Ko takes aim at record for consecutive rounds under par

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) The rough is a little longer at Mission Hills, giving Lydia Ko an added challenge in her bid to break Annika Sorenstam’s record for consecutive rounds under par.

A year after Lexi Thompson blasted her way to victory in the LPGA Tour’s first major of the season, the thick primary rough is about 3 inches at the event now called the ANA Inspiration.

”It definitely is playing a lot different than last year,” Thompson said. ”The rough is up, which, I mean, major championships should be.”

Thompson is paired with the top-ranked Ko, the 17-year-old New Zealander who will try to match Sorenstam’s 2004 record of 29 straight rounds under par Thursday. They will tee off at 8 a.m. when the morning dew will make the tangled long grass more difficult.

”It will be more catchy,” Ko said Wednesday.

Ko started the streak in the first round of her victory last year in the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Add in her win in the Ladies European Tour’s New Zealand Women’s Open, and her worldwide streak is 31 rounds.

”Obviously, because I’m so close, it will be at the back of my mind because there’s been so much talk about it,” Ko said. ”I’m sure that thought is going to come up within those 18 holes, but I’m just going to try and have fun.”

Ko also has 10 straight top-10 finishes and has made the cut in all 48 of her career LPGA Tour starts, the first 15 as an amateur.

”A lot of people ask me what the strong point is about her game,” Michelle Wie said. ”I think the strong point is that she really doesn’t have a weakness.”

Ko has six LPGA Tour victories – winning the Women’s Australian Open in February the week before her New Zealand victory – and 10 worldwide titles in professional events.

”I always say the most exciting thing about Lydia Ko is she’s 17 going on 18,” LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan said. ”And I’ve met a lot of 22-year-olds going on 40 because this job, this career, grows you up in a hurry.”

Ko is winless in 12 starts in majors.

”That’s really what she’s missing at the moment,” said Sorenstam, working the event as an analyst for Golf Channel. ”At that young age, you would think she’d be missing a lot more.”

Ko tied for 25th at Mission Hills in 2013 and tied for 29th last season, breaking par once in four rounds a year ago and four times in eight rounds overall. She expects the conditions to get more difficult as the week progresses.

”I’m pretty sure it’s going to dry up in the next couple days,” Ko said. ”It’s definitely going to be different from today to tomorrow. I think the rough around the greens is one of the toughest parts, so I really need to position myself well and just be patient.”

The greens were receptive Wednesday than 2011 winner Stacy Lewis would like.

”You’re not having to land balls short and kind of let them roll up,” Lewis said. ”There’s a little less, I’d say, thinking involved. I hope it firms up because I would much rather see it playing a little bit harder than it is right now. … When they’re firm and fast, that’s when this golf course plays the hardest.”

Already the youngest LPGA Tour winner, Ko is trying to become the youngest major champion. Morgan Pressel set the record in 2007 at Mission Hills at 18 years, 10 months, 9 days. As an amateur, Ko won the 2012 Canadian Women’s Open at 15 years, 4 months, 2 days, and successfully defended her title in 2013.

The third-ranked Lewis matched Ko and third-ranked Inbee Park with three victories last year. Lewis tied for 15th last week at Carlsbad after tying for second in Thailand and finishing third in Singapore and second in Phoenix. She has 11 career victories.

”I’ve been building on this tournament really since February,” Lewis said. ”It’s kind of been in the back of my mind. We’ve kind of been progressing with my golf swing and just working on little things every single week and working on my golf swing. I’ve still played some pretty good golf leading up to it. I like where my game is at.”

All Nippon Airways is in its first year as the title sponsor after Kraft Nabisco’s ended its 33-year run last season. The tournament name is based on ANA’s ”Inspiration of Japan” slogan.