The Airbus LPGA Classic Presented by JTBC, formerly the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic kicked off Monday with a qualifying round that added LET player Ariya Jutanugarn and Symetra Tour player Paula Hurtado to a field of 144 that also includes two sponsor invites, LET player Charley Hull and Symetra alum Kim Welch, and 21 LPGA rookies. The Airbus LPGA Classic will be played at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove in Mobile Alabama. (If you haven’t explored at least a portion of the RTJ Golf Trail you’ve missed a real treat.) Jennifer Johnson, who claimed her first pro win at the 2013 Mobile Bay LPGA Classic with a record-breaking -21, is the defending champion at the event, but if the pattern established during the first 11 events on the 2014 schedule holds, there will be a new Airbus LPGA Classic champion on Sunday afternoon.
There’s going to be no shortage of talent in Mobile Bay. With the exception of the LPGA’s newest champ, Lizette Salas, who’s taking a well-earned break, all the 2014 winners are in the field at the Airbus LPGA Classic: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic winner, Jessica Korda, Karrie Webb, winner of the Women’s Australian Open and the JTBC Founders Cup, Anna Nordqvist, with victories at the Honda LPGA Thailand and the Kia Classic, Paula Creamer, winner of the HSBC Women’s Champions, Kraft Nabisco Championship winner Lexi Thompson, LPGA LOTTE Championship winner Michelle Wie, and Stacy Lewis, who won the North Texas LPGA Shootout.
In addition to Lewis, Webb, Thompson, Creamer, and Salas, who are all inside the top-10 players in the Rolex Rankings, Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, and So Yeon Ryu are also playing at the Airbus LPGA Classic, and all will be competitive.
Inbee Park, who’s held the top of the world rankings for 58 consecutive weeks, will be playing. Although Park has been winless since the 2013 US Women’s Open, she’s finished inside the top-10 in 6 of the 8 events she’s entered this year. She’s not a pushover.
Rolex Ranked no. 4 Suzann Pettersen, sidelined for several weeks with a back injury, is back in play. Pettersen’s finished inside the top-10 in 3 of the 7 events she’s entered in 2014 and played a strong game at both the North Texas Shootout and the Kingsmill Championship. I look for her to make a charge for the top of the board soon.
So Yeon Ryu, who’s ranked 7th by Rolex, is also playing consistently. Ryu’s finished inside the top-10 in 4 of the 8 events she’s entered this year.
My Watch List
Yani Tseng has been struggling to recover the game that took her to the top of the world rankings, and despite a rocky year that’s included 3 missed cuts and 4 finishes outside the top-20, Tseng’s had 2 top-10s, most recently at the Kingsmill Championship, where she seemed right at the edge of playing to her 2011-2012 level. Tseng has that game in her bag, and if she can get it working consistently she’ll be a serious contender, not just at Mobile Bay but for the remainder of the season.
I’m also keeping Charley Hull and Ariya Jutanugarn on my radar. These two young LET hot shots are both power players and either one of them could break out onto the big stage and nail a win this week.
Two LPGA players who’ve not received much attention, Mo Martin and Pornanong Phatlum, also bear watching. They’ve both entered all 11 LPGA-sanctioned events this year and Phatlum has 3 top-10 finishes. I’m looking for a breakout from both of them at some point this year.
Play begins Thursday at 7:15am ET. Golf Channel will provide delayed coverage of all 4 rounds: Thursday, May 22 and Friday, May 23, 6:30-9pm; Saturday May 24 and Sunday, May 25, 3-6pm, all times ET.