The balls have started flying at the Volvik RACV Australian Masters and all eyes are on eight-time defending champion Karrie Webb and her closest challengers as the first round begins. Will Webb be able to claim her 9th Australian Masters win on Sunday? Will Yani Tseng, a former Australian Masters champ, play her way out of her year-long slump and give her fans what they most want to see, Tseng on the podium holding the trophy? Can Jessica Korda sustain the momentum and the game excellence that earned her victory at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic last month? Will Mi Hyang Lee repeat the surprise visit she made to the top of the New Zealand Women’s Open leaderboard last weekend? Just outside the spotlight that shines on the top of the board, however, in addition to Jessica Korda there are three more Americans in the field who are poised to delight and perhaps surprise the fans. Let’s take a look.
The 20-year old Korda teed off at the Pure Silk-Bahamas in January with just two weeks of a new coach and changes to her swing. She made it work. But for Korda there’s more at stake over the next 10 weeks than adding victories to her resume and winnings to her bank account. The Pure Silk-Bahamas win sent Korda shooting 16 spots up the Rolex Rankings to No. 24. But there’s still some distance to go if Korda wants to land inside the top-4 Americans and qualify for the LPGA International Crown United States team. Korda still needs to pass Angela Stanford, Lizette Salas, and Christie Kerr to get on the International Crown, and to do that she has to continue her dominant play.
Amelia Lewis is starting her third year on the LPGA Tour. She has no victories and no top-10 finishes on her resume. However, she’s already earned about $20K this year and has accumulated 13 points in the Race to the CME Globe, more than either Inbee Park or Suzann Pettersen, who have yet to tee off. Lewis played an heroic game at the Pure Silk-Bahamas. Her amazing bogey-free 3rd round that included three birdies and 2 eagles and culminated in a tie for 13th place looked like a winning game to me.
Lewis’s best 2013 finish was a T19 at the Marathon Classic Presented by Owens Corning & O-I and her best 2012 finish was a T38 at the Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola. Although she struggled at the New Zealand Women’s Open last week, Lewis could be getting ready to have a breakout season. I’m keeping my eye on her.
Rolex Ranked No. 359 Anya Alvarez is a member of the LPGA 2014 rookie class. Alvarez didn’t play in the LPGA season opening Pure Silk-Bahamas, but she did play in the New Zealand Women’s Open. In fact, she was the leader of the event going in to the final round, a fact that amazed and delighted her. Although she unraveled a bit in the final round, Alvarez was strong enough the finish in a 3rd place tie. I’m watching this unknown rookie closely going into the RACV Australian Ladies Masters.
Beth Allen qualified for the LPGA Tour in 2005, played on the Tour for 2 years, then shifted to the Ladies European Tour, and has made her professional home on the LET. Allen’s Rolex Ranked No. 159 and generally places in the upper half of the leaderboard. Paired with Lydia Ko and Anya Alvarez at the New Zealand Open last weekend, Allen easily matched them both shot-for-shot and played a superb game throughout. Allen and Alvarez are paired for the first and second rounds at the RACV Australian Ladies Masters, so we’ll have an opportunity to take a second look at their on-course dynamic.
The Volvik RACV Ladies Masters will be played at the RACV Royal Pines Resort, Goldcoast, Queensland, Australia. The resort is s set in the heart of the Gold Coast midway between the action of Surfers Paradise and the tranquillity of the Hinterland rainforests. The 72-hole stroke play event is co-sanctioned by the ALPG and the LET.