Danielle Kang wins Marathon Classic after Ko falters

When Lydia Ko stepped to the 13th tee at the Marathon LPGA Classic presented by Dana, she had a five-stroke lead over Danielle Kang and appeared to have a third tournament title firmly in her grasp. Six holes later, it was Kang hoisting the trophy after Ko fell apart down the stretch at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
 “Definitely, it was a lot of up and downs going on. I made some little mistakes here and there, but I definitely answered with some birdies, which was good, and kept me in my momentum,” said Kang. The back nine, I just had six holes to play and all of a sudden I was five shots back. That three-putt was a bit much, and I just said to my caddie, ‘Man, that's too costly.’ He said, ‘You got six holes left, five down.’ That put me in a little bit of a match play mentality, and hit some great shots coming in. I think that was crucial.”
 Kang converted long birdie putts at 13 and 14 while Ko bogeyed 14, cutting Ko’s advantage to two strokes with four holes to go. After Ko bogeyed the 16th, she took a one-stroke advantage to the final hole.
 On the par-5 closing hole, things truly came undone for Ko. Her approach sprayed far right of the green and after taking relief from a cart path and deliberating between clubs, she skulled her third shot across the green and into the greenside rough. Kang’s approach found a left greenside bunker, but she successfully got up and down for par. Ko’s fourth shot hit the fringe and trickled back into a bunker, leading to a catastrophic double bogey that handed the title to her close friend Kang.
 “I was trying to bump it there. It was in a pretty fluffy lie,” said Ko of her shot from the bunker at 18. “It was probably going to be a tough one for me to hit a high one. And with how the greens are reacting, I think if I had hit a high one, I was probably going to end up on the other side of the hill. So I just don't think I hit it as hard as I should have maybe into the bank, but it's, you know, very like minimal things. Even my first chip. If I had hit it 4 feet shorter, then maybe it would've stayed on the green. Who knows?”
 With the win, Kang becomes the first LPGA Tour player to win back-to-back events since Shanshan Feng won the 2017 TOTO Japan Classic and Blue Bay LPGA.
 “I feel pretty good. I mean, I won two weeks in a row, so that's good,” said Kang. “I'm really proud of all the work that I did during the off time, all the work that I did with Butch and all the workouts that I put in. I really utilized that time, and I'm proud to come out during this quarantine and be able to execute my game the way I wanted to. That's what I'm most proud of.”
 England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff recovered from a third-round 73 to shoot a bogey-free 67 on Sunday and tied for second with Ko at -14. Australian Minjee Lee holed out for eagle from the rough at No. 17 and then birdied the closing hole to finish alone in fourth at -13. A trio of Americans rounded out the top five in a tie for fifth – Andrea Lee, Marina Alex and Emma Talley.
Toledo-born Lewis feeling good
        The Marathon LPGA Classic is always a joyous week for 12-time LPGA Tour winner Stacy Lewis, who was born in Toledo and enjoys her annual visit with extended family. While the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the full festivities, Lewis is extra thankful for this week’s tournament, just the Tour’s second competition since February.
 “Doesn't feel like you're on the road as a normal tournament site,” said Lewis of her time in Toledo. “So it was a fun week again. Even though the crew didn't get to come out every day, still a lot of fun off the golf course.”
 Lewis tied for third at the 2019 Marathon LPGA Classic, the high point of her first season returning to competition after giving birth in 2018. With a toddler at home, the five-month break due to the pandemic was perhaps a blessing in disguise. A final-round 65, a bogey-free walk around Highland Meadows, sends a well-rested Lewis off to two weeks in Scotland in very good spirits.
 “I needed the time. I needed the time off. I needed the time to kind of get healthy and get my body healthy,” said Lewis, who ultimately finished T9. “It's as good as it's felt – knock on wood – in a couple years. So I'm just excited with every opportunity I get to play right now.”
Alex happy to be on course
After the long break, a final-round 67 at the Marathon LPGA Classic put a big smile on Marina Alex’s face. Her unexpected offseason was made even longer when she tested positive for COVID-19 prior to traveling to Ohio, even though she never showed any symptoms. With a clean bill of health after the required quarantine period, Alex finished T5 at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
 “First couple days were tough. Just been ages since competing, as I'm sure everyone has said that, especially last week and this week,” said Alex after her round. “But it was good. I felt like today it finally was a little bit more of how it felt to compete before we had a stop. Good to get a little momentum.”
 This is by far her best finish at the Marathon LPGA Classic, never finishing better than 25th in her previous five appearances. For someone who admits to being slow to return to competitive form after an extended break, Alex feels this is a good sign for the rest of her season.
 “I've always felt like I struggle the first few events back at the start of every year because I can't quite get the switch from practice to tournament,” said Alex, who earned her second consecutive top-five finish, joining a tie for fourth at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. “I think it comes easier or harder for some people, so to get off to a good start out of the gate like this was actually really refreshing. I didn't have a lot expectation for myself, so this was a good week.”


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