What a difference a new calendar makes. Lydia Ko was winless on the LPGA Tour in 2023 but has made the perfect start to the new year with a two-shot victory in the opening event at the HGV Tournament of Champions in Orlando.
Ko captured her 20th career LPGA victory, the 15th player in tour history to reach the milestone. It’s her 28th victory since turning professional in 2012 and marks the 10th year the Kiwi has recorded at least one win.
The US$225,000 (NZ$367,000) first-place prize money takes her career earnings past the US$17 million mark (NZ$27.75m) and makes her just the fifth LPGA player to achieve that milestone.
Ko could only manage two top-10 finishes in 20 LPGA tournaments last year, failing to qualify for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship for the first time in her LPGA career.
The win gives Ko an additional point towards LPGA Hall of Fame induction, which makes her one short of the 27-point threshold necessary to be enshrined.
After three LPGA wins in 2022, she was winless on the LPGA Tour last year but still added to her ever-expanding trophy cabinet with victories at the Ladies European Tour’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International along with the Grant Thornton Invitational with Australian Jason Day last month.
The 26-year-old started the final round at Lake Nona, not far from her Florida home, two shots ahead of American Alexa Pano and through six holes it was extended to four with a birdie at the par three, while Pano walked away with a bogey four.
Two-time major winner Brooke Henderson closed the gap to three but that was as close as it got until Ko walked off the 72nd hole. Ko added a second birdie at the par-five ninth to make it four clear heading into the back nine. Another birdie at the 10th extended the lead to five followed by a rare bogey at the 11th. A birdie at the par-five 15th made it a five-shot lead again with three to play, which dropped to three when Ko got to the 18th tee - but it was never in doubt.
Despite a bogey on the 18th, Ko picked up a comfortable victory.
Ko’s reliable driver this week was the biggest change from last year. She was 156th in driving accuracy in 2023 but hit 75 per cent of the fairways at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club this week.
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