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Pursuit of Ko continues with first major a month away

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The pursuit of Lydia Ko continues.

Who’s going to press the Rolex world No. 1 hardest for that top spot as the LPGA moves within a month of its first major championship of the year?

The HSBC Women’s Champions begins Wednesday night (in the United States) with the strongest field of the year teeing it up in Singapore. The top 17 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are all there, with 23 of the top 25 in the field. They’re all looking to round into form with the ANA Inspiration scheduled March 3-6.

Lexi Thompson will tee it up at Sentosa Golf Club looking to win in back-to-back weeks after taking the title at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

“Since I first started coming to Singapore, I thought this tournament was something special,” Inbee Park said Wednesday in her pre-tournament news conference. “We get such a strong field here. We get all the players in the top every year, and it's a great competition. We get a pretty good field of not just the LPGA players but players worldwide.”

Park is the defending champion. She went bogey-free over 72 holes last year and impressively held off Ko and Stacy Lewis in a Sunday duel with all three grouped together in the final round. Park is still rebounding this week from a back injury that caused her to withdraw from the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic. She made her return to the LPGA last week, tying for 30th at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

“I feel like I'm definitely in better shape than I was last week or a month ago,” Park said. “It's just getting better and better, but I just don't want to rush for anything.”

Park says there is still rust to work off her game.

“Everything kind of needs to come together a little bit more, ball-striking to short game to putting,” Park said. “Everything is just a little bit not exactly where I want to be right now. But I definitely see some improvement last week.

“It's just going to take time. We have a long season, and especially I'd like to play well in the summertime.”

That’s where Park thrives, in the major championship summer run.

“Even if I don't end up holding the trophy [this week], I would really like to take something from this tournament, like some confidence,” Park said. 

While Park is looking to round into form, Ko opened the year contending right from the start, tying for third in her debut at the Coates Golf Championship, winning the New Zealand Women’s Open and finishing second at the Women’s Australian Open.

Ko was the co-leader going into the final round of Coates but struggled coming home. She entered the final round of the Women’s Australian Open one shot behind Haru Nomura and closed strong with a 67, only to see Nomura win with a brilliant 65.

“It's a really good start to the season,” Ko said. “It could always be better in that sense, but I'm very pleased with the way it started.”

Ko and Park have an interesting game of 19-week runs going in the world rankings. Ko was atop the world rankings for 19 weeks until Park overtook winning the KPMG Women’s PGA last summer. Park reigned at No. 1 for 19 weeks until Ko took it back from her in October of last year. Ko is in the 19th week of her current run at No. 1, but she won’t be giving it up this week. Nobody can overtake Ko in the world rankings, even with a victory in Singapore, but they can press the action getting ready for ANA.