KO CLOSE TO HALL

Lydia Ko claims 20th career win at LPGA season opener, creeps closer to tour’s Hall of Fame

January 21, 2024
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Julio Aguilar

Lydia Ko's victory at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in Orlando is a resounding turnaround from a disappointing 2023. She beat the field by two at 14 under par after shooting a closing 70 at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club. The vintage performance earned the 26-year-old her 20th career LPGA title, putting Ko a point away from the LPGA's Hall of Fame qualification.

Leaderboard

Win: Lydia Ko (-14)
2: Alexa Pano (-12)
3: Brooke Henderson (-10)
T-4: Cheyenne Knight (-8)
T-4: Ally Ewing (-8)
T-4: Ayaka Furue (-8)
T-7: Charley Hull (-7)
T-7: Rose Zhang (-7)
T-9: Marina Alex (-6)
T-9: Gemma Dryburgh (-6)

What it means

Ko put a challenging 2023 LPGA season behind her, one in which she went winless on tour with only two top-10 finishes over 20 starts. However, Ko ended the season with an impressive performance in her victory at the mixed LPGA/PGA Tour Grant Thornton Invitational in December. It's now two straight wins for Ko, with the Tournament of Champions title adding to her lengthy career résumé.

With her $225,000 first-place check, she is now the fifth player in LPGA history with more than $17 million in career earnings ($17,167,692). Ko is the 15th player to win 20 or more times on tour. Ko has gone back-to-back years opening with a win for the first time in her career. She won the Ladies European Tour's won Aramco Saudi Ladies Open to start 2023. Ko needs one more victory or a season-long award to earn her way into the LPGA's Hall of Fame.

How it happened

Ko's path to victory began two months ago when she decided to spend her offseason in Florida instead of San Francisco, where she and her husband reside. The Kiwi has a membership at Lake Nona and spent a lot of time practicing at the course. She also changed swing coaches to Si Woo Lee starting last October, where their work led to her best LPGA finish of the year (T-4) at the BMW and a win at the Grant Thornton.

Her new offseason approach fueled Ko's consistent performance. She started Sunday having played 37 consecutive holes bogey-free to sit at 12 under. Ko continued her steady-handed play, maintaining a two-stroke lead before ballooning her advantage to five by carding birdies on the ninth and 10th.

While her bogey-free streak snapped on the par-5 11th, no one moved within three strokes of her lead on the back nine until Alexa Pano birdied the 17th. Ko bogeyed the last to make it a two-stroke win.

Quotable

"I think the finish that I had last year, not only winning Grant Thornton but I played really well in Korea and in Malaysia," Ko said. "Maybe if I had found the keys that I found then a little earlier, maybe I could have had a better season. I think if you keep going down a spiral of thinking like what if, it's endless. I worked hard in the two weeks leading up to this event. To win at home has been nice."

Best of the rest

- The Tournament of Champions announced a five-year extension with the LPGA, with an immediate purse increase of $500,000 to $2 million for 2025 and a promise to increase to $2.5 million by the end of the extension.

- Cheyenne Knight (-8, T-4) gave herself an early birthday present with three consecutive birdies from 14-16 to move into the top five. She turns 28 on Monday.

- Alexa Pano (-10, T-2) earned the second top-10 of her career, along with her win at last year's ISPS Handa World Invitational.

- Jeff McNeil, the New York Mets second baseman, won the modified Stableford celebrity division (138) in his first celebrity event.

Challenging finish

Danielle Kang shot the worst round of her career (82, +10) Sunday. The 31-year-old has only four other rounds in the 80s on the LPGA. Kang sat three strokes off the lead Thursday after a four-under-par 68.