Korean Jin Young Ko posted a gutsy two-under-par in the final round of the ANA Inspiration to claim her maiden major title and with it become the new world number one, as European Solheim Cup hopefuls Carlota Ciganda from Spain tied for fourth place with In-Kyung Kim and England’s Charley Hull tied for 12th in the first major of 2019.
The 23-year-old started the day a shot ahead and was never caught, her 10-under-par total ultimately proving just out of reach of her compatriot Mi Hyung Lee, whose 70 left her three strokes back.
Ko was cruising at one under par through 11 holes, but bogeys at the 13th and 15th threatened to derail her title bid. A superb birdie from five feet at the 16th – the hardest hole on the course – restored her cushion, and a birdie at the par-five 18th put the gloss on a superb victory.
“I still can’t believe it. I had a great round and a great week,” said Ko, who has not finished outside the top three in her last four events and is projected to rise to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings on Monday.
“My grandfather died a year ago and he was in my thoughts on the 18th green when I stood over the birdie putt. I dedicate this win to him. I miss him a lot.
“I felt nervous today but I just tried to keep myself calm. My caddie told me on the 18th that I had a two-shot lead and to not worry, just enjoy it. So many Korean players had a great tournament, it’s a real honour for me to win.”
Lee had the ideal start with birdies at the first and second, but when she needed to put Ko under pressure, she could only muster one birdie on the back nine.
The 26-year-old said: “I didn’t look at leaderboards and I didn’t even know until last hole. I asked my caddie if I needed to make birdie or eagle, and he said ‘Oh, just focus on your golf’.
“This is my best finish in major, and we have four more majors this year, so this is really good momentum and I’m so happy with this week.
“There were a lot of cameras and people cheering and watching me on back nine, but I still managed to control myself. I think my mental game is better than before and I am more confident.”
Lexi Thompson had a putt for eagle at the last but had to settle for a par to close out a 67, leaving the popular American in third place, one shot behind Lee.
“I knew I needed to have a low round to have any sort of chance today,” said the 24-year-old.
“Before I even stepped foot out on the golf course I was texting my caddie, Benji, and we said we had to just fire at every pin. We have to make birdies and not play away from any pins. We were like, ‘Let’s just go for the lowest score we possibly can’.”