CLIFTON, N.J. — Trailing by four shots heading into the final round of the Founders Classic, Jin Young Ko got a little inspiration about comeback wins watching fellow South Korean Sung-jae Im rally from a big deficit to win on the KPGA Tour.
If he could do it, why not her?
Ko overcame a pair of deficits to win the Founders Cup for the third time in five years, getting the victory on the first playoff hole Sunday when defending champion Minjee Lee three-putted for bogey.
“He played Korea tournament this week and he won,” the 27-year-old Ko said. “He was five shot behind the lead and he made it to win, so that was inspire me.”
Ko felt all she needed to do was play well on the tree-lined Upper Montclair Country Club.
“This golf course is not easy. Fairways are narrow and greens are firm and windy,” Ko said. “But I shoot really, really good and, yeah I feel really good and it’s honor to get third trophy Cognizant Founders Cup.”
In winning for the 15th time on the LPGA Tour and the second time this year, Ko shot a final round-best 5-under 67 in tough, windy conditions. She forced the playoff making a clutch downhill birdie from roughly 15 feet on No. 18 to tie for the lead. It was her third straight birdie on the hole.
The players went back to the par 4 No. 18 for the playoff. Both players hit the green with their second shots with Lee being about 15 feet away and closer than Ko, who had a winding putt from right to left.
Ko snuggled her birdie attempt to tap-in range and Lee went for the win, but putted it six feet past the hole, missing the par saver to the right. Ko tapped in and then ran over and hugged her caddie, David Brooker.
Lee gave away what would have been her ninth win on tour by squandering a three-shot 54-hole lead early and then blowing a two-shot lead with three holes to play with a bogey at No. 16 and the Ko’s late birdie.
Lee shot a final-round 1-under 71 and finished the 72-hole event at 13-under 275.
Lee said she obviously would have preferred the win.
“But looking back at my whole year and just kind of assessing where I am, how I did this week, I think a lot more positives than negatives,” she said. “I’m a little bit disappointed, but I think I can take more of the happy moments into my next stretch of events and the rest of the year.”
Ko is the only player to repeat in this event, winning in 2019 and 2021. No event was held in 2020 because of COVID-19. Her three titles are the most by any winner in the event’s 12-year history.
Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa, who won the AIG Women’s Open last year, finished third at 10 under, a shot ahead of South Korean rookie Hae Ran Ryu in the event that honors the 13 founders of the LPGA Tour.
Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand, Aditi Ashok of India and American Angel Yin shared fifth place at 7-under — a shot ahead of Nasa Hataoka of Japan.
Lee started the round with a three-shot lead over Yin and Ashok with Ko in a group four off the lead. Ko closed the gap to two shots with birdies at Nos. 3 and 4, and and Lee handed the other two shots back when she hit a “fat” iron at the par 3 No. 6 into the water for a double-bogey.
That created a brief three-way tie for the lead with Yin at 10-under. Yin had started the day three shots off the lead and got to 10-under with a birdie at No. 2.
Ko briefly took the lead with a birdie at No. 7 and Lee answered from 10 feet minutes. Ko took at 1-shot with a birdie at the par-5 12th, but Lee opened a two-shot edge with birdies at 11, 12 and 15.
Lee opened the door for Ko with a bogey at No. 16 after missing the fairway and Ko walked in with a deft downhill birdie putt at No. 18.
Ko joins Lilia Vu as the only players with multiple wins on tour this year. She earned $450,000 from the $3 million purse and now has passed the $11 million mark in career earnings. It moves her into the top-20 on the career list, surpassing Brooke Henderson, Amy Yang and Na Yeon Choi.
Before beginning play in this week’s tournament, Brittany Lincicome looked at her course yardage book from a year ago. Written in it was ‘six months pregnant’.
After finishing play on Sunday, the 37-year-old thought back on her past year. Her second daughter, Sophia, was born and Lincicome is back on tour. This was her fifth event and she shot a final-round 73 to finish tied for 52nd at 4 over. Her best finish was a tie for 23rd in the Chevron Championship.
“Now having her here with me, it’s such a joy to go out and play golf, hopefully play well, but then to see her smiling face at the end of the round makes it all better.”