NEAPLES, Florida – Much was at stake and the odds would have seemed great to anyone but Jin Young Ko.
Her only chance as LPGA Player of the Year was winning the CME Group Tour Championship. In her way, Nelly Korda was number 1 in the world. As if that wasn’t enough, Ko’s left wrist was so ailing that she only made full swings with a gap wedge on the practice area.
And then she did an almost perfect performance.
Ko put for birdie on every hole (she went the last 63 holes at Tiburon without missing a green), shot 30 on the top nine to take control, and finished with a 9-under 63 for the low round of the Tournament and a one-shot win on Sunday.
This was serious prey for the winner.
Ko won the richest award in women’s golf for $ 1.5 million, overtaking Korda to earn the LPGA’s biggest award for Player of the Year.
“I can’t believe it [it]”Said Ko about winning the tournament again.
This is the second time in three years that Jin Young Ko has won the LPGA Player of the Year Award. Michael Reaves / Getty Images
Ko opened with a seven-foot-long birdie putt that looked as easy as a tap-in, and she was on her way. She hit 7 irons at 8 feet for birdie at number 3, took the lead with a wedge at 10 feet on the next hole, and got nowhere near a bogey.
In the end, she won with one stroke against Nasa Hataoka of Japan, who never came closer than two strokes to the second nine, until a birdie on the last hole for a 64.
Ko couldn’t stop smiling on the 18th green when she picked up the crystal trophy for tournament victory and a silver trophy for Player of the Year. The win was worth $ 1.5 million. The award was worth even more to her.
“So proud of me,” said Ko. “Player of the Year, it’s cool. I would say Player of the Year is the best. It’s really hard to be Player of the Year, especially this year with Nelly.”
Korda’s big year of becoming major champion, Olympic champion and number 1 in the world rankings ended in one fell swoop. The 23-year-old American couldn’t keep up at the start and was never a factor to be taken seriously when Ko pulled down to the second nine.
“It was the Jin Young knockout show today, and frankly it was cool to see,” said Korda. “I just sat back and watched all day.”
Korda, whose four wins that year included the Women’s PGA Championship, finished fifth on a 69 and tied, six strokes behind.
“I’m a little sad for Nelly,” said Ko. “But I was a little luckier than she was.”
A little determination helped. Ko won the season finale for the second year in a row, and that cost all she had.
She started the final lap in a four-way tie for the lead with Korda, Hataoka and Celine Boutier and quickly left everyone behind with four birdies on the first six holes.
Hataoka tried to stick with her early on with a pair of birdies, but her chances were damaged on the sixth par-5 hole. Ko was about 15 yards off the green and hit a nice pitch to tap in the range for birdie. Hataoka was to the right of the green and threw a sensitive pitch into the bunker that led to the bogey.
But she was the only one who challenged Ko. Hataoka earned $ 480,000 in runner-up. Runner-up at the US Women’s Open, she earned $ 594,000.
Ko injured her left wrist for the first time in May because she said it was too much exercise. She kept playing and it got worse, and she said earlier in the week that she might have retired if it hadn’t been the last event of the year.
That made the performance even more remarkable. She never seemed to miss.
Ko’s tee shot on Thursday’s ninth hole went to a bunker near the Lippe and she could only shoot on the fairway, which led to the bogey. That was the last time she missed a green at Tiburon.
It was a tireless effort. She has chosen a destination. She hit the shot. And then she let her pure putt do the rest.
Lydia Ko finished with a 64 to complete the Vare Trophy with the lowest point average. Jin Young Ko and Korda had lower averages but didn’t get the required 70-round minimum.
The South Korean star finished his 12th career win with 23 under 265. Her ultimate goal is the LPGA Hall of Fame, which requires 27 points. She picked up one point for the win and one point for Player of the Year, which earned her 17 points in just four years on the LPGA Tour.
It was a brilliant end of the year for Ko, who, in addition to her wrist injury, had to cope with the loss of her grandmother in the spring, which left her looking for motivation for a short time.
She found it in a big way. Ko has won five of the last nine tournaments she played on the LPGA Tour and became the LPGA’s first five-time winner since 2016.