By Tony Jimenez
WOBURN, England (Reuters) - Ariya Jutanugarn banished the memories of a late collapse earlier this year as she became the first Thai golfer to win a major championship by taking the Ricoh Women's British Open title on Sunday.
The 20-year-old led by two strokes on the 70th tee at the ANA Inspiration in California in April but missed out on major glory when she dropped shots at each of the last three holes.
The big-hitting Thai made amends at Woburn, though. She went into the final round holding a two-shot lead and a closing level-par 72 left her three clear of the field on 272, 16 under.
Playing partner Lee Mi-rim of South Korea (73) and American Mo Martin (70) shared second place while Stacy Lewis of the U.S. also carded a 70 to take fourth spot on 277.
Ariya's family and friends rushed on to the 18th green to celebrate victory by dousing the champion in sparkling water.
"It was hard today, I felt a little bit nervous at times," she said after picking up the first prize of 310,838 pounds ($411,238).
"My mother cried at the end, she said thank you and that made my day. I think this victory is really important for me and Thai golf and I hope I can inspire some players in Thailand."
Ariya, who was only 11 when she appeared in her first LPGA Tour event, started Sunday's back nine with a four-shot lead.
However, she began to feel understandably jittery when Lee grabbed a birdie hat-trick from the 10th and Ariya then took four shots to reach the green at the 13th and slumped to a double-bogey six.
"On 13 it was like, 'Oh, what's wrong with me'," she said. "I felt a little bit nervous but after that hole I didn't feel like that."
The free-swinging Ariya, who holds nothing back with the longest clubs in her bag, belts the ball prodigious distances and did not use her driver all week at the relatively short 6,448-yard Marquess Course at Woburn.
The Thai, who won three LPGA Tour events in a row in May, effectively sealed victory by sinking a curling 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th green.
World number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand finished way down the field after returning a 74 for a one-under total of 287.
Charley Hull, a member at Woburn, gave the locals brief hope that she might mount a charge with five birdies in the first six holes but the Briton fizzled out over the closing stages and had to be content with a 69 for 283.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)