Two familiar foes from their USGA amateur championship days battled down the stretch in the LPGA’s first major of 2016, with a memorable wedge shot on the 72nd hole lifting Lydia Ko, 18, to victory in the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, Calif., her second major-championship title.
Ko, the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, trailed 20-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn, the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, for much of the final round. Ko had not made a birdie on the back nine at Mission Hills Country Club until the par-5 18th hole, where she hit her third shot to 2 feet and converted the putt to seal a one-stroke victory over Charley Hull and reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion In Gee Chun. Jutanugarn, playing in the final group right behind Ko, led by two strokes with three holes to play, but stumbled coming home with three consecutive bogeys to close out her round, putting her alone in fourth place.
Before they were vying for the right to jump into Poppie’s Pond, Ko and Jutanugarn faced one another in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinals, with Ko, then 15, getting the upper hand, 3 and 1. The two were also one round away from facing each other in the U.S. Girls’ Junior final three weeks earlier, but both lost their semifinal matches.
A quartet of USGA champions topped the ANA leader board through 54 holes, with 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Lexi Thompson leading Chun, Jutanugarn and Ko by a stroke. Thompson, who claimed the title in 2014, struggled on Sunday with a final-round 73 to finish alone in fifth.
With her victory, world-No. 1 Ko became the youngest woman in history to win two major titles, surpassing Se Ri Pak, who was 20 in 1998 when she won the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open.
Reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion Hannah O'Sullivan finished in a tie for 65th, sharing low-amateur honors with Switzerland's Albane Valenzuela.