Jiyai Shin posted a one-under 72 to win the inaugural event of the 2013 LPGA season, the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
It was Shin’s 11th LPGA win. She is a former world No. 1 and has won two major championships.
At the beginning of the final round, Shin was tied for the lead with teenage sensation Lydia Ko, who shot a final round three-over 76.
Even though she is still an amateur, Ko has three professional wins in the past 13 months. She has been the No. 1 women’s amateur in the world for two years and is also ranked No. 30 on the Rolex Rankings.
Ko started her round with a double-bogey on the first hole and a bogey on the second and fell four shots behind Shin, who had made birdie on the first hole.
She bounced back with birdies at the fourth and fifth holes and posted a one-over 38 on the first nine holes. Another birdie at the 12th hole brought her even with Shin, who had bogeyed.
Shin fought back with birdies at the 14th and 15th, while Ko made bogeys at the 14th and 17th. Ko’s three-over 76 dropped her to the third spot, four shots behind the winner.
World No. 1 Yani Tseng made a statement by firing a final-round 66 and finished runner-up to Shin. There is hope that this is a sign that Tseng has found the drive to once again dominate the LPGA.
The big winner from the Women’s Australian Open was the LPGA. A teenager who can give the best female golfers in the world serious competition is a big story. Lydia Ko heightens the interest in golf from even casual fans.
Golf Channel even decided to air live coverage from Australia in prime time on Saturday evening.
How long will Lydia Ko remain an amateur?
She will turn 16 in April. The LPGA does not allow membership until a woman turns 18 years old. There have been exemptions to this rule, but LPGA tour commissioner Michael Whan is reluctant to grant exemptions to women under 17.
Ko is still a high school student in New Zealand. She has a trust set up for her by a wealthy New Zealand businessman that allows her to travel around the world to play golf as an amateur.
She is scheduled to play in several LPGA events throughout the year on sponsor’s exemptions and will also play a full schedule of amateur events.
In interviews Ko insists that she would like to attend college before turning professional. College life may be unlikely for a prodigy like Ko, however.
If she continues to challenge in LPGA events, her advisers will want her to take advantage of her professional opportunities.
The LPGA has been on a nice uptrend since hiring Michael Whan as commissioner, but it can always use a fresh young face to promote the brand.
There will be a lot of pressure on Ko over the next couple of years to declare her professional status.