How good is Lydia Ko? In three words; very, very good.
Fresh from her win at the NZ Women's Open on Sunday, Ko has blazed her way to a first round 63 at Royal Canberra today. As we type this, she holds the clubhouse lead at 10-under par in the Women's Australian Open, the lowest first round score to par in the history of the championship. The tournament website reports:
Lydia Ko did not disappoint. The world's top female amateur came into the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open hot after securing her native championship, the New Zealand Open last week. After a white hot 63, 10-under par, to begin at Royal Canberra today she has given herself a good chance to win here as well.
Ko, 15, was sensational, her round including three bogeys, making it all the more remarkable. In between, she was near-flawless, putting an exclamation mark on her round by almost holing her six-iron second shot from 150 metres at the par-four ninth hole, her final hole of the day. She tapped in yet another birdie putt from just 20 centimetres, signed for her 63, and took the outright lead in a $1.2 million tournament from which she cannot take any cash as an amateur.
The Kiwi began with a nervous bogey at the 10th after blocking her opening tee shot into the trees, but quickly reeled off four consecutive birdies then exploded with a 90-metre wedge shot into the hole for an eagle at the par-five 15th hole, flying the ball past the hole by two metres and spinning it back into the cup.
Rolling in a two-metre putt for birdie at the 18th, her ninth hole of the day, she had completed half the course in 30, and her playing partners, world No. 1 Yani Tseng and Michelle Wie, started muttering to each other about witnessing a bit of history. "Me and Michelle were counting,'' said Tseng. 'We're going to see a bit of history today. She's going to shoot 59'!''
Three birdies in the first four holes on the front nine, her second nine of the day, gave her a chance of beating the magical 60 mark. But a bogey at the par-four eighth hole, her second-last, cost her dearly. "Her putting was incredible.'' said Tseng.
Ko grew up watching Wie, but completely outplayed her. The American carded a 74. Tseng shot 68 but also was left in the shade. "Playing with Lydia, five-under (par) is like nothing,'' said the world No. 1. The New Zealander was well behind the long-hitting Tseng and Wie, but kept knocking the ball in tight, often with one of the three hybrid clubs she carries. She has no longer iron than a six in her bag this week.
Already the winner of three professional tournaments in the past year -- the New South Wales Open, the Canadian Open on the LPGA Tour, and last week's NZ Open at Clearwater, Ko is plainly something quite special. "She still looks like 15,'' said Tseng. "I don't know how she hits the ball that well. I'm not even close to her at 15.''
Lydia Ko is already competing with the very best players in world women's golf, and beating many of them. Her world ranking will skyrocket this year, and speculation will be rife as to when she will join the pay-for-play ranks. We underestimated her forfeited earnings to date the other day; had she been able to accept prizemoney, Ko would have pocketed more than $500,000 from the professional tournaments she has contested to date.
Ironically, tonight is likely to end sadly for Lydia Ko. She is a lock to win the emerging sportsperson award tonight at the Halberg Awards, although one can make a strong case that she has more than emerged already. And whilst she probably should, in our ever-humble opinion be named Sportswoman of the Year tonight, she probably won't, given that 2012 was Olympic year.
We wish Lydia Ko all the very best for the remaining three rounds of the Women's Australian Open. But we are fast running out of superlatives to describe her!