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After numerous changes, Ko back on track at KPMG

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KILDEER, Ill. – Lydia Ko’s sister sees the difference when the birdie putts don’t fall now. When tee shots take a bad bounce.

When approach shots veer into bunkers.

Sura sees how good winning outside San Francisco two months ago continues to be for her baby sister, how important ending a two-year victory drought was in freeing up her sister.

“I definitely see the change,” she said. “She’s not afraid of missing greens or fairways. She lets it go.”

Ko put up a 6-under-par 66 Friday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, eight shots better than her opening round, even though she hit more fairways and more greens in that first round. She put up the low round of this championship to get into weekend contention to win her third major championship, moving just two shots off the lead through the morning wave.

“Lydia’s happy, not just in golf,” Sura said.

That’s the difference the family and team sees, because Lydia can put on a happy face when you wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t. You had to really know her to see how frustrated she was losing her best form.

“Winning was a relief,” Sura said.

It was validation, too.

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It was confirmation all the hard work Lydia was putting in with her new coach, Ted Oh, was paying off since she made the switch to him before the year’s start. They both needed to see that. The whole team needed to see that.

Oh followed Ko Friday at Kemper Lakes, delighting in the eight birdies she made against two bogeys.

"Everything is starting to come together,” he said. “Her confidence has moved up a notch.”

Ko is still feeling what she won at the Mediheal Championship.

“That was a huge confidence booster for me,” Ko said.

Ko’s ball striking was sharp Thursday at Kemper Lakes, but she couldn’t hole anything. She hit 11 of 14 fairways. She hit 13 greens in regulation, but she didn’t make a birdie.

“The only two putts I holed outside 10 feet were putts for par,” she said. “I wasn’t putting great.”

On Friday, she holed a 15-footer for birdie at the first.

That set her afire.

“That just gave me the confidence to say, `Hey, you can make a birdie around this golf course,’” Ko said. “I played solid.”

Ko shot her 66 hitting just 10 greens in regulation. She took 30 putts in the first round, just 22 in the second.

It helped chipping in for birdie at the 12th, but her putter was as hot as the weather in suburban Chicago.

“I know I missed a few fairways, but I tried to put myself in good positions, and got lucky with that chip shot, too,” Ko said.

Ko looks comfortable now with the changes she made under Oh, though she didn’t believe they were overly complicated, anyway.

Mostly, with all the changes she made over the last two seasons, from coaches to equipment and caddies, she needed some time to get comfortable with her new swing.

Ko and Oh had one top-10 finish in their first eight starts together this year. They’ve had four top 10s in their last six starts.

Oh said it’s all been about simplifying her swing.

He got rid of her little bump moving off the ball. He pared away extra movements, and he tried to get her to a position at the top of her swing where she could go as hard as she wanted at the ball. Today, she swings harder than she ever did. The rhythm of her swing is quicker.

She’s also generating more power.

Ko said it took time to get used to understanding how the rhythm of her swing needed to quicken with the changes Oh made.

“I think being aggressive was one [change that took time}, where sometimes my misses come from me being a little bit more tentative, and being not as fast through the ball,” Ko said. “I guess, in some ways, it's a good position to be in, so you can hit the ball aggressively and not really worry about it.

“We tried to simplify things so that if it's still not going very good, we're not too far away from it. I think those are the key things that we're going to continue to work on.”

If Ko matches up Thursday’s ball striking with Friday’s putting, Sunday could end with another big party for her team.