Lydia Ko rode a roller coaster into history Saturday when the burgeoning teen superstar became the youngest golfer ever to ascend to the No. 1 world ranking after tying for second at the LPGA’s season-opening tournament.
In a finale marked by wild swings and lead changes between Ko and eventual winner Na Yeon Choi at the inaugural Coates Golf Championship, the youngster -- who has smashed almost every age-related record on tour -- can credit her improbable 60-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th hole with securing her place in the annals of the game.
Lydia Ko (-17) dropped this bomb on the 15th for birdie! She now leads by 1 after a 3-putt bogey from N.Y. Choi. pic.twitter.com/LvxVMfxXHI— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) January 31, 2015
Ko needed a victory or a second-place finish, with former No. 1 Inbee Park coming in no higher than a three-way tie for third, to claim the top spot. Park ended her tournament in a tie for 13th.
"I didn't really know what I needed to do to get in that position. All I was focused on was trying to play my best out here today," Ko said after posting a final-round 1-under 71 to Choi's 68. "It's a huge honor to be in that ranking. I'm just going to focus on my golf, not think about the rankings … I'm just going to focus on the next week, concentrate on a whole new week and I think that's all I can really do."
Laying waste to records is nothing new for the 2014 Rookie of the Year who became, at 15, the youngest player to win on tour when she captured the 2012 Canadian Women’s Open. Her W at the 2014 season-ending CME Tour Championship netted Ko the $500,000 winner’s share and the $1 million bonus that came with grabbing the inaugural Race to the CME Globe. It also meant she was the youngest LPGA golfer to record five wins.
The youngest player to earn RoY honors began Saturday’s fourth and final round with a one-shot lead over Ha Na Jang and got out to a blazing start with two straight birdies. Ko seemed on cruise control to her sixth tour victory when she birdied No. 5. A few stumbles and that sensational birdie on 15 later, and Ko accomplished what no male or female golfer -- not Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, or Annika Sorenstam -- had ever done, and that was to reach the pinnacle at age 17.
Woods held the previous record, becoming No. 1 when he was 21 in 1997. Yani Tseng, at 22, was the youngest woman to the top ranking before Ko.
Lydia Ko is the no. 1 player in women's golf. She was born 3 months after Tiger's hole-in-one at 16 at TPC Scottsdale in 1997.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) January 31, 2015
Ko’s victory did not come easily, especially down the stretch. An errant approach shot into the trees on the par-4 17th led to her only double-bogey in 72 holes. What had appeared to be a victory march some five and a half hours earlier stalled when she skulled a pitch shot across the green and into a bunker on 18 (a la Tiger Woods on No. 16 in the Phoenix Open pro-am).
Ko had to settle for par at the last and a tie for second with Jang and Jessica Korda at 15-under -- one shot behind Choi -- but that was all she needed to etch her name in the history books.