Golf: Lydia Ko fends off Danielle Kang to win Gainbridge LPGA, Yuka Saso in third place

Field Level Media/Reuters

Posted at Jan 31 2022 10:52 AM

Lydia Ko of New Zealand hits from the 16th tee during the third round of the 2022 Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio Golf Club on January 29, 2022 in Boca Raton, Florida. Douglas P. DeFelice, Getty Images/AFP.
Lydia Ko of New Zealand hits from the 16th tee during the third round of the 2022 Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio Golf Club on January 29, 2022 in Boca Raton, Florida. Douglas P. DeFelice, Getty Images/AFP.

Lydia Ko's right-to-left birdie putt at the 15th hole put her ahead for good Sunday, as the New Zealander outlasted Danielle Kang to win the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Raton, Fla.

Ko held at least a share of the lead after every round at Boca Rio Golf Club en route to securing her 17th LPGA Tour victory. Her final-round, 3-under-par 69 polished off a 14-under 274, one better than Kang, who was at her heels throughout the week.

"There haven't been many times where we've played (together) in the final group," Ko said. "I know she's been playing such amazing golf going into today, so I just tried to focus on me and tried to play the best golf I can. I know at points it was a bit of a grind, but I'm glad that I could get that done."

Ko, 24, entered Sunday's round with a two-shot advantage over Kang. But Kang took the solo lead with birdies at Nos. 11 and 12 before giving it back with a costly bogey at the par-3 13th. Kang fired a 4-under 68 to earn second place.

Japan's Yuka Saso tied the low round of the day with a 67 that helped her place third at 12 under. England's Charley Hull (68) and France's Celine Boutier (69) tied for fourth at 11 under.

Kang, 29, was vying to win her second event in as many weeks. She was victorious at last week's Tournament of Champions to kick off the 2022 tour schedule.

Kang kick-started her round with birdies at the first and third holes while Ko played the front nine in even par, tying the playing partners at 11 under. They both birdied the par-4 11th before Kang drained a lengthy birdie putt at No. 12 for the outright lead.

But a missed par putt on the next hole meant that Kang's advantage was short-lived. Ko saved par there before making the go-ahead birdie putt at No. 15.

"You can't think about, ‘Oh, it's not my momentum or her momentum,'" Kang said. "You just got to keep executing the shot in front of you and keep playing what you have. That's what I did until the last hole. I wouldn't have done anything different."

Ko also escaped danger at the par-3 17th hole, saving par when she hit out of the greenside bunker to mere inches from the cup.

Ko said teaming up with swing coach Sean Foley in 2020 helped her have a self-described turnaround year in 2021, leading to Sunday's big moment.

"I feel like (my game) been much more consistent," Ko said. "I feel like even though I didn't win on the LPGA at the end of the year, I put myself in contention quite a bit. I think when you keep knocking on the door you feel like at one point it's going to open."

American Lexi Thompson and Canadian Brooke Henderson each shot 68 to finish in a tie for sixth at 7 under.