The final round of the New Zealand Women’s Open has all the makings of high drama, complete with the possibility of a surprise ending! Lydia Ko, defending champion looking to repeat her back-to-back CN Canadian Women’s Open title defense, is going into the last round 2 shots off the lead established by another LPGA rookie, Oklahoman Anya Alvarez. Alvarez carded a 70 and a 66 in the first two rounds and will start the final round at eight shots under par. Two South Koreans, Kyu-Jung Baek and Seonwoo Bae, and American Beth Allen, trail Ko by a shot and are sharing third place going into the last round at the Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Rolex Ranked No. 4 Ko is making her only scheduled New Zealand appearance at the Open. She’s the crowd favorite and has been heavily favored to successfully defend her title, but she’s been slowed down a bit by a stomach virus that resulted in an emergency hospital visit between the first and second rounds of the Open.
Ko was paired with Charley Hull, the LET 2013 Rookie of the Year, for the first and second rounds and the two teenagers didn’t disappoint the fans. Although Ko and Hull have very different playing styles — Hull plays flat-out and Ko plays a controlled, measured game — they matched each other more or less shot for shot throughout the first round, both carding 69, and starting the second round two shots off the lead held by New Zealander Stacey Tate.
For Tate it was a sweet if fleeting moment. After a four-year break from competitive golf she’s trying to restart her game and entered the tournament without a practice round. ”It was the sort of round golfer’s dream of,” she said of her first round six-under par score. Tate went to the clubhouse with an 81 on her card at the end of the second round and, like Cheyenne Woods, missed the cut.
Despite her illness, Ko fired off a 69 in the second round but Hull, her playing partner during the first two rounds, ran into a bit of trouble, went to the clubhouse one shot over par for the round, and dropped down the board to a share of 8th place.
Among the amateurs remaining in the field after the cut, China’s Yan Jing is tied for 10th at six-under-par and one shot ahead of Minjee Lee and Su Oh.
Ko and Alvarez are paired for the final round. Ko knows how to come from behind and close out a tournament. Alvarez, who is less experienced, just hopes to “play really good golf” on Sunday.