Ko and Jutanugarn Poised For Hollywood Ending
A rookie, and a player seeking her very first win, sit tied atop the leaderboard, with a Hall of Famer poised to pounce just two-strokes behind. It’s a story that will have a big, Hollywood ending on Sunday in the heart of Los Angeles, a town that can appreciate that sort of drama.
Storylines abound on moving day at the inaugural HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. Moriya Jutanugarn, the 36-hole leader, got off to a rocky start with a double bogey at the first hole at Wilshire Country Club, followed by another bogey at the sixth. But the elder Jutanugarn sister remained steady and bounced back with a birdie at the par 4, 8th hole. It was an eagle at the par 4, 14th that ultimately turned around her day.
Jutanugarn trailed rookie Jin Young Ko, who, for the second consecutive day, went low, matching the low round of the day with a 5-under par, 66 on Saturday. Jutanugarn jarred her approach at the 14th hole to return to the top of the leaderboard and into a share of the lead with Ko at 8-under par.
“It was great,” Jutanugarn said after her round. “[I’ve] been waiting for that. I hit another shot like really good this week and hit the flag and bounced off the green. When I make that shot my caddie is like, ‘Oh, yeah, Mo.’”
Both Jutanugarn and Ko made birdie at the par 3, 18th hole, Ko with a kick in from about a foot and Jutanugarn, poured one in from long range for a 1-under par, 70 to play her way into Sunday’s final group.
“Today was kind of a pretty rough day for me with not a very good start and trying to come back,” Jutanugarn said. “I just try to play my game and be patient out there.”
Ko and Jutanugarn lead at 9-under par, two-strokes clear of Inbee Park. Eun-Hee Ji and Marina Alex sit three-strokes back at 6-under par.
Jin Young Becoming a Ko-Star
The all-Korean grouping of Inbee Park, Eun-Hee Ji and Jin Young Ko made for a fun third round for the trio. The nearby Koreatown turned out a large group of supporters who cheered on the group. Ko, a rookie in 2018 on the LPGA Tour, knows the star power that comes with playing alongside Park and Ji, both major champions and popular players back home in Korea.
“I played with Inbee and Eun Hee, so she’s really famous in LPGA. But she’s great, so I didn’t [get] nervous,” Ko said after her round.
But it’s not the first time Ko has been paired with other Korean superstars. In 2017, when Ko won for the first time on the LPGA Tour as a non-member at the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship, she played alongside Sung Hyun Park and In Gee Chun. It doesn’t get much more intimidating than that.
But Ko is becoming a star in her own right.
After taking up membership in 2018 on the LPGA Tour, Ko won in her first start as a member at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. She currently tops the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year standings, in addition to leading the tour in Greens in Regulation and Driving Accuracy. She is also currently third on Tour in scoring average.
Ko is following a similar path to last year’s Rookie and Co-Player of the Year, Sung Hyun Park, who won twice in her first season on Tour and dominated the season ending awards. But the 2018 rookie seems to be taking it all in stride. Her experience as a dominant force, like Park, on the KLPGA, prepared her to succeed on golf’s biggest stage. For each win she has on the KLPGA, she’s added an exclamation point on her golf bag. She may be adding one more come Sunday.
“I won 11 times, so if I win tomorrow, maybe I change to 12,” said Ko. I need more, I need every time motivation, so one by one, one, one.”
A New Number One?
There could be a new player atop the Rolex Rankings come Sunday. The narrow margin world No. 1 Shanshan Feng holds atop the rankings has continued to tighten in recent weeks. Sunday, No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 Inbee Park and No. 5 So Yeon Ryu have a mathematical chance to overtake Feng. World No. 4 Sung Hyun Park, who missed the cut this week, will not have a chance to retake the No. 1 ranking, which she held for one week in 2017.
Inbee Park could return to the top of the rankings with a sixth-place finish or better. It would also depend on how Feng and Thompson finish. Park is currently solo third after 54-holes.
Ryu could also return to No. 1 with a win, that also takes into consideration how Inbee Park, Feng and Thompson finish. Ryu is currently solo eigth after 54-holes.
Thompson could become world No. 1 for the first time in her career with a fifth-place finish or better. It would also depend on how Inbee Park and Feng would finish. She’s currently T23 after 54-holes.
Feng, the current world No. 1, is T12 after 54-holes.