S. Korean Hyo Joo Kim wins LPGA Tour season opener

February 1, 2016
Hyo Joo Kim, LPGA, Kim Hyo-joo

South Korean golfer Kim Hyo-joo (R) poses with her trophy after winning the 2016 LPGA Tour season opener in the Bahamas on Jan. 31, 2016 (local time). Kim, 20, won the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic at 18-under 274, her third LPGA victory. (Photo provided by Kim’s management agency G-Ad Communications)

(Yonhap) — South Korean youngster Kim Hyo-joo captured the 2016 LPGA Tour season opener in the Bahamas on Sunday after a nearly flawless final round.

Kim won the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic at 18-under 274, thanks to a final round of seven-under 66 on Sunday at the par-73, 6,625-yard Ocean Club Golf Course on Paradise Island. She finished two strokes ahead of three golfers, including defending champion Kim Sei-young of South Korea.

It was the third LPGA victory for Kim Hyo-joo and first in 21 starts, dating back to the JTBC Founders Cup last March. She moved up from No. 10 to No. 7 on the world rankings. The 20-year-old scored eight birdies against one bogey on Sunday to take home US$210,000 in the winner’s check.

Kim began the round tied for third with two others at 11-under, one stroke behind co-leaders Anna Nordqvist and Charley Hull. After getting pars on her first three holes, Kim went on a birdie binge with four over her next five holes, making the turn at 15-under.

Then she had three consecutive birdies from 12th to 14th to reach 18-under with four holes to play. Kim had her first bogey of the day at the par-4 16th, dropping to 17-under and only one ahead of Stacy Lewis, who birdied 13th, 14th and 15th playing in a group behind the South Korean.

Kim promptly restored her two-strike lead with a lengthy birdie putt at the par-3 17th and finished off with a par at the par-5 18th.

Kim said she exceeded her own expectations for the week.

“I said my goal coming into today was top 10,” she was quoted as saying on LPGA.com. “But obviously it turned out I won, so I’m really happy about that. I looked at the leaderboard when I was walking up on the last hole, but I already knew that I had two shots in between me and Stacy (Lewis).”

Kim hit all 14 fairways and needed only 25 putts in the final round.

Defending champion Kim Sei-young, the 2015 LPGA Rookie of the Year playing in the same group with Kim Hyo-joo on Sunday, was undone by a bogey on the second hole and a double bogey on the fourth.

Lewis also failed to catch the eventual winner, as she settled for pars over her final two holes.

Two more South Koreans finished in the top 10. Lee Il-hee shot a 68 on Sunday to end at 15-under to tie for fourth, and Kwak Min-seo carded a 67, her best round of the tournament, to tie for eighth at 14-under.

By moving up in the world rankings, Kim Hyo-joo has positioned herself for a spot on the South Korean national team at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where golf will make a return after a 112-year absence.

The top 15 players in the world rankings are eligible for the Summer Games, but with a limit of four players per nation. South Korea boasts eight players inside the top 15, and Kim is now the fourth-highest South Korean at No. 7, behind Park In-bee (No. 2), Kim Sei-young (No. 5) and Ryu So-yeon (No. 6). Amy Yang, who didn’t play in the Bahamas, slipped a notch to No. 9 to fall out of the Olympic team consideration.

Kim Hyo-joo said before the tournament her goal was to win twice on the tour before the Olympics in August, but with one victory in the bag already, she will be aiming higher.

“I’m going to reevaluate my goal; I want to win three times before the Olympics,” she said. “I’ve got one down, two to go now.”

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