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Brooke Henderson holds on at Portland Classic

By Mike Tokito
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For her first win on the LPGA Tour, Brooke Henderson opened a huge lead and never relinquished it. For her second, she made a late Sunday charge, then beat the No. 1 player in women's golf in a playoff.

Henderson's third win came Sunday, when she was hardly her best, but did more than enough to win the Cambia Portland Classic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club for the second year in a row.

The 18-year-old was a returning winner for the first time in her career, and despite the extra pressure and attention that brought, got the job done, winning wire-to-wire for the second year in a row.

"To try to defend a championship for the first time and to be able to do it, I think, is a really big deal," she said.

Playing with the lead for the third consecutive round, Henderson shot a 1-under-par 71 to finish at 14 under and win by four shots.

With the win, Henderson joined Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam (2002-03) and Kathy Whitworth (1972-73) as the only golfers to win the Portland Classic back-to-back.

"That's amazing," Henderson said. "They were two incredible women that did amazing things out on the golf course, and in their lives. To be in the same sentence and to be acknowledged alongside them is very, very cool."

The final margin was misleading as Henderson was hardly as dominant as she was in 2015, when as a 17-year-old with no LPGA status, she won by eight shots for her first tour win. This time she had challengers who faltered late in an otherwise tight race.

"I didn't really play my best today, but I hit good shots when I needed to, and I got a few breaks, too, which is always nice," she said.

The biggest break might have come on the 17th hole, where both she and playing partner Mariajo Uribe drove into a fairway bunker. Both players hit their shots thin and sailed the green into Golf Channel crew members near the network's tower.

Uribe's ball was outside Henderson's, so she hit her shot first and could not come close to the back pin as her ball rolled downhill to the front of the green. Seeing what happened, Henderson aimed more left, landed her ball in the fringe and got it to stop, then aggressively rolled in a 10-foot par putt.

"After seeing Mariajo's shot from there, I knew how fast it was, and how difficult it was going to be," Henderson said. "So I tried to bump it into the long grass and have it hold up a little bit."

Going into the hole, Henderson had been at 14 under, and Uribe -- who challenged Henderson all day -- was at 12 under. In the group ahead of them, Stacy Lewis was playing the 18th hole at 11 under, and a big number by Henderson could have let them chase her down. Instead, she made a clutch par.

"I think it was really big, especially going into 18 with a bigger lead," Henderson said.

For her third LPGA victory, Henderson wrote a very different script from her runaway victory here last year, and from her victory in the Women's PGA Championship last month, when she made a late charge to tie Lydia Ko, then won on the first playoff hole with a dramatic birdie.

This time, she didn't play great during the final two rounds. After starting with a sharp 65 to grab the first-round lead, Henderson shot 68 in the second round, then 70 and 71 on the weekend. But as golf's biggest stars often do, she was able to do what she needed to grab the win.

Alena Sharp, Henderson's fellow Canadian who has become a close friend, saw what Henderson had said after the third round, that she had played "pretty awful."

"I texted her last night, I said, hey, you said you didn't play well, but you're still leading," Sharp said. "That's all that matters, and if you can win if you're not playing well, that's great."

As Henderson progresses in her career -- which has seen her go from having no tour membership to reaching No. 2 in the world ranking -- Sunday's win could serve as a significant lesson that she does not have to be perfect to win.

"I think I'll get a lot of confidence knowing that I can compete against the best in the world when I don't necessarily have my best game," she said.

Uribe, a 26-year-old Colombian, gave Henderson a run all day before she made double bogey on the final two holes and dropped into a tie for fourth with Austin Ernst. Uribe, who was trying to sew up her first win in seven years on the LPGA Tour, said she'll try to take the finish, which was her best this year, and build on it.

"I feel positive going to the next week, and hopefully I'll be in the same position soon," she said.

Lewis, looking for her first win in two years, started the day six shots behind Henderson and made a charge with four birdies on her first 10 holes. Bogeys at the 16th and 18th killed her chances at victory, but her runner-up finish left her with some positive thoughts going into next week's U.S. Women's Open.

"Felt really comfortable, I made some good putts when I needed to," she said. "Overall, the week was really solid and something I needed going into a major."

But the week, again, belonged to Henderson, whose wins have all come in the Pacific Northwest. At 18, she has become one of women's golf's rising stars, and among the biggest sports stars in her native Canada. Sharp, a 35-year-old who has been on tour since Henderson was 7 and will likely play with Henderson in the Olympics, says Henderson has become an inspiration to her.

"What she's done in her short career is amazing," Sharp said. "She doesn't realize how good she is. She's fearless and goes at pins, and she's always aggressive. I think that's how you do well out here."

 

This article was written by Mike Tokito from The Oregonian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.