SINGAPORE — Holding on to her overnight lead with a vice-like grip, Ko Jin-young became the first golfer to retain her HSBC Women's World Championship title with another masterful final-round display on Sunday (5 March).
The South Korean, whose 2022 season was derailed by a wrist injury and poor form after her come-from-behind win at the Sentosa Golf Club last year, carded a three-under-par 69 to finish on 17-under 271, two strokes ahead of American Nelly Korda, and capture her first title since that Singapore triumph.
A trio consisting of Americans Danielle Kang and Allisen Corpuz as well as Japan's Ayaka Furue finished tied for third at 14-under 274 after the rain-interrupted final round.
Unlike her 2022 triumph, Ko did not need the heroics of a five-birdie charge in the final six holes, like she did last year. Instead, the former world No.1 managed her final round superbly, rarely making errors and holing birdies at the most opportune moments to keep her challengers at bay.
Ko thus joins compatriot Park In-bee as the only two-time winners of the Championship, and as she made her par putt in her final hole, her normally stoic demeanour dissolved into tears, as the pressure in trying to overcome her injury-hit year was finally released.
"This is the number one most important win of my career," the current world No.5 said. "I've had a very tough year, fighting through injuries and missed cuts. Mentally it’s tough too.
"This win is going to be a big momentum for me."
Setting imposing tone with opening-hole birdie
Leading by two strokes overnight, Ko set the imposing tone in her march towards her successful title defence with a birdie on the opening hole.
However, her challengers were undeterred, as they took turns creeping up the leaderboard and testing Ko's resolve.
First up was world No.2 Korda, who came within a stroke of catching up with Ko after three straight birdies from Holes 3 to 5. However, the reigning Olympic gold medallist's birdie streak dried up after a bogey on Hole 6, and another costly bogey on the 13th hole effectively ended her challenge.
“I’m obviously a little disappointed with today. I didn't play well and couldn’t really put up a battle as much as I wanted to. I made silly mistakes here and there. I’m going to take a couple of days off before going to work on my swing,” she said.
Korda nonetheless managed to capture the outright second-place finish with a final-hole birdie, after a superb approach shot.
Ahead of the final flight, Kang was steadily gaining ground on Ko, after starting the round four strokes behind. When she holed her fifth birdie on Hole 13, she also came within a stroke of the South Korean.
But it usually takes a near-perfect final round to overtake Ko, and when Kang flubbed her par putt on the 16th, it marked the end of her spirited charge up the leaderboard.
“I left it all out there, but we got a lot of good things down this week, and I'm happy about that. I've been testing balls and wedges like every other week, and I feel like it's finally getting together. So, I'm actually proud of the way I played,” Kang said.
Furue, who started the round a stroke behind Kang, carded a stellar five-under 67 to grab a share of third spot, while Corpuz completed her first Women's World Championship appearance with a three-under 69 to join Furue and Kang.
Singapore's lone representative Amanda Tan carded a one-over 73 to finish her fifth HSBC Women's World Championship tournament at eight-over 296 - the best result a local has ever recorded at the elite tournament.
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