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Rose Zhang, golf’s next big thing, wins in her first LPGA tournament

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Minjee Lee has misfired as the Australian’s dispensed former caddy helped superstar ex-amateur Rose Zhang complete a spectacular entrance to golf’s professional ranks in New Jersey.

Zhang became only the second woman to win on her pro debut after surviving a sudden-death play-off at the LPGA Tour’s Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National.

The 20-year-old overcame the disappointment of a last-hole bogey in regulation play to deny fellow American and 2022 major winner Jennifer Kupcho with a par on the second extra hole on Sunday.

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Zhang closed with a 74 as Kupcho made up five shots with a final-round 69 to force the play-off after both finished at 9-under 279.

They each parred the first play-off 18th before Kupcho faltered with a bogey playing it for a third time in a row.

Hae Ran Ryu (70) fell one shot short of making the play-off and finished solo third, one stroke ahead of fellow Korean Eun-Hee Ji (71), Japan’s Ayaka Furue (69) and India’s Aditi Ashok (74).

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South Africa’s reigning British and Australian Open champion Ashleigh Buhai posted a sizzling final-round 64 to share seventh at six under with Ireland’s Leona Maguire (67) and Japan’s Yuka Saso (70).

Steph Kyriacou (72) wound up as the leading Australian in a tie for 10th at five under after Lee carded a disappointing final-round 75.

That left the co-halfway leader at 4-under and equal 13th — two weeks after Lee three-putted the first playoff hole and blew a two-shot lead late in the final round at the defence of her Cognizant Founders Cup title, also in New Jersey.

But the day belonged to Zhang, a two-time NCAA champion who had won 12 of 20 events in her two college years at Stanford, before turning professional.

Despite not making a birdie all afternoon, Zhang led for most of the round before stumbling at the 72nd hole, then recovering in the play-off to seize the trophy.

“Oh my god,” she said.

“What is happening? I just can’t believe it.

“It was just last week when I won NCAA with my teammates and to turn pro and to come out here has just been amazing.”

The prodigy only had the popular Jason Gilroyed on her bag because Lee parted ways with the esteemed caddy in February after five hugely successful years together.

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Lee won two majors, the 2021 Evian Championship in France and last year’s US Open at Pine Needles during their partnership before turning to compatriot Rance De Grussa.

Now Gilroyed’s future looks equally bright with Zhang.

“I’ve enjoyed the journey. Gilly was on my bag the whole time,” Zhang said.

“I’ve had so many cheers around me — friends and family — and it’s been so cool.”

AAP

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