JEDDAH: Lydia Ko shot a final-day 65 to storm to a five-shot victory at the $1million Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund (PIF).
The former world No.1 picked-up where she left off a day earlier, birdieing the first as her week’s assault on Royal Greens Golf & Country Club resumed – one that had put her into a commanding four-stroke lead heading into Sunday’s closing round.
Not one to let up, the New Zealander cruised to a bogey-free seven-under-par, taking her total for the week to -23, five shots clear of second-placed Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand.
“When I was out there I was just trying to play the best golf I can,” said Ko, whose win was her second this season, following a four-year drought. “I knew a lot of the top names were playing well and this is a golf course where there’s a fair amount of birdies, so I just tried to have my share of them, have fun out there and enjoy the experience at Royal Greens.
“It helps going into the final round and you have a four-shot cushion, as we could possibly shoot the same score but I still have those shots from the last three days. I birdied the first hole then holed two really good putts for par on two and three and I think that kind of set my momentum and I just tried to not look back and keep going forward. I’m delighted to have won.”
With its debut hosting last year, the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF became the first ever international women’s sports event to be held in Saudi Arabia, and be broadcast on national television – at a time when the Kingdom had fewer than 20 female golfers.
A landmark moment, the tournament inspired 1,200 women and girls to sign-up to learn golf over its four days, all through Golf Saudi’s world-first free golf initiative, the Ladies First Club powered by Aramco, launched on the event’s first day.
Ko hoped this week’s event will further draw more Saudi women to the game.
“Hopefully, with the tournament being on here for the last couple of years, more and more women have the courage to take up golf and want to, in the future, come and play this event.,” she said. “It was really cool meeting a few of the Ladies First Club members over these past few days and to them, I’d just say keep working hard and show the power of women.”
A runners-up finish was enough to crown 18-year-old Atthaya Thitikul this year’s LET Race to Costa del Sol champion, her final-day 66 pushing her five-clear of Spain’s Carlota Ciganda and Alice Hewson of England.
“It was a good fight today. I just did my best out there but Lydia Ko is just the best, brilliant,” Thitikul said. “She was really good with her putting, her approach shots, everything she did this week! I will definitely learn from her to get better myself.
“It’s an honour and really an amazing feeling for me to win the Race to the Costa del Sol this year, on my rookie year as well. Words cannot describe it.”
On her shared third place finish – secured with a closing day four-under-par – Spain’s Ciganda said: “I played pretty solid. I hit a lot of fairways and lots of greens. I didn’t make as many putts as I would’ve liked to but some weeks they go in and some weeks they don’t. I’m happy with the week, Lydia and Atthaya played incredible.
“It’s been a great week. I love the course and think it’s a great set up for us. Everything’s been great, the hospitality, the hotel. I know it’s a little bit hot but it’s a great place and it’s been great for Saudi women and Saudi sports to have a women’s golf tournament like this.”
England’s Hewson added: “I was a little bit up and down today. I got off to a slow start once again but I’m really happy with how I bounced back on the back nine and hung in there.
“I’ve had a really great week. I struggled a little bit off the tee the first few days but straightened things out today. I’m delighted with third. This is probably one of the strongest fields we’ve played this year with a lot of LPGA girls here this week, so I’m very happy.”
The Ladies European Tour action continues in Saudi Arabia later this week with the Aramco Team Series – Jeddah, the last of four new $1million team tournaments added to the Tour this season and taking place at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, King Abdullah Economic City, November 10-12.