KLPGA player Jin Young Ko overcame a nervous start and held off the formidable challenge of Rolex Rankings World No. 2 Sung Hyun Park to clinch her first LPGA Tour victory by two shots at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship on Sunday.
Ko, who had been two strokes in front overnight, bogeyed two of the first three holes in front of record tournament galleries to drop two behind a fast-starting Park before she reignited with a barrage of birdies to fire a four-under-par 68 on the undulating Ocean Course at SKY72 Golf & Resort. A nine-time winner on her home KLPGA Tour, Ko picked up five shots in a brilliant eight-hole stretch from the fifth before posting a 19-under total of 269 on a day of dazzling sunshine and light breezes.
"I have to say I was quite flustered after I made the two bogeys on the front nine," said Ko, who is perhaps best known for her runner-up spot at the 2015 Ricoh Women’s British Open. "Today I really realized once again that with golf you have to stick it out until the end.
"After I made the two bogeys I had a really long chat with my caddie, Dean (Herden) ... he kept reminding me that being nervous was quite natural, that I needed to accept those nerves. I kept reminding myself of that. I also tried to focus on the fact that even if there are bumps along the way, I can make opportunities to make up for the bumps. This victory is really meaningful for me."
Park, seeking her third LPGA Tour victory of the year and the chance to take over at the top of the Rolex Rankings for the first time, was denied both goals and had to settle for second place after closing with a 68. Though Park played flawless golf over the first 13 holes with four birdies to delight the massive galleries watching her every move, a three-putt bogey at the 14th effectively halted her title bid.
"Although I didn't win, I think I had a really solid, good round," said Park, who has all but locked up the race for the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award. "It's not easy to lower your score in the final group of the championship, and I managed to get a four-under round.
"I think I did a great job. Obviously Jin Young was doing outstanding today. Overall I'm pretty satisfied with my round."
Twice major champion In Gee Chun, playing with Park and Ko in a high-profile final grouping, finished in third after carding a final round 69. Carlota Ciganda, who won last year's LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in a playoff with Alison Lee, completed an impressive title defense by tying for eighth after shooting a final-round 72. Also at 10-under with Ciganda was World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu, who carded a 70.
Ko's 19-under total of 269 was a record low since the tournament was extended to four rounds in 2014 while Sunday's final round drew a record attendance of 31,726.