Lydia Ko came agonisingly close to beginning the year the
same way she started 2012 before suffering a heart-breaking
two-stroke defeat at the NSW Open today.
The world's top-ranked amateur made international headlines
at the event 12 months ago when, as a 14-year-old, she became
the youngest winner of a professional golf event in the long
and storied history of the sport.
The success sparked a remarkable run for Ko which culminated
in victory at the Canadian Open, an achievement which saw her
become the youngest winner of an LPGA event - the highest
level of the women's game.
Ko, now 15, returned to the Oatlands Golf Club in Sydney this
week intent on defending her title, but she was edged by
professional Caroline Hedwall after heading into the final
two holes level with the Swede.
"I think I did pretty good," Ko said. "I would have liked to
have some more putts go in, but golf isn't an easy game where
everything goes the way you want it to.
"I play well here - I came second two years ago, first last
year and second year, so I think it's a pretty good
tournament. I haven't played like this in one tournament
before, so I'm pretty happy and I think I played some good
golf out there."
That runner-up finish at the 2011 tournament meant Ko was
handed a heavy dose of deja vu today. In that event, Ko was
holding off Hedwall on the back nine of the final round
before the Kiwi three-putted on the 18th green to hand
victory to her opponent.
Ko said it was a familiar feeling today but, having trailed
Hedwall for much of the day, she thought she may have had the
advantage on this occasion.
"It felt the same [as two years ago]. She was only leading by
one shot, so it wasn't a huge gap and it was definitely
catchable. Some people say it's better to be chasing rather
than being chased. But she played pretty good golf as well."
Hedwall, 23, needed to play good golf on the back nine as she
sought to hold off a fast-charging Ko. After beginning with
bogeys on the first two holes to fall off the pace, Ko
rallied midway through the front nine and picked up four
shots on three holes to make the turn just one shot behind
With momentum on her side, Ko added another birdie on the
11th to pull into a share of the lead for the first time on
the day. The pair traded birdies on the 14th and remained all
locked up until the 17th, a hole which proved pivotal.
An errant tee shot from Ko struck and tree and, from there,
she succeeded only in finding a greenside bunker. Her chip
left her with too much to do on the green, and the normally
unflappable Ko admitted she may have been affected by the
prospect of victory while standing over her par put.
"I was like, 'oh my God, maybe I could win this'," she said.
"But I think I got a little bit excited and a little bit
tense in the shoulders and it went straight left. I had a
good put and it just lipped out."
After parring the hole to take a one-shot lead heading into
the 18th, Hedwall doubled her advantage to take the title and
leave Ko to be content with second.
Ko will now head to the ladies masters in Queensland this
week, before playing the New Zealand Women's Open at the
Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch from February 8-10.
- Kris Shannon of APNZ