S. Korean star Ko Jin-young taking battle for LPGA honors to season finale

November 19, 2021

South Korean LPGA star Ko Jin-young will take her battle with her main rival for top individual honors to the last tournament of the season this week.

The 2021 LPGA season will conclude with the CME Group Tour Championship, which tees off Thursday at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida.

Only the top 60 players and ties in the Race to the CME Globe points rankings will be eligible for this tournament.

Ko is the defending champion. And by winning the 2020 tournament and picking up a check of US$1.1 million, Ko also captured her second consecutive money title.

This year’s champion will take home $1.5 million, the largest share on the tour this season.

Ko, world No. 2, is neck and neck with the top-ranked American Nelly Korda in major individual awards races.

In the world rankings, Korda and Ko are first and second, with Korda up 9.98 to 9.03 in average ranking points.

Ko spent the entire 2020 season at the top, but Korda dethroned Ko in June. The South Korean regained the top spot on Oct. 25 on the strength of two consecutive victories. But Korda ended that reign two weeks later during LPGA’s hiatus — players are evaluated over a rolling two-year period and extra emphasis is placed on results from the 13 most recent weeks — and then increased her lead with the victory on Sunday.

Korda also leads Ko in the Player of the Year points, 191 to 181. Ko had been ahead before Korda picked up her fourth win of the season — tied with Ko for most this year — over the weekend at the Pelican Women’s Championship. Ko finished tied for sixth at the same event.

Players receive points for top-10 finishes. A tournament win is worth 30 points and a runner-up finish is good for 12 points, and so forth. Points are doubled at major championships.

Ko was the Player of the Year in 2019 and is now trying to become the first South Korean to win the award multiple times.

Korda is chasing her first Player of the Year award. The last American to be so honored is Stacy Lewis in 2014.

On the money list, Korda pocketed US$262,500 at the Pelican Women’s Championship to also zip past Ko, who made $45,746. The American sits atop the board at just over $2.23 million, and Ko is right behind at a little over $2 million.

Ko will try to become the first LPGA player to win three consecutive money titles since Lorena Ochoa did so from 2006 to 2008.

Ko and Korda will play in the same group, along with Korean-born Kiwi Lydia Ko, in the first round.

Ko Jin-young is coming into this tournament in the midst of an outstanding stretch, with two wins, one runner-up finish and one sixth-place finish in her past four starts, dating back to October. And she sounded confident in the state of her game at her pretournament press conference Tuesday in Florida.

“My game is almost perfect. (It) feels really good,” Ko said. “If I make more putts, I can win again. I will try to make a lot of putts this week.”

Korda’s win last week was her first since June, and she said Tuesday she’ll try to go back-to-back for the second time this season.

“Last week was definitely a confidence boost,” Korda said. “I’ve always said it’s really hard to win back-to-back, because you’re definitely a little mentally and physically drained from the week prior. So making sure that I’m well rested and that I’m 100 percent going into Thursday and Sunday as well is probably going to be my main focus this week.”

Another Korean star, Kim Sei-young, will look to keep her personal winning streak alive this week.

The 2015 Rookie of the Year has picked up at least one victory in every year since that debut season. That streak is now in jeopardy, as Kim has failed to win this year, while recording a couple of runner-up finishes.

The most recent one came on the weekend at the Pelican Women’s Championship, where she, Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson lost to Korda in a four-way playoff.