Faltering Lydia Ko still upbeat after top-three

CHRIS BARCLAY IN CANBERRA
Last updated 05:00 18/02/2013
EYES ON THE PRIZE: Lydia Ko lines up a putt on the second hole on day four of the Australian Open.
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EYES ON THE PRIZE: Lydia Ko lines up a putt on the second hole on day four of the Australian Open.

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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 yesterday.

Ko ultimately succumbed to the pressure as a massive gallery urged the 15-year-old New Zealander to victory. A shaky start to the front and back nines undermined 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 third, four strokes behind South Korea's Jiyai Shin, who collected her 11th LPGA title by finishing at 18-under.

Ko closed with a three-over 76, 13 strokes worse off than her career-best 63 on Thursday, yet she was all smiles as fans applauded her to the scorers' hut.

Later when facing then media she admitted she was philosophical about her failure to sustain her remarkable challenge.

"I had a few struggles, I can't play good every single round," she said.

"Third in a professional event is a pretty good result. I can't say I'm not fully pleased.

"Overall I had my career low (round) here, it was a pretty good week."

Ko rarely attends secondary school on Auckland's North Shore so Shin, Yani Tseng and her childhood idol Michelle Wie provided an ideal learning experience.

"I played with some big names out there this week. I was pretty privileged to play with them," she said.

"I got to see Yani, Jiyai, Michelle Wie - my idol - I got to see different aspects of everybody's game. I've learned a little bit from everyone."

Starting the climax of the US$1.2 million LPGA season-opening event in a share of the lead with Shin at 17-under, Ko bounced back from the worst start imaginable to trail the world No 8 by a stroke after nine holes.

Ko shocked an expectant throng when an errant drive off the first tee instigated her first double bogey of the tournament.

A birdie chance on the second then deteriorated into another dropped shot 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 and she regained a share of the lead on the 12th, albeit briefly as the reigning British Open champion then produced arguably the shot of the tournament.

Shin chipped in for a miraculous birdie on the 14th despite being positioned behind an advertising signage - effectively the writing on the wall for Ko.

The world's leading amateur could only record a bogey in response and to make matters worse world No 1 Tseng also overhauled the Kiwi as she constructed the round of the day, an understated seven-under 66.

Tseng finished second, two strokes behind Shin while Ko still played a part in the presentations when collecting a silver medal as the top amateur.

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Shin, drenched by bottled water before toasting her success, consoled a grateful Ko, by predicting she would inevitably exceed her tally.

"You're so young, you have plenty of time," the 24-year-old said as the pair embraced.

That quest begins at the Siam Country Club in Chonburi on Thursday when Ko contests the Thailand Open.

"I'll have one practice round and get back into it again," she said.

She then returns home to play the NZ PGA Championship in Queenstown as a celebrity before returning to her secondary pursuit as part-time student.

Ko has already sacrificed NZ$500,000 in potential prizemoney by retaining her amateur status and missed out on another US$79,451 (NZ$93,969) yesterday. Not that money will be an obstacle on her career pathway.

"I don't worry about that," she said, before reiterating she was still two years away from turning professional.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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