Before we dive into Masters week, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the Great Lydia Ko a big shout-out. Ko is incredible. It’s too bad women’s sports don’t get the same attention as their male counterparts (and I shamefully haven’t done enough to help the problem).
Ko needed to birdie the 72nd hole to win the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the year for the ladies, and she did just that to get to 12-under for the tournament and finish a stroke ahead of Charley Hull and In Gee Chun. Naturally, Ko etched her name in history (tell me if you haven’t heard that before; we’re already used to it!).
Via the LPGA:
With her win, Ko becomes the youngest two-time major winner in LPGA history (18y/11m/9d) and the youngest male or female with two major wins since Young Tom Morris in 1869. It is her 12th career LPGA victory and second this season, having won last week’s Kia Classic. She made history with her first major win last September at the Evian Championship but said the second was just as sweet. She closed with a final-round, bogey-free 69.
“It’s amazing. You know, you can’t really rank them,” said Ko. “Every one of them is special, and every event is so different,so unique, and I think obviously winning this event is great, but obviously jumping into the Poppies Pond, that kind of tradition will definitely be one of the highlights of my career. But I’ve never really played well at this course before, so just to know that, hey, I can still play well at a course that I haven’t really played well before I think gives me the confidence.”
Ko started the day just one shot behind third-round leader Lexi Thompson and capitalized early on Thompson’s shaky start, making birdies on No. 5 and 8 to take the solo lead at 11-under par. But a mid-round surge of three-consecutive birdies by Jutanugarn and a nine-hole streak with no birdies for Ko changed the momentum. Jutanugarn walked to the 16th tee with a two-shot lead but poor tee shots on both the 16th and 17th holes led to bogeys and dropped her to 11-under and into a tie with Charley Hull, who was in the clubhouse, and Ko, who was on No. 18.
Ko had made clutch par putts throughout the day but said her par putt on the 17th was the most crucial in her victory.
“Probably 17 because that’s when I first really got to see the scoreboard and where I was positioned, what I needed to do,” said Ko. “Obviously making that putt on 11 and 13 was crucial, too, but just not knowing anything, I wanted to focus on my game and just what I could control, but on 17 I knew what I needed to do. Something like a miracle needed to happen, so I think 17 was probably the most crucial putt.”
Knowing she needed to birdie the last to have a chance at the outright victory, Ko stuck her third shot on the par-5 18th to 16 inches to set her up for the go-ahead birdie and to finish at 12-under par. She said it might ranked as one of the best shots of her career considering the circumstance.
“I mean, it would be up there. Every shot is special in its own way, like every win is special, because every tournament is so different,” said Ko. “But just playing the 72nd hole, birdieing the last hole, that’s always a good feeling. Obviously for that shot to mean so much that I would win the event, that makes it extra special. But I obviously laid up to the right number and hit it to the exactly right spot. But I thought it was going to be a little short, but with the greens firming up, it ended up being perfect.”
Jutanugarn hit another poor tee shot on the final hole, this one finding the water on the left side. The 20-year old bogeyed the final hole to drop to 10-under par.
“Actually it’s pretty good, just only the last three holes,” said Jutanugarn. “I really get nervous, especially being my first time leading. Next time it’s going to be so much fun to be there, but I got a lot of experience from this week.”
Breaking another age record has become ho-hum business for Ko and she said the extra records are just the icing on top of the actual wins.
“To me it’s more special to have just won this event and to win a major,” said Ko. “Obviously it makes it extra special that I’m the youngest winner to win two majors, but just to win any event is special, and just to know that the hard work that you’ve put in as a team kind of paid off. All the stats and everything comes at the end. Just to embrace this win, I think that’s the special part, more than the youngest something.”
*Joins Ha Na Jang as the only multiple winners on the LPGA Tour this season
*Becomes the second-youngest winner of this event and is exactly one month older than Morgan Pressel’s age (18 years/10 months/9 days) at the time of her win
*Becomes just the third player to win this major and the LPGA event prior (Annika Sorenstam did it twice (2001 & 2005) and Lorena Ochoa (2008))
*Is the first player to win on the LPGA Tour in back-to-back weeks since Inbee Park won three in a row in 2013 (Wegmans LPGA Championship, Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, U.S. Women’s Open)
*Becomes the first player since Inbee Park in 2013 to win the LPGA event prior to a major Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and U.S. Women’s Open)
*Became the youngest major champion in LPGA history (18 years, 4 months and 20 days) with her win at the 2015 Evian Championship
*Became the youngest player in LPGA Tour history to reach 10 wins (18y/6m/1d) ; beating Nancy Lopez’s previous record (22y/2m/5d)
*Ko has won the Race to the CME Globe in each of its first two years (2014 & 2015)
*Became the youngest winner in LPGA history on August 19, 2012 at the 72-hole Canadian Women’s Open at the age of 15 years, 4 months and 2 days