Lydia Ko started Sunday looking like her first LPGA tournament win as a pro was in the bag after the first five holes at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix, Arizona, Sunday. But with the JTBC Founders Cup just waiting for her back in the clubhouse, the 16-year-old New Zealand women’s golf sensation somehow lost her focus while Australia’s Karrie Webb rallied from six strokes back to hand Ko the biggest disappointment of her six-month-old professional career.
Before turning pro, Lydia Ko became the youngest golfer ever to win an LPGA event when she captured the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2012.
Nonetheless, even with the bitter defeat still fresh, Ko displayed the composure beyond her years that has helped her become golf’s newest teen prodigy.
“I think I played really well overall,” she said afterward, “so I’m just going to take the positive out of it.”
Lydia Ko did play really well — for the first five holes of the final round, scoring birdies on four of them. She came into the final day in Phoenix with a one-shot edge on the leader board, and she quickly and efficiently turned that into three, a significant advantage that should have been good enough to take home the $225,000 winner’s check if she could simply play steady golf over the next 13.
But then disaster struck, as Ko wiped out the results of her torrid start with three bogeys on the following six holes, watching her lead vanish.
Meanwhile, the 39-year-old veteran Webb, whose 40 LPGA wins coming into the Founders Cup was more than any active women’s golfer, proved unstoppable, birdying 10 holes overall and shooting six-under on the back nine to catch Lydia Ko.
Despite a birdie on the treacherous par-5 15th hole at Wildfire, Lydia Ko missed a an eight-foot putt on the 16th green and another on the 17th. Hitting either one would have forced Webb into a playoff. Hitting both would have given Lydia the historic win.
But not this time.
“I had a really good start,” Ko said. “I struggled in the holes after that. I tried to get myself together, but I made some bogeys at the wrong time, which wasn’t ideal. I tried my best until the end.”
Finishing tied for second, one stroke behind Webb, earned Lydia Ko $85,895 and moved from ninth to fifth on the overall standings, so the prodigy does not leave Phoenix empty-handed.