Two weeks before the first women’s Olympic golf competition in 116 years, two players have become the overwhelming favorites to capture gold in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Lydia Ko, 19, and Ariya Jutanugarn, 20, have won six of the last 11 LPGA events, more than one-third of the events this season (eight of 22) and two of the four major championships as the LPGA schedule takes a three-week break during the Rio Games. The women’s competition is scheduled for Aug. 17-20.
In addition to their favored Olympic status, the two are also in position to duel over the final 11 events of the LPGA schedule for the top season honors.
Ko has won four times this season and placed in the top three of five consecutive majors – with two wins – before finishing T40 last week at the RICOH Women’s British Open. Additionally, she was close to winning two others majors – losing a playoff to Brooke Henderson at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and leading after 54 holes at the U.S. Women’s Open before being derailed by a final-round double bogey.
Ko has made her way to the top of nearly every major points category with a precise golf game that has her leading the LPGA in scoring and putting. Ko’s attitude also helps her rebound from poor play, such as when she finished with a double bogey on the 18th hole in the third round last week in England.
“Toffee, sugar, any type of sugar, any type of chocolate,” she said of per post-round comfort. “Mo Martin calls me her chocolate dealer.”
Jutanugarn has stormed into contention over the last three months to prove she can win. She learned from being on the brink of winning as a 17-year-old in 2013 at the Honda LPGA Thailand when she made triple bogey on the final hole to lose by one and earlier this year at the ANA Inspiration when she bogeyed the final three holes to lose the lead to Ko and finish fourth.
She has won four times thanks to smiling before each shot and harnessing her power. To better manage her game off the tee, Jutanugarn has taken her driver out of the bag and relied on hitting a 3-wood or 2-iron, with the 2-iron going 240 yards, longer than most LPGA players who use drivers. She ranks 13th on the LPGA in Driving Distance despite choosing a lesser club (266.9-yard average).
“I fly so it’s with me, so it’s in my locker,” Jutanugarn said last week. “I hope nobody steals it. But I think it’s in my locker.”
Here’s a comparison of the two players entering the Olympic Games:
|(Rank in parentheses)|
|2016 Wins||4 (1)||4 (1)|
|KMPG Women’s PGA Championship||3rd||2nd|
|U.S. Women's Open||T17th||T3rd|
|RICOH Women's British Open||Win||T40th|
|Top-10s||9 (T3)||11 (T1)|
|Earnings||$1,739,433 (2)||$2,269,443 (1)|
|Race to CME Globe||3,356 pts. (2)||4,014 pts. (1)|
|Scoring||70.25 (5)||69.27 (1)|
|Birdies||287 (3)||254 (8)|
|Driving Distance||266.9 (13)||247.6 (118)|
|Driving Accuracy||65.5% (108)||71.5% (56)|
|Greens in Regulation||71.6% (19)||73.1% (10)|
|Putting||29.41 (26)||28.59 (1)|
|Current Streak||4 wins in 9 starts||2 wins in 4 starts|