Nichols: Race to the finish in LPGA is a tough one to handicap

Sung Hyun Park, of South Korea, kisses the "Yard of Bricks" after winning the Indy Women in Tech Championship golf tournament in a playoff, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Nichols: Race to the finish in LPGA is a tough one to handicap

Digital Edition

Nichols: Race to the finish in LPGA is a tough one to handicap

Twenty-three events into the 2018 season and it still feels like a free-for-all on the LPGA. Whether or not that’s good for the tour remains up for debate, but the facts are clear: 19 different winners from nine countries. Only two players have won multiple titles with power players Ariya Jutanugarn and Sung Hyun Park winning three times, including a major. And with one major championship still up for grabs, the parity party might grow larger.

At the ANA Inspiration, Brooke Henderson, who in the grand scheme of things is still relatively new to the LPGA, offered insight into the fine line between a top-25 finish and the winner’s circle.

“It’s extremely tough to win out here,” said the 20-year-old Henderson. “As you could see last year, it took ‘til June or July for there to be a repeat winner, which is crazy. There is just so much talent. I finished T-22 last week, and I kind of thought to myself it’s a lot of hard work, and it’s a lot of pushing every single day just to finish T-22. So to move up those 21 spots, you have to have something special click in that round or in that tournament. I’m just kind of waiting for that spark to happen.”

Henderson, by the way, won the next event in Hawaii.

Even the award that’s specific to the five majors offers a number of interesting scenarios. Jutanugarn holds a 24-point lead over Park in the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award standings, but as many as seven players could take it after Evian. Jessica Korda and Inbee Park trail Jutanugarn by 60 points, which happens to be what a victory is worth. Should Jutanugarn finish outside of the top 10 at Evian and Korda or Park take the trophy, there would be a tie at the top.

First-time major winners Pernilla Lindberg (ANA) and Georgia Hall (Women’s British) would need to win Evian to overtake Jutanugarn, as would last year’s winner So Yeon Ryu.

Hall’s nearly flawless performance at Royal Lytham and Lindberg’s gutsy playoff victory over Inbee Park at the ANA that stretched into Monday highlight the depth of talent among veterans and rookies alike. Neither backed down under pressure, with Lindberg literally holing putts beneath the glare of a spotlight.

Riveting theater has become commonplace at LPGA majors, where picking favorites has become a tall task.

There are nine official LPGA events left on the schedule and only two take place on American soil – the Cambia Portland Classic (Aug. 30-Sept. 2) and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship (Nov. 15-18) in Naples, Fla.

It’s quite possible Jutanugarn could run away with the Rolex Player of the Year trophy before the tour returns for CME. She holds a 74-point advantage over Sung Hyun Park, though 60 points will go to the winner of Evian in this race as well.

Park hasn’t been nearly as consistent at Jutanugarn, with six missed cuts on the season. An intimidating South Korean, Park admitted to struggling early in the year under the weight of expectations. Jutanugarn leads the tour with 13 top-10 finishes.

Lexi Thompson returned from a midseason mental break and took a share of 12th in Indianapolis. Winless so far in 2018, there’s still time for Thompson to change the narrative. Now in her seventh year on the LPGA, the prodigious Thompson has seen the pool of talent deepen. To this point in 2018, there have been seven first-time winners from six countries.

“You have to have your ‘A’ game and usually shoot around 20 under, it seems like, every week,” said Thompson in a recent interview. “… The level of talent is extraordinary.”

Lydia Ko ended a 22-month victory drought with a playoff eagle last April at Lake Merced Golf Club, a favorite spot. Ko has a similar fondness for Evian, France, where she won in 2015, finished runner-up as an amateur in 2013 and narrowly missed last year’s playoff, taking a share of third. Evian could bring back all the feels for the once unstoppable Kiwi.

The possibilities almost seem endless. Gwk

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home