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LPGA stars set to compete at 2nd major of S. Korean tour

(KLPGA-Yonhap)
(KLPGA-Yonhap)

The second major championship of the South Korean women's golf tour is scheduled for this week, with the leaderboard come Sunday likely to resemble that from an LPGA event.

World No. 1 Ko Jin-young is one of a handful of LPGA stars who will take the field at the 34th Kia Motors Korea Women's Open Golf Championship, which will run from Thursday to Sunday at Bears Best Cheongna Golf Club in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul. It's the second major of the Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) season, which resumed last month with the first major, KLPGA Championship, following a five-month pause brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

They'll vie for 1 billion won ($823,750) in total purse, with 250 million won going to the champion. Just like the four previous KLPGA tournaments this season, the Korea Women's Open will be played without fans.

Ko and fellow LPGA stars have been getting into domestic tournaments since last month, with the US tour grounded during the pandemic. They received a welcome bit of news late Tuesday night, as the LPGA Tour announced its season, suspended since February, will resume on July 31 with a new, 54-hole tournament LPGA Drive On Championship in Toledo, Ohio.

In the meantime, the LPGA players from South Korea will continue to polish up their game at home.

Ko, who sat out pre-COVID-19 LPGA tournaments from January to February, made her 2020 debut two weeks ago at the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open. She tied for 45th there.

Ko was the 2019 LPGA Player of the Year on the strength of her four titles, which included two majors. She also picked up the money title and the scoring title.

Ko was the 2019 LPGA Player of the Year on the strength of her four titles, which included two majors. She also picked up the money title and the scoring title.

The LPGA contingent includes Lee Jeong-eun, world No. 10 and the reigning LPGA Rookie of the Year. It will be her fifth consecutive KLPGA appearance.

The sixth-ranked Kim Sei-young and No. 13 Kim Hyo-joo will also take the field, as will former world No. 1 Ryu So-yeon, currently ranked 18th. Kim Hyo-joo beat Kim Sei-young in a thrilling playoff to win the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open on June 7. Kim Hyo-joo is the 2014 Korea Women's Open champion.

Of eight South Koreans inside the top 20 in the world rankings, five will be at the Korea Women's Open.

There will be nine former champions in the field, including the 2019 winner Lee Da-yeon.

Other KLPGA members in the field include Park Hyun-kyung, who won the first major of the season at the KLPGA Championship last month, and Choi Hye-jin, the 2019 KLPGA Player of the Year, and Lee So-young, who's leading the tour in money and Player of the Year points this year.

At 6,929 yards, the par-72 Bears Best Cheongna will be the longest major championship venue this year. The length is one thing, but the course is also notorious for its long and penalizing rough along the fairways and around the greens.

Lee Da-yeon won last year's championship at four-under 284, and only two other players finished the event with an under-par score. The course is expected to play even more difficult this year.

Tournament organizers allowed fans to vote for their three favorite pairings for the first two rounds. LPGA's Ko Jin-young and KLPGA's Choi Hye-jin will be joined by Lee Bo-mee, a two-time money leader in Japan.

The past three champions, Lee Da-yeon, Oh Ji-hyun and Kim Ji-hyun, will be in the same group for Thursday and Friday.

The third fan-voted pairing features three players who battled for the Rookie of the Year in 2019: the winner Cho A-yean, Lim Hee-jung and Park Hyun-kyung.

Every player will donate 50,000 won for each birdie, and Kia Motors will donate 50 million won of its own to donate to a local charity. (Yonhap)

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