(File pix) Lydia Ko of New Zealand watches her tee shot on the second hole during the final round of the Mediheal Championship at Lake Merced Golf Club on April 29, 2018 in Daly City, California. AFP Photo

SAN FRANCISCO: Former world number one Lydia Ko ended a near-two-year victory drought Sunday with an eagle at the first playoff hole to beat Minjee Lee in the LPGA Mediheal Championship.

New Zealand’s Ko, has slipped to 18th in the world as she searched for her first LPGA victory since the Marathon Classic in July of 2016.

Up by one to start the day, she bogeyed three of her first six holes, but showed her championship mettle on a solid back nine at the Lake Merced Golf Club, where victories in 2014 and 2015 helped fuel her precocious rise to the summit of women’s golf.

Her three-wood second shot at the first playoff hole, the par-five 18th, bounced short of the green and rolled toward the pin.

After Australia’s Lee salvaged a birdie from the greenside rough, Ko rolled in her three-foot eagle putt to end the Down Under playoff duel.

Ko, who turned 21 on Tuesday, dropped her head back – in relief or disbelief – then cried as she was congratulated on the green.

“When that putt dropped I was like ‘Oh my God,’” Auckland’s Ko said after notching her 15th career LPGA title, a tally that includes two majors. “A lot of emotions, my whole team and my family have worked really hard for this moment.”

Ko, whose chip from off the green at 18 in regulation kissed the edge of the cup, tapped in for birdie to complete a one-under 71 and force the playoff as the she joined Lee in the clubhouse on 12-under par 276.

Lee, also 21, finished with back-to-back birdies, holing out from a bunker at 17 and ramming in a birdie putt at the last to post a four-under 68 that featured seven birdies.

Lee, of Perth, remains in search of her fourth LPGA title and her first since the 2017 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic.

On a day that saw three different players hold the lead, Ko recovered from her shaky start with five birdies.

That included a chip-in from off the green at 13 and a birdie at 15 that gave her a one-shot lead over Lee, who was unable to get up and down for par from a bunker at 16.

Lee regained a share of the lead with her hole out from a bunker at 17, where Ko left her birdie putt well right and settled for a par.

“It’s crazy because I was three-over for the day at one point,” Ko said. “I said hey, you’ve just got to focus you never know what could happen – and I was able to kind of put my game together on the back nine.”

bb/gph

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