It seems fitting the world of male golf is giddy with excitement over the possibility of Tiger Woods making an unlikely return at the Masters next week. Before then Ko Jin-young has scope to build on the kind of run reminiscent of Woods in his prime. The major year, though, does not begin at Augusta National on 7 April; on Thursday, Ko and co teed it up at the rebranded Chevron Championship at Mission Hills, California.
Since last July Ko has secured six LPGA Tour victories. This run in 11 tournaments includes a tie for second, two shared sixths and a tied fourth. Ko’s 60th place at the Evian Championship appears disastrous in context of her otherwise imperious form of her. She has returned 33 successive under-par rounds. Tiger-esque? Too right.
The 26-year-old Korean arrived in California with a warning when asked whether she has reached her best level. “Not yet, no,” she said. “I am trying to play better than yesterday and even better than two days ago.”
Ko is the star attraction in a major that will miss Nelly Korda after the diagnosis of a blood clot for the former world No 1.
Ko’s touch understandably means she tops the standings and she is candid about her desire to complete a career grand slam of majors, having won the Evian and the Chevron (then called the ANA) in 2019. “Major competitions are a motivation in themselves,” she said. “That makes me a lot more focused. I love this course. I love to play here.”
Unfortunately for Ko, this marks the last playing of the event at Mission Hills before a move to the Houston area, which is linked to Chevron’s multi-year sponsorship deal. It remains a pity that Augusta’s women’s amateur event clashes with a tournament carrying a $5m (£3.8m) prize fund – $750,000 goes to the winner – given the ongoing battles of the women’s game to attract eyeballs. There are five amateurs in the Chevron field.
While Ko will attract much attention on the west coast, it would be unwise to discount the chances of England’s Georgia Hall. It seems incredible to think almost four years have passed since she claimed the Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes, with the intervening time not always being kind to her.
Hall slipped outside the world’s top 50 last year but her victory at the European Tour’s event in Saudi Arabia this month served notice of a player bouncing back. Hall’s only other win from her since her Lytham glory was in Portland in 2020. Now ranked 24th, Hall first played in the ANA as a 15-year-old amateur. “This year I thought, well, I just want to take it to another level,” she said. “I’m really ready to do that and I feel eager to win a lot more events. Get as good a ranking as I can do, world No 1, I would hope.
“I was very happy the way I performed. Winning by five shots, leading start to finish was something I was very proud of. Both my previous big wins have come late, in the second half of the year, August, September, so that’s kind of why I was really glad to start off really well this year. Normally, I have a fairly very slow start to the year.”
Patty Tavatanakit saw off Lydia Ko by two shots 12 months ago and the latter had to change plans to compete in Saudi Arabia after contracting coronavirus, confined to quarantine in Singapore.
“I didn’t have a lot of symptoms,” she said. “It came more during when I was in quarantine. But it was very mild. When I did test negative I had a little bit of breathing issues and I felt like I had never seen the gym before. I was walking 30 minutes and my mask was completely drained. It was really weird.
“I normally run and try and stay on top of my workouts, and I felt like I had not done any of that. I was just doing my laundry and was totally out of breath. In about a week or so it was a lot better.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism