Ko's meteoric rise 'hasn't sunk in'
TEENAGE golf sensation Lydia Ko said her record rise to the world No. 1 ranking still has not sunk in and may never do so, as she heads into this week's HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore.
Ko astounded the golf world last month by reaching No. 1 at the age of just 17, the youngest by a male or female player and smashing the record set by Tiger Woods at 21.
The achievement "hasn't sunk in and probably won't ever", the South Korean-born New Zealander told Agence France-Presse ahead of the US$1.4 million (S$1.9 million) tournament.
But the supremely level-headed Ko shrugged off the high expectations that will inevitably accompany her as the leading women's player.
Ko, who has been in the spotlight since winning her first professional tournament at the age of just 14, a record at the time, said the bar had been set high for some years.
"It's pretty awesome to be No. 1 and I will enjoy every minute of it," she said.
"But there have always been a lot of expectations on my shoulders, even when I was an amateur. I just want to go out there and have fun."
Back-to-back wins at the Australian Open and New Zealand Open have lifted expectations higher still, but Ko will be up against a strong line-up at the Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong course.
Nineteen of the top 20 women are in action, including Paula Creamer, whose incredible 75-foot putt secured victory in a play-off last year.
A YouTube clip of the moment has been watched more than one million times - and the 28-year-old pulled off a similar putt in high heels at a promotional event on Tuesday.
The American said: "This is a big week for me and I'm looking forward to the challenge of defending my title."
US Women's Open champion Michelle Wie is also among the 63 players battling for the US$210,000 winner's cheque.
But the laid-back Ko, who says she still enjoys hanging out with her friends, going to the beach and watching TV, will not be losing sleep over the tournament.
"I still go to sleep at 9.30pm every night. I love my sleep," she said.
Park In Bee is also cutting a more relaxed figure these days, now that she is free of the burden that comes with the No. 1 ranking.
The 26-year-old world No. 2 was displaced by Ko at the top of the rankings last month, and is now hoping to reap the benefits of being away from the pressures pole position brought.
"I let Lydia have my No. 1 spot earlier this year so if I can capture that back at some point, that would be very good," Park told reporters yesterday.
"But I'm just going to try and have fun out here and not worry about so many numbers or so many stats or things like that. It is enjoying it that is the most important thing.
"I've been No. 1 and No. 2 before, and it's a lot more relaxing position. You don't have as much pressure as No. 1 and people expect a little bit less."
One benefit she is hoping to reap is a first British Open title. Park has finished in the top 10 four times in the last five years and she admitted that pressure had played a part down the years, reaffirming her goal to relax this year.
"Every British Open I have played the last couple of years, I have had a lot of pressure on myself. So this year, my main goal will be to get the pressure off a little bit and just play it like a normal tournament," she said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS