South Koreans await 'home game' at LPGA tourney

EVIAN-LES-BAINS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 17: So Yeon Ryu of South Korea holds the Rolex Annika Award after the final round of The Evian Championship at Evian Resort Golf Club on September 17, 2017 in Evian-les-Bains, France. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

There are 27 golfers on the LPGA Tour from South Korea, including five of the top 10 in the world.

Those golfers will relish a "home game" of sorts when the Tour makes its annual stop in the country for the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship beginning Thursday on the Ocean Course at Sky72 Golf & Resort, situated next to Incheon International Airport.

Each of the top 10 players in the Rolex Rankings and 18 of the top 20 will be competing in the event, which is the 28th tournament of the 2017 LPGA Tour season.

The exclusive field of 78 golfers is headlined by world No. 1 So Yeon Ryu of South Korea, who clinched the second major title of her career at the ANA Inspiration in April. Also, second-ranked countrywomen Sung Hyun Park, the runaway leader in the race for the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award, and world No. 3 Lexi Thompson, the leader in the Tour's Race to the CME Globe standings and a two-time winner on Tour this year, are also scheduled to compete.

Those golfers will be playing for a total purse of $2 million over 72 holes at the par 72, 6,316-yard layout on the Ocean Course. The winner earns $300,000 and 500 Race to the Globe points, which are crucial with just five events remaining on the calendar.

Park, a rookie sensation at 24, is the money leader at just a bit more than $1.9 million in earnings in 2017, followed by Ryu at $1.78 million and Thompson at $1.66 million. Thompson is closer to Park than she is to the fourth-highest earner this year, Canadian Brooke Henderson.

Ryu, world No. 1 since June 26, also leads the Player of the Year points race with Thompson nipping on her heels and Park in third place. Thompson leads the Tour in scoring average with 69.015 strokes per round.

Ryu said Tuesday she feels well-rested after three weeks off and she's looking forward to competing before home fans.

"It's exciting to be back out on the course, and it makes it even more significant to make my return to the tour in Korea," Ryu said. "I am feeling great, and I am looking forward to some great golf this week."

Conversely, Park enters this tournament on a bit of a down note. She struggled in the final round of the Evian Championship, the season's last major, in September in France, and also misfired at a Korea LPGA (KLPGA) event later that month.

"I feel very relaxed and comfortable to be playing at home," Park said Tuesday. "I was really down on myself for the past couple of weeks, but I made some good shots in the practice round yesterday. So I have high expectations for myself."

Carlota Ciganda of Spain won last year's LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship in a playoff, edging out Alison Lee with a birdie on the first extra hole.

Heading into this week's event, South Koreans have combined for 13 wins in 27 tournaments, including three of the five majors. Among the 27 active Korean players, 23 have secured at least one LPGA Tour win.

This marks the 10th time that the only LPGA Tour event in Korea will be played on the Ocean Course at Sky72 Golf & Resort. The first came in 2008, when Candie Kung triumphed by one stroke over Katherine Hull to clinch the fourth LPGA Tour title of her career.

Kung is one of five past champions in the field this week, along with Suzann Pettersen, who won the tournament in 2007 and also in 2012.

Thompson currently leads the Race to the CME Globe standings with 3,221 points, followed by Ryu (2,691 points), Park (2,619 points) and Henderson (2,546 points). The top 72 LPGA members (plus ties) in the points standings, ranked in the order of their position in the standings at the conclusion of the Blue Bay LPGA make up the field at the LPGA Tour's season finale, which features the largest purse amongst non-majors, at $2.5 million.

After the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship, the LPGA Tour will remain in Asia for a further four consecutive weeks with stops in Chinese Taipei, Malaysia, Japan and China before heading back to the United States for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla.