|Super rookie Cho A-yean poses with holding a trophy after winning the Lotte Rent-a-CAR Ladies Open championship at Lotte Skyhill County Club on Jeju island, Sunday. Yonhap|
By Kim Jeong-kyoo
A new star was born in the 2019 Korea LPGA Tour season opener, as rookie Cho A-yean won the Lotte Rent-a-Car Ladies Open, reeling in a precious birdie on the penultimate hole.
Cho captured the victory in her 4th appearance on the Korea LPGA Tour as a full-member at the 6,301-yard Sky Hill Jeju Country Club.
She booked a berth to the 2019 LPGA LOTTE Championship at KoOlina Golf Club in Oahu, Hawaii.
The 18-year Cho finished the day with a five-under 67 for an overall score of 9-under 279 to clinch the victory. She beat Cho Jeong-min by a stroke and Kim Min-sun5 by two shots. Kim, failing to deal with the severe pressure on the final hole, made a three-putt bogey, handing the trophy to Cho A-yean.
No one could predict who would become the winner of the event until before Kim Min-sun5 missed her makeable short birdie putt on the final hole.
Cho came from three shots behind to supplant overnight leaders, Kim Min-sun5 and Choi Hyejin.
Kim and Choi looked like they faltered early as they coughed up their two-shot lead on the opening hole, failing to overcome first tee jitters on the final day.
Like anxious Kim and Choi, Cho got off to a nervy start with a bogey on the first hole. However, she birdied the second.
She made the turn, sharing second place with Park Ju-young and Choi Hye-jin at 5-under, one shot behind three co-leaders at 6-under.
Reeling in a precious birdie on the most difficult par-5 15th, she found herself only a single stroke behind the sole leader Kim Min-sun5 at 9-under. If Kim slipped up, she stood a chance of pulling up even.
Cho playing two groups ahead of Kim Min-sun5 hit a great second shot on the par-5 18th. Her ball came to stop on the fringe a touch over the green, giving her an opportunity to make an eagle. She birdied the penultimate hole, with a one shot lead over Kim Min-sun5.
Spectators sat on the edge of their seats. They could not wait to see how Kim Min-sun5 would play the remaining two holes.
Kim got through the 17th hole without incident. She stood on the 18th tee one shot back of Cho A-yean waiting in the clubhouse.
Kim hit a tee shot successfully but could not reach the green in two. A strong head wind, which started to blow when they were playing the 16th, prevented her from putting her ball onto the green ― she pulled her shot slightly to the left.
She made a great approach shot near the hole, giving her a chance to birdie the hole. She looked set to go into a play-off with Cho A-yean. But she failed to make the essential short putt.
She compounded the situation by having a terrible bogey thrust on her. She settled for third place with Park Ju-young and Na Ellie.
Cho A-yean displayed her potential, leaving a lasting impression on the crowd flocked to the beautiful golf course. The teenage golfer did not look like a rookie; she impressed many golf fans nationwide, showing herself as a future star.
It will not be a surprise if her name dominates the KLPGA Tour leaderboards in the future. Cho has already impressed with her fluid, pleasing swing.
Indeed, golf fans were happy to see a big future star turn up right in the KLPGA season opener.
"It does not feel real that I won the title," Cho said in an interview.
Overnight leader Choi Hye-jin hit a 3-over 75 for an overall score of 284, sharing 9th place with two others.