LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Reigning rookie of the year Ko Jin-young captured her first Major championship on Sunday (April 7), holding off fellow South Korean Lee Mi-hyang to win the ANA Inspiration by three strokes.
The 23-year-old finished in style by draining a long birdie putt on 18 for a two-under 70 final round in the first Major of the season at the Mission Hills Country Club near Palm Springs, California.
"I won the tournament and that's a happy moment," she said. "I thank God, I thank my parents, I thank my grandparents. It is an honour for me to join so many great Korean players. I'm honoured to be here."
Ko, who is in her second year, finished with a 10-under 278 total for her fourth LPGA title. She also won the Founder's Cup last month.
She celebrated her win by taking the traditional dip with her caddie Dave Brooker in Poppie's Pond - the water hazard located off the right and back of the green on the 18th hole.
Lee finished alone in second after shooting a two-under 70 while American Lexi Thompson was third with a brilliant final-round 67 to reach a six-under 282 total.
Kim In-kyung and Carlota Ciganda, of Spain, tied for fourth at five under, five strokes back of Ko.
Ko started the round with a one-shot lead. She played steady golf on the front nine with two birdies but saw her lead slip to just one stroke over Lee when she made bogey on the 15th hole. She landed her approach in the bunker and then two-putted on the green. It was her second bogey in three holes.
But Ko got one back by sinking a superb putt for a birdie on the par-four 16th. She parred No. 17, then iced the win with an emphatic 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th.
Not only is she the fifth South Korean to win here but she is also the 15th to win a Major. The only country that has more Major wins is the United States.
"I can't believe it," said Ko. "I was nervous on all my shots."
Thompson also made a run at Ko but her seven-stroke deficit was too much to make up.
"It feels amazing," the 24-year-old said. "I birdied the first hole and actually hit a ball out of bounds on No. 3 but still managed to make bogey. My caddie helped out tremendously."
In addition to the professionals, five amateur players competed in the event continuing a longstanding tradition of exemptions for top women amateurs.
Amateur Patty Tavatanakit, who is ranked third in the world, finished top in the field after closing with a 68 to tie for 26th with nine others - including fellow Thai Pornanong Phatlum.