This week Stacy Lewis, beginning her sixth week at the top of the world rankings, will defend the title she so skillfully earned last year on the Old Course at St Andrews with birdies on the 71st and 72nd holes. Lewis’s victory at the 2013 RICOH Women’s British Open stopped Inbee Park in her tracks, putting an end, at least for the moment, to Park’s quest for a full sweep of the five Majors sanctioned by the LPGA, the coveted Grand Slam. Lewis is coming into the 2014 Open with a white-hot game. She’s finished in the top-10 in 13 of the 15 events she’s entered. She’s won three of those events, the North Texas LPGA Shootout and the ShopRite LPGA Classic in May and the WalMart Northwest Arkansas Championship in June. But she finished third at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and runner-up at the US Women’s Open in June, the two Majors now in the bag for the 2014 season. Sitting at the top of the world rankings with a comfortable lead in the year-long Race to the CME Globe, leading the LPGA Tour in scoring average (69.96), every club in Lewis’s bag seems to be finely-tuned going into the British Open. But it’s probably not going to be Inbee Park that Lewis will need to outplay at Royal Birkdale Golf Club this week. The field is deep and it’s talented and from the top pros in the world rankings to the newest rookies to young amateurs still contemplating their futures, there are any number of golfers who will challenge Stacy Lewis this week at Royal Birkdale Golf Club.
The Royal Birkdale Golf Club, located in Southport, along the coastline of the Irish Sea, will provide a challenging venue for the competition. One of the venues in the rotation for both the Women’s and Men’s Opens, the Birkdale was established in 1889, six years after the Ladies Golf Union, which administers the Women’s British Open, was established. The Birkdale has hosted numerous Walker Cups, Curtis Cups, and British Open Championships and is generally regarded as one of the finest golfing venues in the UK.
The Top-10 Field
In addition to Lewis, all of the top-10 world ranked players are in the Women’s British Open field. Seventeen-year old LPGA rookie, New Zealander Lydia Ko brings 7 top-10 2014 finishes to the tee box, one of them a victory at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic. South Korean Inbee Park brings eight top-10 2014 finishes on the LPGA to the Open, one of them a victory at the Manulife LPGA Financial Classic and Park also claimed the victory at the LET-sanctioned World Ladies Championship. Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, sidelined during the early-season events with a back injury, is bringing five top-10s to the British Open and the likelihood that with increased strength and confidence that she’s healthy again. Pettersen likes to win and knows how to do it.
There’s a natural rivalry between Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie, fifth and sixth in the world rankings respectively that began at the Kraft Nabisco Championship when Thompson outplayed Wie in the final round. Thompson’s teeing off at the British Open with impressive 2014 credentials: her win at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and six additional top-10 finishes. Wie came back strong from her Kraft Nabisco loss and is playing the best golf of her career — victories at the LPGA LOTTE Championship and the US Women’s Open and eight additional top-10 finishes. I hope they’re paired for at least one of the rounds at Royal Birkdale!
Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, at 7th in the world rankings, is having a fabulous season, with victories at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and the JTBC Founder’s Cup. Webb’s depth of experience — 57 pro wins across multiple Tours and venues, including 1996 & 1997 Women’s British Open championships — makes her a formidable competitor at every event she enters.
Rounding out the top 10 in the world rankings, South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu, China’s Shanshan Feng, and the United States’ Cristie Kerr remain winless this season but are always in the mix at the top of the board. Ryu, with 35 top-10 finishes, eight of them in 2014, is a steady and consistent competitor for the top of the board, as is Feng, who also has 35 top-10s on her resume, four of them this year.
Like Karrie Webb, Cristie Kerr brings a depth of competitive experience to the 2014 British Open that eclipses the records of the younger players in the field. With 149 top-10 finishes, 18 of them wins that include the US Women’s Open and the LPGA Championship, Kerr always plays for the win from her first tee shot until her final putt. She’s played in 10 Women’s British Opens and although she’s never won the event she’s finished in the top-10 five times since 2005.
2014 LPGA & LET Champions
In addition to the top ten players in the world rankings, four LPGA and eight LET 2014 champions are also in the Women’s British Open field and they, too, are bringing world-class games to the Royal Birkdale.
From the LPGA Tour: Jessica Korda, ranked 18th, recorded wins at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic and the Airbus LPGA Classic. Paula Creamer, ranked 12th, won the HSBC Women’s Champions. Anna Nordqvist, ranked 11th, won the Honda LPGA Thailand and the Kia Classic. Lizette Salas, ranked 13th, won the Kingsmill Championship.
From the Ladies European Tour: Mi Hyang Lee, who won the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open and Cheyenne Woods won the VOLVIK RACV Ladies Masters are in the field, as is the LET’s teen star, Charley Hull, seen by some as likely to challenge Lydia Ko for domination of the world stage as their games mature. Hull claimed her first pro victory this year at the Lalla Meyrem Cup.
Valentine Derrey, winner of the Turkish Airlines Open, Kylie Walker, who claimed victory at the Deloitte Ladies Open, Camilla Lennarth at the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open, Florentyna Parker at the Italian Ladies Open and IK Kim, who cruised to victory at the ISPS Handa Ladies European Open are all bringing the best games in their bags to the Royal Birkdale.
Australian amateur Minjee Lee is on the top of my must-watch list. Lee, who won the ALPG Oates Victorian Open in February has been spending her time this year playing in professional events and contemplating her future, and she’s played some impressive golf, at the Australian Women’s Open, at the World Ladies Championship, at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, at the US Women’s Open, and at the Ladies European Masters. Karrie Webb, Lee’s mentor, says Lee has “more talent in her little finger than I did at her age.”
Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow, who refined her golf game during her outstanding collegiate careet at the University of Alabama, and who turned pro just before the US Women’s Open, is taking on the pro golf scene at a dead run. Meadow earned her spot on the tee at the Women’s British Open at Monday’s qualifier, along with fourteen others. I’m looking for another stand-out performance to bookend her stellar solo 3rd place finish at Pinehurst!
With all this said, am I brave enough to pick a winner? No, I’m not. But I’m anticipating a closely fought contest between Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie, with Paula Creamer, Lydia Ko, and Karrie Webb challenging them. In the end, I’m expecting a slugfest among a large and extraordinarily talented field of women golfers and I feel like a kid at Christmas waiting for tee time!
The players will have opportunities for 3 days of practice rounds before play begins on Thursday, July 10. The gates to Royal Birkdale will open at 5:30am Thursday and Friday, with play beginning at 6:30am. On Saturday and Sunday the gates will open at 6am. Tee times for the weekend will be announced mid-way through the tournament.
The Women’s British Open will be telecast live Thursday, July 10 – Sunday, July 13 on BBC2 from 1-5pm local time and on ESPN Thursday, July 10 and Friday, July 11, 9am-12 noon; Saturday, July 12 and Sunday, July 13, 8am-12noon. All ESPN times are ET.
Additionally, my colleagues and I will provide ongoing updates and analysis of the Open here at ProGolfNow.