Heading into the final round at the CME Group Tour Championship, Lydia Ko trailed by three strokes, but she came from behind, shooting a final-round, bogey-free 68 to force a playoff. The 17-year-old from New Zealand and the youngest player in the star-studded field collected the largest payday in women’s golf history Sunday, winning the $1 million Race to the CME Globe and $500,000 tournament purse. Ko, who doesn’t even have her driver’s license yet, locked up the inaugural Race to the CME Globe in regulation, posting a tournament total of 10-under.
The teen phenom needed four more trips down the difficult finishing hole at Tiburon Golf Club to claim the Tour Championship title. Ko, along with Julieta Grenada and Carlota Ciganda, were pitted against each other in a three-way playoff. Grenada was the first to be eliminated, missing a five-footer for par on the third extra hole.
Playing the 18th for the fourth time in sudden death, it appeared Ciganda had the advantage with only an 8-iron in her hands. Ko was already safely on the green after knocking her 4-hybrid about 25 feet right of the pin — a place she had hit it on several previous occasions in the five times she played the hole as daylight was waning Sunday. Ciganda chunked her 8-iron, coming up short and rolling back into the hazard, forcing her to take a penalty stroke and a drop. While she made a good effort to chip in to save par, she left herself with five feet, and now, Ko only needed two putts to win — which she did with ease to capture both trophies.
“I thought (playing 18) four times (in regulation) was enough,” said Ko. “It’s a tough one. With the pin position being on the left side behind the bunker it’s really tough.
“Lucky we had the wind into us, you know. Still hitting a hybrid or long iron in there, but it makes it a little easier to stop it. But obviously I like the hole now. I haven’t made a bogey there and I made a birdie yesterday there.”
Christina Kim and Lizette Salas celebrated with Ko on the 18th green, spraying her with bottles of champagne. Obviously, Ko is not of legal drinking age, but she certainly deserves a glass of bubbly after her performance, not to mention her spectacular season.
Ko, the 2014 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, entered the CME Group Tour Championship third in the standings after the points reset and controlled her own destiny with a win this week.
At the end of regulation, Ko wasn’t aware she had won the $1 million bonus Race to the CME Globe.
After I first finished my 72nd hole I thought I may be in a position of playing a playoff,” said Ko in her post-round presser. “Then somebody told me and said, ‘Oh, you got the million.’ I was like, ‘Oh, really?’
“It wasn’t something I was thinking about all day. When I was out there, I just set myself a goal, and that’s what I tried to reach for.”
Known for her consistency, Ko’s goal going into her rookie year was to have a steady season.
“I think just playing consistent,” she said. “You know, top 10s are really tough. You have to be in good form to be in that position, too.
“So I just said, ‘Okay, go out there and have fun, have a couple Top 10s, and just really learn more about the tour and what it’s like to play on the tour full time.’
“That was just one of my biggest goals. To come off with three wins, it’s been an amazing year.”
Ko was one of three players to notch three wins this season. She now has five career victories, two of which came as an amateur. Ko essentially rewrote all the age related LPGA records, becoming the youngest winner in Tour history, youngest Rolex Rookie of the Year ever and now the youngest to $2 million in career earnings.
Ko has had many incredible moments in her young career already, but Sunday will certainly stand out.
“This is a pretty special moment,” she said. “You know, my dad came on the weekend. He was able to be here. David (Leadbetter) was here all week, and Sean (Hogan) was here earlier in the week. My agent is here; my mom is here.
“Pretty much the whole team was here, so this was a special week. It’s a week I’ll definitely never be able to forget.”