RIO DE JANEIRO – Two strokes back to begin the final round, Lydia Ko’s gold medal hopes were quickly dashed on Saturday when eventual Olympic champion Inbee Park began her day with three birdies in her first five holes and made the turn six strokes clear of the field.
Ko, however, never let up in her quest to earn a medal and made the turn in a three-way tie for third, but the New Zealander had no interest in playing for a bronze medal.
The world No. 1 birdied three of her last five holes, including an 8-footer at the last to finish alone in second place at 11 under par, a stroke clear of China’s Shanshan Feng.
It was another example of the unique nature of Olympic golf, with players vying for positions other than first and adjusting their strategy accordingly.
“Coming down the stretch, I tried to play a little bit more aggressively, and that worked in my favor coming down on 16 [which she birdied],” said Ko, who finished with a 1-under 69.
It was something of a gamble for Ko to take an aggressive approach coming down the stretch considering that a poorly timed mistake could cost her a spot on the podium altogether. But it was a chance she was willing to take.
“At the back of your mind, unless you make a careless mistake to know that you would be able to hold a medal no matter what, I thought, wow, I can't believe I'm here in this position,” she said.
Ko struggled with her putting for much of the week and opened with rounds of 69-70 to fall five strokes off the lead set by Park. But on Day 3 she rebounded, carding a 65 before the winds began gusting to 35 mph to earn a spot in Saturday’s final group.