By Martin Blake, Golf Australia.
Brilliant Korean Jin Young Ko dominated the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, but it was also a victory of sorts for Australia’s Hannah Green.
Ko won by three shots when she rolled in a short par putt at the final hole, with Kooyonga’s 18th green surrounded by thousands of spectators.
But the 21-year-old Green secured the best finish of her short LPGA Tour career, and her best result in her national Open, finishing third.
Ko, 22, left everyone in her wake with a wire-to-wire victory that franks her win in her native country last year, a triumph that allowed her to take up full LPGA Tour membership for 2018. Now she has won her first start as a member, a feat not achieved in the previous 67 years.
She was No.20 in the world before this week, will likely be close to the top 10 by tomorrow and is a potential No.1 with the quality of her ball-striking, especially with her lasered iron shots.
“My goal is rookie of the year,” she said. She was then asked: “What about player of the year?” She paused: “I haven’t thought about that.”
Ko started the week with a 65 and was never headed, never really seriously threatened, even. Her compatriot Hye-jin Choi was the closest, jumping out of the pack to move within two shots at the turn and still just two shots back when they came down the stretch.
But this was how it went. Ko hit a beautiful seven iron shot to the 17th green, where the pond on the right represented potentially her only way of losing the Open. Then she rolled the putt down the hill and into the cup from 5m. Game over.
The look on her face changed. “Relief,” she said it was.
Down the 18th fairway with the whole throbbing Kooyonga crowd to watch her, she made jokes with Australian caddie Dean Herden, who has been with her for two years. “Scary Dean,” she calls him, and she added today that Herden’s face had been grim throughout. “He’s nervous,” she said. “Me too.”
On Sunday she shot a three-under par 69, starting out with two birdies that stretched her initial lead of four shots to six. She made some mistakes along the way, but none too calamitous, and she hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation. In four rounds she only missed 11 greens, the best result in the field, and posted 14 under – remarkable scoring on a course as tricky as Kooyonga.
Choi finished second at 11 under, closing with a 67. She is a phenomenon at 18, formerly the world’s best amateur, 2017 Australian Amateur Champion and now one of the best players in the world. Period.
Green was outright third and had nothing to be ashamed of her first appearance in the final group at her national Open. She is 21, starting out her rookie season, and has already earned more than $US100,000 with the $87,000 she earned today, enough to be within sight of a guarantee of a longer tenure as a tour player.
“I’ve started off really well,” the West Australian said. “My goal was to get into every major, and I know that’s quite hard being a rookie this year, so hopefully I’ve made enough money and keep making money to make sure that I’m definitely in.”
More importantly, she showed she could compete.
Right to the 17th, when she hit a gorgeous iron shot in close and made the birdie, she was doing her best to push Ko. She shot 69 on the day to finish 10 under, but she was always chasing once she went par-par on the opening two par-fives to Ko’s birdie-birdie.
“I’m very proud of my week this week,” she said. “It’s great to be playing an Aussie Open and be contending.”
Katherine Kirk and Minjee Lee also had their moments on the final day.
Kirk started out with no expectations and an eight-shot deficit, playing loose and shooting the day’s low round, a 65. The Queenslander fist-pumped when she rolled in her birdie putt at the 18th, held the clubhouse lead for an hour or more at nine under, but ultimately finished fourth.
Lee knew that she needed to go very low and set herself up with two birdies in the first five holes, but by the time she bogeyed the 16th her chances had evaporated. She carded a 70 to finish fifth with American Marina Alex at seven under.
Yuri Yoshida of Japan was the leading amateur at even par.