The girls are limbering up their sticks in the Lone Star State today, getting ready for the second edition of the North Texas LPGA Shootout at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas. This evening they’ll network with a hundred or so women from the North Texas Business Community who share a passion for golf and success and tomorrow they’ll participate in the tourney’s Pro-Am event, teaming up with top high school players and local amateur golfers for 18 holes of fun and frolic. Two of the talented high school players, Annika Clark and Maddie Szeryk, have already qualified to play in the 72-hole Shootout that begins Thursday. Let’s keep an eye on the pair and see how they hold up playing with the big dogs!
Inbee Park‘s the defending champion at the North Texas Shootout. Park claimed the 2013 victory at -13, with a one stroke edge over runner-up Carlota Ciganda. Suzann Pettersen took a solo 3rd, trailing Park by three shots. All three are in the field again this year although I don’t see Ciganda or Pettersen playing for the top of the board. Park, who has six top-10 2014 finishes and has been consistently carding sub-par rounds in the 60s, looks good to mount an effective defense of her title.
The Rolex Ranked No. 1 Park is winless in 2014 and although she’s been holding onto the top of the rankings for 55 consecutive weeks, she’s going to need to outplay three serious challengers to record back-to-back wins at Las Colinas.
A Trio of Power Players
Stacy Lewis, who got out-dueled by Lydia Ko at last week’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic in an exciting and, for both players, physically and mentally exhausting final round, is in the field and will be looking for redemption. (Ko is taking the week off and not playing in the Shootout. ) With seven top-10 finishes this year, Lewis stands at the top of the year-long Race to the CME Globe in points accumulated and she wants to put this one in her win column and collect 500 more Globe points as well as the lion’s share of the $1.4 million purse.
But does Lewis have the energy to out-play Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie, who look to be close challengers this week?
Rolex Ranked No. 6 Thompson is coming into the North Texas Shootout with a stunning victory at the Tour’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, brimming with self confidence and fully rested. Although Thompson got off to a slow start this season, her game’s warmed up. Thompson seems to thrive on competition. She’s effervescent and at her best when she’s faced with a tough shot or a clutch putt. I look for Thompson to stay in contention at Las Colinas.
Wie moved up to 13th in the Rolex Rankings following her win at the LPGA LOTTE Championship two weeks ago, and she gave Thompson some good competition at the Kraft Nabisco and finished the Swinging Skirts in a 9th place tie. She’s playing with extraordinary confidence and a calm, focused presence, and she’s worked a long time to refine her winning game. She’s going to stay in contention this weekend.
Thompson and Wie are long hitters off the tee and will be able to out-drive both Park and Lewis, but putting is a weakness for both of them as well. I have no doubt they’ll get to the putting surface quickly on the 6410-yard Las Colinas course, but will they be able to close the deal consistently? If it boils down to a putting contest, Wie could well come out the winner. Even though she couldn’t hold back Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco, Wie out-putted Lewis at the Swinging Skirts last week by five putts.
On the Hunt for Their 1st Tour Win
Gerina Piller and Lizette Salas are both poised for a breakthrough year. Salas, who’s at 16 in the Rolex Rankings, has recorded two top-10 finishes this year and Piller, who’s ranked 30th by Rolex, has recorded three. Salas played an especially impressive if ultimately heartbreaking game of golf at the Kia Classic with a runner-up finish and Piller, too, got very close to the top of the board at the Honda LPGA Thailand. They’re both going to add a Tour victory to their resumes soon and one of them could do it this week at Las Colinas.
Jenny Shin is also ready to claim her first Tour win and her performance last weekend at the Swinging Skirts showed me a game that’s fully capable of taking the top of the board. Rolex Ranked No. 30 Shin played steady, unshakable, shot-for-shot golf against two of the Tour’s biggest power players, Stacy Lewis and Lydia Ko and she outplayed Inbee Park by two strokes.
Golf Channel will provide full coverage of the North Texas Shootout: Thursday, May 1 & Friday, May 2, 12:30pm-2:30pm ET; Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, 3pm-6pm, all times ET. And I’ll provide a daily commentary and update my predictions as well.