9 players to watch at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship

Lydia Ko
USA Today Sports Images
The LPGA's second major of the season -- the KPMG Women's PGA Championship -- tees off this Thursday at Olympia Fields just outside Chicago. Here's a look at nine players you'll want to keep an eye on, including Lydia Ko.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
Connect with T.J.

Published: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 | 8:00 a.m.

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois -- The KPMG Women's PGA Championship tees off on Thursday from Olympia Fields Country Club just outside of Chicago.

Canada's Brooke Henderson returns as the tournament's defending champion, after topping Lydia Ko at a playoff one year ago at Sahalee.

Olympia Fields last hosted a professional major in 2003, when 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk was the winner.

Here are nine players you'll want to watch at the LPGA's second major of the season.

RELATED: Complete coverage of the KPMG Women's PGA | A look at the historic field

9. Lydia Ko
Wins in 2017:
0
Reason to watch: Ko is the second-ranked player in the world and -- for a time -- was the game's most dominant player. She's had a solid season thus far, but hasn't won since last July in the Marathon Classic. She was defeated by Brooke Henderson in a playoff at the 2016 KPMG Women's PGA Championship. Though she hasn't been victorious just yet in 2017, Ko always has to be considered a favorite when it comes to a major. The two-time major winner has seven top-10 finishes this season, highlighted by a T2 at the LOTTE Championship in April. She's oh-so-close and this could be the week she breaks through.

8. Stacy Lewis
Wins in 2017:
0
Reason to watch: Lewis, a two-time major champion, has 11 LPGA victories, but -- surprisingly -- hasn't picked one off since 2014. And that isn't to say she hasn't been close many, many times since. Ranked No. 18 in the world, Lewis hasn't missed a cut this season and has finished inside the top 10 three times. Something's got to give in the "win" column. All told, Lewis has been a top-10 finisher in the KPMG Women's PGA on four occasions.

7. Anna Nordqvist
Wins in 2017:
1
Reason to watch: With a victory at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in March, the Swede made it four consecutive seasons with at least one victory on the LPGA Tour. Nordqvist, winner of the 2009 KPMG Women's PGA Championship, has finished no worse than a T9 in each of the last three played. The frequent major contender was runner-up in the ShopRite LPGA Classic at the start of June.

6. Michelle Wie
Wins in 2017:
0
Reason to watch: It's nearly impossible to believe that Wie is only 27 years old, isn't it? The Big Wiesy has four LPGA wins in her career. The biggest -- and last to date -- was the 2014 U.S. Women's Open at famed Pinehurst No. 2. In 2017, she has been showing flashes of brilliance that make it feel as if she's building toward another win. Her five top-10 finishes thus far include a T3 at the ShopRite Classic and a T2 at the Meijer LPGA Classic in back-to-back starts. You can be sure that Wie will have some of the biggest crowds at Olympia Fields.

5. Inbee Park
Wins in 2017:
1
Reason to watch: A 7-time major winner, the 28-year-old Park won the KPMG Women's PGA Championship in three consecutive seasons before missing the cut at Sahalee a year ago. With 18 LPGA victories on her resume -- the latest being the HSBC Women's Champions in March -- Park seems to always be lurking in big-time events. Her three top-10 finishes in 2017 are a bit of a surprise, but much like Ko, she's the type who could break out at any time.

4. Lexi Thompson
Wins in 2017:
1
Reason to watch: The season's money-leader to this point, Thompson has been nothing short of outstanding. Along with her victory at the Kingsmill Championship in May, she has also been a runner-up in four other events. Most notably of those four was the season's first major -- the ANA Inspiration. If you remember, Thompson was assessed a four-stroke penalty on the back nine in the final round for an infraction that occurred in Round 3. She ended up losing a playoff to eventual winner So Yeon Ryu. In what could have been a career-shaker, Thompson won just two starts later. It could be argued that no player on the LPGA is more looking forward to this week than Thompson -- the first major since the crushing loss at ANA.

3. Brooke Henderson
Wins in 2017:
1
Reason to watch: At just 19 years old, Henderson already has four LPGA wins. By far the biggest was her triumph in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship a year ago, taking down then world No. 1 Lydia Ko in a playoff. Henderson is a superstar in the making. Two weeks ago she notched her first win of the season at the Meijer LPGA Classic. That will no doubt give her a bunch of confidence as she prepares for her first major title defense. It feels like the KPMG Women's PGA a year ago will be the first of several major wins for Henderson.

2. Ariya Jutanugarn
Wins in 2017:
1
Reason to watch: The No. 1-ranked player in the world before being supplanted by Ryu, Jutanugarn finished third in last year's KPMG Women's PGA before winning the Women's British Open, her first major. In the last six majors played, Jutanugarn has finished in the top 10 five times. While the Manulife LPGA Classic is her only victory thus far in 2017, she has three other runner-up finishes.

1. So Yeon Ryu
Wins in 2017:
2
Reason to watch: Ryu -- No. 2 -- moved to No. 1 in the world yesterday after her win Sunday. Ryu's first victory this season was a big one -- the season's first major, the ANA Inspiration, where she defeated Lexi Thompson in a playoff. Unfairly for Ryu, that tournament will be better known for Thompson's four-shot penalty than the victory, but it's a major nonetheless -- Ryu's second behind the 2011 U.S. Women's Open. On Sunday, Ryu won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Clearly, her game is in a great place with the season's second major set to begin in just a few days.  

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.