Lydia Ko etched her name into the record books once again with her dramatic victory and second major championship title at the ANA Inspiration. Ko birdied the 72nd hole to get to 12-under par and finished one shot ahead of Charley Hull and In Gee Chun. Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, who looked like she had the win locked up with three holes to play, bogeyed her final three holes to finish fourth at 10-under par.
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.
Knowing she needed to birdie the last to have a chance at the outright victory, Ko stuck her third shot on the par-five 18th to 16 inches to set her up for the go-ahead birdie and to finish at 12-under par. She said it might rank 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.’
Lee-Anne Pace was the leading South African and shared 14th place on six-under-par with a Sunday round of 73. SA’s top-ranked female golfer shared third place at the midway mark of the tournament, but could not keep speed with world number one Ko.