World number one Lydia Ko today won her third ISPS Handa New Zealand Women's Open in impressive style at Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch.
Ko held the overnight lead by one shot from French rookie Justine Dreher but those who thought that the day would be a procession for the 18-year-old defending champion hadn’t counted on several challenges coming, the first by talented American Amelia Lewis who had finished second to Ko here in 2013, when she became the Ladies European Tour’s youngest winner in history as a 15-year-old.
Lewis started the round at three-under-par, five shots behind Ko, and was playing more than an hour ahead of the overnight leader. By the time Lewis had played the 11th hole she was six-under for her round, 10-under-par for the tournament and found herself one shot ahead of Ko, who had made a steady but unspectacular start to her round.
However, as many before her had done this week, Lewis’s round came to grief over the tough finishing three holes and she would end the day at three-under-par, to finish in a tie for sixth place.
The next challenger would be the talented young Dane Emily Kristine Pedersen, who began the day two shots behind Ko and started brilliantly with an eagle at the par-5 second hole. She would bogey the short par-3 fourth, but another birdie at the 10th put her in a tie for the lead. Pedersen would also falter down the stretch, making bogeys at 14 and 17 to end in sixth position on six-under-par.
While all this was going on Ko was playing steady golf. She birdied the par-5 second hole before making a disappointing bogey on the par-5 sixth to be even for the day. Ko could not have helped but notice the challengers coming at her but she remained calm and made the killer punches at 10 and 11 where she made back-to-back birdies to edge in front once again.
The Kiwi star made a fantastic up and down from the sand on the tricky par-4 12th, and cruised through the tricky stretch of holes from 13 to 17 having the luxury of a two shot lead heading up 18 over Korean amateur Hye Jin Choi, Englishwoman Felicity Johnson and Nanna Koerstz Madsen who were all in the clubhouse at eight-under-par.
Ko made no mistakes and hit a superb drive up the 18th, followed by a superb iron shot to eight feet. Unfortunately, she failed to make the birdie putt but a tap in par sealed a two stroke victory.
There was also a strong showing from the LET Rookies with Frenchwoman Justine Dreher in fifth spot, Noemi Jimenez Martin of Spain tied eighth and Olivia Cowan tied 10th.
As was the case in 2015, Ko had the chance to share her victory with the huge galleries who had come out to watch her play. While the talking point of the day should have been Ko’s third ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open title, there was a small distraction which occurred at 1.13pm local time.
Just 11 minutes before Ko and playing partner Justine Dreher of France were due to tee off for their final round, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck just 10 kilometres from the course and had both locals and international visitors in a panic for the 30 seconds or so it lasted. Over the next five hours there would be a total of 52 further aftershocks, the initial quake was the ninth largest earthquake in Christchurch’s history.
The wider golfing community is very aware that Lydia Ko is not only a brilliant golfer but a very special young woman and today she showed us yet another example of her generosity. After thanking the title sponsors ISPS Handa, her family, her team and other event stakeholders, Ko shed a few tears as she thanked NZ Golf, describing how much they had done for her career and that she would not have achieved what she has done without them behind her. She then announced that she would be donating her entire tournament prize money to help New Zealand in some way.
“I have discussed this with my family and my team and this is something that we all want to do. We will seriously think about the best way that we can use this money to help New Zealand.”
Ko dedicated the win to her good friend and mentor former New Zealand Golf President Patsy Hankin who had passed away suddenly last year.
The Ladies European Tour now heads to the Grange Golf Club in Adelaide for the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, the second tournament of 2016.
Final scores: http://ladieseuropeantour.com/leaderboard/