Golf: Ko comes up just short in Sydney

Lydia Ko
Lydia Ko
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 Hedwall.

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