(Reuters) – Ko Jin-young joined the long list of South Korean LPGA major champions on Sunday with a three-shot victory over compatriot Lee Mi-hyang at the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, California.
Ko, last year’s Rookie of the Year, overcame a late wobble in the final round to became the fifth Korean to win the event after Grace Park (2004), Yoo Sun-young (2012), Park In-bee (2013) and Ryu So-yeon (2017).
She is the 15th woman from South Korea to win a major, the most of any country other than the United States, and the victory is projected to see her top the world rankings.
“I had a great round and a great week. I felt nervous today but I just tried to keep myself calm,” said Ko.
After her lead had been reduced to one shot with three holes to play following two quick bogeys Ko responded like a true champion, a perfectly-judged 10-foot birdie putt at the 16th proving the decisive blow at Mission Hills .
She clinched in style with another birdie at the last for a two-under-par 70, bursting into tears when the putt fell.
“My caddie told me on the 18th that I had a two-shot lead and to not worry, just enjoy it,” Ko said.
“So many Korean players had a great tournament, and it’s a real honour for me to win.”
Ko finished at 10-under 278, while Lee carded 70 for second place on seven-under, a shot ahead of American Lexi Thompson (67).
Kim In-kyung, who started the day in second place, fell out of contention with a double-bogey at the 11th, where her ball got stuck up a tree, forcing her to take a penalty stroke.
She shot 74 and tied for fourth with Spaniard Carlota Ciganda, five shots behind Ko.
The 23-year-old Ko said she had been dreaming of winning the event for five years and had always wanted to make the traditional winner’s jump into Poppie’s Pond.
“I always think about when I can go in that pond,” she said. “That’s today.”
Despite the distractions and pressure of leading a major on a Sunday, Ko said she got over the line by trusting her swing.
“I just focused on my swing, on the putting, that’s why I win this week,” she said.
“I won. I can believe it now.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford)