It wasn't pretty, but 17-year-old Lydia Ko made history Saturday at the LPGA season opener in Ocala, Fla.
Ko threw away a four-shot lead in the final round to lose by one stroke to good friend Na Yeon Choi at the Coates Championship. But Ko tied for second with Jessica Korda and Ha Na Jang, and it was good enough to make her the youngest player – man or woman – to hold the No. 1 ranking.
Starting the day with a one-shot lead, Ko birdied the opening two holes to build a four-shot lead. But she stumbled over the last two holes, including a double bogey on No. 17, to hand the tournament to Choi.
Ko replaces Inbee Park at the top of the Rolex World Rankings. Ko won the season-ending CME Titleholders in November and also took home the $1 million prize by winning the season-long points race. She also won last season at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in April and the Marathon Classic in July.
She nearly won her sixth LPGA title on a cool, crisp day at Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club.
Ko cooled off after her hot start, and Choi took advantage with birdies on Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 7. Choi pulled ahead after nearly holing her second shot on the par-4 14th.
Choi then hit a gorgeous fade into the par-3 15th that settled about five feet away. Ko pulled her tee shot into the middle of the green and looked to be facing a two-shot deficit.
But instead it was just the start of a wild finish at the inaugural event.
From 60 feet away, Ko slammed home the birdie putt to tie the lead, and then Choi looked rattled as she three-putted from five feet for bogey.
They both holed knee-knocking pars on 16, and then both found trouble off the tee on the par-4 17th.
Choi blocked her tee shot into some pine straw, but she was able to knock a hybrid in the right greenside rough and get up-and-down for par.
Then the tournament completely changed when Ko tried to hit a fade from the right fairway bunker. Her hybrid went dead right and into a cluster of trees.
Ko had no choice but to punch out short of the green. She then chunked two pitch shots, but Ko was able to hole a 12-footer for double bogey to stay one behind Choi.
It also turned out to be the putt that allowed her to walk away with one heck of a consolation prize.
Ko kept a share of second with Korda, who was already in the clubhouse at 15 under par, and after a par on 18, Ko was no doubt disappointed at losing the tournament, but she'll head to next week's Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic as the No. 1 player in the world.