They've been neck and neck during the 2017 LPGA Tour season. And perhaps it's only fitting that Ryu So-yeon and Park Sung-hyun are the co-winners of the tour's Player of the Year honors.
The two South Korean stars finished tied atop the Player of the Year points race at 162 apiece, following the conclusion of the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida, on Sunday (local time).
This marks the first time that the award has been shared by two players since its inception in 1966. The only other South Korean winner of this award is Park In-bee from 2014.
Park clinched the Rookie of the Year points race in October and secured the money title over Ryu. Park is just the second rookie ever to win the Player of the Year, the Rookie of the Year and the money title in the same season, joining Nancy Lopez from 1978.
|In this EPA file photo taken Oct. 19, 2017, Ryu So-yeon of South Korea prepares for her tee shot during the first round of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship at Miramar Resort and Country Club in Taipei. (Yonhap)|
For the Player of the Year, Ryu held the lead with 162 points going into the Tour Championship, and three players had a chance to catch the South Korean: Feng Shanshan (159), Park (157) and Lexi Thompson (147).
Players are awarded points for top-10 finishes: 30 for first, 12 for second and nine for third, and so forth. Feng, Park and Thompson were all guaranteed the award with a win, and in Park's case, she needed to finish sixth or better to have a chance.
And she did just that, earning five points by tying for sixth place at 12-under 276. Ryu didn't add to her total by tying for 30th at five-under, allowing Park to catch her at the last minute.
Feng was also well out of contention as she tied for 21st, but there was plenty of drama surrounding Thompson in the final round.
The American star had a chance to win both the tournament and the top player honors. She missed a par putt from tap-in range at the 18th hole that would have taken her to 15-under and given her the club house lead with one group left to play. Thompson could have at least ended up in a playoff with Ariya Jutanugarn, who, playing in the final group, won the tournament with a clutch birdie at the 18th.
With the runner-up finish, Thompson earned 12 points for the Player of the Year and ended three points behind the two South Koreans.
Ryu said she first set her sights on the Player of the Year award during the middle of the season, and she was quite pleased to realize that goal.
"I had no idea this award could be shared," Ryu said. "I haven't been playing well down the stretch, and I gave up on winning it. I am glad I won it, and I think this will be a source of motivation for the rest of my career."
Park also said she didn't know there could be co-winners for the award, until her caddie, David Jones, told her after the end of her final round. She said she was honored to be in the same company as Lopez.
"This didn't hit me right away, and I was so happy to win another award," Park said. "It's a huge honor to be mentioned alongside such a great player (as Lopez)."
Ryu and Park each won twice this season, including one major championship apiece. Ryu had a stronger start to 2017, while Park was adjusting to the tour as a rookie, but Park had a much better finish as Ryu battled some right shoulder issues.
Ryu captured the year's first major at the ANA Inspiration in April and then won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in June. But in 12 starts after that, Ryu managed just three top-10s and missed one cut.
Park went through two caddie changes before breaking through with the US Women's Open victory in July with David Jones on the bag. The pair also combined for the Canadian Pacific Women's Open victory in August.
Park had three top-10s in her first six starts but said she was far from satisfied with her own play. Then following the US Women's Open win, Park finished in the top 10 six times in nine starts.
Ryu climbed to No. 1 in the world rankings for the first time on June 26 and stayed there until Nov. 6, when Park became the first rookie to reach No. 1. Park's reign ended the following week as Feng rose to the top spot thanks to two straight LPGA wins.
Prior to the Tour Championship, Park and Ryu were ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. (Yonhap)