Park, Lewis are LPGA's best; rivalry still developing

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Somebody check the shadow Inbee Park casts as she plays the Fubon Taiwan LPGA Championship this week.

It might look strangely like that of Stacy Lewis.

And somebody check Lewis.

Her shadow may look oddly like that of Park’s.

These two can’t seem to shake each other at the top of the women’s game.

The LPGA event in Taiwan begins Thursday (Wednesday night in the U.S.) with Park back at No. 1, having regained the top ranking from Lewis this past week. They’ve alternated sharing the top ranking for the last 85 weeks, each taking two turns. Park has reigned at No. 1 for 60 weeks overall, Lewis for 25.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone if they swap places again next week, with their ranking averages just .23 points apart.

While there is a load of admiration and respect between these two players, the unrelenting pressure they put on each other in the battle for No. 1 has to be a little aggravating, doesn’t it?

“It is a little bit frustrating, at times,” Lewis said. “Just when you think you can get ahead, Inbee seems to jump out there and win a tournament.”

Lewis and Park aren’t just 1-2 in the world rankings. They’re 1-2 in nearly all of the LPGA’s most meaningful season-long races, with Lewis having the upper hand in those other battles.

Lewis is first in Rolex Player of the Year points, Park is second. Lewis is first in Race to the CME Globe points, Park is second. Lewis is first in official money winnings, Park is second.


Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship leaderboard


The ingredients are there for a terrific rivalry, except for one pivotal ingredient in the best rivalries.

Strangely, as consistently as Park and Lewis contend for titles – they’re also 1-2 in top-10 finishes over the last two years – they almost never sync up their games together to go head-to-head on Sundays.

“You want to play each other when you’re playing your best,” Lewis said. “That is something we haven’t done. We seem to go on runs at different times. It would be fun if we could be playing our best golf as the same time and create some good, dramatic tournaments.”

Maybe this is the week.

Park, Lewis and two-time defending Taiwan LPGA champion Suzann Pettersen are grouped in the first round.

Regaining the No. 1 ranking meant a lot this week to Park, and she would love to hold it for another long run.

“I haven’t won as many tournaments this year as I did last year, but I think I’m playing a lot more consistent golf,” Park said.

Lewis has won three LPGA titles this year to Park’s two with Park coming off a second-place finish in last week’s final major on the Korean LPGA Tour. Park likes the way she has been playing. She took back the No. 1 ranking with these finishes in her last eight starts: 4th, 2nd, Win, 3rd, T-10, T-3, 4th, 2nd.

“I have three tournaments to go, and I feel like a win is not far away,” Park said.

Park and Lewis have combined for a staggering 61 top-10 finishes over the last two seasons, but they’ve only finished top five together in six events.

In Park’s eight victories over the last two seasons, the closest Lewis has come to her was a tie for third at the Honda Thailand last year. Park pulled away from Lewis early on her way to overtaking Ariya Jutanugarn in that Sunday finish. Park came from two shots behind Lewis to win in the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship last year, but with so many players in the mix there was no real sense of that these two were pitted against each other.

In Lewis’ six victories the last two seasons, Park has finished top 10 in just one of them, tying for eighth when Lewis won the ShopRite Classic this year.

While the unrelenting pressure Park and Lewis apply on each other for the game’s big prizes can be exhausting, there’s mutual respect in what the competition brings out of them.

“We have pushed each other, just to be more consistent,” Lewis said. “That’s something I saw in Inbee last year, how well she played under pressure. And she has probably seen the number of top-10s I’ve had, so hers seem to have gone up, too ... We put pressure on each other to get better in general.”

Park says she always checks to see how Lewis is doing in an event.

Lewis keeps an eye on Park, too.

But do they see each other as rivals?

“We’ve definitely been going back and forth,” Lewis said of the fight for No. 1. “Inbee’s played a little better than I have in the majors over the last two years, and, really, I think that’s kind of the difference, but she’s fun to play against. You know she’s always going to be there, so I guess it’s kind of a rivalry, but I don’t really know.”