.

Lee shot a two-under-par 70, with double bogeys on the second and 17th hole, a bogey on the first and five birdies and the eagle on the 16th, for a four-round total of 18-under-par 270.

The 17-year-old Ko shot her second consecutive five-under-par 67 to finish third at 17-under-271, three shots behind Kerr.

Ko, who was born in South Korea and lives in New Zealand, has had 28 consecutive sub-par rounds on the LPGA Tour, one behind the record of 29 set by Annika Sorenstam in 2004. Ko has finished in the top 10 in 10 consecutive LPGA Tour tournaments.

Rookie Alison Lee, who began the round in second, one shot behind Miriam Lee, shot a one-under-par 71 to finish fourth at 16-under-par 272, four shots behind Kerr. The finish was the best for the 20-year-old former UCLA star in the six LPGA tournaments she has played in.

Ilhee Lee became the third player in three days to tie the women’s course record of eight-under-par 64, following fellow South Korean Se Ri Pak on Saturday and American Morgan Pressel on Friday. The record was originally set by Dori Carter last year.

Ilhee Lee finished in a five-way tie for 10th at 12-under-par 276, eight shots behind Kerr.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.