If there was any uncertainty about Jin Young Ko’s position at the top of the Rolex Rankings, she squashed those doubts with her victory on Sunday in Singapore.
Ko won in record-setting fashion in her season debut at the HSBC Women’s World Championship. The Rolex Rankings No.1 fired a final-round 66 to set a new LPGA Tour record of 15 consecutive rounds in the 60s. She also set the new record for most consecutive sub-par rounds with 30.
But it wasn’t the first time that Ko came close to breaking the record. In October 2021, Ko needed a sub-70 opening round at the BMW Ladies Championship to break the record. Her 14 previous rounds had all been in the 60s. Remarkably, Ko hasn’t carded an over-par round since July 2021. And since that time Ko has won at a stunning clip, with victories in six of her last 10 starts.
Ko returned to No.1 in the world in January 2022 without having hit a single shot for nearly two months. It seemed a technicality of the rankings, which revolve over a two-year cycle, with previous victories and top finishes dropping off over time. And given the wrist injury that Ko has dealt with for nearly a year, it seemed unlikely she’d be able to maintain the form needed to hold off Nelly Korda, who unseated Ko at the top of the rankings in 2021. But with Korda’s tepid start to the 2022 season (she had a single top 10 in her first three starts) Ko has quickly cemented her spot at the top of the women’s game with her victory in Singapore.
As the Tour pivots from Singapore to Thailand, all eyes shift from the current world No.1 to a former one in Ariya Jutanugarn. Last season, the Thai won for the first time in three years on the LPGA Tour in her home country. She returns this week as defending champion at the Honda LPGA Thailand.
The trip to Thailand marks the second of a two-week stretch in Asia. A limited field of 68 players will compete over 72 holes, with no cut, in the hopes of adding their names alongside some of the biggest in the women’s game who have won in Thailand. Suzann Pettersen won in 2006, followed by World Golf Hall of Fame member Lorena Ochoa in 2007. Yani Tseng became the first back-to-back winner in 2011 and 2012. And Amy Yang became the first three-time winner of the event with victories every other year dating back to 2015.
Jutanugarn returns as the leader of a growing Thai contingent on the LPGA Tour, many of whom have been inspired by the two-time major champion’s success. Ariya, her sister, Moriya, Patty Tavatanakit and Pajaree Anannarukarn were all winners on Tour in 2021. Also in the field is 19-year-old LPGA Tour rookie Atthaya Thittikul of Thailand, who finished runner-up to Jutanugarn last year. She’s riding high in her return home, having recorded a top-10 in her rookie debut last week in Singapore. Thittikul is one of nine up and coming stars to receive a sponsor’s invite this week, in addition to Lucy Li, Kaitlyn Papp and Hinako Shibuno.
Ko’s victory at the HSBC Women’s World Championship came after a protracted off-season that saw her skip the first three events of the season in Florida and she will continue to limit her playing schedule. The world No.1 says she plans to play again when the Tour returns to the United States in late March for the JTBC Classic and she will skip this week’s event in Thailand.
Although the top-ranked player is absent this week, major champions Danielle Kang, Patty Tavatanakit, Brooke Henderson, Yuka Saso, So Yeon Ryu and Minjee Lee are among the world’s best who will square off at the Honda LPGA Thailand.
Ko may have cemented her spot at the top of the world rankings with her victory in Singapore, but this week in Thailand the world’s best have a chance to chase down Ko and close the gap on the world No. 1. With a win of their own.