Ji-Yai Shin knows a thing or two about winning young and winning often, so when she and 15-year-old Lydia Ko took a 6-shot co-lead into the final round of the Women's Australian Open, I was hoping we would have a very special Sunday at the Royal Canberra Golf Club, especially considering that Ko had recently garnered her 3rd professional victory in her home country of New Zealand, that Shin had had a front-row seat to Ko's out-of-this world performance last August in her 1st LPGA victory, and that Shin's own return to the very top of the women's game seemed to have been sparked by watching Ko perform like--well, like a "Final Round Queen," which just happens to be one of Shin's own nom de golfs.
What I didn't expect to happen was that a certain #1 player in the world would give both Shin and Ko a run for their money. Ya Ni Tseng dropped to -8 for the week when she bogeyed her opening hole, but from then on she played like a champion, with birdies on her next 3 holes in a row, an eagle on the par-5 6th, and 3 birdies in her last 6 holes to post a sweet Sunday 66 and finish at -16. Which is 1 shot behind where the co-leaders started the day and would normally be a nice little asterisk and sign of things to come for Tseng, but Ko started double bogey-bogey and Shin kept reaching the -18 pinnacle and slipping off it. She did it Saturday with a bogey on the par-3 17th and she did it on Sunday with a bogey on the par-4 5th. With Ko fighting back to -16 thanks to gutsy birdies on the 4th and 5th holes and hanging tough with pars over her last 4 holes on the front, Shin needed to get it in gear, but she bogeyed the par-4 12th instead to drop back to -16 just as Ko birdied it to get back there after a bogey on the 10th.
From there on, though, Shin played like we've come to expect from her when the chips are down. In the face of Tseng's closing birdie barrage and Ko's closing stumble (2 bogeys and no birdies in her last 5 holes), Shin iced her 11th career LPGA victory with back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15. Since Tseng failed to birdie the 18th for the 3rd time this week, Shin didn't need to do anything else over her final holes but hold on, and she finished in style with 3 straight pars.
So it was a huge week for Shin, who's now won 3 of her last 7 starts. I'll double down on what I said after her Women's British Open win last fall--watch out for her the rest of the season! Others to watch out for include rookie Moriya Jutanugarn (70-70-70-69) to tie Beatriz Recari for 4th and pass Gwladys Nocera and Carlota Ciganda; Mariajo Uribe, who garnered a top 10 despite a Saturday 79; and Jennifer Song, who shook off a second-round 74 to post a top 20.
Can't wait for next week when Ai and Mika Miyazato kick off 2013 on the LPGA!
[Update 1 (12:12 pm): Here's more from Brent Kelley, Bill Jempty, and Ruthless Mike!]