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Ko falls just short in New Zealand title defense

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Lydia Ko fell just short in her bid to successfully defend her title Sunday at the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open.

Two strokes down with two holes to play, Ko, 16, made it dramatic in her Kiwi homeland, making birdie at the 17th but missing a 20-footer for birdie at the last in the Ladies European Tour season opener.

South Korea’s Mi Hyang Lee closed with a course-record 9-under-par 63 to win the event at Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch. At 9-under 207, Lee finished a shot ahead of Ko (70) and two ahead of Americans Beth Allen (70) and Anya Alvarez (73).

Ko will tee it up again in two weeks when the LPGA stages its second event of the year, the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open, an event co-sanctioned by the LET.