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By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korean LPGA star Kim Sei-young has cruised to her second victory of the season and 12th of her career in Florida.
Kim took the inaugural Pelican Women's Championship by three strokes over Ally McDonald of the United States at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida, on Sunday (local time). By earning US$225,000 in the winner's check, Kim has climbed to the top of the money list with $1,133,219.
Kim, No. 2 in the world rankings, shot an even par 70 in the final round for the four-round total of 14-under 266. She began Sunday holding a five-shot lead over McDonald, who carded a 68 in the final round and still lost by three.
Kim, who had three birdies and three bogeys Sunday, also leads the Player of the Year points race with 106. Fellow Korean player Park In-bee, who had been at the top with 90 points, didn't play at the Pelican Women's Championship.
A regular tournament win is worth 30 points, and points are doubled at major championships.
Kim opened her final round with a birdie that gave her a six-shot lead, but a bogey at the par-3 ninth -- her second of the day -- saw the lead halved to three strokes.
While McDonald failed to close the gap further with six straight pars on the back nine, Kim went back up by four with a birdie at the 14th. McDonald bogeyed the 16th to fall five shots back, and her finishing birdie at the 18th, combined with Kim's bogey, didn't affect the outcome.
"If I played the same as the last three days, I expected (to win) for sure," said Kim, who shot 67-65-64 in the first three rounds. "But Ally put pressure on me. I wasn't feeling good with my shots. When it got to a three-shot lead (at the turn), I was like, 'Oh my god, she can't be chasing me like that. Sei-young, focus.'"
Kim, 27, captured her maiden major title last month at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship. The 2015 Rookie of the Year has picked up at least one victory in every season of her career to date -- three in 2015, two in 2016, one each in 2017 and 2018, three in 2019 and two so far in 2020.
With 12 career titles, Kim has moved into No. 3 all time among South Korean players, trailing only the two Hall of Famers -- Pak Se-ri (25) and Park In-bee (20). Kim has broken a tie with Shin Ji-yai, former world No. 1 who has left the LPGA Tour to compete on the Japanese tour.
This was Kim's first tournament since that major win. She is the first player since Ariya Jutanugarn in 2016 to win her first major and then a regular tournament in back-to-back starts.
"A win is always great, and I'm very happy to win 12 tournaments," Kim said at her press conference. "It means a lot to me."
After her major win, Kim returned to South Korea to spend some time with her family. She also had to serve her mandatory, 14-day quarantine, required for all inbound travelers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Asked if she spent the down time visualizing the rest of her season, Kim said: "Not really. After tournaments, I just want to relax and make myself feel refreshed. I don't think about golf."
The abbreviated 2020 season, plagued by the coronavirus pandemic, has three tournaments left: the Volunteers of America Classic (Dec. 3-6), followed by the final major of the year, the U.S. Women's Open (Dec. 10-13), and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship (Dec. 17-20).
She will skip the first of those three events and focus on the next two, which also happen to be two of the biggest events stacked at the end of the season.
"A win always gives you the extra confidence," Kim said of her form going into the final stretch. "I feel happy when I walk on the golf course. It's really great."
The current world No. 1, Ko Jin-young, made her season debut at the Pelican Women's Championship and finished tied for 34th. Kim will further narrow the gap on her countrywoman, and she said she has long set her sights on reaching the top.
"(Being close to No. 1) means a lot because the No. 1 ranking is on my wish list this year," Kim said. "Before, winning the Olympic gold medal (in Tokyo) was my biggest goal this year, but the Olympics got postponed. So I changed my goal to be the world No. 1."