New Zealand teenager Lydia Ko captured her first professional title, closing with a birdie to edge Stacy Lewis by one stroke and win the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.
Three days after her 17th birthday, the South Korean-born Kiwi on Sunday fired a final-round three-under par 69 to finish 72 holes on 12-under 276 to win the inaugural $1.8 million event at Lake Merced in California.
It completed a landmark week for Ko, who pocketed $270,000 and was named to Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people on Thursday, the only golfer so honored.
Ko is set to rise from fourth to second in the world rankings on Monday.
After a bogey at the fourth, she began a run of three birdies in four holes at the par-5 sixth, although she had bogeys at seven and 10 to keep her in a pack battling for the lead.
Ko made back-to-back birdies at the 13th and par-5 14th to reach 11-under and lead by two. American Lewis birdied the 16th and South Korean Jenny Shin, who finished third on 278, birdied 17 to move within one stroke on the last tee.
Shin settled for a par at 18 and third place while Lewis birdied the par-5 finishing hole, but so did Ko to take the victory over a field that featured 18 of the 20 top-ranked women in the world.
“It was just intense the whole way,” Ko said. “At one point I had a two-shot lead, but then Stacy made a birdie and Jenny made a birdie. At the 18th hole I knew how loud the claps were, so I knew I needed to hit it close and give myself a birdie opportunity.”
Lewis took some satisfaction in having pushed Ko to the limit before settling for second.
“I knew it was going to be tough. I knew she wasn’t going to go away. Lydia played great,” Lewis said. “She answered every time I hit a shot in there. More credit to her. I did all I could. I made three birdies coming in and made her work for it at least.”
Ko collected her third LPGA title and first US triumph. She won the 2012 and 2013 LPGA Canadian Women’s Open titles as an amateur, triumphs that helped convince the women’s tour to waive their 18-year-old age minimum in her case.
Ko was paired with Lewis all four days and praised her as an example of what she hopes to achieve in her career.
“When I see her play, it just makes me feel like I need to play good to kind of keep up with her,” Ko said. “She’s such a great player and I admire her all the way. Someday I want to become a great player like her.”
World number one Park In-Bee of South Korea, China’s Feng Shanshan and Denmark’s Line Vedel shared fourth on 282.