Marathon Classic: Defending champ Ko looking to end winless drought

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SYLVANIA — Lydia Ko began winning LPGA Tour events when she was 15 years old.
Now, at the ripe old age of 20, the New Zealander has 14 tour victories, more than $7 million in earnings and a current world ranking of fourth.
That ranking might well be higher were she not on a winning drought of about a year.
But Ko this week very well could be at the right place to get back on the winning track. Her last triumph came in last year’s Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club. She also won in 2014, and she’s not finished lower than seventh in four appearances.
And while Ko is winless in 2017, she’s placed in the top 10 in seven of 14 events and hopes she’s close to breaking through. She’ll certainly be one of the players to watch as the Marathon Classic tees off today and runs through Sunday.
“The pieces are there, so I’ve just got to put it together,” she told reporters Wednesday at Highland Meadows. “I’ve had weeks where I’ve been really good at ball striking but the putter wasn’t there, and then sometimes the putter is there but the ball striking isn’t as good.”
It certainly won’t hurt her efforts to be playing at a place where she feels comfortable.
“I think it just gives you the confidence to say that, hey, you’ve played well at this golf course before, and I’ve been in different situations,” Ko said. “Like, last year I played in a playoff and played the 18th hole a few times, whereas when I won a couple of years before that, I made a birdie on the last hole to end up winning.
“Anything can happen, but when you have played well at some course, no matter if you’re playing good or not, it gives you the confidence to say I can make a birdie on this hole, I’ve done it before, and just kind of move on.”
Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn and Mirim Lee played the par-5 18th hole four times before Ko broke through.
“I think being in that playoff, it can get really hot here, so it was actually not only physically a little tiring, but playing those holes over and over, I think it was kind of mentally tiring, too,” she said. “You know, we were all getting to this stage where, hey, can somebody make a birdie and get this over and done with? Fortunately for me, I was the one that was able to pull that birdie off.”
HAPPY HOMECOMING: Native New Jerseyan Marina Alex tied for 11th at the U.S. Women’s Open last week in her home state, making her the highest-finishing American.
“It’s a wonderful accomplishment, especially considering it’s the U.S. Open,” she said. “It’s our national championship, so it’s great to have represented my country as well as I did.”
Echoing thoughts expressed by countrywoman Stacy Lewis on Tuesday, the 26-year-old Alex thinks it’s important for Americans to regain a powerful presence with their play on the LPGA Tour. Led by Lexi Thompson in the third spot behind South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu at No. 1 and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn at No. 2, only four Americans stand among the top 20. Alex is ranked 32nd.
“We play the majority of our events in America, so we want to have a strong showing and a strong representation in women’s golf as a whole,” Alex said.
“I think as long as we Americans are good role models for the young girls out there who are watching us and they see our hard work and our dedication, I think more girls will turn to golf and you may get an unbelievable talent or a few girls who are unbelievably talented. I mean, I played with a girl who is 15 in a practice round for the U.S. Open and she was unbelievably good. So there are girls out there who are good. It may just take a few more years for it to show itself.”
SUPERGROUPS: Fans in attendance in the first two days may want to keep an eye out for the threesome of world No. 8 Brooke Henderson, 11-time LPGA winner and Toledo native Stacy Lewis and two-time major champion In Gee Chun. Another group to watch will include Sung Hyun Park, who won last week’s U.S. Women’s Open; world No. 3 Lexi Thompson and LPGA veteran Jane Park.
TUNING IN: The Golf Channel will broadcast all four rounds of the Marathon Classic on tape delay. Showings are set for 8-10 p.m. today and Friday, 7-9 p.m. on Saturday and 9-11 p.m. on Sunday.



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