NAPLES, Fla. – All of sudden, Lydia Ko is feeling more comfortable over the ball again.
All it took was a tiny adjustment in her move off the ball, a little tweak in her takeaway, to make the earth shift Friday at the CME Group Tour Championship.
All of a sudden, records are falling again.
All of a sudden, the field’s parting again, making room for another one of Ko’s marches to the top of a leaderboard.
All of a sudden, the “slumping” Ko is back in charge, in position to sweep all the LPGA’s major awards this season. Every one of them. Player of the Year, Vare Trophy, the $1 million CME Globe jackpot, the season-long money-winning title.
All of a sudden, if Ko can own another CME weekend at Tiburon Golf Club, she can own this entire season.
“I felt comfortable,” Ko said.
Can Ko keep this going? Can she finish this off?
Even Ko arrived at Tiburon Golf Club confessing she wasn’t in very good form, but she took a sharp turn upward Friday with her 10-under-par 62, which was four shots better than anyone else in the field. It’s a tournament record. It equaled her lowest score in an LPGA event and also equaled the lowest round anyone has shot on tour this season.
At 12-under overall, Ko is three shots ahead of So Yeon Ryu (68) and Ryann O’Toole (67).
“So much better than I ever could have imagined,” Ko said. “Hopefully, that will give me good momentum going into the weekend.”
To win the Rolex Player of the Year Award, Ko has to win the CME Group Tour Championship. Ariya Jutanugarn (68), who is eight shots behind Ko through Friday’s play, will be the Player of the Year if Ko doesn’t win this tournament. It’s a points-based award.
Ko has thrived on CME weekends. She won the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot in each of the first two seasons it was offered, but she refuses to look beyond Saturday.
“The big key mindset for me is that I've not really been thinking about everything that could happen,” Ko said. “For me to win Player the Year, I know I need to win this championship. A lot of things come with that.”
Ko is looking for her fifth LPGA victory this season, her first since she won the Marathon Classic in July. She arrived at Tiburon having failed to record a top-10 in her last five starts, the longest she has gone without a top-10 since she began playing LPGA events as a 15-year-old amateur. It’s hardly fair to call that a slump, but a reporter asked her about her “slump” after her round.
“When you set the standard Lydia has set, and you get a little off, all of a sudden you get questions about what’s wrong,” said David Leadbetter, Ko’s swing coach.
Leadbetter said Ko needed a little “back-to-basics” work this week.
According to Leadbetter, Ko’s takeaway had gotten too flat. Ko acknowledged as much after Friday’s 62.
“It’s more about the basics and the little things,” Ko said.
After Thursday’s opening round, Leadbetter showed Ko a video in a very short range session. He showed Ko the hole-in-one swing she made at the Olympics, her first ever hole-in-one.
“There was method to the madness, just in reiterating to her what we’ve been working on the last two-and-a-half years,” Leadbetter said. “Essentially, she had been drifting away from some basics. It happens to players. They aren’t playing as well as they like, and they start trying different things. Her plane had gotten a little flat.
“She’s gotten it back to a slightly steeper plane again, which is what we’ve been working on the last three years.”
On Wednesday, Leadbetter gave Ko a drill, where she lifts the club vertically, in front of her, sets her wrists and then turns in to the backswing position. Ko has been using it on the course as part of her pre-shot routine this week.
“That’s the detox drill,” Leadbetter said. “It detoxes a bad move.”
Ko birdied her first three holes Friday, and she birdied five of her last six. She hit 15 greens in regulation, knocking a bunch of irons shots close.
“The thing that most impressed me today were her irons shots,” Leadbetter said. “That’s the thing that’s been lacking. Her iron play is her bread and butter. Lydia looked back to her old self today.”