The 72-hole LPGA/LET/ALPG co-sanctioned ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, which tees off Thursday, February 13 at The Victoria Golf Club in Victoria Australian, kicks off a three-event LPGA Asia sweep that also includes the Honda LPGA Thailand, February 20-23 at Chonburi, Thailand followed by the HSBC Women’s Champions, February 27-March 2 at the Sentosa Golf Club at Singapore. The field at the Australian Open reads like the Who’s Who in women’s pro golf. Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, Americans Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson, New Zealander Lydia Ko, and Australian Karrie Webb, all ranked among the top-10 golfers in the world, will head a field that also includes a strong contingent of Australian golfers, a full complement of LET Tour players, a gaggle of promising rookies and at least one teen aged amateur whose game rivals those of the top-ranked players on all three tours.
In the Top Ranks
The Australian Open will mark Rolex Ranked No. 2 Suzann Pettersen’s 2014 debut. Pettersen withdrew from the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic because of a shoulder injury. But the 10-year veteran player is bringing 14 career victories and 89 top-10 finishes to the first tee at The Victoria Golf Club and a strong desire to be ranked the top golfer in the world. Pettersen ended her 2013 season with a string of powerful games that began with her victory at The Evian Championship last August. If her shoulder is healthy, I expect her to come off the tee hot and play a strong, aggressive game.
Stacy Lewis and Lydia Ko, Rolex Ranked No. 2 and 3 respectively, have both had strong starts for the 2014 season and they are likely to be Pettersen’s strongest challengers. Lewis carded -18 at the season-opening Pure Silk-Bahamas and finished in a solo second place.
Ko finished the Pure Silk-Bahamas in a tie for 7th, then placed second at the New Zealand Women’s Open, playing a near-heroic game with a stomach virus that sent her to the hospital between the first and second rounds.
Lewis and Ko have both come close to an early-season win, and both would like to claim that win at the Australian Open. They’re both going to be playing hard to get it. Watch their putting.
Karrie Webb is to Australian golf as Stacy Lewis is to American golf as Inbee Park is to South Korean golf as Shanshan Feng is to Chinese golf. She’s a home town hero and a star on the world stage. Webb, who’s Rolex Ranked No. 8, has some making up to do. The defending champion at last week’s Volvik RACV Australian Masters, Webb was DQ’d when she signed an incorrect scorecard. It was an unintentional error and Webb tweeted a public apology to event sponsors and fans, but a victory at the Australian Open would be sweet redemption. She’ll be playing for that victory.
America’s teenaged star, Lexi Thompson, who’s Rolex Ranked No. 9, is starting her third year on the LPGA Tour. Like Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson brought a stunning list of amateur accomplishments to her pro career and, like Ko, Thompson joined the LPGA Tour at the age of 17. She ended her 2013 season with victories at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational and she’s ready to climb higher in the rankings in 2014.
After a 30-hour travel day, Thompson deplaned, went through customs, and while others fell in bed to sleep off the disorientation of global travel, she went for a run and then went to the gym. The six-footer is the longest driver among the top-10. If she can keep her ball in the fairway at The Victoria Golf Club I’m looking for an abundance of birdies and an eagle or two on Thompson’s card.
A Trio of Winners
American Jessica Korda played her way to a stunning victory at the Pure Silk-Bahamas last month. Mi Hyang Lee, starting her third year on the LPGA Tour without a win or a top-10 finish, came from behind and finished at the top of the board at the New Zealand Women’s Open. Then American Cheyenne Woods pulled a winning game out of her bag and put it to work at the RACV Ladies Masters. They’re all in the field at the Australian Open and they all liked the taste of victory.
All three have an additional subtle advantage over the top-ranked players. With the exception of Karrie Webb, all the top-ranked players have traveled this week and no matter how accustomed they are to the globetrotting lifestyle of the touring pro, all are still adjusting their circadian rhythms. Korda, Lee, and Woods have been in New Zealand and Australia for three weeks now. Could one of them claim a second early-season win? It’s possible.
Beyond the Spotlight: Players to Watch
Yani Tseng is on the top of my watch list in this category. Tseng is a fabulous golfer who’s been struggling through a year-long slump as agonizing to her fans as it has been to her.
With 15 victories and 62 top-10 finishes on her resume, Tseng is starting her sixth year on the LPGA Tour. Twice LPGA Tour Player of the year, she’s four points away from qualifying for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Yet Tseng remained winless throughout the 2013 season.
But last week, in the fourth round at the RACV Australian Masters, Yani Tseng seemed to find the game that took her to the heights in 2012. She started the final round at the Australian Masters in 39th place, then carded 66 — the lowest score in the round — and shot up the board to a 10th place finish. If she brings that 4th round game to the Australian Open, we’ll be treated to some genuine excitement!
Two LPGA rookies, Dane Line Vedel and American Anya Alvarez have caught my eye. Vedel played a competent, sturdy game at the Pure Silk-Bahamas and again at the RACV Ladies Masters. The Australian Open will be her third event. Will she make the cut? Will she improve on her even par, 45th place finish. Alvarez briefly led the field at the New Zealand Women’s Open, her season-opening event, and finished with a very respectable -7 and a share of 3rd place. She missed the cut at the RACV Ladies Masters last week. Can she retrieve that game she played in New Zealand?
Three Team Europe 2013 Solheim Cup standouts are always on my watch list, Charley Hull, Caroline Hedwall, and Beatriz Recari.
Hull, England’s teen phenom, turned pro in January 2013 and hasn’t missed a cut yet. She finished just outside the top-10 at the New Zealand Women’s Open and alongside Yani Tseng, with a share of 10th place at the RACV Australian Masters. Hull’s a fearless players and, like Lexi Thompson, if she can keep her ball in the fairway she’ll put birdies on her card.
Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall rivals Suzann Pettersen for power. Rolex Ranked No. 21, Hedwall is starting her third year on the LPGA Tour and despite an outstanding golf game she remains winless. But it’s just a matter of time before the game she took to the 2013 Solheim Cup comes out of her bag. She finished with a share of 5th place last week at the RACV Australian Masters.
Spaniard Beatriz Recari, Rolex Ranked No. 20, probable leader of Spain’s team to the LPGA International Crown in July, surprisingly missed the cut at the Pure Silk-Bahamas. This will be her first event since that misstep. Recari is a determined, unrelenting competitor. Like Karrie Webb, she has some work to do for her own redemption.
This Year’s Amateur Star
Australian teenager Minjee Lee should be on everybody’s watch list. The 17-year old already has an impressive resume that includes the 2012 US Girl’s Junior Championship and back-to-back Australian Women’s Amateur titles (2013 and 2014). She finished the RACV Ladies Masters last week in 2nd place, two shots off Cheyenne Woods’ lead. How many seasoned tour players will she pass at the Australian Open?
Media Coverage Schedule
The Golf Channel will provide daily coverage of the Women’s Australian Open: Wednesday, February 12, 11:00 PM-2:00 AM; Thursday, February 13, 1:00 PM-4:00 PM; Friday, February 14, 12:00 PM-2:30 PM, Saturday, February 15, 5:00 PM-9:00 PM, and Sunday, February 16, 5:00 PM-7:00 PM, all times are ET.