23 of Top-25
A strong field arrives at the Kia Classic for a last minute tune up for the season’s first major championship. 23 of the top-25 ranked players in the Rolex Rankings will compete this week in Carlsbad. World No. 1 and defending champion Lydia Ko headlines the field along with No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn, No. 3 In Gee Chun, No. 4 Shanshan Feng and No. 5 So Yeon Ryu. Four of the world's top-five players finished in the top-8 at last week’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup. Feng did not compete last week.
If Lydia Ko’s goal is to peak in time for the majors, she’s right on track. In just two weeks she’ll defend her title at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major championship, but first, she’s defending this week in Carlsbad. Ko arrives at the Kia Classic fresh off her third consecutive top-10 finish of the season, demonstrating her growing comfort with the changes she’s made with her swing, caddie and instructor. In 2016, Ko held the 54-hole lead in Carlsbad where she remained aggressive with a final round 67 to hold off a charge from Inbee Park. Ko won by four-strokes ahead of Park for her 11th career win on Tour.
Back for More
Six former winners of the Kia Classic are in the field this week, including Sandra Gal (2011), Yani Tseng (2012), Beatriz Recari (2013), Cristie Kerr (2015) and Lydia Ko (2016). Gal captured her first career win in Carlsbad in 2011, but has yet to follow up that with another victory. She’ll look to capitalize on the good vibes she’s found in California in the past and build off her T-13 finish last week in Arizona. A 15-time winner on the LPGA Tour, Tseng captured her 15th win at the Kia Classic in 2012. Since then Tseng has struggled with her game, including this season, having missed three cuts in her last four starts. Finding a spark this week, in a place where she has fond memories, could help to turn around a lackluster start to the year. Recari, a three-time winner on Tour, captured her first of two wins in 2013 at the Kia Classic and is looking to return to the winner’s circle for the first time since that season. Kerr captured her first of two wins of 2015 at the Kia Classic, it was an emotional victory as her first win since becoming a mother.
The Tour’s newest members have made their presence known in the first events of 2017. After a record season on the KLPGA, Sung Hyun Park joined the LPGA and has continued the strong play that put her in contention in the 2016 majors. Park posted a third place finish in her first start of 2017 followed by a T-13 finish last week in Arizona. Her strong start to the year has earned her the early lead in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year standings. Fellow rookie Nelly Korda followed up an impressive start to her season after finishing T-5 at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic with a top-20 finish last week at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. With a third round 8-under par, 64 on Saturday Korda leapt into the lead before settling for a T-19 finish for the week.