The princess could not quite ascend to the throne at Royal Canberra but Lydia Ko's status as golf's future queen remains undiminished despite her inability to become a history-making winner of the Australian Open today.
The 15-year-old New Zealander frayed at the edges as a massive gallery urged her to another unprecedented victory - a shonky start to the front and back nines ultimately undermining her quest for back-to-back professional titles seven days after her final round heroics at the New Zealand Open in Christchurch.
Bidding to replace 18-year-old American Jessica Korda - the 2012 champion - as the youngest player to win the title Ko could not sustain her challenge against two of the sport's biggest names and finished an admirable third, four strokes behind South Korea's Jiyai Shin, who collected her 11th LPGA title by finishing at 18-under.
Ko closed with a 3-over 76, 13 strokes worse off than her career-best 63 on Thursday, but she was all smiles as fans applauded her to the scorers' hut.
Starting the climax of the $US1.2 million LPGA season-opening event in a share of the lead with South Korea's
Jiyai Shin at 17-under, the precocious part-time schoolgirl showed a maturity beyond her tender years to bounce back from the worst start imaginable to trail the world No 8 by a stroke after nine holes.
Ko, whose exploits earlier in the tournament convinced the Golf Channel to broadcast the final 18 holes live in the United States, shocked an expectant throng when her wood off the first tee instigated a double bogey seven.
After her tee shot came to rest in a nasty lie Ko experienced a hacker's indignity when a planned recovery shot rebounded behind her after cannoning off a tree trunk.
It took Ko three strokes to discover the fairway on the 492-metre par-5 and her short game could not repair the damage as she recorded her first double bogey of the tournament.
A birdie chance on the second then deteriorated into another dropped shot when her normally reliable putter wasn't dialled in but the fiercely determined teen brushed aside those setbacks to eventually ratchet up the pressure on Shin, a fourth round playing partner she kept at bay when securing a record-setting triumph at the Canadian Open last August.
Consecutive birdies pulled Ko back into contention particularly when Shin dropped a shot after finding a greenside bunker on the 5th, her early four stroke buffer eroded to a solitary stroke as they embarked on the home stretch.
Ko temporarily lost ground on the 10th with another bogey and but regained a share of the lead when Shin slipped up on the 12th -a two stroke swing for the Kiwi.
However, the 24-year-old's miraculous birdie on the 14th dashed the Kiwi's hopes of winning a fourth professional tournament.
Shin, the reigning British Open champion, produced arguably the shot of the tournament to chip in despite being positioned behind an advertising sign - effectively the writing on the wall for Ko.
The classy Shin wowed the gallery yesterday by holing a sand wedge to make eagle on the sixth but she eclipsed that effort with the ultimate psychological blow as Ko watched in disbelief on the green.
The world's leading amateur could only record a bogey in response and to make matters worse world No 1 Yani Tseng also overhauled the Kiwi as she constructed the round of the day, an understated 7-under 66.
Supposedly out of the running when giving joint leaders Ko and Shin an eight stroke head-start, the Taiwanese start steadily bridged the gap to make a late bid for the $US180,000 winners' cheque.
She finished second two strokes behind Shin while Ko played a part in the presentations when predictably collecting the medal as leading amateur.
Ko, who was seeking to become the first New Zealand to claim the Australian title since Marnie McGuire reigned supreme at Yarra Yarra in 1998, had little time to dwell on her latest achievement.
She heads to Asia tomorrow to compete in the Thailand Open which starts at the Siam Country Club in Chonburi on Thursday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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