WALTON-ON-THE-HILL, England — Lilia Vu was already smiling when her long, snaking birdie putt dropped into the cup on the 18th green, confirming her — not that it was ever in doubt — as the AIG Women’s Open champion and a two-time major winner.
The 25-year-old Californian has plenty to smile about.
A first LPGA Tour win. Two major championships. An imminent ranking of No. 1 in the world.
How that’s for a breakthrough season?
“It sounds almost unreal,” Vu said.
With accurate driving and relentless reliability on the greens, Vu took any potential drama out of the final round of the year’s last major by staying largely out of trouble at Walton Heath and shooting 5-under 67 for a 6-stroke victory on Sunday.
She began the day tied for the lead with popular home hope Charley Hull, with 11 players within 5 shots of them. By the time she teed off on No. 11, Vu led by 5 after seeing all of her rivals — including top-ranked Nelly Korda — falter one by one.
Hull, roared on by the locals on a course located just 30 minutes from where she grew up, holed out from a greenside bunker for eagle at the par-5 11th to trim the lead to 3 shots.
Vu responded with an approach to 3 feet for birdie at No. 12 and was never threatened down the stretch.
She walked down No. 18 leading by 5 shots, and after rolling in a sixth birdie of her round, she was drenched in champagne by fellow players.
Vu won an LPGA event in Thailand in February, then the Chevron Championship in a playoff two months later. Since then, she has missed the cut in four of her six stroke-play events, saying she struggled to deal with a change in expectations as a major champion.
“How I felt afterward,” she said, “honestly I was thinking those two wins were a fluke.”
Now, she is the first female player to win two majors in the same year since Jin Young Ko in 2019, and the first American woman since Juli Inkster in 1999.
After being outside the top 100 midway through 2022, her first year back on the LPGA Tour, on Monday she will become the fourth American to top the women’s ranking since it was introduced in 2006.
And heading into next month’s Solheim Cup, what a year this has been for U.S players. Three of the five women’s majors have been won by Americans — Allisen Corpuz won the Women’s U.S. Open title at Pebble Beach — which hasn’t happened since 2014.
Vu finished at 14-under 274 for the tournament, a great score on a heathland course southwest of London that provided a tough test for the world’s best, mainly because of the thick heather running beside the fairways.
She had five bogeys all week. The only one Sunday came at the par-5 No. 15 when she drove into the heather for the only time in the round and then found a bunker with her third shot.
“It just comes down to not thinking about winning, just playing one shot at a time,” Vu said. “This golf course forces you to do that. It really tests you. That was my only goal. To drive the ball well and give myself chances for birdie.”
Hull couldn’t deliver a first major title in front of fans who backed her passionately — and fairly, according to Vu. She shot 73 and was runner-up for the second time in the past three majors.
“She played unbelievable, really,” Hull said of the champion.
Hull couldn’t keep the pressure on after the eagle at No. 11, buckling with bogeys on Nos. 15 and 17 — the latter after a protester walked onto the green and opened a canister filled with purple spray. There was no disruption to play as the protester was escorted away.
“It’s just annoying because this is my fourth second-place finish of the year and second second-place finish in a major,” Hull said. “But I really feel like next year will be my time for me.”
What promised to be an exciting final round, given the state of the leaderboard at the end of play Saturday, turned into a procession.
Korda, who will lose her No. 1 ranking to Vu, started 5 off the leaders, bogeyed the second hole, and wound up shooting 74 to finish 12 strokes back.
Linn Grant, the highly rated Swede, faded with a 76 and was tied with Korda in 11th place.
Former two-time winner Jiyai Shin shot 70 and was alone in third place, one stroke behind Hull.