Kim Hyo-joo earns 5th career LPGA win in Hawaii

SEOUL– Kim Hyo-joo has captured her fifth career LPGA victory in Hawaii, holding on for a two-shot victory with a solid, if unspectacular, final round.

Kim won the Lotte Championship at Hoakalei Country Club in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, on Saturday (local time), at 11-under 277, after carding a final round score of one-under 71. Hinako Shibuno of Japan was the runner-up after shooting a two-under 70 on Saturday.
This was Kim’s first victory since May last year. She is the second South Korean to win in LPGA this year, joining world No. 1 Ko Jin-young.

Kim went more than five years between her third and fourth LPGA title but about 11 months between her fourth and fifth.

She is one of 10 players to have played at all 10 editions of the Lotte Championship. Kim had finished in fourth place in 2014 and 2015 but then ranked outside the top 10 in the next five starts at the tournament before breaking through this time.

“So far, the records are not as I would expect, and it was a little sad, personally, for me,” Kim said at her press conference. “However, I prepared a lot for this year’s championship, so it’s all the more meaningful and special for me to win this championship this year.”

Kim entered the final round with a three-stroke lead over Shibuno and Brianna Do of the United States at 10-under par. The three played in the final group together.

While Do took herself out of contention with three bogeys on the back nine, Shibuno tried to make things more interesting.

The Japanese moved to within two shots with a birdie at the fourth, but Kim regained her three-shot lead at 11-under with a birdie of her own at the fifth. Her lead grew to four with a birdie at the eighth, but a bogey at the very next hole cut that advantage to three shots at the turn.

Shibuno then got a step closer with a birdie at the 11th. Kim and Shibuno then kept putting up pars on the board through 15th, keeping the South Korean up by two with three to play, 11-under to nine-under.

Kim committed her second bogey of the round at the 17th, and her lead was now down to one going into the final hole.

But Kim came through in clutch, playing a brilliant third shot to set up a tap-in birdie at the par-five 18th hole. Kim later said she was “proud” of that particular shot.

After Shibuno missed her birdie attempt, Kim made no mistake from close range to lock down her two-stroke win.

“I thought I had to play the final hole really well, because I felt I’d end up in a playoff unless I had a birdie there,” Kim said. “One-stroke lead is not much. However, I had my personal goal for today and so I was focused on meeting that goal. I guess whoever was playing with me or very close to me did not really matter.”

Kim shocked the LPGA Tour in 2014 by collecting her first title at a major, the Evian Championship, as a nonmember. She also set an 18-hole scoring record at a major championship with a 61 in the first round.

The former Korea LPGA (KLPGA) star accepted her LPGA membership in 2015 and won a tournament each in 2015 and 2016. She then went into a five-year drought before turning her career around in the pandemic-interrupted 2020 season.

Kim spent that entire season playing in KLPGA and led the domestic tour in money and scoring average while winning twice. She also made a few cameo appearances in South Korea last year and collected two more victories.

Over the past 11 months, Kim has won four times combined in KLPGA and LPGA, and also represented South Korea at the Tokyo Olympics.

At 26, the one-time prodigy who won nine KLPGA tournaments as a teenager seems to have reached a new level.

“There were a lot of expectations (after her 2014 Evian victory), but there was a lot of support coming from friends and family and fans as well,” Kim said. “There have been up and downs. I think I am at the up part right now. I feel very proud, a little confident about the future, and the outlook looks great for me and I feel like I can do better moving forward.”

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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