Lydia Ko, Jason Day win inaugural Grant Thornton Invitational

NAPLES, Fla. — It was Lydia Ko and Jason Day who emerged victorious on Sunday at the Grant Thornton Invitational, recording a 6-under 66 in the modified four-ball format to win by one shot over Canadians Brooke Henderson and Corey Conners in the first mixed-team event on the LPGA and PGA Tours since 1999.

FINAL LEADERBOARD

The Down-Under duo opened their week with a 14-under 58 on Friday in the scramble format, recording 12 birdies and an eagle at Tiburón Golf Club to sit in a four-way tie for fourth, two shots back of the first-round lead. Ko and Day continued that momentum on Saturday in the foursomes format as they fired the low round of the day, carding a 6-under 66 that saw them make one bogey and seven birdies, five of which came on the back nine.

While there were plenty of low rounds on Sunday in Naples, Fla., including a 12-under 60 from Swedes Madelene Sagstrom and Ludvig Aberg, Ko and Day didn’t stress too much about going deep in the red during the final round. The pair started their day with three consecutive pars, finally picking up their first birdie of the round on the par-4 4th hole, grabbing another birdie on the par-5 6th hole to move to 22-under overall.

Ko and Day made three more pars on holes 7, 8 and 9 before recording their third birdie of the day on the par-4 10th hole to sit at 23-under. They grabbed another birdie on the par-3 12th and birdied again on 14 to get to 25-under, tying the lead held by Henderson and Conners with four holes to play.

The pair parred 15 and 16, and when the Canadians didn’t find any birdies in their last three holes, carding a 63 to post the clubhouse lead at 25-under, Ko and Day just needed one last birdie on 17 or 18 to win outright. After finding the fairway with her drive on the par-5 17th hole, Ko hit her second shot from 208 yards with a 3-wood to approximately 10 feet, ultimately two-putting for birdie to get to 26-under.

Coming to the last, Ko and Day now only needed a routine par to close things out, and Ko delivered just that, hitting the green in two and two-putting for par to post a final-round 66 and finish one ahead of Henderson and Conners. She shared a warm embrace with Day after cleaning up the winning putt, a testament to not only their team’s success, but also to the relationship the pair built over the last three days at the inaugural Grant Thornton Invitational.

“It was a fantastic week. I think trying to learn Lydia’s game, it was hard. There wasn’t much to learn because she flushes it so straight and she hits a lot of greens and she has a good short game and she putts well,” said Day. “Walking away from this week, I think it’s been a huge success. I think a lot of the guys have had a lot of fun playing with the women this week, and I think it’s been a great partnership between the LPGA and the PGA Tour.

“I feel like the fans and the players have been wanting something like this for a long time. Overall, it’s been a tremendous week to play with Lydia. Just lifelong friends from now on, you know.”

Ko couldn’t have agreed with her partner more. “There’s normally an Australian and New Zealand rivalry, but that was not there this week,” she said. “I think every player that’s here, whether it’s the PGA Tour player or LPGA player, I think we’re here for more than just the prize money and winning. It’s about the growth of the game.

“It’s great that we got to win on top of that, but I think with the help of Grant Thornton, this is a start for so many more exciting things to come, and I’m excited to be a part of this partnership. It’s been an unreal experience to play alongside Jason. It’s just been so much fun.”

While Day had a solid 2022-2023 season on the PGA Tour, winning the AT&T Byron Nelson in May and earning seven other top-10 finishes, Ko struggled this year on the LPGA Tour. After a banner 2022 that saw her win three times, capture Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy honors and be named the Race to the CME Globe champion, Ko only recorded two top-10 results this season, tying for sixth at the Honda LPGA Thailand and finishing solo third at the BMW Ladies Championship in her title defense.

She ultimately finished 100th in the Race to the CME Globe, 40 spots outside of the top-60 cutoff for the CME Group Tour Championship, meaning she was unable to defend her title at Tiburón Golf Club. But Ko wasn’t too concerned about her lackluster season, knowing that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes when it comes to golf and that things would soon again be on the up.

Little did she know that three weeks later, she’d be hoisting the Grant Thornton Invitational trophy alongside Day, and while the win will be considered unofficial in the record books, the victory was a perfect ending to a tumultuous season for 19-time LPGA Tour winner Ko, one that will help propel her forward into the 2024 season with confidence.

“It’s been not the greatest year,” Ko admitted. “Obviously, this is the best way to cap off a year like I had. I won my first event of the season and then won the last one. I would like to cut everything in between. But in saying that, I think all those moments make you the player you are now, and I’ve learned a lot.

“My sister and my mom are here. They do so much for me, whether I’m playing in Malaysia or here. I know that I wouldn’t be here today without my whole family, so I’m very grateful that they can be here. Seeing Jason’s family and seeing my family, you realize that no matter if you have a good or bad day on the golf course or at the office, that’s not what defines us. There’s a lot more exciting and grateful things in life that you’ve got outside of this.”

Fairways Magazine

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