Lydia Ko is sick with a cold, she revealed tonight, but the New Zealander is battling through her illness in the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, and right in the mix.
The new world No. 1 began her thrust at the Open with a three-under par 70 at Royal Melbourne today to put herself in a tie for third behind South Korea's Ilhee Lee and Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn.
Ko had a bittersweet day on the composite course, machine-like for much of the round and brilliant in the moment that she knocked a fairway wood shot on to the par-five 14th green and rammed home the putt for eagle from 12 metres. "It was like the only putt that went in today,'' she said afterward.
She had a couple of high points: the eagle at the 14th and a wonderful nine iron shot to the shadow of the stick at the par-four sixth hole for a birdie. She also had a meltdown on the short, tricky par-four 13th hole where she made bogey, chunking her approach from short range, leaving it short of the green and then thinning a chip right off the back of the putting surface.
"It wasn’t the most fantastic lie but I hit it fat so I wouldn’t blame the rough for it,'' she said. "I just got a little too late and I hit it a couple of inches behind the ball. Just leaving it short of that green is really the worst place, you really don’t have that many options to go and be close and have a putt for par so, really, my miss should have been long, my fourth shot. ''
But that was her only bogey and ultimately she finished just two shots from the lead, although she played in by far the toughest of the conditions, with the greens baking in the afternoon sun.
Ko will not use her cold as an excuse. She kept grinding as the greens grew more bouncy and the scoring average climbed to 76. "I really tried to stay patient. I didn’t hole that many putts, but I didn’t make that many mistakes with it either. I think that’s very important, you know. With just the blink of an eye, you’re like six feet by and it’s very tough. I tried to grab the birdie opportunities, especially on the holes where I could get on for two on the par-fives, tried to come off with at least a birdie."
The Kiwi said the course had changed markedly over the past few days. "Last week, I was trying to get it past the pin so it would spin back. There’s definitely a different course management plan but, like I said before, this is what Royal Melbourne is like. We don’t play many of these tournaments so we might be lacking a little bit in experience but it’s really great that we get to play an amazing course like this.''
Ko hits off at 7.50am tomorrow from the 10th tee.