Sandra Gal grins from ear to ear after securing her first LPGA tour victory… (Scott Halleran / Getty Images )
The final shot was almost elegant, a slow and perfect putt of two feet, and when it went into the hole Sandra Gal grinned from ear to ear, which is how the 25-year-old German had reacted to everything that happened Sunday during the final round of the LPGA's Kia Classic at Industry Hills Golf Club at Pacific Palms.
With a birdie on that final hole, Gal beat the world's No. 2-ranked golfer, Jiyai Shin, by a single shot.
The large gallery was cheering mostly for Shin, a 22-year-old from South Korea, but it was Gal who hit a spectacular third shot to within 24 inches of the cup on the par-five 18th just after Shin had placed her approach within four feet.
"I was trying to hole it," Gal said of her sand wedge from 83 yards.
Martin Laird fades, rallies, wins Arnold Palmer Invitational
Gal, who is from Duesseldorf and played for the University of Florida, earned $255,000 for winning the $1.7-million event. After battling through back and wrist injuries during the last 18 months that left her ranked No. 100 on the women's Rolex rankings, Gal said she won't stop smiling anymore.
"Life's too short to not enjoy what you're doing," she said. "I think that's really helped me and my attitude and my game."
Cristie Kerr, the highest-ranked American at No. 3, had a final round of 66 that helped her into a tie for third with I.K. Kim, five shots behind the winner.
World No. 1 Yani Tseng also moved up Sunday into a tie for fifth with Na Yeon Choi with a final-round 67.
Michelle Wie was part of a three-way tie for seventh with Diamond Bar's Mindy Kim and 33-year-old new mother Marcy Hart. Kim and Hart were among 10 players who earned their way into next week's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage, with their performances at the Kia Classic.
Shin had begun the day a stroke ahead of Gal, but after bogeying three times on the front nine she found herself two shots behind Gal from the seventh hole until the two played the par-three 13th very differently.
It was there that Shin birdied, Gal bogeyed and the crowds erupted. And on the par-three 15th, Shin seemed to seize the tournament with an aggressive drive and a 30-foot birdie putt.
But Gal came right back with a birdie at the par-four 16th, and so the pair came to the 18th tied.
Shin hit her third shot into the green first and it seemed she had won the tournament when the ball stuck four feet away. "I had good confidence with that shot," Shin said.
But Gal's was even better and it was Shin who seemed unnerved before her birdie attempt. She lined up the putt then backed away. "My heartbeat was too big," Shin said.
Gal kept her back turned as Shin's putt rimmed out and the crowd groaned. Afterward, Gal's emotion came out. "I'm a bit overwhelmed," she said. "It was an amazing day."
Kia's sponsorship of this event runs through next year, though the site of the 2012 tournament won't be known for at least 60 days. Last year's Kia Classic was at La Costa, but the course was undergoing renovations and was unavailable this year. Several factors, including player input, attendance figures and television ratings, will go into the decision, said Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing and communications for Kia Motors America.