Lydia Ko proved her credentials as world No.1 by emerging victorious over four days of thrilling golf at the $5 million
KAEC, Saudi Arabia, February 19, 2023: Lydia Ko proved her credentials as world No.1 by emerging victorious over four days of thrilling golf at the $5 million Aramco Saudi Ladies International Presented by Public Investment Fund, claiming a bumper prize purse of $750,000 despite the best efforts of nearest challengers Aditi Ashok and Lilia Vu at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
Ko made it career win number 26 and a second Aramco Saudi Ladies International, thanks to a steady four-under final round of 68 which gave her a 21-under total of 267, one better than Ashok. The world number one ended the day two strokes ahead of Vu, who finished T3 alongside Lexi Thompson of America and Manon Del Roey after the Belgian carded a course record-equalling 63 a day after Thompson achieved the same feat.
Ko, who also triumphed in the tournament in 2021, said: “I'm two for two on this golf course, so clearly something is going for me. This is a course where, in the last few days when I played in 2021, a few players went from the back that would shoot low scores, so I just wanted to focus on my game.
“I don't think I was setting myself up for a lot of birdie opportunities on the front nine, but I knew that every hole could be a birdie opportunity, so it was that kind of mindset and I wanted to be aggressive. In the end, it's definitely nice to get the win this week.”
The tournament was Ko’s first of the season, making the victory even more impressive. She said: “I’m playing with the world's best. The field this week was really good, so I knew it was going to be a challenge. The first one of the year, it's really hard because you don't have anything to base yourself off.
“You don't know if you're going to play well or bad. But the start definitely helped, and I think I stayed really patient and I was not as nervous as I thought I would be, which is definitely good.”
Starting one shot off Vu in the final group alongside Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen, Ko immediately put the pressure on with a birdie on her opening hole. Vu fought back with a birdie of her own on two, which Ko surprisingly bogeyed, but birdies on six, 10, 13 and 17 were enough for the two-time Major winner, with Vu carding birdies on 9 and 11 but dropping vital shots on 10 and 18 when it mattered.
At one stage, in-form Indian star Ashok also shared the lead in a three-way tie, but her dropped shot on the fifth ultimately left her agonisingly short of forcing a play-off, despite her best efforts to force the pressure with three consecutive birdies from seven to nine, and two on the bounce late on at 15 and 16.
Ashok, who has finished first, third and second in her past three tournaments, said: “It's been great. I think 20-under on this golf course, with the wind that we had on some days, is a good score. I knew I needed to make a few birdies. I knew where I stood after 9 when I saw the leaderboards. I didn't do much until 14, so the last few holes -- yesterday I birdied three of the last four, so I tried to think that it's possible today, too, and I ended up birdieing two.”
An eagle on the last would have given Del Roey the course record outright, but she had to settle for birdie. Afterwards, she admitted the situation had gotten to her, saying: “I definitely knew that because I left my putt for eagle very short. I was a bit nervous on that putt actually. I had some shaky hands. But I’m still happy that I hit the green actually because that was also very nerve-racking. I only had a 7-iron for 191 meters, so I'll take that. I took a club less because I thought I had some adrenaline going.
“I was very solid throughout my whole game actually. I think I only had one bad shot one drive. I just look at a putt and it goes in! I don't know. Yeah, today and then Friday was two days where it was just really good and I'm just seeing the ball go in the hole.”
Thompson felt she had plenty to build on following Saturday’s 63 with a final-round 66. She said: “I overall played very solid after a rough first day in the wind. It was a bit of a struggle first day but just tried to stay positive. And honestly, my second day felt like the best day I swung it, so just really tried to build off that going into the weekend.
“This is definitely a good confidence booster to start off the season that way. I'll continue to build off it. I'll go home for a few weeks now and practice even harder knowing, kind of putting my work to the test this week and playing well. But there are a few things that I need to improve on and really build off.”
Three straight bogeys derailed Pedersen’s challenge from the first, and she finished in sixth on -17, one ahead of last year’s champion Georgia Hall on -16.
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