Park may be No. 1 , but A. Jutanugarn more likely to clean up at year's end

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Park may be No. 1 , but A. Jutanugarn more likely to clean up at year's end

LPGA Tour

Park may be No. 1 , but A. Jutanugarn more likely to clean up at year's end

INCHEON, South Korea ­– During last week’s UL International Crown, the golf world was treated to a rare showdown featuring the No. 1 player in the world, Sung Hyun Park, against No. 2 Ariya Jutanguarn in match-play singles. That it took place in South Korea in front of a massively frenzied crowd seemed only appropriate.

Jutanugarn, 22, took video of the scene on the first tee and sang along to the walk-up music that blared from the speakers. The explosive Thai player said she’d never seen crowds so large and seemed to feed off the energy, claiming that she didn’t feel any nerves.

In the midst of the action, the two Asian superstars actually took the opportunity to get to know each other.

“I haven’t talk to her much before,” said Jutanugarn. “After her tee shot she’d come and talk to me and I feel great. She’s very nice; I never know that before.”

Jutanugarn won, 2 and 1, on the strength of three birdies in the last four holes. While both players have won three times this season and 25-year-old Park holds the No. 1 ranking, Jutanugarn’s consistency greatly put the odds in her favor.

Park has played in 19 events this year and missed the cut a whopping seven times. In the last 52 weeks, Jutanugarn is 15-5 versus Park. While Park leads the Rolex Rankings, Jutanaguarn actually tops the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings over So Yeon Ryu.

Jutanugarn, the LPGA money leader, has earned nearly $1 million more than Park this season. Jutanugarn also leads the tour in scoring at 69.402; Park ranks 25th at 70.610.

The winner of last year’s CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn also holds nearly a 1,000 point lead in the CME Race to the Globe, a $1 million payout she won in 2016.

In the Rolex Player of the Year contest, Jutanugarn again leads Park by 71 points. Park would need to win a couple tournaments on the Asian swing to make it a race, as victories are worth 30 points apiece.

At this week’s KEB Hana Bank Championship, Park and Jutanugarn sat next to each other during a pre-tournament press conference and fielded several questions about their budding rivalry on tour. It turned into a gush-fest, with the two players making glowing comments about each other’s games.

“I feel like I got inspired from her a lot,” said Jutanugarn. “She hit driver like so good. When I saw her hit driver, I feel like I want to hit like her. She hits it really straight and really long.”

(The shy Park shook her head repeatedly at this notion.)

Asked who hits it farther off the tee, Park said there’s no contest. Jutanugarn repeatedly outdrives her with a 3-wood.

(Jutanugarn turned her head sharply toward Park after this comment and playfully glared at her.)

Needless to say, it would be a friendly rivalry.

Se Ri Pak said the inconsistency shown by Park this year can be chalked up to a case of too much too soon. Park did become the first player since Nancy Lopez to win both the LPGA Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year the same season.

While Park continues to find her footing on the LPGA, Jutanugarn has made a strong push toward becoming an LPGA Hall of Fame caliber player in a three-year span. Should she nab both the Vare Trophy and Player of the Year award at season’s end, she’d have 15 points toward the 27 needed to qualify for the LPGA HOF.

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