Lydia Ko co-leads at relaxed LPGA season-opener

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Lydia Ko co-leads at relaxed LPGA season-opener

LPGA Tour

Lydia Ko co-leads at relaxed LPGA season-opener

By

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Lydia Ko couldn’t believe the time when she stepped outside the scoring tent.

“5:01!” she exclaimed.

Playing in the penultimate group with John Smoltz and Mark Mulder, Ko began Round 3 of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions at 11:10 a.m. It was a long day, but Ko somehow didn’t seem to notice.

“I mean, like you don’t know what time it is out there,” she said. “You’re just having a really good time. … I’ve never been caught up in what position I am and what I need to do. I probably need to do that a little bit more tomorrow so I know what I need to do coming down the stretch, or the whole day really.”

Ko believes the relaxed atmosphere has helped her climb into a share of the lead at the TOC, knotted with 2009 U.S. Women’s Open winner Eun-Hee Ji at 13-under 200. The Kiwi’s third-round 66 included five birdies and no bogeys on the par-71 Tranquilo Golf Course at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club. Brooke Henderson bogeyed the last hole – a long and difficult par-3 – to drop into solo second. Nelly Korda sits alone in fourth at 11 under.

Ko wasn’t sure what to expect when she first arrived at the TOC. Music on the range and a friendly group out the gate on Thursday settled her in just fine. Nothing about the week feels like a season-opener, she said.

“The guys have made it like so stress-free,” said Ko. “Like when I was kind of going in on Wednesday, I was like, man, this – I hope this is great, but this could go anywhere just because it is the first event and you have nothing to really relate it to.”

She’s especially been impressed with the number of autographs her playing partners have signed during competition, calling them great role models.

Ko has come into the past several seasons with massive changes to her team, swing and physique. Asked what changed this year, she smiled and said “my teeth,” referring to her Invisalign dental braces. Also, she changed golf balls. Going from the Callaway Chrome Soft X to the Titleist Pro V1x.

The former World No. 1 has won only one time since the summer of 2016. An early-season victory could push her toward to the kind of consistency the golf world had grown to expect.

While 26 LPGA pros vie for the first title of 2019 and a $1.2 million purse, 49 celebrities are competing in their own division for a $500,000 purse in a modified stableford format.

John Smoltz’s 116 points gives him a four-point lead over Mark Mulder heading into the final round. Two-time DRI winner Mardy Fish sits five points back.

Asked how playing in the U.S. Senior Open last year might help down the stretch on Sunday, Smoltz said the biggest thing is learning not to panic.

“It was an out-of-body experience,” said Smoltz of The Broadmoor challenge. “I wasn’t ready. You don’t know what you don’t know. So I was able to learn from that. I still have moments out on the course where I don’t quite trust, and it’s probably only happened three times, and when it happens, I immediately get back on my next shot and fire at it.”

With high winds and cold temperatures in the forecast for Sunday, Smoltz might not be able to walk away from his stand-up putter much in the final round. He was asked after Round 3 if he thought the USGA might consider changing the rules on the stand-up putter for next year. (It’s now legal.)

“Obviously, with the caddie change I’m sure some people might say that I think everyone should buy one,” said Smoltz. “How about that? That solves that. It’s a really good putter. It’s changed my whole view of putting. And today I couldn’t stand it up much. Tomorrow I won’t be able to stand it up at all. So that’s the difference. When it’s windy, can’t stand it up. It’s going to blow over.”

Latest

More Golfweek
Home