Ariya Jutanugarn favorite for Women’s PGA Championship

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Women’s PGA Championship favorite Ariya Jutanugarn is having the time of her life.

The Thai golfer is bidding to become the first LPGA Tour player to pass $3 million in prize money in a single season, and victory in the third women’s major of the year at Kemper Lakes north of Chicago this week would take her over $2 million with six months left.

Not bad for a 22-year-old who only joined the US Tour in 2015.

“I want to be a happy golfer,” she told reporters ahead of the tournament. “I want to really enjoy myself with every moment in my life, and that’s who I want to be.”

Jutanugarn is the reigning US Women’s Open champion and world No.2 and leads the Tour in all the major stats, including money earned, scoring average, birdies made and putting.

On paper, she is the one to beat this week, not that she will be thinking that.

“I never think about the outcome, and I feel like when I think about the outcome, it’s not really help me to be a better golfer because I start to get worried,” added Jutanugarn, a nine-time LPGA Tour winner.

Record prize money

Jutanugarn won the US Open at Shoal Creek earlier this month despite squandering a seven-shot heading into the final nine holes. But she fought back to beat Hyo-Joo Kim in a playoff for a second major title to add to her 2016 Women’s British Open crown.

She has so far pocketed $1,754, 523 from 16 events this season, well clear of world No.1 Inbee Park with $878,137 from nine tournaments. The winner this week will take home $900,000.

The record for the most money earned in a season is the $2.92 million collected by Taiwan’s Yani Tseng in 2011. By comparison with the men’s PGA Tour, Jordan Spieth won a record $12 million in prize money in his double major-winning season of 2015.

South Korea’s Park, who won three straight PGA Championships from 2013, lifted the last of her seven major titles in 2015, although she lost out in a three-way playoff for the ANA Inspiration earlier this year.

The 29-year-old, who struggled with thumb and back injuries before returning to win Olympic gold at Rio 2016, is the oldest world No.1 since American Cristie Kerr in 2010.

It’s going to be fun

Also likely to be in contention this week are defending champion Danielle Kang, world No.3 Lexi Thompson and fourth-ranked Shanshan Feng of China, but the winner of the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, was something of a surprise in world No. 95 Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden.

Jutanugarn’s older sister Moriya is ranked 10th and is still chasing her first major title, and Ariya says would like to play alongside her in the final group at Kemper Lakes Sunday.

“We never talk about that, but I’ve been thinking about that,” says Ariya.

“Normally when we play same group in the tournament, we not really talk much at all, and of course I think we both are going to try to beat each other so bad. But it’s going to be fun.”

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