Lydia Ko had a five-shot lead heading onto the 13th hole of the Marathon Classic in Ohio and has seen her game fall apart, particularly on the last hole, to lose by one shot to World number two Danielle Kang.
In an extraordinary finish, the 23-year-old’s game that had been so solid all weekend deserted her in the final five holes, shooting bogeys on 14 and 16 before scraping out a par on 17 and then seeing her short game completely disappear on the par 5, 18th with a double-bogey 7.
Speaking after the dramatic finale Ko was still happy with how she played apart from the 18th.
“I actually hit the ball really well today and made a lot of putts on the front nine as well,” Ko said following the round.
“It’s tough. Obviously not the finish that I had envisioned, but Danielle played great today. Every time she made a mistake she fought back with a birdie, so credits to her.
“Like even if I had a lost, obviously wouldn’t want to lose with a 7. But, no, I thought that 3-wood was the shot for the second shot because to carry the bunker is 207.
“I was thinking of having the chip from the right side because the pin was tucked on the left.
“But just with how firm it is, it went a little longer than I expected. Obviously made me think about it from there.
“I mean, at the end of the day obviously it wasn’t the finish that I wanted, but Danielle played great. It’s not like she played mediocre and I played mediocre. She played good golf.”
Ko went into the final day leading by 4 shots and the chance to win her first title since 2018.
Ko held steady on the front nine with a birdie at 3 and at 7. At the same time, Kang was up and down, starting with a bogey on the first hole then birdies on 2,3 and 7 before another bogey and then another birdie.
The Back Nine
At the halfway point Lydia Ko still held her 4-shot lead from overnight and by the 12th was up by 5 when Kang made a bogey. But a bogey from Ko on the 14th and two consecutive birdies from Kang on 13 and 14 reduced the margin back to just 2 shots heading to 15.
Ko managed to recover from the bunker and putt in for par, while Kang had a birdie putt which missed.
On 16 Ko’s tee shot went further than Kang but into the rough and had a tough lie and needed to hit through a tree to make the green. Ko went safe and ended up in the back bunker with two to par the hole.
Kang’s shot threaded the needle through the tree and managed to reach the front edge of the green with a birdie putt.
Ko chipped out of the bunker passed the flag and had a tough putt back for par which lipped out and she tapped in for bogey to drop a shot while Kang made par and reduced the margin to just one.
On the par-five 17, Kang teed off first and hit the fairway to the left, Ko, on the other hand, went right and had to crisscross the fairway to make only the edge of the green in three.
Kang tried to putt off the rough for eagle but failed and left herself a long putt for birdie which she missed. Ko dropped for par and went onto the 18th one shot ahead.
On 18, both players teed off onto the fairway with Ko about 250 yards from the hole she hit a 3 wood and saw it roll onto a footpath while Kang’s second shot landed in the left-side bunker.
After spending an inordinate amount of time setting up the free drop and then preparing for her third shot approach, Ko tapped it across the green to the other side passed the bunker. Kang chipped out of the bunker which only reached the edge of the green and stayed in the rough. Ko at this stage was still well and truly in it.
Ko then tried to chip out of the rough and it hit the sprinkler head and rolled back into a bunker. A chip out left a long putt for bogey.
“I said to myself I feel like the lie is pretty good, that I can make up and down from here,” Ko explained.
“You know, if she makes a chip before I make the putt, obviously it’s game over anyway.
“But, no, it was a pretty difficult position just being in the third shot. You know, anywhere just in the short area would’ve been a pretty simple chip on the green, but just being in the rough made it a little bit more iffy.
Kang tapped in for par and Ko needed to putt to force a playoff which she failed to do and ended with a double-bogey 7.
Kang won the title, her second consecutive victory since the LPGA restarted since the COVID-19 layoff.
Ko has had a change of coach since the layoff and her game looks to have changed and set her up for a good season.
“I think there are so many positives from there week, and I feel overall like more confident in my game.
“I think that’s really the goal I had coming into this stretch after quarantine.
“So obviously I would’ve loved to be the one holding the trophy, but I think if somebody said, Hey, you’re going to be second at Marathon coming into the stretch I would’ve been, okay, cool. I would take that.”
The next LPGA tournament begins in Scotland on Thursday.