Ko tapped in for par on the final extra hole Sunday after her Spanish rival buried her approach under a bush, giving the Seoul-born 17-year-old her third title of her first full LPGA season.
“This has been a big year, a roller coaster ride,” Ko said. “I’ve learned so much this year. Winning these playoffs I’ve learned a lot. I think it’s going to be even better next year.”
It will be hard for Ko to top the richest payday in women’s golf history, the $500,000 tournament top prize and the $1 million season points bonus, an actual box filled with money.
“It’s amazing. I’ve never seen that much cash in one place before,” Ko said. “This year has been awesome.”
Ko, Paraguay’s Julieta Granada and Ciganda each finished 72 holes on 10-under par 278 to force a playoff, staged entirely on the 18th hole at Tiburon Golf Club.
Ko had already clinched the LPGA season points bonus prize, edging American Stacy Lewis for the big payoff by virtue of her top-three finish, but had another fight to win the season-ending event.
All three parred the first playoff hole but Granada lipped out a three-foot par putt on the second extra trip to the 18th, leaving Ko and Ciganda to fight for the crown.
On the third extra visit to the course’s second-hardest hole of the week, Ciganda dropped her approach six feet from the hole. Ko came up inches short from 30 feet but Ciganda missed right of the cup and both parred to extend the drama.
On the fourth playoff hole with sunset approaching, Ciganda’s approach trickled down a slope and under a lakeside bush in a hazard beyond the green. She took a drop and was well short with a chip. Ko then two-putted from 25 feet for the title.
– Ko never pondered payoff –
The Kiwi’s $1.5 million day nearly matched her prior winnings this year, but she said the riches never crossed her mind as she played.
“I really didn’t think about it,” Ko said. “Even playing today out there, I just set myself a goal of making birdies and having fun.”
Ko won the 2012 and 2013 Canadian Women’s Open as an amateur and the LPGA waived an 18-year age minimum so she could join the tour this year for her demonstrated proficiency.
Ko edged Lewis by a stroke to win her first LPGA event as a professional, the Swinging Skirts Classic, in April and added the Marathon Classic crown last June on her way to clinching LPGA Rookie of the Year honors and $1.58 million in prize money entering the Tour Championship.
Starting the final round three strokes behind 54-hole leader Granada, Ko charged into the lead with birdies at the fourth, par-5 sixth and par-3 eighth holes while the South American stumbled with three bogeys on the front nine.
Ko sank a four-feet birdie putt at the 13th to reach 10-under par but was matched for the lead by Ciganda, after the Spaniard birdied the 13th and par-5 14th, and Granada, after she chipped in at 15 for her third birdie in a row, to set up the playoff.
Granada failed in her 183rd start since claiming her only LPGA title at the 2006 Tour Championship.
“It’s tough,” Granada said. “I had a pretty good chance. I hit some great shots on 18. That second putt I honestly thought I had it. But overall, I’m pretty happy with this week.”