It took a miraculous birdie and a round worthy of the world No 1 to relegate the people's champion to third place at yesterday's Australian Open - more proof Lydia Ko is a golfing superstar in waiting.
The 15-year-old New Zealander's ambitious bid to win a fourth professional tournament as the game's No 1 amateur foundered on the pristine Royal Canberra layout - but the undeniable drawcard at the LPGA season-opening tournament still won a new legion of admirers by pushing two of golf's biggest names to the hilt.
Ko's career-best 10-under 63 on Thursday and her joint leadership of the $US1.2 million spectacle heading into yesterday's final round convinced the Golf Channel to track her final 18 holes live in the United States.
A double bogey on the first and another dropped shot on the second might have left the uninitiated Stateside wondering what the fuss was about but Ko boldly fought back in her duel with eventual winner Jiyai Shin to tie for the lead with six to play.
Shin needed a stunning chip on the 14th to spike Ko's challenge.
The bespectacled teen could barely believe her eyes when South Korea's world No 8 - obscured by an advertising hoarding - used a wedge to produce one of the shots of her career.
A shell-shocked Ko could only respond with a bogey and Shin went on to win her 11th LPGA tour title by two strokes at 18-under.
Yani Tseng also overhauled Ko who signed off with a 3-over 76, the only blight on an otherwise memorable experience.
Ko, who wound up on 14-under, was a touch disappointed not to follow up her recent New Zealand Open victory with another success but also acknowledged the value of this learning experience.
She does not return to her studies at Pinehurst School until next month but Ko has already managed to do plenty of homework on her specialist subject in 2013.
Ko, who finished 19th in last year's open in Melbourne, nominated Shin, Tseng and childhood idol Michelle Wie as her favourite teachers in the Australian capital.
"I got to see different aspects of everybody's game and learned a little bit from everyone," said Ko, who headed for Bangkok today where she plays the Thailand Open in Chonburi from Thursday.
Shin provided the pertinent lesson - on the rare occasion she got in strife the 24-year-old didn't let the setbacks multiply.
"After a bad hole it kinda carried onto the next hole," Ko said, pondering her disastrous start to the front nine.
"Jiyai didn't really matter what she had on one hole. The next hole it was fresh. That's something I learned."
Tseng had only seen television footage of Ko until they were joined in a marquee group by Wie for the opening two rounds and yesterday reiterated her admiration for the Korean-born Aucklander.
"She's hitting so consistently and I think she just needs to play more tournaments," the Taiwanese star said.
"She will be a top player. It's so easy for her, it's kind of pretty relaxed when you see her play."
Wie missed the cut so did not witness Ko's last two rounds but had seen enough earlier in the week to predict a bright future for one of her biggest fans.
"She seems like she has a great head on her shoulders. She just seems like a kid. So, I hope she stays that way, and she just keeps getting better. I hope she just enjoys it," the American said.
Certainly the novelty has not worn off for Ko, who would have been hitting a bucket of balls this morning had she not had a plane to catch.
Ko agreed she was physically drained after playing or practicing virtually non-stop since last month, but not use fatigue as an excuse - the workload was par for the course.
"I've got another tournament this week and If I really want to go on tour and I'll be playing three or four weeks in a row so those are the kind of things I will need to build up to," said Ko, who intends to remain an amateur until at least the end of 2014.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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