Unflappable Lydia Ko great under pressure

STARTING OUT: Lydia Ko tees off during the first round of the Women's New Zealand Open at Clearwater.
STARTING OUT: Lydia Ko tees off during the first round of the Women's New Zealand Open at Clearwater.

Lydia Ko reckons she does feel pressure. But those who have watched every one of her 138 shots at the New Zealand Women's Open in Christchurch might beg to differ.

Ko heads into the final round in the 54-hole event today in a share of the lead with rookie South Korean pro Seon Woo Bae at six-under par after carding an impressive four-under 68 in yesterday's second round at Clearwater.

The 15-year-old star has already won two professional tournaments, on the LPGA Tour and the ALPG Tour on Australia, and is one good round away from adding a European Tour victory to an already outstanding CV.

Unlike her two triumphs last year, however, the world's top amateur has this week had to deal with the pressure of being a favourite at her national open.

The North Harbour teen's image is plastered across promotional billboards with the words "Ready, Set, Ko" and hundreds of people have followed her first two rounds. Her galleries have been close to triple the size of any grouping at the men's open last November, support she has noticed and appreciated.

But Ko, who at No 38 in the overall world rankings is the third highest ranked golfer here, has dealt with the expectation like a seasoned veteran and finds herself in contention to win her national open; as if there was going to be any other scenario this week.

This talent is seemingly unflappable as well as being naturally gifted, though the biggest test of nerve comes today as she seeks to become the first New Zealander to etch her name on the trophy.

"They will be there," Ko said of the inevitable nerves today, "but I've just got to control them; that's what happens every time.

"I've been playing pretty good so hopefully I'll be able to play like I have been the last couple of days. I like this course. It's pretty tough so hopefully the wind doesn't come out."

Bae caught Ko in the day after firing a course record eight-under par 64. The 18-year-old has been coming to Christchurch to play and train for the past four years so has links to the area but she only got into the field on a sponsor's invite following her performance at the Australian Ladies Masters last week.

Italian Guilia Sergas (68) is a shot back in solo third at five-under while Australian Nikki Campbell (71) is fourth at four-under. There is a group of four players who share of fifth at three-under.

"I am happy," said Ko, whose ball-striking so far has been brilliant.

"I don't think there was anything to seriously complain about, and I made an eagle so I was pretty happy about that. Even my bogey on the seventh hole wasn't because of a really bad shot, it was just a short-putt mistake, so I'm hitting the ball really well."

Intriguingly, Sergas will play in the final group with Ko and Bae, whose combined ages add up to the Italian's, 33.

Ko, who had an eagle, three birdies and a bogey yesterday, was the only Kiwi in the 144-strong field to make the cut of 50 and ties for the final round.

European Tour pro Cathryn Bristow missed by one shot after bouncing back from her opening 79 with a three-under 69 to finish at four-over.

Sunday Star Times