Marina Alex battles back from injury to claim second LPGA title, edging No. 1 Jin Young Ko at Palos Verdes

Marina Alex wasn’t sure if winning on the LPGA would ever happen again for her. The 31-year-old’s lone LPGA title came in 2018 at the Cambia Portland Classic.

Since then, it’s been a battle physically, with a back injury keeping Alex away from competition for seven months in 2020.

“I’m kind of not really there with processing what we down today,” said Alex after a hard-fought win at the inaugural Palos Verdes Championship presented by Bank of America.

Alex closed with a 5-under 66 to finish at 10 under for the tournament, one stroke ahead of World No. Jin Young Ko, who also shot 66 and was in the clubhouse for some time at 9 under, the number to chase.

Lydia Ko needed to hole out her final approach for eagle on the 72nd hole to force a playoff. Her second shot landed 5 feet short of the hole. She missed the birdie putt right and walked away shaking her head.

When Ko, playing in the final group alongside Hannah Green, made the turn she held a share of lead with Alex, Jin Young Ko and Megan Khang.

A series of poor tee shots from Lydia Ko, however, kept her from making enough of a run. The tour’s physio came out help stretch out her body as she played down the stretch. When asked by Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz if she was concerned about her back going forward, Ko said she hoped not.

“It’s that time of the month,” she explained. “I know the ladies watching are probably like, yeah, I got you. So, when that happens my back gets really tight and I’m all twisted. It’s not the first time that (the LPGA physio) Chris has seen me twisted. I felt a lot better after he came.”

Australia’s Green held a three-stroke lead after two rounds, but shot 72-72 over the weekend to finish tied for fifth on the heels of a runner-up at the DIO Implant L.A. Open. Green heads back to Australia for several weeks before getting into the heart of the LPGA’s major season.

“I feel like I played good and I played bad this week,” said Green. “Like this weekend obviously shooting over par is not ideal, but the more you put yourself in those conditions the more you get used to it, and hopefully can excel that one week.”

Alex, who also played in the final group of the LPGA Drive On Championship, said recent work with Claude Harmon III has helped her feel re-inspired coming out to the West Coast.

“It’s been tough,” said Alex. “We’re all getting older. I’m getting older. There are so many amazing players out here. The competition is really, really difficult. So I just didn’t know if my mind and body were going to put me back in a position that I was going to be able to do it again.”

Alex, the first player from Vanderbilt to win on the LPGA, said she tried to stay away from leaderboards, noting that she doesn’t typically respond well when she goes “leaderboard crazy.”

“It can just create extra pressure that I don’t need,” said Alex, “whether it’s to make a birdie or to conserve a lead. It’s just – it doesn’t help my performance, so I kind of have to be really disciplined to just take a deep breath and do me.

“If it’s good enough to win, it’s good enough to win. If someone outplays me, that’s okay, but I don’t want to outplay myself. That’s the mistake I have made in the past.”

Los Angles native Andrea Lee, playing on a sponsor exemption, tied for fifth to secure strong status for the rest of the season. Lee won at Palos Verdes while at Stanford and has been an honorary member of the club since age 15.

The former top-ranked amateur had her instructor Jim Gormley, the club’s director of golf, on her bag for the final round. Lee birdied Nos. 16 and 17 for a late push up the board.

“Jim knows this place like the back of his hand obviously,” said Lee. “There were some reads out there yesterday that I felt like I just couldn’t get down, so asked him to be on the bag today, and he definitely helped out there.

“These greens are really tricky to read, and you got to make putts if you want to be in contention out here.”