Lydia Ko came to Christchurch this week for the first time as Rolex World No. 1 and with high expectations weighing on her young shoulders.
The talk was not whether the 17-year-old would win the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open at Clearwater for the second time in three years but by how much.
Ko didn’t disappoint and the young golfing superstar thrilled record galleries, setting a course record and personal best round of 11-under 61 on Saturday before closing today with a one-under 71 to claim the crown by four shots from Australian amateur Hannah Green.
Ko became the first person to win the New Zealand title for the second time in its seven-year history and her 14-under total for the 54 holes of 202 was four shots better than the previous record which she shared jointly with Australian Lindsey Wright.
Ko started the final round leading by the three from last year’s leading European money-winner, Charley Hull, from England, and birdies on the first two holes extended her lead to five. At that stage it seemed like a cakewalk for the leading lady of the links.
But when Ko double-bogeyed the eighth after hitting her approach into the water and bogeyed the ninth after over-hitting her tee shot on the par-3, Hull had closed to three at the turn and that became two when she eagled the par-5 10th and Ko birdied.
The turning point was the 12th. Ko birdied, Hull double-bogeyed after hitting into water over the green and that three-shot swing had Ko five ahead and marching to victory.
Hull, whose putter let her down on the front nine, unravelled completely after her eagle on 10. She was five-over for the last eight holes and finished seven shots behind Ko and tied for sixth.
Ko said the wind was factor on the back nine and she `"just tried to hang on".
"I saw the PM (Prime Minister John Key) and he kind of patted my back and that gave me a little power and I made a couple of birdies after that."
Ko said adding the New Zealand Open to the Australian Open she won the previous week had given her a better start to the year than she had dared hope for.
"I tied second in my first week, tied seventh the week after then won my last two events. So this is even better than I would ever have imagined. It’s just great to have won the two Opens back to back."
West Australian Green is now having second thoughts about when she will turn pro having finished 20th in the Oates Victorian Open and 35th in the RACV Ladies Masters.
"Originally I planned for maybe in the next few years, but after the last couple of weeks I may have to change my mind. And it would certainly be great to keep the money." she said.
Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen finished outright third at nine-under-par, while American Beth Allen posted another top 10 result with her tied fourth place with Oates Vic Open winner Marianne Skarpnord. Four players shared sixth place including Hull.