Ko seeks fourth LPGA win at beloved California course

San Francisco (AFP) –


Former world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand returns to a golf course this week that has brought her success seeking to spark her game back to its glory days.

The Seoul-born 22-year-old defends her most recent LPGA title at the Mediheal Championship on the Lake Merced layout in Daly City, California.

Ko won last year's inaugural Mediheal event at Lake Merced in a playoff over Australia's Minjee Lee, but her victories on the course also include the 2014 and 2015 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classics, her first victory and defended title as an LPGA member after having achieved both in 2012 and 2013 at the Canadian Women's Open as an amateur.

"This is a place where I had my first win as a tour member. I even have a tattoo of the date here that I won," Ko said. "It's something that I'm going to remember a lot of. Just come back here and I always get good vibes.

"I love seeing familiar faces and seeing the volunteers and the members I've seen in the years that I've come. It's kind of I feel like they're family."

Ko's 2014 victory launched a season that saw her win two more titles, including the season-ending Tour Championship, and become the youngest-ever LPGA Rookie of the Year at age 17.

In 2015, she won again at Lake Merced as the second of five tour triumphs that year, including her third Canadian Women's Open and her first major crown at the Evian Championship.

"I just love coming back to places where I've played well," Ko said. "It just gives me good vibes."

She'll need them this week as part of a 144-player field that includes world number two Lee, coming off an LA Open triumph, and Thailand's fourth-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn.

Ko won last year on the first playoff hole by hitting a 230-yard 3-wood over a tree to within three feet of the cup for an eagle to win her 15th, and most recent, LPGA crown.

"I knew that I needed to hit it absolutely perfect," she said. "It's hands down definitely the best 3-wood I've ever hit and top three of the best shots I've hit in my life, and I'm sure that will still be the case even at the end of my career."

Ko, ranked 17th, will play the first two rounds alongside American Jessica Korda and China's Feng Shanshan.

Ko and Lee share the 72-hole course record at 12-under par 276.