Newly-minted 18-year-old Lydia Ko, who celebrated her birthday on Friday, reasserted her dominance of the women’s golf world on Sunday by defending her title at the 2015 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, April 23 to 26, at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City. Ko, who won the inaugural event in 2014 in a close contest over American Stacy Lewis, lay in the wake of leaders Morgan Pressel and Brooke Henderson as play started today, before pulling up into a tie with Pressel at the end of regulation play.
Ko led by a stroke after the first round, but fell back on Friday as 17-year-old Canadian Brooke Henderson surged into the lead with a tournament-record (and course record) round of 65. Henderson, who was the top-ranked female amateur in the world before turning pro in December 2014, retained the lead through Saturday’s third round, but was challenged by 26-year-old American Morgan Pressel. Pressel, a nine-year veteran of the LPGA ranks with two wins to her credit, posted a 5-under round of 67 on Saturday to move into a share of second place, while Henderson could manage no better than even par on the round, holding on to a slim, one-stroke lead going into Sunday’s final round..
Blustery conditions prevailed again in the final round, keeping scores mostly in the 70s, and even the leaders were having up-and-down rounds, balancing birdies against bogeys. Ko’s 2-under 70 came on six birdies and four bogeys, while Pressel had an eagle (sixth hole, a long par-5), two birdies and four bogeys on the way to an even-par final round. Henderson came up just short of making it a three-way playoff, narrowly missing a birdie putt on the eighteenth hole that would have brought her home in 73 for a regulation total of -8.
Pressel and Ko played Lake Merced’s visually dramatic eighteenth hole twice in the playoff before a miss by Pressel on a 15-foot birdie putt pretty much decided the issue. Playing from the rough just off the bend of the fairway on the left side, Ko elected a full shot with her sand wedge rather than the choked-back pitching wedge she used in regulation and the first playoff hole. Her approach shot dropped close to the back hole location, pitching forward before checking and curling back to leave her a putt of no more than five feet – for the win, as it turned out, after Pressel badly underestimated the break from left of the hole and missed low by several inches.
The win further solidifies the unassuming Ko’s hold on the world of women’s professional golf, propelling her into her 13th consecutive week as World #1, the youngest to hold that distinction in either the men’s or women’s game. Despite the narrow loss, Pressel, who hasn’t recorded a win on the LPGA Tour since the 2008 Kapalua LPGA Classic, has a good trend going, with this second-place finish coming close on the heels of a third-place finish two weeks ago at the ANA Inspiration (formerly the Dinah Shore/Kraft-Nabisco), the first major on the LPGA calendar.