Jiyai Shin posted a one-under par 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 par 76.
Even though she is still an amateur, Ko has three professional wins in the past 13 months. She has been the No. 1 ranked 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 at the first hole, followed by a bogey on the second and fell four shots behind Shin who had made birdie on No. 1.
She bounced back with birdies at Nos. 4 and 5 and posted a one-over par 38 on the first nine. Another birdie at No. 12 brought her even with Shin who had made bogey.
Shin fought back with birdies at Nos. 14 and 15 while Ko made bogeys at Nos. 14 and 17. Ko’s three-over par 76 dropped her to 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. Hopefully this is a good 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 that can give the best lady 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 amateur?
She will turn 16 in April. The LPGA does not allow membership until a young woman turns 18 years old. There have been exemptions to this rule, but LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan is reluctant to grant exemptions to women under the age of 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 they can always use a fresh young face to promote its brand.
There will be a lot pressure on Ko over the next couple of years to declare her professional status.