In a week when youth was served around the world of men's and women's golf, 17-year-old Lydia Ko was the youngest winner of them all today at the Marathon Classic. In addition to 25-year-old Rory McIlroy holding on for his historic win at the Open Championship, 21-year-old Misuzu Narita got her 3rd JLPGA victory of 2014 (this one in a playoff over 22-year-old Kotono Kozuma) and 5th of her short career, 18-year-old Charley Hull shot a Sunday 65 to force a playoff with 27-year-old Kylie Walker on the LET (which she lost--it was the Scottish rising star's 2nd playoff victory of the year), and 19-year-old Hyo Joo Kim came within 3 shots of winning her 3rd-straight KLPGA event (Inbee Park missed the playoff by 1 shot!).
Like Rory, Lydia was able to avoid a playoff, but unlike him, she couldn't afford to play defense, as she started the final round 2 shots behind Laura Diaz and Lee-Anne Pace. Even as the co-leaders faded, Karine Icher (63) and Pernilla Lindberg (65) charged, and 1st Cristie Kerr and then So Yeon Ryu went on birdie barrages, Ko kept the pedal to the metal with birdies on 3, 4, 8, and 10 to get to -13. By the time she reached the 16th hole, she was tied with Kerr and led Ryu by 1. When she birdied it, and Kerr pulled her approach on 15 and failed to get up and down, Ko was the sole leader at -14 with 2 par 5s left to play. A bad drive on 17 put her on the defensive, but a missed 8-foot birdie putt by Kerr on 16 allowed her to dodge a bullet; after those 2 missed putts in a row, Kerr wasn't a factor on the par 5s and would end the day at -12. But then Ryu put on another charge of her own, making a great birdie on 16 and an improbable one on 17 after an even worse drive than Ko's to join her at -14. Ko had a little pitch into the 18th hole seconds after Ryu tied her, and she stuck it, making the 5-footer to finish at -15. Then she could only wait to see if Ryu would make her 7-footer from the opposite side of the hole. When it missed wide right, Ko had earned her 2nd LPGA victory of 2014 and 4th LPGA title in her career.
Plenty of other players made some noise but in the end fell short. Rookie Kelly Tan needed a birdie on 18 to finish at -13 and put some pressure on the big names behind her, but her approach skipped into a nasty tuft of rough just off the back fringe and she failed to get up and down, which allowed Pace and Katherine Kirk to catch her at -11. Julieta Granada (66), Lindsey Wright (68), and Kris Tamulis (68) joined Lindberg at -10, as did Women's British Open champion Mo Martin, who gave herself a lot of chances to go lower but just couldn't get her putts to drop down the stretch. A 6-birdie 68 got Ai Miyazato to -9, tied with Rebecca Lee-Bentham and rookie Mirim Lee. And joining Icher at -8 were Lexi Thompson (67) and Candie Kung (70).
It wasn't quite as successful a week in the end for Diaz, whose final-round 75 dropped her to -7, tied with Tiffany Joh (67), Mariajo Uribe (69), Austin Ernst (72), Brooke Pancake (72), and Jaye Marie Green (74), but she has nothing to be ashamed of with her top 20. After all, she beat world #1 Stacy Lewis (70, -6), defending champion Beatriz Recari (70, -6), veterans Jennifer Rosales (68, -6), Meena Lee (70, -6), and Brittany Lincicome (71, -6), and up-and-comers Jenny Shin (69, -6) and Marina Alex (71, -6), not to mention Na Yeon Choi (71, -5), Chella Choi (69, -5), Caroline Hedwall (73, -5), Morgan Pressel (69, -2), and Paula Creamer (72, +1).
But the day belonged to Ko. The way she kept hitting knockdown short irons and hybrids into greens with such accuracy all week, the way she came back from an off day on the greens yesterday with flawless putting today, and the way she calmly went about her business through thick and thin were some of the most impressive aspects of her game. And her reward was to break the $1M barrier in season and career winnings as an LPGA member, move up to #3 on the money list, Race to the CME Globe, and Player of the Year race, and lay down a marker to everyone else on tour that they'd better watch out when she's in contention on the back 9. It's just too bad there couldn't be a dual Australia-New Zealand team for the International Crown next week!