Jin Young Ko told her Women’s Australian Open press conference in February that it was her year’s mission to be the happiest player on the LPGA Tour.
Not that results are quintessential to her smile, but the delightful young Korean surely took a giant step to her goal with a dominant win today in the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration.
Just as Australian Katherine Kirk’s challenge never fully materialised on a lovely day for scoring at Rancho Mirage in California, only brief rallies by Mi Hyang Lee and Lexi Thompson provided any semblance of a threat to Ko, the 2018 Women’s Australian Open champion.
Ko, 23, in just her second year on the LPGA Tour, will leap to at least third in the world rankings when they’re updated tomorrow after her victory at the Mission Hills course.
She led by as many as five strokes during the final round and momentary stumbles on the 13th and 15th brought the hard-closing Lee briefly within one.
But a quality birdie up the 16th hole steadied Ko’s ship and when she drained a birdie putt on the closing hole for a 70, her 10-under total was three clear of Hyang (70), with Thompson (67) third another shot back.
Ko became the fifth Korean ANA Inspiration winner and, remarkably, the 15th from her powerhouse nation to win a major crown since Se Ri Pak made the breakthrough in 1998.
“This creates great memory here,” an emotional Ko said.
“It's a great honour … and I’m really thankful for everyone (who made it possible)."
Ko admitted she'd been hoping to take the famous leap into Poppie's Pond since she first played the tournament five years ago.
"i've walked that bridge, I always think I can go into that pond and it's today."
Kirk, who had been second at halfway and trailed Ko overnight by five strokes, couldn’t find momentum early in her round until she holed a bunker blast on the sixth hole for birdie.
But the Queenslander, who’s become somewhat of a fixture on major championship leaderboards in the past couple of years, couldn’t cash in.
Bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes took any wind from her sails and another on the 16th negated a birdie on the 12th as she resigned herself to a 73 and two-under-par total and a share of 17th place.
Not surprisingly, Minjee Lee was again solid on the weekend and her 71 moved her up to one under and a share of 21st place.
The other Aussie to make the cut was Sarah Jane Smith, who closed with a pair of 76s to finish 74th at 13 over.