CME Group Tour Championship: Jin Young Ko played her way in, and now into second-round lead

Greg Hardwig, Naples Daily News
·4 min read

NAPLES, Fla. — Despite being the No. 1 player in the world, Jin Young Ko had to play her way into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko did just that, and on Friday played her way into the second-round lead with a 5-under 67 to get to 9 under. She leads defending champion Sei Young Kim and first-round leader Lexi Thompson, the 2018 winner, by one going into the weekend.

Kim also has a chance at the No. 1 ranking, depending on how this weekend goes.

“Really exciting to chase the world ranking No. 1,” Kim said. “So, yeah, I’m very look forward this weekend and it’s going to be fun.”

“World ranking is — my thinking, my opinion — is it’s just little things to play golf,” Ko said. “So if play good I can do world ranking No. 1 still; but if not, yeah, and then she plays good, she can.”

Thompson has a strong record in Naples, and will see if she can carry that past Kim and Ko.

CME Group Tour Championship: Leaderboard | Photo gallery

“Every time I tee it up, I know I’m competing against the best,” Thompson said. “I haven’t been paired with them together, I don’t think ever in my career, so it’ll be nice.”

Ko did not come over from South Korea for the resumption of the season following the months-long pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, but has picked right up where she had been. When she finished second on Monday in the U.S. Women’s Open, Ko had moved up to 45th in the Race to the CME Globe standings; she was outside the needed top 70 before that.

If Ko is able to win this tournament, she will win the money title in just four events.

Friday, Ko, 25, made four birdies on the back nine, including one on the par-5 17th to take the lead. She made one from 35 feet on No. 15 on a chilly, windy day — for Southwest Florida anyway.

“Before when I play in KLPGA it was really cold, so I hate cold weather to play golf, but right now I love it,” Ko said.

Kim looked like she was going to seize control with birdies on four of the first five holes to take a two-stroke lead, but gave it back with bogeys on Nos. 7 and 9. She had a birdie on No. 14 and eight pars on the back.

“But after, yeah, 4-under I got little — yeah, wasn’t feel good, and then I had two bogey,” Kim said. “After that little struggle myself.”

Thompson, who again had her brother Curtis as her caddie, struggled most of the day getting putts to fall, but birdied Nos. 14 and 15.

She made an incredible shot out of the deep greenside bunker on No. 17, having to hit the ball well left of the pin, but the ball came around within 10 feet or so for birdie.

“I can’t wait to watch that on TV. I can’t wait to watch me fall on my knees,” she said, laughing. “My brother, he was like, ‘Well, the main focus is to not hit the lip on your downswing. I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Just open up.’ ‘OK, well then I’m going to hit my leg on my downswing.

“So it was one of those shots where you hit and hope. I got in there I was like, ‘OK, there is this miracle shot, and it just happened to happen. So I was very happy about it.”

The putt didn’t fall, though.

“Overall, I was just not complaining, walking off with a par with the position I was in,” she said.

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