06 February 2019

Who Can Challenge Ariya?

The LPGA Tour has begun. The world No. 1, Ariya Jutanugarn, is predicted to stay on top of the rankings despite other players who’ll be trying to disturb her position.

Ariya Jutanugarn began the 2019 season as the world No. 1 at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in Florida on January 17-20. The result wasn’t particularly good for the 23-year-old Thai who finished T18.

The season-opening tournament at Lake Buena Vista provided a warm-up opportunity for most players ahead of a solid season that runs until December. Although the result was disappointing for Ariya she still sits at the top of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking thanks to her achievements last year. Her impressive year included winning the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, Annika Major Award, and the season-long Race to the CME, along with her two titles of the season. It is the first time any player has ever won all those awards in a single season.

Ariya and her team have prepared thoroughly to face this new season, including introducing a new weapon to her golf bag - a Callaway Epic driver - and hiring Daniel Taylor as her new caddie. These two changes are her ways to keep things fresh and interesting.

She’s looking to feel the atmosphere of 2016 again. It was that year that Ariya considers her best because she played with so much freedom and enjoyed so many first-time experiences. She hopes to recapture some of that as she digs deeper into her vast potential.

“I want to improve," said Ariya at the season-ending 2018 CME Group Tour Championship, as quoted by ESPN. If that happens, it's going to be a long, hard year for the rest of the tour players.

Some LPGA players are gearing up to challenge Ariya. The American duo, Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis, are two of them. Thompson, the only American in the current top-10 world rankings, has proved she’s back in serious contention after claiming a victory at the LPGA's final event - the CME Group Tour Championship - to extend her streak of wins to six years.

Despite taking time off during last season to recharge, the 23-year-old still recorded seven top-10 finishes in 20 starts, including a tie for fifth at the US Women's Open and a tie for second at the Honda LPGA Thailand. She finished the year at No. 5 in the world ranking.

Stacy Lewis also made her return to the LPGA at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions following the birth of her daughter last October. The former world No. 1 for 25 weeks isn’t setting her targets as high now that her life and priorities have changed. When asked about her return to golf she said: “I don’t know if I’ll ever say I’m ready. We’re getting a test run, my husband and I, of what it's like to travel with a 2-month-old and all the stuff you have to bring and how you get out the door every morning. Life is definitely different. It's all about her. It's not about me anymore, which is completely ok."

Stacy finished 6th at Lake Buena Vista, six strokes back of the winner Eun-Hee Ji. However, Lewis is skipping four overseas events due to her new family life, she will return to the arena in March for the Founders Cup.

Meanwhile, Lydia Ko is trying to restore her glory to that of 2016 when she won four times including a major title, the ANA Inspiration. Earning herself the nickname of Queen Bee on the LPGA Tour, Ko held the No. 1 ranking for 104 weeks but all wasn't rosy. She faced a title drought for 20 months which she finally managed to end in April 2018. Since that win, Ko’s performance has continued to climb. She was in the top-10 for 11 finishes throughout the remainder of the season. Ko now ranks 13th, moving up from 18th position last February.

In addition to Lydia, Korean players are a force to watch out for. Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu - both of the Republic of South Korea - are part of the latest generation of players that have dominated the scene over the past few years. The rivalry between the two players seems to have been a driving factor for them both to achieve great performances on the LPGA Tour with the two even sharing the honor of being the LPGA's co-players of the year in 2017.

Entering the season, Park is ranked No. 2 in the women's world rankings, followed by Ryu at No. 3. Their strong Korean spirit will motivate both to keep working hard and continue their domination.


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