LPGA top golfers test mettle in Japan Classic

The LPGA Tour concludes its journey around the Pacific Rim this week with the TOTO Japan Classic at the Taiheiyo Club in Ibaraki. The 54-hole event begins on Friday.

The top five players in the world rankings are on hand – No. 1 Lydia Ko (New Zealand), second-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (Thailand), No. 3 In Ge Chun (South Korea), fourth-ranked Lexi Thompson (United States) and No. 5 Sei-Young Kim (South Korea).

Ko and Jutanugarn are continuing their head-to-head battle for various year-end honors.

Jutanugarn, who turns 21 on Nov. 23, leads the LPGA Tour with five victories this season and sits atop the Rolex Player of the Year standings. She's also second on the money list.

Ko tops the money list and is second in the Player of the Year race. The 19-year-old also leads the battle for the Vare Trophy, which is awarded annually to the LPGA player with the Tour's lowest scoring average.

“Ariya has played such great golf throughout the year, and when she won for the first time at Alabama, we kind of all knew it was coming, and sooner than ever,” Ko said. “She's just playing so consistently well. I mean, she's just overall a very strong, confident player. So yeah, I know that I've got a lot of work to do these last few events.”

This tournament is one of the oldest on the LPGA schedule. It's being played for the 43rd time.

Defending champion Sun-Ju Ahn of South Korea heads a group of seven past champions in the field, one that includes two-time winners Momoko Ueda of Japan, who won this event in 2007 and 2011, and Jiyai Shin of South Korea, who triumphed in 2008 and 2010. Other past champions include Karrie Webb of Australia, who won here in 2006, American Stacy Lewis (2012), China's Teresa Lu (2013) and Mi Hyang Lee of South Korea, the 2014 winner.

This marks the first time since 1991 the event is being played near Tokyo. The Minori Course at the Taiheiyo Club will play to 6,646 yards with a par of 71.