After reclaiming the lead late Saturday to set herself up for a double payoff of sorts, the 17-year-old double-bogeyed the 71st hole in the inaugural Coates Golf Championship to lose by a shot to Choi Na-yeon.
However, Ko secured a piece of history that could be remembered long after the details of the tour’s season opener are forgotten. The transplanted New Zealander became the youngest player of either gender to climb to world No. 1, breaking the record set by Tiger Woods by almost four years.
As the ramifications of the distinction finally took hold, the sting of defeat at Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club wasn’t quite so bad. The notion of celebrating, which first set her back for a moment, didn’t seem so crazy after all.
|Korea’s Choi Na-yeon poses with the winner’s trophy on Saturday. (AFP-Yonhap)|
“It’s going to be good,” Ko said. “I was here to focus on the tournament itself, but I guess I got a great outcome at the end of the day, too.”
After leading by as many as four shots on the front nine, Ko trailed Choi by a shot as they played the par-3 15th. With Choi facing a 6-footer for birdie, Ko slammed in an improbable 60-footer and Choi promptly three-putted for a two-shot swing.
The teenager’s lead didn’t last long. Ko drove into a fairway bunker, then fanned a hybrid shot into a stand of pine trees down the right side of the 17th hole, scrambling to make a double bogey.
As the steadier Choi finished with a 4-under 68 and 16-under total, Ko had to salvage a par on the 18th to finish in a three-way tie at 15 under, but it was good enough to secure a piece of the record book.
|Lydia Ko tees off on the second hole on Saturday. (AFP-Yonhap)|
Woods, previously the youngest golfer to reach No. 1, was 21 years, 5 months, 16 days when he reached the top in 1997. Ko reached the mark 3 years, 8 months, 14 days earlier. The men’s rankings date to 1986 and the women’s list is nine years old.
“It’s a nice consolation, if you want to call it that,” said Ko’s swing coach, David Leadbetter.
Ko finished with a 71 to match Jessica Korda (66) and Jang Ha-na (70) at 15 under.
Ko, whose pulse rate seems to be frozen at about 75 beats per minute whether she’s making an eagle or double bogey, hardly seemed derailed by the 71st-hole meltdown. Her indefatigable nature is her biggest asset, Leadbetter said.
“We sent her to anger management school to learn how to get angry,” Leadbetter laughed.
Choi, on the other hand, was clearly caught up in the emotion of her first victory since late 2012. The 27-year-old topped the LPGA money list in 2010 and won the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open, but had fallen out of the world top 15.
“I think I was so nervous out there,” said Choi, who recorded her eighth LPGA victory and was fighting back tears. “I was waiting so long for this moment.”