It was inevitable that someone would jump out of the pack and challenge Lydia Ko at Royal Melbourne today. It turned out to be Amy Yang, the 25-year-old Korean who has a strong Australian connection.
Yang, the world No. 21, played a wonderful final round of 72, one-under par, suffering only for a couple of short, missed putts on the homeward stretch.
Playing in the second-last group and starting a shot behind Ko and Arija Jutanugarn, Yang made a birdie at the short par-four third hole to join the party. The high point of the round came in the middle; she made a great birdie at the difficult ninth hole and then hit a magnificent approach to the par-five 10th hole, hitting the green in two.
At this point, tournament director Trevor Herden took the players from the course as lightning threatened, and it was scarcely ideal timing for Yang, who had to mark her ball and wait for more than an hour to have her putt for eagle. When they resumed, she lipped out horribly — a horse-shoeing lip — for eagle but the birdie gave her the lead at eight-under par. "I thought it was going in but on the way to the hole, I could feel that maybe I read it a little less. It was pretty close, it would be great if I made the putt but I was happy with the birdie.''
Ko had made a bogey at the eighth after air-mailing the green, and a shock result looked possible.
But Yang faded from there under pressure. At the par-four 15th hole, she could not get up and down from the front of the green and made bogey to drop out of the lead. Then at the long par-five 17th hole, needing a birdie desperately, she missed the green left with her wedge and made another bogey, missing from short range with the par-saver.
That gave Ko a two-shot lead to walk down the 18th hole and the Kiwi was not about to give that up.
Even then, Yang hit her approach in tight at the 18th and had a chance for birdie to reduce the margin to one and put some pressure on the world No. 1. But she could not make the putt; it burned the edge.
"Honestly, yes I’m a little disappointed because I misread two short putts that I should have made; 15th and 17th,'' said Yang. "I just misread it, I didn’t read it high enough, but oh well, what can I do, more practise.''
Yang is Korean but she spent many of her formative years and learned a lot of her golf on the Gold Coast, after her parents emigrated to Australia in 2004. In 2006, as a shy teenager, she won the Australian Ladies Masters at Royal Pines to announce herself to the golf world. She was just 16, the youngest-ever winner of a European Tour event.
Fortunately, she has delivered on promise.