(Reuters) – Women’s world number one Ko Jin-young is still worried about her injured ankle as she prepares for this week’s CME Group Tour Championship, where a record first prize will serve as extra motivation.
The winner will receive $1.5 million and be crowned champion of the season-long Race to the Globe points competition, and Ko, 24, is in a race against time to be fully healthy for the no-cut event at Tiburon in Naples, Florida.
She injured her left ankle making a swing at the Taiwan Swinging Skirts LPGA on Nov. 1 and withdrew from the final two tournaments of the autumn Asia Swing.
The ankle is still tender, but not enough to keep her from competing this week.
In a year that has been dominated by youth, with the average tournament winner aged 24, Ko has been in a class of her own on the LPGA Tour.
She has four wins, including two majors, and at one stage went 114 successive holes without dropping a shot.
With prize money of $2,714,281, she has a lead of more than $700,000 over second-ranked Lee Jeong-eun. More than half of Lee’s earnings, $1 million, came courtesy of her U.S. Women’s Open victory.
So big is first prize this week that 10 players are mathematically capable of topping the money list, and as much as Ko would love to win the money title, she is more concerned with how her ankle holds up.
She had an injection after returning home to Seoul from Taiwan.
“Then I practise maybe just one or two days on Monday and Tuesday and then I was here,” she said.
While the LPGA Tour Championship has been modeled on the PGA Tour’s equivalent, there are a couple of notable differences.
The LPGA field is twice as large, and all 60 players begin on the same score, unlike the Tour Championship, which this year used a staggered scoring system, with the top seed starting a whopping 10 strokes clear of the bottom seed in an effort to reward season-long performances.
Whoever is crowned winner on Sunday, Ko will be Player of the Year, calculated by accruing points for top-10 finishes.
She is certainly grateful and not only for her success.
“I’m happy because I’m alive,” she said.
“I want to thank everything about being alive.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Toby Davis)