South Korea's Choi Na-yeon captured the 2015 LPGA Tour season opener in Florida on Saturday.
Choi won the inaugural Coates Golf Championship by one stroke over three golfers, including fellow South Korean Jang Ha-na and the teen prodigy Lydia Ko.
Choi shot a four-under 68 in the final round at Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club in Ocala, Florida, for a four-round total of 16-under 272. Choi took home $225,000 for her eighth career LPGA victory, and her first since November 2012.
"I was extremely happy and also a little overwhelmed," Choi said in an interview. "I have to say I struggled a bit as I had no wins for over two years. I tried harder than ever before to do well and got a good result from the first competition so I'm very much looking forward to the 2015 season."
Despite settling for second place, Ko, the South Korean-born Kiwi, will climb a spot to No. 1 in the world rankings, becoming the youngest golfer ever, male or female, to reach the top spot. Park In-bee, the South Korean star who had been No. 1 since October, finished tied for 13th at the Coates Golf Championship at four-under 284.
Ko took the No. 1 ranking at 17 years, nine months and seven days. Tiger Woods was 21 when he rose to No. 1 for the first time in 1997. South Korean Shin Ji-yai had been the youngest woman to be No. 1 at age 22 in 2010.
Ko held the overnight lead at 14-under, one ahead of the field and three better than Choi.
Choi poured in four birdies against a bogey on the front nine, while Ko picked up three birdies and a bogey over the same stretch.
Choi was nursing a one-stroke lead when the golfers reached the par-3 15th. Choi stuck her tee shot closer to the pin than Ko, but Ko drained her birdie putt while Choi three-putted for what appeared to be a fatal bogey.
Ko went out in front after the two-shot swing, but more drama ensued on the par-4 17th.
Both found trouble off the tee, with Ko pushing her drive to the bunker on the right and Choi pulling hers to the left toward the cart path.
From her bunker, Ko hit a tree and needed four shots to reach the green en route to a momentum-killing double bogey. Choi scrambled to save par to regain her one-stroke advantage, and managed a par on the par-5 18th to clinch the victory.
Jang, a former Korean LPGA star making her U.S. tour debut, was in contention all week and shot a two-under 70 in the final round.
Amy Yang, Yoo Sun-young and Ryu So-yeon were the other South Koreans in the top 10.
Jessica Korda missed an eagle putt on the 18th to force a playoff with Choi and joined Ko and Jang in second place. Korda had the best round of the day with a bogey-free round of six-under 66. (Yonhap)