Former world No.1 Lydia Ko wins first title since 2016
It was perhaps no surprise that Lydia Ko wiped away the tears after clinching a dramatic playoff win.
The former world No.1 had not tasted victory for nearly two years, but the New Zealander produced what she described as the best shot of her career to clinch the LPGA Mediheal Championship in California Sunday.
In 2015, aged just 17, Ko became the youngest player to top the rankings, but prior to Sunday she had not won a tournament in 43 events — since the Marathon Classic in July 2016.
“I think this is definitely one of the most special wins in my whole entire career obviously – – it’s been a while since my last win so to be able to be back inside the winners circle is a nice feeling,” she told CNN Sport.
“To have my family there and some of my friends — I’ve never been that emotional before”
Since her last Tour win, the two-time major winner has changed her swing, her caddie, her coach, her equipment, and suffered a slide down the world rankings — in February she slipped out of the top 10 for the first time since her brilliant professional debut in 2013.
“I try to stay away from the media and what was said about me, I just focus on what I can control,” said Ko, who was born in Seoul, South Korea but moved to New Zealand as an infant.
“It may have looked like I didn’t make the right decision, but at no point did I regret anything and I felt like my game was moving in the right direction.”
Just five days after her 21st birthday, Ko’s fortunes turned at Lake Merced Golf Club, the venue of back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015.
With both Ko and Minjee Lee tied at 12 under after regulation play, the championship went to extra holes.
On the first, the par-five 18th, Ko responded to the pressure with a sensational 3-wood approach shot to within inches of an albatross (two shots on a par five). It left her with a three-foot putt for an eagle, which she sunk for a 15th Tour victory.
“I nearly almost cried after playing the 72nd hole even though I knew I had to play more golf,” said Ko, who won silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“By showing people what I went through, I think it just felt more special.”
‘A lot of emotion’
Ko went into the final round with a one-stroke lead, but she slipped back with three bogeys in the first six holes.
In a final round where the lead changed four times, Ko rallied over the last nine holes — recording three birdies and a bogey — to take the championship to a playoff.
“It’s crazy because I was three over for the day at one point,” Ko told reporters. “I said, ‘hey, you’ve just got to focus, you never know what could happen’ – and I was able to kind of put my game together on the back nine.
“When that putt dropped I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ A lot of emotions, my whole team and my family have worked really hard for this moment.”