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Jin Young Ko goes wire to wire at Women's Australian Open

(Photo: Bruce Young)
22 year old Korean golfer Jin Young Ko is the 2018 Women’s Australian Open Champion, securing her second LPGA Tour title but her first as a card holder in what was her very first event with that status.

Ko won by three shots over her fellow South Korean Hyejin Choi with Australian LPGA Tour rookie Hannah Green one shot back in outright 3rd.

In winning Ko became the first LPGA Tour player in 67 years and just the second in the history of the LPGA Tour to win her first start as a member of that tour.

The victory which initially earned her LPGA Tour status came late last year when successful in a jointly sanctioned event between the LPGA and Korean LPGA Tour in Korea where she has won a total of fourteen times.

The first player, for the sake of history buffs, was Beverly Hanson in 1951 who won her first start on the LPGA Tour when taking the LPGA Championship. She would go on to win 17 LPGA Tour titles.

“My friend told me that last night but it actually made me even more nervous,” joked Ko in her media conference when asked how she felt about that achievement.

Another thing her friend did was to remind her that she should relax when attempting to get to sleep last night. 

"Yes, I did go to sleep last night, maybe 8 hours, 9 hours," added Ko. "I finished yesterday 4-stroke lead, but my friend said to me, “If you are 10-stroke leading the same feeling, so don’t be nervous and then just relax. Tomorrow is tomorrow. So, thanks to my friend, no?"

Until today Ko was not in the restricted field event in Thailand next week but she will now have access to almost anything in which she wants to play and so instead of heading home to Korea for a week before an event in Singapore she will be winging her way to Bangkok tomorrow morning.

Ko began the day with a four-shot lead over Green and was five ahead of her fellow Koreans Choi and Sun Young Yoo. Just as she had in her opening three rounds she was quickly out of the blocks with birdies at her opening two holes and was threatening to put the result beyond doubt almost before the day had started.

In the group ahead, however, the 2017 Australian Amateur Champion, Choi, loomed as a possible threat when she birdied four of her first nine holes and as she headed to the 10th tee the difference between the two Koreans was just one after Ko recorded bogeys at her 3rd and 7th holes.

Playing alongside Ko was Green who could only manage an outward half of even par 37 but birdies at the 10th and 11th holes opened the door for a possible late challenge for the title.

Ko hit a poor tee shot at the 10th and when she found the bunker with her lengthy approach she looked perhaps more vulnerable than she had for much of the week. She would hit, however, a delightful bunker shot to save par and the margin was still two over Choi.

The bunker shot that led to an important par save at the 10th for Ko. 

She did little wrong from that point on and although she was not exactly reeling off the birdies she was accumulating pars although a birdie at the 13th gave her a three-shot cushion and created what appeared to be a bridge too far for her chasers.

Choi, who was playing in the group ahead of the leader, would birdie the par five 16th to reduce the margin to two once again and the outcome was perhaps not quite guaranteed. It soon would be, however when Ko holed from 22 feet for birdie at the 17th to edge three clear of Choi and four ahead of Green who moved into outright third place with a birdie of her own at that same hole.

Hyejin Choi in action today

A three-shot lead with one hole to play was unlikely to escape the grasp of Ko whose 14 wins as a professional to date in events in Korea have steeled her for such moments.

That would prove to be the case and she completed a three-shot victory over Choi with Green one back in 3rd place alone.

Green expressed mixed emotions after her great week. “I thought I hit it really well again today, I hit it close, but just unfortunately the putts that went in during the start of the week didn’t go in today.  I’m very proud of my week this week.  It’s great to be playing Aussie Open and be contending.”

Hannah Green hits her approach to the 10th to set up a yet another birdie

Despite not winning Green may already have achieved a goal this week week namely to play in the majors in 2018.

“I’ve started off really well,” added Green referring to her rookie LPGA Tour season. “My goal was to get into every major, and I know that’s quite hard, being a rookie this year, so hopefully I’ve made enough money and keep making money to make sure that I’m definitely in.  No, I couldn't have asked for a better start.”

Green earned US$86,000 for her 3rd place finish.

Queenslander Katherine Kirk began the final round 90 minutes ahead of, although nine shots behind, the leader but she moved to the edge of contention with an outward nine of 32. She would eventually finish with a round of 65, the best of the day by one over Angela Stanford, and finished alone in 4th position.

Katherine Kirk in the middle of what was  an impressive final round 

“To be honest, I didn’t expect to have a chance today being - what was I - 9 behind,” said Kirk.  “Usually, if you’re maybe within 6 you have a chance, but I had four good birdies in a row on the front 9 and made some great par saves, so it was just an all-round good day.  The girls were playing well at the top, so I don’t expect to have a chance, but just happy I finished well today.”

Minjee Lee and Marina Alex tied for 5th two shots behind Kirk and so it was an excellent week for the Australians with three inside the top six.

Six of the last nine Women’s Australian Opens have been won by Asian players. Three by Koreans, two by players from Chinese Taipei and one from Japan.  

Australians can take heart from their excellent showing this week however especially given this was just the second LPGA Tour event for Green as a cardholder and that Lee is now an established multiple winner on the LPGA Tour.

Once again Adelaide has proved to be an outstanding venue for the event having staged it in each of the last three years. The news this week that the Women’s Australian Open will remain in Adelaide for the next three years is welcome for not only Adelaide but for Australian golf.

Kooyonga's 18th hole today - a superb venue

Such is the quality of the three venues used to date, The Grange Golf Club, Royal Adelaide Golf Club and now the Kooyonga Golf Club that any of the three would do the tournament proud.

SIR NICK FALDO PITCHING OVER BUNKERS:

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