CARLSBAD, Calif. — It never gets old. The phenomenon that is Lydia Ko rolled on in Carlsbad, Calif., where she birdied the last three holes to hold off a hard-charging Inbee Park in casual-like fashion at the Kia Classic.
That’s 11 LPGA victories for the 18-year-old. Sixteen titles worldwide. And she goes about it all so modestly.
“Anything can happen,” she said before the final round, downplaying her chances. Then she brought up the course-record 64 Dori Carter shot here two years ago.
Nobody bought it. Ko took a three-shot lead into the final round of the Kia Classic, and because she doesn’t falter, doesn’t flinch, Ko held a mental edge over her closest pursuers because they knew it would take something special.
A rare misfire from Ko on the 10th hole added drama when she double hit her putt from off the green. She noticed that her ball was in a pitch mark and later wondered if she should have tried to fat a wedge instead. She called over a rules official immediately after it happened, and then rolled in a six-foot putt for bogey.
“If that missed,” said Ko, “I think it would have been definitely more complicating, and going into the next hole, I would have been really frustrated.”
Instead, Ko escaped without much drama and marched on.
World No. 2 Inbee Park made a back-nine push, pulling within one stroke of Ko for a brief time. Ko referred to it as “Inbee doing her Inbee things.” She wasn’t fazed.
The World No. 1 responded with birdies on the last three holes to close out a four-shot victory at 19-under 269. Both Ko and Park shot 67 in the final round.
Park’s slow start to 2016 meant that up until this week, she struggled with all parts of her game. Things started to click at Kia.
“What I really needed was really a good finish,” Park said of heading to next week’s ANA. And she got it.
Ai Miyazato’s third-place showing marked her first top 10 since 2013.
“Finally, I did it,” Miyazato said, smiling broadly.
The Japanese star has struggled with her putting in recent years, and this week made a small but substantial change. She increased the loft on her Odyssey 2-Ball two degrees.
The impact was huge.
“The top 10 is not my goal,” said Miyazato. “I want to win the tournament. But this one is definitely a big step for me.”
A $225,000 first-place check gives Ko $5,503,957 in career earnings. She’s No. 1 on the current money race and 45th all-time, sandwiched in between Patty Sheehan and Grace Park.
She has been ranked No. 1 in the world a total of 41 weeks in her short career. Ko’s physical trainer has provided her motto: “Get better every day.”
It helps explain how a player so young and accomplished can stay so motivated.
“I mean, I can get better at everything,” said the teenager who is on top of the world.
We believe it.