Lydia Ko reaches 20 LPGA Tour wins by securing the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions title by two shots
At the start of the week, Lydia Ko had said that she hoped that her victory with Jason Day at the Grant Thornton Invitational in December would give her good momentum going into the 2024 season and that hope and off season work paid off, with the New Zealander going one step closer to legend status.
A surreal number for anyone, let alone a 26-year-old. But Ko continues to raise the bar on the LPGA Tour, adding yet another victory to her lengthy resume after an impressive performance at the Tour’s season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
Ko recorded a final-round 70 to reach -14, winning by two shots over 2023 Tour rookie Alexa Pano. With the win, she not only crosses the $17 million threshold in official career earnings, but also gains a point towards LPGA Hall of Fame induction. Ko leaves Lake Nona with 26, just one point short of the 27 necessary for induction.
“Last year I was chasing the Hall of Fame. I felt like I could have, with the way I was playing in 2022 I could back it up with another great year. Look where it put me, I just kept my card, if I hadn't won the year before. But so I'm not really going to think about it much. I think we're all human. Like to say that it's not going to linger next time I'm in contention, oh, my God, if I actually do this I'm going to be in the Hall of Fame, I'm sure that's going to be one of the gazillion voices in my head,” said Ko.
“I just got to strive to be the best golfer I can. If that leads me and if my career leads me to becoming a Hall of Famer, that's awesome. I'm just a South Korean born Kiwi playing this game of golf, and who knew I would be standing here and have played in the Olympics and have won on our Tour.”
Watch final round highlights: Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions
Ko entered the last day two shots ahead of Pano at -12, and quickly increased her lead after birdies on Nos. 6 and 9, while Pano bogeyed the same holes. Ko went even on her back nine holes after two birdies and two bogeys to close out the day, but not even dropping a shot on her 72nd hole could take the smile off her Kiwi’s face.
“The win is obviously great,” said Ko. “I wasn't sure if I was going to be back in the winner's circle, and to be back to the first tournament of the season, it's pretty cool and so much faster than I could have ever anticipated.”
However, Ko is under no illusion that the rest of the season will be easy, after she won the Saudi Ladies International on the Ladies European Tour in her first start in February 2023:
"I won last year my first event and kind of went sideways very quickly, so too not get too cocky. I'm playing the next event in Bradenton and that's a new golf course for me. I'm excited to go out there. It's a short turnover, but maybe I can take all the goods from this week and take it to next week. Florida has been great to me so hopefully another good week next week."
Alexa Pano makes her mark
Pano secured her first runner-up performance of her Tour career in her 30th total start dating back to 2018. Despite a two-under-par 70, the 19-year-old, who would have been the youngest since Jessica Korda at the 2012 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open to win a season-opening event on Tour with a victory on Sunday, was still proud of her grit under the pressure.
“This week was super fun. Got to have a lot of family out here, my sponsors. Got to meet some of my dream celebrities to meet, and on top of it played some good golf. So I had a pretty special week,” said Pano. “It was a great start to the season.”
The 2023 champion Brooke Henderson made a splash during the final round, tying Leona Maguire for the lowest round of the day with a bogey-free four-under-par 68. Henderson finished in solo third in her title defense thanks in part to the four birdies on holes 7, 8, 9 and 11 as she creates the momentum heading into next week at the LPGA Drive On Championship.
“Coming into the week you just want to get a top finish, want to see where the game is and what you need to improve on for the rest of the year. This was a really exciting week for me coming in as defending champion,” said Henderson. “I gave it all I had, but unfortunately a little bit short this year. Take the top finish and keep moving forward.”
Cheyenne Knight, Ayaka Furue and Ally Ewing all finished in a tie for fourth at eight-under-par. Ewing battled through her final 18 holes, notching four bogeys to three birdies and an eagle on 15 to earn her first top-five finish since her own title defense at the 2023 Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G (4th). Charley Hull and Rose Zhang, who is returning to Stanford before coming back to the Tour at the FIR HILLS SERI PAK Championship in March, finished in a tie for seventh at seven-under-par, with Marina Alex and Gemma Dryburgh securing top-10 finishes in a tie for ninth at six-under-par.
Annika misses out again in the Celebrity Division
In the Celebrity Division, Jeff McNeil dazzled in his debut performance, reaching 138 total points after netting 35 on the final day in the Modified Stableford format. LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam held her own, finishing second with 136 points. This is Sorenstam’s second runner-up performance at the HGVTOC, and third top-three performance in as many appearances. Derek Lowe and Mark Mulder tied for third at 135 points, and third-round leader Jeremy Roenick ultimately finished in solo fifth (133 points).
View the full Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions leaderboard here.
This week the LPGA visits Bradenton Country Club in Bradenton, Florida for the LPGA Drive On Championship where Celine Boutier will be back to defend her title.