By KEELY LEVINS
A playoff looked inevitable at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix. After two weeks off, the LPGA was back and there were at least five players at any given point in the final round who looked like they could win.
Jin Young Ko, the 23-year-old South Korean, finished her seven-under round of 65 and went to the putting green to stay loose for what seemed a certain playoff. The final group was on 18, but when Carlota Ciganda missed a birdie putt and Yu Liu, tied with Ko, failed to get up and down for par, Ko no longer needed to keep putting. She had just won the Hope Founders Cup via the back door, her third LPGA Tour victory.
Liu and Ciganda both fell a bit flat on the final day, shooting rounds of 70 and 69, respectively. The other two players to finish the tournament at 21-under, one shot behind Ko, were sisters Jessica and Nelly Korda. Jessica had rallied to a final-round 64, which included two eagles on the back nine, and she tied for the lowest round of the day. Nelly had a chance to come in at 22-under, but her birdie putt on 18 lipped out. It was painfully close – the sisters recapped the moment together after the round, and Jessica put a video of the putt on Instagram, asking: “How did that not go in?” A fair question for a putt that looked to be in until it whipped around the lip.
Ko was able to outlast the pack of challengers by doing what she does best. She is an incredibly consistent ball-striker. She’s been a professional since 2013, but has spent the majority of her professional career on the Korean LPGA Tour. When she joined the LPGA Tour in 2018, she had a lot of high-level competitive experience. And she made it known. She took Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors after winning ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and finishing in the top 10 on 12 other occasions in 2018. In 2018 she finished the season ranked No.1 in greens in regulation, hitting 77 percent over the course of the season. And she was ranked second in driving accuracy, hitting 85 percent of fairways. Her numbers so far for 2019 are similar: 79 percent of greens in regulation and 82 percent of fairways hit.
Hitting that many greens and that many fairways takes pressure off the putter (Ko is currently sixth on tour in putting), and it gives her birdie opportunities. Which is exactly what Ko did all day in the final round at Wild Fire Golf Club in Phoenix. Her scorecard was flawless: she made seven birdies and 11 pars.
She’s the sixth different winner on the LPGA Tour this season – further proving the depth of talent currently on tour.
Su Oh, who tied for 18th at 14-under, finished as the leading Australian.