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World No. 1 Jin Young Ko's return after two-month break ends with a disappointing WD

October 22, 2022
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Jin Young Ko plays her second shot out of the rough on the 18th fairway during the first round of the BMW Ladies Championship.

Chung Sung-Jun

Jin Young Ko’s return to the LPGA Tour at the BMW Ladies Championship after a two-month layoff to rest an ailing left wrist seemed to get off to a reasonable start. The top-ranked player in the world shot a one-under 35 on the front nine at Oak Valley Country Club in Wonju, South Korea during Thursday's first round.

But whether Ko was truly ready to compete again became the question as she played the back nine. The 27-year-old 13-time LPGA winner made four straight bogeys on Nos. 10-13 then a quintuple-bogey 10 on the par-5 18th hole to shoot an eight-over 80, a score two shots higher than her previous high score since joining the LPGA Tour in 2017. That left her tied for 76th in the 78-player field after the first round.

Ko's 10, according to the Golf Channel broadcast, began with lost ball off the tee. Her third shot then ended up along the bushes left of the fairway, causing Ko to play her fourth shot left-handed. That shot dribbled on to the nearby cart path. After taking relief, her fifth shot found the right rough and her sixth shot approach squirted into the left rough near the green. A flubbed seventh shot stay in the rough and the eighth finally hit the green, leaving her a five-footer for a quad. She then missed that putt to post the quintuple bogey.

“Golf can be like this,” Ko was quoted after the round by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. “Things don’t always go the way I want them to. I did the best I could. Whatever the final score is, it’s on me to accept that and to figure out where I can get better. I will try to stay positive to get ready for the remaining rounds.”

Things didn't get much better during the second round on Friday either. Ko's scorecard had an eagle and a birdie but eight bogeys and a double bogey as she posted a seven-over 79 to fall into last place, 27 shots behind 36-hole leader Andrea Lee. She subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Ko has preliminarily entered the field in the final two LPGA events, both being played in Florida—the Pelican Women's Championship in three weeks and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship a week later, where Ko is the defending champion. It's unclear whether she'll be competing in those events or not.

Prior to the start of the event, Ko explained that she had spent the time off in her native South Korea seeking treatment for the wrist, which had been a nagging injury dating back to the 2021 season. The rest period came at the recommendation of her doctor, according to Ko’s manager, and Ko acknowledged there were some bumps along the way.

“I was not able to practice as much as I thought I would,” Ko said in a pre-tournament press conference, “but when I did have the time to practice, I really focused on those sessions.”

Ko acknowledged that her wrist still wasn’t fully healed, but that it was not causing her any pain as she prepared for her return. “It's really difficult to explain the state of my wrist,” said Ko, who had been treating it with, among other things, acupuncture to try and heal the injury. “But I have to say it's not at its worst and I don't think it's impacting my game that much, and if I don't do well, I don't think I can blame it on my wrist.”

And yet her scores seemed to indicate something still isn’t right.

Ko has previously played through the injury and had success. At last year’s CME Group Tour Championship, she didn’t hit any practice balls before her rounds and still won the tournament, shooting a final-round 63, to lock up LPGA Player of the Year honors over Nelly Korda.

In 2022, she won in her first LPGA start at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in March and had five top-10 finishes 13 starts on the year but had seen her game slipping. She missed the cut at the AIG Women’s Open and the CP Women’s Open, her last two starts before returning to Korea for treatment. Before that she had only missed two cuts in her LPGA career.

With Ko's withdraw, her hold on the World No. 1 spot might be ending as well. Thailand's Attitaya Thitkul holds a one-shot lead after 54-holes at 15 under. The 19-year-old is World No. 2 player in the Rolex Women's Rankings and can jump Ko if she finishes no worse than solo fourth on Sunday.