Ko sets a record for lowest 9-hole score with 29 on the front nine
Starting on Sunday with a 5-shot lead for Patty Tavatanakit, you would be excused if you thought that the final round of the ANA Inspiration would be a comfortable victory, if not a coronation procession of sorts for the leader. But Lydia Ko had different ideas, putting together one of the most impressive final rounds in major championship history – in either men’s or women’s golf. Ko came out of the starting gates with the speed of a racehorse at the Kentucky Derby, birdieing the first hole, then calmly rolling in a 12-foot putt on the second hole for an eagle. She was -3 under after 2-holes and, as they say at the races, “they were off”.
Her ball striking was exceptional today, she hit 11 of 14 Fairways today, averaging 279 yards off of the tee. Her iron game was excellent, registering 14 - “Greens in Regulation”, with an exceptional 24 putts today. She finished the first nine holes in a tournament record 29 shots, having added birdies at the 4th, 6th, 7th and 9th holes. In a bid to narrow the gap between herself and Tavatanakit, Lydia played a driver off the deck on the ninth hole, coming up just short of the green in an effort to get on the green in two shots. She would make birdie.
“Obviously it was probably the best start I could ask for, but you just can't get too ahead of yourself. For most of my front nine I felt like I gave myself a lot of good looks for birdies, and that's all you can do, and if it drops, it drops. If not, oh, well.”
Ko continued her fine play on the back nine, with birdies at the 10th and 11th holes, to take her score to -9 under. The 59 watch was officially on and one had to wonder how the leader would respond to the pressure. For her part, Tavatanakit, playing three groups behind Ko, was as cool as a cucumber, responding with an eagle on the second hole to take her lead to -16 under.
Tavatanakit then rang off a string of pars on holes 3 thru 7, before she birdied the Par 3 – 8th hole to increase her lead to 2-strokes over Ko who had managed to get to within 1-stroke after her birdies on 10th and 11th holes. It would be the closest that Ko would get as both players rang off more pars, until Tavatanakit came to the Par 4-12th hole. After striping yet another tee shot, leaving her with a 117-yard shot to the hole. After settling on her gap wedge, Tavatanakit stepped up and struck her shot to within 8-inches of the hole for a tap-in birdie, taking her lead to -18 and three shots ahead of Ko.
Ko responded in kind, arriving on the 387-yard, Par 4 – 15th hole. After her tee shot landed right of the fairway in the second cut of the rough. With 131-yards to the hole, Lydia’s managed to make solid contact with the ball, landing on the green, stopping pin high, leaving her with a 15-foot putt for birdie. With a near perfect stroke of her putter, Ko rolled the ball into the hole to take her score down to -10 under for the round and to -16 under for the tournament. Again, she was within two-strokes of the leader, but it would be to no avail as both Ko and Tavatanakit were new flawless down the stretch as both players recorded pars the rest of the way.
Ko would finish with a -10 under 62 to take her total score to -16 under for the tournament. After getting to -17 under, Tavatanakit flirted with the idea of trying to go for a tournament record of -20 under, but it soon became an impossibility after the string of pars she put together. Tavatanakit would finish her round at -4 under and a tournament score of -18 under, 1-stroke shy of tying the tournament record. “I was trying to go to 20 under but the putts weren't dropping. I wasn't going to force it. I played great. 4-under on a Sunday in the last group, that's -- looking back I would say it was really tough.”
For Lydia Ko, her final round score of 62 tied the 18-hole scoring tournament record for the tournament, originally set by Lorena Ochoa at the 2006 event. The difference though, was that Ko’s came on championship Sunday, when the pressure is at its highest intensity. ” Yeah, I got off to a flying start, birdieing the first hole. I think 40 percent of the field or like 40 people probably made birdie for that pin position, so it felt good to be kind of with that . . . and I had a really good second shot into 2 and was able to make that putt. I've been struggling to kind of take advantage when I've had opportunities for birdie, and I felt like I did that really well, and I stayed patient.
“No matter what the situation was, I was just focusing on the shot in front of me and hitting every shot with conviction, and I think at the end of the day that's all I can do, and if things fall your way and I have a great round like I did today, that's great. But no, definitely nice to finish this tournament on a high where there's so many great memories for me.”
The way Tavatanakit played this week, she could very well have ice in her veins, she was so calm and cool under the pressure. Her ball striking was exemplary, she was driving the ball better than everyone else and she was rolling her putts well. She made it look routine and that is probably the highest compliment that you can pay. Golf is not an easy game, yet she made it look that way. She finished the week carding only four bogies for four rounds. She went the first round and the last round without a single bogey. Her putting was so consistent; she made the longer 6 to 10 foot putts look so routine, as if they were only two footers. On the week, her putting average was 29 putts per round, her driving was incredible, averaging 323 yards off the tee, hitting 36 of 56 fairways. And as good as her driving was, her iron game was even better as she hit 61 of 72 Greens in Regulation or 85%.
With the win, Tavatanakit takes the lead in the Rolex Annika Major Award series to go along with her winner’s cheque of $465,000 USD. She will also jump up in the Rolex World Rankings, which come out on Monday. She is now 2nd on the Official Money List for 2021 and 3rd on the season-long CME Race to the Globe points with 852 points.