Jutanugarn returns to Michigan seeking first win of 2017
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) At this point last season, Ariya Jutanugarn was finishing up a streak of three straight LPGA Tour victories, part of a stellar year in which she won five times and took player of the year honors shortly before her 21st birthday.
Her 2017 performance has again been consistently strong - but she's still without a victory as she prepares to defend her title this week at Travis Pointe Country Club.
''I'm not going to compare myself this year and last year because I think it's different,'' she said. ''My feeling come here is different, everything is different. I just really want to go have fun and still try to improve my game more.''
Jutanugarn is third in work ranking and has eight top-10 finishes, so it's not as though she's in any kind of significant slump, but she's not entering this event on the kind of roll she was on last year, when her victory in Michigan made her the first player in tour history to have her first three career wins come in consecutive tournaments. She was the defending champion at the Kingsmill Championship last weekend and ended up tied for 18th, one of her worst finishes of the season.
With Jutanugarn looking beatable and top-ranked Lydia Ko skipping the event, the tournament could be more competitive at the end than it was last year, when Jutanugarn finished five strokes ahead of Christina Kim.
''This is right now we're starting our major 12-week stretch of 12 tournaments in a row with three majors kind of in the middle of that,'' Kim said. ''I think it's hugely important to be able to start seeing positives and seeing improvements when you're coming up to this.''
The 6,744-yard, par-72 course at Travis Pointe received some rain Wednesday.
''I remember last year the weather was completely different,'' Kim said. ''It felt a lot more like summer than spring and it was definitely borderline hot last year.''
Two players who are in impressive form at the moment are So Yeon Ryu and Lexi Thompson. Their paths crossed memorably when Ryu beat Thompson in a playoff at the ANA Inspiration in April - after Thompson had been penalized four strokes following a rules violation reported by a television viewer.
Ryu's victory in that major was overshadowed by what happened to Thompson, and her success has been a bit under the radar in general, but the South Korean star has 11 straight top-10 finishes, a streak that dates to last year.
Thompson, meanwhile, earned her first victory of the season last weekend , setting a tournament record of 20 under par at Kingsmill's River Course.
''I was hoping a win would happen at some point,'' Thompson said. ''It's not something I put pressure on myself that I needed to win or anything. I knew my game was in a great spot coming into the year. I played well in the Bahamas and a few other events. I just kept on working hard and I knew my game was in a good spot. It's all about confidence with golf and I definitely have it right now.''
Thompson finished tied for sixth last year at the inaugural tournament at Travis Pointe. Jutanugarn won at 15 under, and the Thai star pulled away with a final-round 67.
''I just think it's a great golf course to be able to be out here to play,'' Kim said. ''You kind of have to hit a huge variety of shots. It's not just driver, 5-iron every single hole, so I think it is very demanding. There's plenty of risk-reward out there.''
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