Big Three of Ko, Park, Lewis will get pushed at Kia

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The Big Three are all back in the LPGA lineup this week.

So is South Korea’s dynamic rookie class.

Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko, No. 2 Inbee Park and No. 3 Stacy Lewis are all scheduled to play in Thursday’s start of the Kia Classic at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif.

Ko, 17, tees it up for the eighth consecutive week as the youngest No. 1 in the history of professional golf. The top ranking will be up for grabs, though, with Park within six-tenths of a point of Ko in their average world ranking.

Park, however, says she isn’t overly concerned about the world rankings.

“If I was always No. 2, and if I never got to the No. 1 spot, I probably would want really bad to get to No. 1,” Park said Wednesday in her pretournament news conference. “But I've been to the No. 1 spot before, and I think I feel like I have reached my goal before. So, I'm not, like, really eager to get to the spot. I'm just not going to try to push myself, or push something, to get to No. 1. I'm just going to play good golf ...  and it probably will get me to that spot.”

Park has reigned as No. 1 for 73 weeks over the last two years. She can re-take the top spot with a victory this week, depending on what Ko does. Park may also be able to get back to No. 1 with a solo second finish. The projections depend on the final strength of field posting.

Ko has been remarkably consistent this season. In six worldwide starts, she has two victories and two second-place finishes. She hasn’t finished worse than T-7. In five LPGA starts, she has been under par in every round. Dating back to last year, she has put together a run of 24 consecutive sub-par rounds.

“The last couple events, it’s leading to the majors,” said Ko, who is looking to keep her game sharp for next week’s ANA Inspiration, where she will try to become the youngest major champion in the history of women’s golf. “Hopefully, it will be building up, even this week.”

The Big Three are all playing well. Park is coming off a win at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore and a second-place finish at the World Ladies Championship in China. Lewis has finished T-2, third and second in her last three starts.

Still, there seems to be no avoiding showdowns with South Korean rookies this year.

Lewis lost a duel to South Korean rookie Hyo Joo Kim at the JTBC Founders Cup on Sunday. Kim vaulted to No. 4 in the world rankings with her victory. Kim is back in the field this week. So is South Korean rookie Sei Young Kim, who won the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic last month and is ranked No. 21 in the world. South Korean rookies Q Baek (No. 14) and Ha Na Jang (No. 22) are also in the field and looking to join the Kims as LPGA rookie winners. Jang tied for second in the season opening Coates Golf Championship.

This quartet of South Koreans lead what may be the strongest rookie class in the history of women’s golf.

Kia boasts a strong field with the top 14 players in the world rankings scheduled to play and 18 of the top 20.

Anna Nordqvist, the Kia Classic defending champion, is coming off a strong finish at the Founders Cup Sunday. She closed with a 64 to tie for sixth. She tied for eighth in her previous start before that at the HSBC Women’s Champions.

A strong field with so many top players in top form bodes well for another strong leaderboard come Sunday.