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Ko, Thompson have another top teen to watch out for this year

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A potential challenger to Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson as top teens in the women's game took a big step this week in her comeback from shoulder surgery.

Ariya Jutanugarn, who turned 18 in November, played her first full round of golf on Friday since undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in her right shoulder back in July. Jutanugarn was No. 15 in the Rolex women’s world rankings when she stumbled down a steep slope coming off a tee box at the Wegmans LPGA Championship in June. She’s a long-hitting, major talent who looked poised to join Ko, Thompson and Charley Hull as the best young pros in the game.

Because of the injury, Jutanugarn withdrew from LPGA Q-School in December. She has not played competitively since hurting herself. The Thai standout is planning to make her competitive return at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open Feb. 13-16, according to her manager, Varuth Philwonnabha. As a Ladies European Tour player, she’s eligible for the LET/LPGA co-sanctioned event. She’s also scheduled to play the Honda LPGA Thailand on a sponsor’s exemption the following week.

Jutanugarn took the professional ranks by storm as an LET rookie. She won an LET event and nearly won the Honda LPGA Thailand while playing on a sponsor exemption. She lost a three-shot lead at the final hole to Inbee Park in heart-breaking fashion.

The LET Rookie of the Year award appeared to be a cinch for Jutanugarn until she was hurt. The injury kept the Jutanugarns from claiming a rookie sweep. Ariya’s older sister, Moriya, was the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year.

In five LPGA starts via sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifying before her injury last season, Ariya didn’t finish worse than a tie for fourth. She won $447,772 in those five starts. Her manager reports she will be looking to win LPGA membership this year through sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifying.