Ko, Jutanugarn set to battle for big prizes in Malaysia

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Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko finds herself losing ground to No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn in the battle for the LPGA’s important season-ending prizes during the Asian swing, but the dynamic duo is back in action together at this week’s Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia.

Ko, Jutanugarn and Brooke Henderson will be grouped together through the first two rounds.

On the fall Asian swing, Jutanugarn has overtaken Ko in the Rolex Player of the Year race, the money-winning list and the Race to the CME Globe standings.

“Ariya has played such great golf throughout the year,” Ko told media Tuesday in Malaysia. “When she won for the first time at Alabama [in May], we kind of all knew it was coming, and sooner than ever. She's just playing so consistently well, even last week, putting herself in contention. She's just overall a very strong, confident player.”

Jutanugarn has won an LPGA best five times this season, Ko four times.

Ko has gotten the better of Jutanugarn when they’ve contended together late on Sundays this year, overtaking Jutanugarn to win the ANA Inspiration in April and beating Jutanugarn in a playoff at the Marathon Classic in July. Jutanugarn, however, is finishing the year stronger. Jutanugarn has finished third or better in four of her last eight starts, with two of those victories. Ko logged her worst finish this year in her last start, tying for 51st at the KEB HanaBank Championship. She finished T-20 in Taiwan before that and T-43 at the Reignwood Classic in China before that.

“I know I've got a lot of work to do these last few events, but for me to just be in this position and have the opportunity to go for the Player of the Year again and all those other things that come at the end of the season, it's been really cool,” Ko said.

Ko, 19, is seeking to become the first player since Yani Tseng (2010-11) to win back-to-back Player of the Year awards.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing is for me to play good golf out there, have fun, and I think that when I have fun, that's when I play the best,” Ko said. “Hopefully, I'll be able to have a lot of fun this week.”

Jutanugarn, 20, is seeking to win her first Player of the Year Award.

“It is good for me to have a chance, but I'm not really worried about it,” Jutanugarn said. “Of course, I want to win something, because that is really an honor for me, but I just want to have fun and be happy on the course and that's what I need to do.”

Ko’s grip on the Rolex No. 1 rankings remains strong with a 13.34 points average. Jutanugarn’s at 8.84 and can’t catch Ko even with a victory this week. Ko’s lead on Jutanugarn is about the same as the lead Jutanugarn has on No. 17 Gerina Piller.

Here are how the races for the LPGA’s important season-ending prizes shape up:

Rolex Player of the Year points

(A victory is worth 30 points, second place worth 12, with points awarded down to 1 for a 10th place finish.)

1 Ariya Jutanugarn, 260.

2 Lydia Ko, 247.

3 Brooke Henderson, 154.

LPGA Money Winnings list

1 Ariya Jutanugarn, $2,439,878

2 Lydia Ko, $2,424,950

3 Brooke Henderson, $1,690,242

Race to the CME Globe points

(Points will be awarded for top-40 finishes this week, with 500 points for first place, 300 for second, with points awarded down to 31 for a 40th-place finish).

1 Ariya Jutanugarn, 4,416.

2 Lydia Ko, 4,300.

3 Brooke Henderson, 3,186.

Vare Trophy for low scoring average

1 Lydia Ko, 69.678.

2 In Gee Chun, 69.615.

3 Ariya Jutanugarn, 69.887.