Lydia Ko is looking to remain the San Francisco treat this week.
The world’s top-ranked player enters the 2016 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic presented by CTBC with designs on completing a three-peat at the $2 million tournament. The 18-year-old would love to celebrate her 19th birthday on Sunday with her third consecutive victory at Lake Merced Golf Club after winning the 72-hole event each of the past two seasons.
Ko needed extra holes to separate herself from Morgan Pressel a year ago, birdieing the second hole of sudden death to complete a come-from-behind victory and earn win No. 2 on the 2015 season. She finished a stroke clear of Stacy Lewis the year before in the tournament’s inaugural staging and is the clear favorite this week.
Ko birdied the 72nd hole last year to tie Pressel, who bogeyed the 15th and 16th holes, to force the playoff.
“I just tried to go with my game plan,” Ko said after last year’s triumph. “I knew that whoever was going to win in the playoff was going to make a birdie. We were both hitting the ball well, so I knew that at the end it was somebody that was going to make a good putt and come off with a birdie.”
Pressel is back again this week to try and close the deal after last year’s near-miss, and Lewis is teeing it up at the par-72, 6,507-yard course looking for redemption. They will have to bring their A-games, as Ko has won five times since last year’s San Francisco victory, including the Tour’s last two major championships.
2016 tournament winners Ha Na Jang, Hyo Joo Kim, Haru Nomura, Lexi Thompson and Sei Young Kim are also part of this week’s loaded field, so there will be no shortage of top players who are in great form. In addition, Minjee Lee, who closed with a 64 on Sunday to win the LOTTE Championship presented by HERSHEY in Hawaii, will be inside the ropes this weekend.
Hawaiian runner-ups In Gee Chun and Katie Burnett, as well as Hall of Famers Juli Inkster – a huge San Francisco sports fan – Laura Davies and Se Ri Pak are playing in the festive tournament. A talented group of 17 sponsor invites that includes six rookies will add a special wrinkle to this week’s field as they play alongside the best in the game.
It may sound crazy, but Ko’s tie for 23rd in Hawaii last week was her worst finish of the 2016 season and snapped the teen phenom’s two-event winning streak. She’d love to get back to her winning ways this week and complete the San Francisco trifecta, but perhaps a less heralded player will find some magic and steal the show.
Only time will tell.