THE COLONY, Texas – Jin Young Ko closed with seven consecutive pairs for a 2-under-69 victory and a single shot Sunday at the Volunteer Classic of America, his first start since losing the No. 1 ranking in the world.
Ko’s shoulders sagged as he made his par putt from just 3 feet on the final hole at Old American Golf Club, keeping Finland’s Matilda Castren, who also shot 69, at bay.
The South Korean star won for the first time this year, and the timing couldn’t have been better. She had been No. 1 for nearly two years until Nelly Korda supplanted her last week by winning the KPMG PGA Women’s Championship.
Ko failed to finish in the top 10 in four of his five previous LPGA tour starts. But not far from his American home in Dallas, he prospered. He finished 16-under 268 for his eighth LPGA victory of his career. She remains at No. 2.
“I was thinking I had a lot of pressure with No. 1 in the rankings,” Ko said. “But I did it this week. I’m very happy. “
Betting on a one-shot lead, Ko opened with three birdies over four holes to extend his lead. Castren, who won his first LPGA Tour title three weeks ago at Lake Merced, kept her in his sights with a couple of birdies before turning around.
Castren was in danger of falling three shots back at par 5 13 when he was in trouble off the tee and had 20 feet left for par, with Ko about 12 feet for a birdie opportunity. Castren brought his pair putt, Ko missed and the lead stayed at one.
The roles were switched on the next hole when Ko missed his tee shot well to the right and was unable to reach the green, shooting 6 feet. Castren wedged the green but failed to birdie and Ko saved par.
The tournament unfolded on the 15th hole when Castren missed a 3-foot-par putt that crashed hard to the left, leaving two shots behind. She went up and down shortly before par 5 of 17 for a birdie, and remained in the game when Ko missed his birdie putt from 6 feet.
Castren had a 25-foot birdie from the back of the 18th green that missed down the right.
Gaby López from Mexico closed with a 65, making her only bogey on the final hole. She finished alone in third place, two shots behind.
Esther Henseleit from Germany had a better chance of winning. He made back-to-back birdies on the 11th and 12th holes to be within two shots. But on the 14th, his drive went under a tree and he had to shoot a penalty. Then, he threw a 4-foot putt and made his second double bogey of the round, leaving four shots behind.
Henseleit closed with a 72 and tied for fourth with Ana Belac (68) and Emma Talley, who shot 63 for the lowest round of her career on the LPGA Tour.
Ko had a lot of support at Old American, with a large contingent of Koreans in the gallery. Ko is among several South Koreans residing in the Dallas area.
Ko and Korda will face off on big stages over the next month. The next big tournament is the Evian Championship, followed by the Tokyo Olympics and the Women’s British Open.