Lydia Ko came within a stroke of defending her Women’s New Zealand Golf Open title Sunday in Christchurch, surpassed by a 63 from Mi Hyang Lee of South Korea that took the course record and the championship.
“It’s my best score in my life,” Lee said, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
With seven birdies and an eagle Sunday, Lee – ranked No. 256 in the world – took the clubhouse lead after starting her day T-20. Ko, raised largely in New Zealand, then had a chance at the 18th to force a playoff, as did playing partners Anya Alvarez and Beth Allen. But Ko’s long birdie try came up short as she wrapped up a final-round 70; Allen and Alvarez bogeyed to finish T-3 with Seon Woo Bae.
Lee said her first Ladies European Tour win came as a surprise.
“I came around to the clubhouse, and my dad said, ‘You won,’ because Lydia missed a birdie putt – and I cannot believe,” she said. “. . . I had more putting practice and it feels better. Putting is so much better. I had 26 putts today.”
Maybe the secret to success in New Zealand is feeling under the weather: Lee and Ko both said they had been ill recently.
“I think I played pretty good for my health and obviously Mi Hyang played great as well; 63 is a pretty amazing score,” said Ko, the 16-year-old who recently turned pro and seems to be setting up camp in Central Florida. “. . . Luckily the winds weren’t up that much the last couple of days. So that gave us more opportunities to go lower, but in saying that, just because it’s calm doesn’t mean everyone can shoot 63.”
Ko is taking a week off in advance of the Women’s Australian Open.
– Associated Press and Ladies European Tour contributed