The first round of the LPGA Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning & I-O tees of Thursday morning at 7:15 local time at the Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio. Players are competing at the 72-hole stroke play event for a share of a $1.2 million purse and the outright winner will collect 500 points in the year-long Race to the CME Globe and a million dollar end-of-season bonus. While Beatriz Recari is the defending champion, Stacy Lewis feels like she has a lock on the Marathon Classic. Lewis likes to win at home and she’s done it twice now, at the North Texas LPGA Shootout and at the WalMart NW Arkansas Championship but in addition to Texas and Arkansas, Lewis also claims to Ohio as “home.” Still, there’s a lot a golf to be played between Thursday morning and Sunday afternoon, and the power and energy within any given pairing is always a crucial dynamic within the tournament.
Let’s take a closer look at four groups where there’s enormous potential for the players to energize each other.
Stacy Lewis, Azahara Munoz, Beatriz Recari, 7:59am, Tee #10
At first glance Stacy Lewis should be the odds-on favorite to dominate this group. She’s the top-ranked player in the world, she hasn’t missed a cut this year, she’s collected 13 top-10 finishes since January, three of them victories, she’s leading in the Race to the CME Globe, she tops the LPGA money list, and has the lowest scoring average on the Tour (69.24).
But Stacy Lewis can be outplayed and I’m not ready to give the early rounds at the Marathon Classic to her. Beatriz Recari, who’s had a very slow start to her season, outplayed Lewis during the first and second rounds of the RICOH Women’s British Open; and Azahara Munoz stayed even with Lewis throughout the British Open.
Recari, often described by other Tour players as “Iron Woman,” and Munoz are both on Spain’s International Crown team. They’re both experienced Solheimers and they understand how to simultaneously energize each other and compete with each other. All this could fuel some interesting dynamics inside the pairing. I’m looking for Munoz to dominate this pairing initially, for for Recari to edge out both Lewis and Munoz by Friday afternoon.
Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson, Angela Stanford, 8:10am, Tee #10
The dynamic in this group will differ from the Lewis-Munoz-Recari pairing. All three — Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson, and Angela Stanford — were members of the 2013 American Solheim Cup team and all three felt deeply the stinging humiliation of that defeat. They’re all playing high-energy games right now.
Creamer and Thompson have both collected wins this season and Stanford has come achingly close. Twelfth-ranked Creamer has collected three top-10 finishes and her last found finishes have been consistently strong but outside the top-10.
Thompson, world ranked 5th, has recorded seven top-10s but her performance over the past four events has varied widely. She finished T7th at the US Women’s Open and missed the cut at the WalMart NW Arkansas Championship.
Stanford, ranked right below Creamer at 13, has five top-10s this year but remains winless. She’s finished inside the top-5 in two of the last 4 events.
If Thompson’s on her game she can outplay Creamer and Stanford, particularly off the tee, and by the performance stats Thompson has a slightly stronger short game than either Creamer or Stanford. But Creamer is the most consistent performer. I’m looking for her to outplay Thompson and Stanford.
Danielle Kang, Jenny Suh, Mariah Stackhouse (a), 12:48pm, Tee #1
This is a very unique pairing. Danielle Kang’s playing her third year of the Tour and is world ranked 148. Jenny Suh, who’s struggled to keep her Tour card, is playing her fourth year on the Tour and is ranked 343; and amateur Mariah Stackhouse is a 2014 Curtis Cup standout who’s making her way onto the pro golf stage. Neither Kang nor Suh have recorded any career top-10s.
Stackhouse, who’s fiercely competitive, played a practice round with the quintessential killer, Stacy Lewis, on Wednesday and although she’s missed more cuts than she’s made this year, Jenny Suh is a high energy player whose exuberance and optimism are contagious. While Stackhouse is likely to dominate the group, I’m looking for a dynamic inside this pairing that will take all three players to the weekend.
Mo Martin, Michelle Wie, So Yeon Ryu, 12:59pm, Tee #1
Mo Martin earned her first professional victory four days ago when she edged out Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng to become the 2014 RICOH Women’s British Open champion, and what a win it was! Now she gets to measure her game against two proven and tested champions who are both having fantastic seasons.
Michelle Wie is bringing ten top-10s to the Marathon Classic, two of them victories and including the US Women’s Open championship. World ranked number 6, Wie is playing the best golf of her career this year.
So Yeon Ryu, world ranked 9th, 2011 US Women’s Open champion and 2012 LPGA Rookie of the Year, has recorded eight top-10 finishes this year. Although Ryu remains winless this season, she’s finished in the top-5 in two of her last four events and is a consistently formidable competitor.
How will Martin’s game measure up? I’m looking for her to hold steady inside this pairing. While under other circumstances Wie could be a major threat to Martin, Wie ran out of steam at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and then missed the cut at the Women’s British Open. She may need another week or so to recover the mental and physical energy she expended at Pinehurst. I’m looking for Mighty Mo to lead the group.
You can follow the progress of the first round on the LPGA electronic scoreboard and Golf Channel will begin coverage of the round in progress at 3pm ET. My colleagues and I at ProGolfNow will provide updates and analysis throughout the tournament.
Follow me on Twitter @bethbethel and I’ll notify you when I post Marathon Classic news.