S. Korean sensations taking LPGA rookie award battle to wire

September 2, 2015
South Korean LPGA Tour Rookies Kim Sei-young, left, and Kim Hyo-joo (AP Photos)

South Korean LPGA Tour Rookies Kim Sei-young, left, and Kim Hyo-joo (AP Photos)

SEOUL, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) — The battle for the 2015 LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year will come down to the wire between two South Korean sensations.

Up through last week’s Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic, Kim Sei-young is leading Kim Hyo-joo, 1,104 points to 1,048 points.

Kim Sei-young, 22, has won twice this season, with nine top-10s in 20 events. Kim Hyo-joo, 20, has one victory this year and eight top-10s in 18 starts.

The points are awarded based on a player’s finish at each tournament: 150 points for first place, 80 points for second, 75 points for third, 70 points for fourth and 65 points for fifth, and so forth.

Beyond fifth place, points are given in decrements of three, with a sixth-place finish worth 62 points.

Rookies who make the cut and finish below 41st will each earn five points.

Points are doubled for each of the LPGA Tour’s five majors, and for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

There are eight tournaments left in 2015, with the fifth major, the Evian Championship, scheduled for next week in France. Kim Hyo-joo is the defending champ, after stunning Hall of Famer Karrie Webb as a non-LPGA member last year, and it will be a prime opportunity for her to overtake Kim Sei-young for the lead.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third in the points race with 840 points. Though she’s mathematically alive in the competition, the two Kims — unrelated — have enjoyed better seasons overall and will likely maintain their edge over Lee the rest of the season.

After the Evian Championship, the tour will break for the biennial Solheim Cup, and then starting on Oct. 8, will embark on its annual Asian swing through Malaysia, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, China and Japan. There will be a tournament in Mexico in mid-November, and then the season will wrap up with the Tour Championship in Florida on Nov. 22.

That’s seven tournaments in seven countries in seven weeks, and it will be a survival of the fittest for the award contenders.

These seven events will also have no cuts, which means all rookies will earn points toward their standings.

Not that it would make much of a difference for the two South Koreans: Kim Sei-young has only missed two cuts in 20 events, while Kim Hyo-joo has missed the weekend action just once in 18 appearances.

Kim Sei-young is fourth on the money list with just over US$1.32 million, while Kim Hyo-joo has made $795,671, ranking 11th. In the world rankings, Kim Hyo-joo is No. 5, seven spots ahead of Kim Sei-young.

Statistically, Kim Hyo-joo has been a more accomplished putter, but Kim Sei-young has been a longer hitter off the tee.

In scoring average, Kim Hyo-joo is fourth with 69.957 shots per round, while Kim Sei-young is eighth with 70.243 strokes per round.

No matter which Kim prevails at the end, she will be the ninth South Korean to earn the tour’s top rookie honors. World No. 4 Ryu So-yeon was the most recent winner in 2012.

With their solid, all-around game, the two South Korean rookies are pushing each other to great heights. That hasn’t always been the case on the tour, with some underwhelming winners in the past several years.

Two years ago, Moriya Jutanugarn won the rookie race with a meager 480 points, after posting just one top-10 finish with no victory.

Beth Bauer in 2002, Ahn Shi-hyun in 2004, Angela Park in 2007, Azahara Munoz in 2010 and Seo Hee-kyung in 2011 also won the top rookie award without a victory.

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