Golf: Lydia Ko leads Tour Championship, in position for awards

New Zealand's Lydia Ko won twice on tour in 2022, captured the CME Group Tour Championship in 2014 when she was just 17. PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI – No matter what happens on Sunday, Lydia Ko is happy with how her season had turned out.

The New Zealander sits atop the leaderboard at the LPGA’s season finale, the CME Group Tour Championship, after shooting a seven-under 65 on Thursday in the first round at Naples, Florida.

With a string of three birdies on the front nine at Tiburon Golf Club and a run of four more birdies on the back, she established a one-shot lead over American Danielle Kang and Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn.

Ko positioned herself well to secure a number of awards she is in the running for – the season-long points race that determines the Rolex Player of the Year, the season-long money title and the Vare Trophy for the season’s scoring champion.

The 25-year-old entered the week as one of four in line for Player of the Year, along with Australian Minjee Lee, Canada’s Brooke Henderson and Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand. Ko led Lee by a point and would claim the award with a victory.

Ko, who has won twice on tour in 2022, captured the Tour Championship in 2014 when she was just 17. The 2022 edition has 60 players at the no-cut tournament, which has a total purse of US$7 million (S$9.6 million), with the winner’s prize of US$2 million the biggest in the history of women’s golf.

“I think no matter what happens this week, you know, if things don’t go my way... I may be disappointed at that exact moment, but I was able to have two wins that were very special to me, and this has been some of the most consistent golf I’ve played,” she said.

Her lone bogey came at the par-five first hole, leaving her shaking her head.

“I think after my bogey, I’m, like, I don’t know what today is going to be like,” Ko said. “But I was kind of able to kind of swing that around and then make it into a good day.”

Kang continued her stellar comeback from having a tumour removed from her spine in June. She shot a bogey-free round with six birdies, four of them on the back nine.

She said: “I mishit some shots, but I was able to save them and I had a lot of fun out there.”

Scotland’s Gemma Dryburgh and South Korea’s Kim Hyo-joo shot 67s to forge a tie for fourth. REUTERS, AFP

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