Lydia Ko starts hot, but LPGA win slips away

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 14:10 24/03/2014
Lydia Ko
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OUT IN FRONT: Lydia Ko is closing in on her first LPGA Tour win as a professional in the final round at the JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Lydia Ko has finished one shot shy of forcing a playoff at the LPGA Tour event in Arizona today.

The 16-year-old Kiwi golf star couldn't keep up with her early pace or that of the players around her and eventually settled for a final round of two-under par 70, finishing in a tie for second at the NZ$1.76 million JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix. Ko earned US$85,895 (NZ$100,660) with the result.

After four early birdies, Ko, the overnight leader by one shot, had three bogeys in six holes around the turn and watched a three-shot lead quickly turn into a two-shot deficit at the Wildfire Golf Club.

But she righted the ship somewhat and made a tidy up-and-down from the greenside bunker for a birdie four at the par-five 15th to get back in contention.

Needing one birdie over her final three holes to force her way into a playoff, Ko missed a couple of eight-foot putts at 16 and 17, where she made poor strokes, and came up short.

Australian great Karrie Webb scorched home to win her second tournament this season, and notch her 41st career victory on the LPGA Tour.

Webb nailed a 20-footer for birdie at the 18th to shoot a nine-under par 63 and finish at 19-under, then waited for more than 90 minutes before being crowned the champion.

Ko finished in a five-way tie for second at 18-under par with American Stacy Lewis (who had a six-under 66 today), Spain's Azahara Munox (67) and South Koreans Amy Yang (67) and Mirim Lee (69).

Ko leapt out of the gates, following a par at the first with four successive birdies - on two par-five holes, a par-four and a par-three - to get to 20-under and open up a three-shot lead.

That lead was reduced when she gave a shot back with a bogey at the par-three sixth and was wiped out completely following a second bogey, at the par-four ninth.

A sloppy three-putt from 15 feet on the par-five 11th meant she had to pick up, at least, two birdies coming home just to have a chance of forcing a playoff.

She made one at the 15th but lost her rhythm a tad and couldn't find another.

Still, Ko will move from No 9 to No 5 on the Race to the CME Globe standings, in her rookie season as a professional on the LPGA Tour.

Ko has two previous wins on tour, the 2012 and 2013 Canadian Open titles, which she claimed as a amateur.

While she is yet to win on the LPGA Tour as a pro, she snared the Swinging Skirts Ladies Masters title in Taiwan late last year, just weeks after turning professional. That $181,00 pay cheque remains the biggest of her fledging pro career. 

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