Lexi Thompson is on a nice little roll.
Now if she can just get past Lydia Ko ...
Thompson is turning up her game in this second half of the season, showing off the hard work she has put into her wedge game and putting. She won the Meijer Classic at the end of July, finished second at the Evian Championship a month ago. She has posted four top-10 finishes in her last six starts, and then there was her undefeated Solheim Cup performance.
Thompson’s game is in a good place, and that’s where it needs to be with another weekend date with Ko set up.
Ko is the hottest player in the women’s game, poised to return to Rolex world No. 1 with a strong finish this weekend at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea. Ko won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in late August and then won her next start, the Evian Championship, in September, becoming the youngest woman to win a major. In her next start after that, she tied for second in Malaysia last week. Ko has finished T-3 or better in five of her last six starts.
With a big finish this weekend, Ko could leave South Korea with the No. 1 ranking and as the LPGA’s leader in the race for Rolex Player of the Year points, for the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, money winnings and CME Globe points.
“If there is a switch, the media is going to talk about it,” Ko said. “But, you know, I'm sorry, but I'm going to try and ignore you guys. I think that's the best way. Because when I'm out there, I'm just trying to hit a good shot and put myself in good position. If I thought about the rankings, the awards, it's just way too much. It's hard enough just trying to hit the ball straight out there.”
That brings us to this weekend and Thompson.
This young dynamic duo appears on another collision course, and that’s a good deal for women’s golf.
Ko, 18, and Thompson, 20, dueled head to head in the final round at Evian, but Ko was otherworldly. Two behind Thompson on that Sunday morning in France, Ko closed with a awe-inspiring 63. She hit every green in regulation but one. She posted a score seven shots better than anyone among the final 18 players teeing off in the final round. While it isn’t the lowest score a woman has ever shot in a major, it has to be the greatest round a woman’s ever played in one.
If you’re a late bird who likes women’s golf, you’ve got a treat in store tonight. Ko and Thompson are paired together in the final group off at the Sky 72 Ocean Course in Incheon. Ko’s 7-under-par 65 Friday moved her to the top of the leaderboard, a shot ahead of Thompson, who posted 67. Ko made her move playing alongside Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park.
Ko and Thompson are scheduled to tee off the third round at 10:42 p.m. ET with Golf Channel picking up live coverage at 11:30 p.m.
“Every time you have to go up against any top player out here, Inbee, Lydia, Stacy [Lewis], you know you have to bring your A-game,” Thompson said. “You know you have to top them with birdies and make more birdies when they make pars. They are not going to make mistakes so you just have to keep on making birdies on them.”
Ko and Thompson know each other well. When Ko won the Canadian Women’s Open at 15 to become the youngest winner of an LPGA event, she broke the mark set by Thompson, who won when she was 16.
“I’ve played with Lydia a lot on the LPGA tour, and when she was younger in the Australian Masters and Australian Open,” Thompson said. “I knew she was going to be a great talent coming up the first time I ever played with her. She has an overall, very strong game. Not many weaknesses, great ball-striker, kind of sneaky long and putts it and chips it like God.”
Ko is first in scoring average on tour this year. Thompson is fourth. Ko is first in hitting greens in regulation, Thompson is third.
Of course, Ko and Thompson play different games. Ko is a tactical master, charting her way around golf courses so precisely. Thompson is a big hitter who can play bomb and gouge better than just about any other woman in the game. She has put a lot of work into her wedge game, and it’s showing in all those greens she’s hitting in regulation.
Saturday in Incheon could be fun.