Lydia Ko claims crushing victory at $1.4m event

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 8 Nov 2021, 1:33PM
New Zealand's Lydia Ko is the Saudi Ladies International champion. (Photo / LET)
New Zealand's Lydia Ko is the Saudi Ladies International champion. (Photo / LET)

Lydia Ko claims crushing victory at $1.4m event

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 8 Nov 2021, 1:33PM

Kiwi golfer Lydia Ko has stormed to her 22nd professional victory in dominant fashion, winning the Saudi Ladies Invitational by five strokes. 

Leading the $1.4million event by four shots going into the final round, Ko was never troubled, carding a final round seven-under 65 to finish at a whopping 23-under. 

Young Thai star Atthaya Thitikul finished second, in turn five shots ahead of Carlota Ciganda and Alice Hewson in third, but couldn't match Ko's blistering play on the weekend, with Ko's course record 63 in the third round creating the buffer that was merely extended by her closing 65. 

Ko played her final 33 holes in an incredible 17-under, carding a staggering 15 birdies and an eagle in flawless bogey-free golf. 

That eagle came on the par-five ninth today, accompanying three front-nine birdies which immediately removed any pressure, before she cruised home, with two quick birdies on the back nine being followed by five pars to conclude a thumping victory. 

"When I was out there I was just trying to play the best golf I can," said Ko. "I knew a lot of the top names were playing well and this is a golf course where there's a fair amount of birdies, so I just tried to have my share of them, have fun out there and enjoy the experience at Royal Greens. 

"It helps going into the final round and you have a four-shot cushion, as we could possibly shoot the same score but I still have those shots from the last three days. I birdied the first hole then holed two really good putts for par on two and three and I think that kind of set my momentum and I just tried to not look back and keep going forward. I'm delighted to have won." 

While the 63-woman field for the event lacked most of the big names in women's golf, Ko stamped her class on proceedings, taking home a hefty payday and adding a second title in 2021, after she had earlier snapped a three-year winless run with victory in April at the Lotte Championship. 

The triumph is Ko's first standalone win on the European Tour, with her five previous Tour victories coming in co-sanctioned events, the previous being the 2016 New Zealand Open. 

With its debut hosting last year, the Saudi Ladies International became the first ever international women's sports event to be held in Saudi Arabia, and be broadcast on national television – at a time when the Kingdom had fewer than 20 female golfers. 

The tournament inspired 1,200 women and girls to sign-up to learn golf over its four days. 

Ko hoped this week's event will further draw more Saudi women to the game. 

She added: "Hopefully, with the tournament being on here for the last couple of years, more and more women have the courage to take up golf and want to, in the future, come and play this event. It was really cool meeting a few of the Ladies First Club members over these past few days and to them, I'd just say keep working hard and show the power of women." 

Meanwhile, on the men's side Kiwi Daniel Hillier has fallen just short of earning his European Tour card. 

Needing to finish in the top 20 of the year-long second-tier Challenge Tour standings to earn his card for next season, Hillier came agonisingly close, finishing the season in 23rd. 

The 23-year-old couldn't find his best form at the season-ending Challenge Tour Grand Final in Spain, with rounds of 69, 75, 72 and 74 only good enough for 36th out of 45 golfers, at six-over, and dropping him from 18th in the standings starting the week, to 23rd at the conclusion. 

Requiring a strong final round to move into the top 20, Hillier carded two bogies on the front nine, and while two birdies got him back to even par by the 13th, he bogeyed the 17th, and for the third time this week carded a double bogey on the par-five 18th – six shots lost which would have been the difference between playing with the big guns, and a return to the tier below. 

On the PGA Tour, Danny Lee has tied for seventh at the OHL Classic in Mexico. 

A seven-under par final round has seen him finish on 15-under for the tournament, eight shots behind Norwegian winner Viktor Hovland. 

Lee tied for second last week in Bermuda and climbs three spots to 14th on the money list.