Four months into the 2014 season, the LPGA Tour is simply sparkling with stars. With nine events played over 13 weeks, the Tour now has seven champions, ranging from 18-year Tour veteran Karrie Webb, with 41 Tour wins and 197 top-10 finishes to rookie Lydia Ko, who’s put her first Tour victory as a pro on her resume. Going into the 10th event of the 2014 season, the North Texas LPGA Shootout, the field is packed with winners and runners-up who are playing superb, highly competitive golf. I’m anticipating four rounds of tightly contested play among world-class golfers.
The 2014 Season: 9-Event Snapshot
First Jessica Korda edged out Stacy Lewis by a single stroke at the season-opening Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic in January. Then the Tour traveled to southeast Asia and played a series of three events that created a constellation of stars. Hall of Famer Karrie Webb held off challenges by Chella Choi, Karine Icher, Paula Creamer, Lydia Ko, Jenny Shin and Stacy Lewis at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and claimed the victory. A week later Anna Nordqvist edged out Inbee Park to win the LPGA Thailand and Paula Creamer fired The Putt Watched Around the World in a playoff against Azahara Munoz for the HSBC Women’s Champions victory in Singapore.
Back on US soil, Karrie Webb claimed her second victory of the 2014 season at the JTBC Founders Cup, leading Lydia Ko, Mirim Lee, Amy Yang, Stacy Lewis and Azahara Munoz by a single stroke; and Anna Nordqvist followed Webb by claiming her second 2014 win at the Kia Classic, with Lizette Salas trailing by one stroke and Lexi Thompson by two. Thompson claimed her own victory the following week at the Tour’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship and then Michelle Wie, who lost to Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco, handily won the LPGA LOTTE Championship, holding off charges by Inbee Park and Angela Stanford. Lydia Ko and Stacy Lewis dueled it out at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, joined by Jenny Shin in the final round. Ko finished on top, with Lewis and then Shin following closely behind.
North Texas Shootout First Round: 4 Power Pairings
Michelle Wie, Inbee Park & Angela Stanford are coming to the first round with a history. Wie held off Stanford’s ongoing, hard-hitting challenge for the top of the board at the LPGA LOTTE Championship as well as Rolex Ranked number 1 Park’s charge. They’ll have the chance to replay that competition on Thursday.
Wie has the capacity to hit long, her accuracy’s improving with every event she plays, and after some considerable work, she has control of her putter. Park needs a win if she’s going to stay ahead of Lydia Ko in the rankings, but Park’s game hasn’t been as strong in 2014 as it was last year. I look for Michelle Wie to come off the first tee hot lead the group through the first round.
Stacy Lewis, Azahara Munoz, & Jessica Korda will provide fans with some superb golf at the North Texas Shootout. Korda, with her early-season win at the Pure Silk-Bahamas, and Munoz, with four top-10 finishes this season, will challenge Lewis’s game, and Stacy Lewis plays best when she’s faced with a challenge.
With 7 top-10 finishes Lewis leads in Race to the CME Globe points and is second on the 2014 money list. With a win in Texas Lewis could challenge Lydia Ko’s number 2 spot in the rankings. Lewis’s killer instinct will put her in the lead in this group and keep her there.
Lexi Thompson, Sandra Gal, & Brittany Lang are all playing fearless, fearsome golf right now. Despite a slow 2014 start, Lang looked good at Swinging Skirts and seems to have gained some momentum. Gal, who will be able to keep up with Thompson off the tee, swings a golf club with the grace of a ballet dancer. Just watching her play is joyous.
Neither Lang nor Gal, however, will be able to stay ahead of Thompson, who’s coming in with 3 top-10s and her victory at the Kraft Nabisco, and she’s rested. The energetic, effervescent teenager is playing a technically powerful game that’s fueled by a cup overflowing with self-confidence. She’ll lead this group.
The Cristie Kerr, Lizette Salas, & Suzann Pettersen pairing promises some first round fireworks. Kerr will play to win from her first tee shot on Thursday through her final putt on Sunday. Sixteenth ranked Salas, playing her third year on the Tour, has two top-10 finishes this year and she’s hunting her first pro victory. She’s come close a couple of heartbreaking times, and she’s coming in playing for that win.
Pettersen, who’s been nursing a back injury and has played only five of the nine Tour events in the 2014 season, was bumped off the number two spot in the Rolex Rankings last week by Lydia Ko. At the end of 2013, Pettersen was driven by her ambition to displace Inbee Park from the top of the rankings. Now she has some work to do if she wants to reclaim her number 2 slot. If Pettersen’s healthy and playing pain-free, I look for her to outplay Kerr and Salas on Thursday.
First round play begins at the North Texas LPGA Shootout on Thursday, May 1, at 7:15am local time. Golf Channel will provide coverage of the round in progress, beginning at 12:30pm ET, and I’ll provide a daily commentary on each round of the Shootout as well.