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With steely nerves that belie her youth, 17-year-old New Zealander Lydia Ko calmly sank a four-foot putt on the 72nd and final hole Sunday of the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning & O-I.
It was not just any putt. This one was historic.
When it dropped into the cup to a burst of cheers from the grandstands and surrounding gallery at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ko had capped a 6-under-par final-round 65 that moved her into first place at 15-under par.
Moments later — when South Korean So Yeon Ryu missed on a six-foot birdie try on No. 18 that kept her at 14-under — Ko had clinched her second LPGA tournament of her rookie season, and her fourth overall.
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“It may be four feet, but they say that’s one of the most nerve-racking on the range because you kind of expect it to go in,” said Ko, who admitted she indeed was nervous. “But I think the day went great and I ended up as the winner. That was my goal coming in.”
More significantly, Ko became the youngest winner in the 29 years of the event, and with the first-place prize check of $210,000 also became the LPGA’s youngest player (17 years, 2 months, 26 days) to reach $1 million in career earnings ($1,061,019).
“I came in today with a goal of shooting 6-under,” Ko said. “After my first nine I said, ‘I can definitely shoot that.’ I know that the players are all going to make a lot of birdies coming in, so I knew that I needed to do my share.”
The youngest winner of the former Jamie Farr Classic was Brandie Burton, who was 21 years, 5 months, and 26 days old when she won here in 1993. The youngest player previously to reach $1 million was Lexi Thompson (18 years, 7 months, 5 days), who hit that milestone last year. Ko said she was unaware of the money mark until the post-tournament interviews.
“Now I know,” Ko said. “Pretty sure that goes into my mom’s account or something. I don’t really think about money when I’m out here. I’m thinking about making birdies and hitting good shots and making putts rather than, ‘OK, this putt is going to give me an extra thousand.”
Putting things in perspective, Ko still has one year of high school remaining back home, and still has an allowance. On her mom’s incentive program, the 15-under score netted Ko a mere $150 in pocket money. She earns $10 for each stroke under par in a tournament.
Ko followed up her first three rounds (67-67-70) with a bogey-free final 18 holes, converting birdies on Nos. 3, 4, 8, 10, 16, and 18 to close the tournament at 269.
Ryu, the 2012 Farr Classic champion, made a strong back-nine charge. Her bogey-free round finished with birdies on Nos. 12, 13, 16, and 17 before missing her opportunity at 18 to force a playoff.
“Absolutely, I’m disappointed that I missed the birdie putt,” Ryu said. “I had quite a rough front nine, but I brought it on pretty great on the back nine.
“I had a great birdie at 17, but I missed a really important birdie putt at 18. Some things are lucky and some things are unlucky, so I just accept it and let it go.”
Ryu’s second-place finish netted her $128,069.
Alone in third place with a 12-under 272 was Cristie Kerr, who had a chance to stay in contention until she bogeyed the 15th hole, and closed by just missing a 20-foot birdie putt on the final green. Kerr, who had earlier birdied Nos. 1, 2, 5, 10, and 13 to claim a share of the lead at 13-under, won $92,905.
“I didn’t play well on 17 or 18 all week, and if you’re going to win here you’ve got to take advantage of those holes,” Kerr said. “I didn’t hit a good putt on 17 today and, on 18, I could’ve gotten there in two right up front and maybe hit an eagle chip. I just hit a bad 3-wood.
“I kind of left a lot of shots out there this week. I hit it bad and missed a lot of putts. I had a good bad week.”
Three players each claimed $59,015 by tying for fourth at 11-under 273 — Kelly Tan of Malaysia, Katherine Kirk of Australia, and Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa.
Tan also made a late bid for the championship, pushing her final-round birdie count to six with the final three at Nos. 15, 16, and 17. Then came the par-5 No. 18 hole, where she soared her approach shot to the back fringe, chipped within four feet, then missed her par putt to finish the day at 67.
“I knew I had to make 4 there [on 18],” Tan said. “In the last couple holes, pin position wasn’t that tough, and they were two par-5s. I knew I needed the 4 there and I don’t know what happened. I think it was adrenaline.
“I just had it land over [the green] and I had a tough chip. That was disappointing. It wasn’t as pretty of a finish as I wanted, but I played great all week. I gave myself a lot of chances and just kept rolling them in. I was patient.”
Kirk’s five-birdie, two-bogey final round 68 included birdies on 17 and 18. It was too little, too late.
“I didn’t probably hit it as well as I could,” Kirk said. “But I putted well today. I knew it would take a low one to win it, and I didn’t quite have a low enough one. But I’m quite happy with the way I played.”
Pace, who had shared the 54-hole lead with Laura Diaz at 11-under coming in, failed to take things any lower during the final round. She bogeyed No. 4, birdied No. 11, then bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 before closing with birdies at 16 and 18 to get back to even-par 71.
“I probably hit the ball better than I hit it all week,” Pace said. “On the first nine, I had five really good birdie chances which didn’t go in. And, on the back nine, I had more birdie chances that I just didn’t make.
“I had an over-club on one of the holes [No. 4] which set me back a stroke, unfortunately. But I played well and had a chance, which was good.
“I hit good putts, I just didn’t read them right today for some reason. I couldn’t get them on the right line.”
Diaz, who held or shared the tournament lead after each of the first three rounds following her 9-under 62 on Thursday, came undone over the final 18 holes.
She failed to make a single birdie, and bogeys at 1, 5, 12, and 18 gave her a 4-over final-round 75, which dropped her into a tie for 18th place at 7-under 277.
Diaz declined comment after finishing play.
Completing the top 10 in the second Marathon Classic were five players who shared seventh place at 10-under 274, and claimed $32,044 each. The group consisted of American players Mo Martin and Kris Tamulis, Permilla Lindberg of Sweden, Julieta Granada of Paraguay, and Lindsey Wright of Australia.
Martin (67-71-67-69) completed what was an exhausting week for her after winning the Women’s British Open on July 13.
“When we started, I probably only had about 45 minutes to practice outside of the Pro-Am,” Martin said. “I was glad I was able to turn it around and focus on this week. I think I can sleep for about a week now.”