The Royal Melbourne Golf Club - The Composite Course
February 22, 2015
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Lydia Ko (-9)
Rolex Rankings No. 21 Amy Yang (-7)
Six LPGA Tour wins. World No. 1. 17 years old.
As Lydia Ko’s seemingly done every moment since she entered the golfing world, she dazzled here Sunday at the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open, sneaking away from the field on the back nine with a 2-under-par 71 on Sunday to finish at 9-under-par. Seven times now on the LPGA Tour a player under the age of 18 has won. Ko is responsible for six of those seven.
The entire day didn’t amount to the easy stroll Ko enjoyed up the 18th fairway, though. Early in the round, Ko seemed out of whack, making bogey on the first hole and then missing a seven-foot birdie putt on the par-5 second. All of a sudden she trailed. But with Ko, no lead is ever safe as she’s proven with four prior come-from-behind Sunday victories, and the very next hole Ko drained the shot of the day, holing a pitch shot on the short par-4 third for an eagle to send the roars ripping through Royal Melbourne.
“The first two holes I three-putted and you really don’t want to start on that kind of a note, especially on the final day when you know you need to play really well. That third hole really kicked off well. I couldn’t really see the ball drop in the hole but people were clapping and it was getting louder as the ball was getting closer,” Ko said. “It was great and it really helped my round.”
But Amy Yang wouldn’t go away Sunday. When a lightning delay was called for 45 minutes with Ko and Yang on the ninth and tenth hole, respectively, Yang looked like the one in control. She was tied for the lead and had a 8-foot eagle putt on the 10th while Ko had the difficult par-4 ninth to play. But Yang came back and missed the putt and from there it was the Ko Show. Ko made a birdie on the par-5 10th and then holed a beautiful birdie on the toughest hole on the course - the par-4 12th. That proved too much for Yang, who bogeyed the 15th and 17th but brought a valiant charge with a final-round 72 to finish two shots back.
“Yeah, whenever I saw the leaderboard, [Amy] had made another birdie and another one, so I was like, ‘Ok, you need to get your stuff together and you need to make birdies’.” Ko said. “She’s such a consistent player and she’s been putting so well on these fast greens so I knew she was tough to get rid of.”
Ariya Jutanugarn finished in third at 4-under-par, her second consecutive top-three finish. Jenny Shin, Ilhee Lee, and Chella Choi rounded out the top five in a tie for fourth at 2-under-par.
FEELING AT HOME
This loss might be one that takes a while to get over for Amy Yang. Two putts, specifically, will have Amy Yang thinking what could have been on her flight to Thailand. Make both putts and her and Lydia Ko are heading back down the 18th fairway to play until someone emerges with the trophy.
“I’m a little disappointed because I misread two short putts that I should have made - 15th and 17th. I just misread it, I didn’t read it high enough, but oh well, what can I do, more practice,” Yang said.
While second was disappointing, it sets Yang up for a big year. This is her second top-five in three events, and she hit the ball beautifully all week.
“Yeah, I think I played really good this week. I’ve been hitting the ball solid and had good speed on the green,” Yang said. “It’s a tough golf course, it gave me so much stress but I also at the same time enjoyed it so much.”
To celebrate her sixth career Tour victory, Lydia Ko will be returning home to New Zealand - a coincidence but perfect timing for the champ. She’s returning home this week for the New Zealand Open before jumping over to Singapore for the HSBC Women’s Champions the following week.
“I think it’s great. My sister’s here, my mum’s here, my agent’s here. We’ll have hopefully good food. Just being able to go home is a big thing,’ Ko said. “I won in Naples last year and I got to go home and here I get to win and then go home too, that’s the biggest prize.
THE TOP OF THE GAME
The question anytime a player reaches No. 1 in the world is how will they react to it and how long will they stay there. Ko’s age only exacerbated the curiosity. But if the first three weeks as No. 1 are any indication, Ko’s reacting just fine and has only strengthened her hold on No. 1 since taking over.
“I didn’t really know how I would play and how I would react to becoming world No. 1, and I always wondered that. Sometimes I got close and I was still world No. 2, 3 or 4, and then after Ocala (the Coates Golf Championship) I couldn’t pull off the win but then I became world No.1,” Ko said. “I played average in the first two days in the Bahamas but then I fired back. It’s good to know that just from my confidence that I can still play good and not really think about the world rankings.”
WHAT A SWING
Ilhee Lee opened as the first-round leader with a 5-under-par 68. Then, Royal Melbourne, as it tends to do, bit back when she got a little too aggressive on Friday and she shot a 9-over-par 82 to fall just a shot inside the cut line. But two stellar weekend rounds - 4-under 69 and 2-under 71 - vaulted her into a tie for fourth.
Lee was asked after if she can ever remember such a crazy rollercoaster of a week.
“No, no...no,” Lee said, laughing.
“I just played smarter than what I played on Friday.”
UNDER THE RADAR ROOKIE
With the way a rookie has seemed to climb into contention each of the first three events in 2015, Minjee Lee’s quietly flown under the radar so far while having an extremely solid start to her rookie season with three consecutive top-25 finishes.
The 18-year-old Lee opened the season with a 12th place finish at the Coates Golf Championship Presented by R&L Carriers, and then at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, Lee recorded a tie for 24th. Then, here this week Lee finished in T7 for her first ever top-10 in an LPGA event. She also earned low Aussie honors in her country’s national championship.
“I’m just starting so I feel like I’m in a really good place and I just want to build from here,” Lee said.
Lee admitted she was a bit nervous on the first tee each day playing in front of her home crowd but that the pressure and nerves eased with each week.
“Even last year I was kind of prepping myself for playing on Tour so it’s nothing new,” Lee said. “I just have to take it one step at a time and play my own game.”
NUMBERS TO KNOW
1 - Lydia Ko has strengthened her hold on the Rolex World Golf Rankings No. 1 spot with a win this week. She now leads in scoring average, Race to the CME Globe, money list, and Rolex Player of the Year standings.
2 - Katherine Kirk finished second a week ago in Australia at the RACV Ladies Masters.
3 - Three consecutive top-25s to open the season for rookie aussie, Minjee Lee.
4 - Lydia Ko is heading into her fourth week as the No. 1 player in the world.
7 - Seven times a winner under the age of 18 has graced the winner’s circle. Lydia Ko is now responsible for six of those seven.