Lydia Ko vs. Inbee Park.
That’s who the Rolex Player of the Year competition is narrowed to with just a month left in the LPGA season.
Ko and Park are locked in a tight battle for the prestigious award as they tee it up in Thursday’s start to the Blue Bay LPGA on Hainan Island in China, one of the four remaining events on this year’s schedule.
Ko and Park are the only players left with a chance to claim the Rolex Player of the Year Award, a points-based award. How close is this competition? Ko and Park were tied for the lead in POY points before Ko won the Fubon Taiwan Championship on Sunday.
Ko moved to 273 points with her victory. Park is now at 243 points with Lexi Thompson third at 134.
A victory is worth 30 points in each of the remaining four events on the LPGA schedule.
Ko, 18, is seeking to become the youngest winner of the Rolex Player of the Year Award. Park, 27, is looking to win the award for the second time.
Ko and Park are waging a struggle for all the tour’s important honors. Ko just took back the Rolex No. 1 ranking from Park with Sunday’s victory. Ko also leads Park in races for the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the money winning title and the CME Globe.
With so much at stake, there has to be some tension between these two, right?
“I think she’s nicer than me,” Ko cracked. “She’s never going to give me any crap or talk behind my back.”
While these two can dominate, their dispositions belie any fierceness in their competitive natures. In fact, foes marvel over their gentle natures. It’s like watching the tour’s big awards come down to a battle between Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa.
What did Park think of Ko taking the No. 1 ranking from her Sunday?
“The way Lydia has been playing the past couple months, she has been really unbeatable,” Park said. “She definitely deserves where she is, and she has been playing some fantastic golf this year. I definitely respect her. She's a very young, talented player, and yes, it's going to take a lot to beat her.”
Ko and Park have separated themselves this season.
If the LPGA’s Player of the Year Award was decided in a vote by the players as the PGA Tour’s is, it might be a gut-wrenching choice.
Ko has won a tour-leading five times this season to Park’s four, but Park has two major championship titles to Ko’s one. Park won the Rolex Annika Major Award as the outstanding player in the majors this season, but Ko’s major championship breakthrough came in a spectacular performance in winning Evian. Ko’s closing 63 might have been the finest round ever played in a women’s major.
Ko will be looking to win for the fourth time in her last six starts in China this week. She’s on a terrific roll, but she admitted feeling tired arriving on Hainan Island after staying in Taiwan for two days for some special appearances. She played Wednesday’s pro-am in China as her only practice round for this week’s event.
Still, Ko is looking forward to Park’s return to the LPGA. Park won the Fubon Taiwan event a year ago but Park couldn’t defend her title last week because of a conflict with a Korean LPGA event she was committed to playing.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Ko said. “I think she was playing really good in Korea, too. I think it's great that there are players that are so close. It makes the galleries really excited and makes it exciting for the media and just for the whole tour. I'm pretty sure she's going to play great. I've got to have my A-game, too.”
Park said she learned a year ago that it doesn’t help her to press too hard for the year-end awards, she will be focused on trying to hoist another trophy come Sunday. That should get her back to No. 1 again and in line for all those season-ending awards.
“It’s a good motivation to have,” Park said of regaining the No. 1 ranking. “It's a nice goal to have. I've been to the No. 2 spot before. I've been to the No. 1 spot before. Both don't feel that bad. Everybody thinks, `Are you OK going back to No. 2?’ But I'm fine. We compete every week, and it can change every week. It's actually good that I have another goal. I love the challenge, the challenger position.”
So let the challenge resume.
Rolex Player of the Year race
|1. Lydia Ko, 273||2. Inbee Park, 243||3. Lexi Thompson, 134|
A victory is worth 30 points, second place is worth 12 and third worth 9, with points awarded down to a single point for 10th place.
|1. Lydia Ko, 69.28||2. Inbee Park, 69.45||3. Stacy Lewis, 69.75|
|1. Lydia Ko, $2,716,753||2. Inbee Park, $2,370,096||3. Stacy Lewis, $1,692,322|
Race to the CME Globe
|1. Lydia Ko, 4,828||2. Inbee Park, 3,944||3. Stacy Lewis, 3,110|
A victory is worth 500 points, second place worth 300, third worth 190 with points awarded through top 40 and ties in events without a cut. Points are re-set for the CME Group Tour Championship.