(LEAD) Kim Hyo-joo wins 5th career LPGA win in Hawaii

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By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, April 17 (Yonhap) — Kim Hyo-joo picked up his fifth career LPGA win in Hawaii, holding on for a two-stroke win with a solid, if unspectacular, finish.

Kim won the Lotte Championship at Hoakalei Country Club in Ewa Beach, Hawaii on Saturday (local time) at 11-under 277 after earning a final score of one-under 71. Japan’s Hinako Shibuno was the runner-up after shooting a two under 70 on Saturday.

It was Kim’s first victory since May last year. She is the second South Korean to win the LPGA this year, joining world No. 1 Ko Jin-young.

Kim spent more than five years between her third and fourth LPGA title, but about 11 months between her fourth and fifth.

She is one of 10 players to have played in all 10 editions of the Lotte Championship. Kim had finished in fourth place in 2014 and 2015 but then placed outside the top 10 in the next five tournament starts before breaking through this time.

“So far the records haven’t been what I expected, and that was kind of sad, personally, for me,” Kim said at her press conference. “However, I prepared a lot for this year’s championship, so it’s all the more meaningful and special for me to win this championship this year.”

Kim entered the final round with a three-stroke lead over Shibuno and Brianna Do of the United States at 10 under par. The three played together in the final group.

As Do knocked herself out with three bogeys on the back nine, Shibuno tried to make things more interesting.

The Japanese went within two shots with a birdie in the fourth, but Kim regained her three-stroke lead to within 11 with a birdie of her own in the fifth. His lead increased to four with a birdie on the eighth, but a bogey on the very next hole reduced that advantage to three strokes on the turn.

Shibuno then closed with a birdie in the 11th. Kim and Shibuno then continued to put pars on the board until 15th, keeping the South Korean ahead two with three to play, 11 under to nine under.

Kim committed her second bogey of the round on the 17th, and her lead was now down to one going into the final hole.

But Kim held her own, playing a brilliant third shot to set up a birdie tap-in on the par-five 18th hole. Kim later said she was “proud” of this particular shot.

After Shibuno missed his birdie attempt, Kim made no mistake from close range to lock in a two-time victory.

“I thought I had to play the last hole really well because I felt like I was going to end up in the playoffs unless I got a birdie there,” Kim said. “A one shot lead isn’t much. However, I had my personal goal for today and so I was focused on achieving that goal. I guess whoever was playing with me or very close to I didn’t really matter.”

Kim shocked the LPGA Tour in 2014 by winning her first major tournament title, the Evian Championship, as a non-member. She also set an 18-hole record at a major championship with a 61 in the first round.

The former Korean LPGA (KLPGA) star agreed to join the LPGA in 2015 and won one tournament apiece in 2015 and 2016. She then entered a five-year drought before changing careers during the 2020 season interrupted by the pandemic.

Kim spent the entire season playing in the KLPGA and led the national tour in money and scoring average while winning twice. She also made a few appearances in South Korea last year and picked up two more wins.

Over the past 11 months, Kim has won four combined KLPGA and LPGA victories, and has also represented South Korea at the Tokyo Olympics.

At 26, the former wonderkid who won nine KLPGA tournaments as a teenager seems to have reached a new level.

“There was a lot of expectation (after his victory at Evian in 2014), but there was also a lot of support from his friends, family and fans,” Kim said. “There have been ups and downs. I think I’m on the rise right now. I’m feeling very proud, a bit confident about the future, and the outlook looks good to me and I feel like I can do better to move forward.”

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