DALY CITY, Calif. — Lydia Ko hit a 3-wood to 3 feet for eagle to finish off Minjee Lee on the first hole of a playoff Sunday in the chilly LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship
Ko won her 15th LPGA Tour title and first since July 2016, a 43-event stretch marked by changes in instructors, caddies and equipment and a large weight loss.
"It's a huge relief because people are like, 'Hey, because of this you're not winning, because of that you're not winning. Actually, I tried to stay away from all the media and everything that was being said about me and tried to just focus on what was going on in front."
Five days after turning 21, the New Zealander won for the third time at Lake Merced after taking the Swinging Skirts LPGA at the tree-lined layout in 2014 and 2015.
"It's crazy because I was 3 over for the day at one stage and I said, 'Hey, you've just got to focus and you never know what's going to happen,'" Ko said. "I was able to kind of put my game together on the back nine. When that putt dropped, I was like, 'Oh, my God.'"
More than 20 yards behind Lee in the fairway on the par-5 18th in the playoff, Ko hit a 3-wood that cleared the tree limbs on the right, landed in front of the green and rolled inches by on the right side.
"I knew that I needed to catch my 3-wood really solid," Ko said. "I think the big thought process for me was, 'Hey, try and hit a 3-wood like I did it on the 15th hole.' I was able to kind of copy that and I heard it almost tried to go in for a 2, which obviously wasn't running through my mind."
She took her time with the short winning putt.
"You don't get that many opportunities like that," Ko said. "Even though it's short, it makes it a little bit nerve-wracking because it's a length that you know you should make."
Lee, the 21-year-old Australian who won the 2012 U.S. Girls' Junior at Lake Merced, hit her second shot into the rough near the right greenside bunker and made a 10-foot birdie putt.
"I don't know if anybody could beat that," Lee said about Ko's second shot. "It was perfect. It was straight over the tree and it just rolled straight next to the pin."
Ko closed with a 1-under 71 to match Lee at 12-under 276. Lee had her second straight 68.
Ko holed a flop shot for birdie on the par-4 13th, two-putted for birdie on the par-5 15th and matched Lee with an up-and-down birdie on the 18th to force the playoff.
Playing in the group ahead of Ko and Jessica Korda, Lee holed out from a greenside bunker for birdie on the par-3 17th.
"I was like to myself, 'Oh, Minjee, let's not putt on this hole,'" Lee said. "So, I just went in there and hit it. It went in. ... I think I did a really good job of actually getting in the playoff."
Korda, a stroke ahead of Ko and Lee with nine holes left, finished with a 74 to drop into a tie for third at 8 under with Angel Yin (67), Shanshan Feng (68) and Charley Hull (70).
Ko was considering celebrating her first adult victory with Korda's birthday present
"Jess gave me a bottle of vodka for my birthday and she said it's really smooth," Ko said. "I don't know if vodka's ever smooth, so maybe we might open that."