Lewis, Ko ready to battle again at LPGA opener

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OCALA, Fla. – Fire and ice.

It’s a pretty good show if you can catch it.

The fiery Stacy Lewis vs. the unflappable Lydia Ko.

The Coates Golf Championship featured the touring production in a pairing over its first two rounds, and the duo didn’t disappoint. They usually don’t. They’re in contention together yet again for another LPGA title.

While much is made of the emerging rivalry between Inbee Park and Lewis, you could make an argument that the veteran Lewis and the youthful Ko are laying a solid foundation for a meaningful rivalry of their own. They seem to bring out the best in each other in their unusually frequent pairings, and they’re doing it again.

With Golden Ocala playing tough Thursday, Lewis moved into contention with a 2-under-par 70 in the LPGA’s season opener. She sits in second place, four shots behind rookie Ha Na Jang, who made an impressive afternoon charge with a 7-under-par 65 to get to 12 under overall.

Ko (69) was tied for third, five shots behind Jang.

If Lewis and Ko can catch the impressive Jang and take their act into the final round, there may be a lot more at stake than a trophy and a $225,000 winner’s check. With Inbee Park off to a sluggish start, Lewis and Ko are in position to seize the Rolex No. 1 world ranking from Park.

Ko entered the week at No. 2 in the world with Lewis at No. 3.

If Ko wins the Coates Golf Championship, she moves to No. 1 no matter what Park or Lewis do.

If Lewis wins, she moves to No. 1 if Park finishes eighth or worse and Ko finishes in a three-way tie for second or worse.

Park shot 75 Thursday and sat more than a dozen shots off the lead.

Lewis, 29, has had a front-row seat for the remarkably swift ascendance of Ko, 17.

When Ko became the youngest winner of an LPGA event, taking the trophy at the CN Canadian Pacific Women’s Open when she was just 15, she did so playing alongside Lewis in the final round.

When Ko won the Swinging Skirts Classic in San Francisco last year, she played all four rounds with Lewis.

Though Lewis wasn’t paired with Ko in final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship last summer, she overtook her and Cristie Kerr in a dramatic back-nine battle to win by a shot.

Lewis and Ko have dueled more than Lewis and Park have.

When the 2014 season ended at the CME Group Tour Championship, they shared the spotlight. Lewis swept the Rolex Player of the Year Award, Vare Trophy and the money-winning title. Ko took home the richest payday in the history of women’s golf, claiming CME’s $1 million season-long points bonus and the $500,000 CME Group Tour Championship.

Lewis said their games set up well together.

“We play well on the same type of golf courses,” Lewis said. “You look at this one, and San Francisco, a tree-lined golf course, you’ve got to hit it on the right spot on the greens, play smart. I think our games are just really similar, so we play well on the same courses.”

Ko seems to relish playing alongside Lewis. There’s mutual respect. They appear to have a lot to talk about. They were chatting amiably up more than one fairway again Thursday.

“She’s a great kid,” Lewis said. “She usually has a few good stories to tell here and there. She’s fun, easy to play with.”

But not easy to beat.

“Stacy has played great every single time I've played with her,” Ko said. “I kind of try and feed off her, and she's someone I look up to, and I always learn. She's such a confident player. I always enjoy playing with her. Yeah, it's always fun whenever I get paired up with Stacy.”

They’ll be looking to have some fun trying to beat each other again at Golden Ocala this week.