There was no missing the smile on Jin Young Ko’s face as she stood on the 18th green at Sentosa Golf Club on Sunday in Singapore, victorious for a second straight year at the HSBC Women’s World Championship. But there was no missing the tears, either. The 12-month odyssey to win once more and claim her 14th career LPGA title was one that pushed the 27-year-old South Korean star unlike any other time in her impressive professional career. And the normally stoic Ko couldn’t hide her emotions.
“[I tried] to listen to the birds and feel the wind and rain,” she said. “But it was really hard to keep my poker face.”
Ko shot a final-round 69 for a 17-under 271 total to fend off challenges from two American stars, Nelly Korda (second at 15-under) and Danielle Kang (T-3 at 14-under), as well as Japan’s Ayaka Furue (T-3 at 14-under) and American Allisen Corpuz. Ko overcame yet another rain delay, the third day out of four where play was interrupted, with just three holes remaining and victory in her sights.
The stoppage helped Ko focus again. She’d started the final round with a two-shot edge on Korda, but saw the lead shrink to one as Kang, who shot a second-round 63 to hole the halfway lead, made five birdies on her first 13 holes to make a charge. But Ko countered with her fourth birdie on the day at the 13th, just as Kang made bogey on the 16th, to hold back Kang. And when Korda bogeyed the 14th while playing beside Ko in the final group, Ko could breathe easier even while stymied by the rain.
“I had a one-shot lead the first 15 or 16 and I know Nelly is behind me. I thought it was just one or two shots, so it was close,” Ko said. “But after the delay, I rested in the dining [area], and I saw the TV and the scoreboard, and [saw I had a] three-shot lead. But I had two more holes left, so I thought, Let’s make a par, like safe play. But it was really hard to make par 17, 18, but yeah, it was hard but I make it.”
After Ko’s win in Singapore a year ago, the then world No.1 and reigning LPGA player of the year was looking like she would take her career to another impressive level. Her closing-round 66 was her 15th consecutive round in the 60s, a new LPGA record. It was her 29th round in the 60s over her past 30. But instead, the nagging wrist injury that she had learned to play through worsened, and suddenly Ko couldn’t perform. She had only four top-10 showings in her next 15 starts, and in the northern summer she missed back-to-back cuts for the first time ever. She fell to fifth in the Rolex Women’s World Ranking and sat out a start in Portland where she was the defending champion and returned to finish a disappointing T-33 at the CME Group Tour Championship.
But, finally, time off seemed to pay off as her wrist healed enough to train again with her coach in Vietnam. The first hint of a return to form came a week earlier with a closing 64 to finish T-6 at the Honda LPGA Thailand.
With the win, Ko has now claimed a title in a sixth straight LPGA season and defended a title for a third time in her LPGA career. Moreover, she has had the confidence return that appeared to be lost last year.
“It’s the most important [win]. Because I had a tough year last year, and I fought with injury and not good game and mentally tough and everything, and then I won this week,” Ko said. “So it’s going to be more important to me and it’s going to be big momentum for me in my life.”