Women's Australian Open a great contest

BY Bruce Young | LPGA Tour | 2014 ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open | Preview | 12 Feb 2014

The ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open Championship begins this Thursday at Melbourne’s Victoria Golf Club, the third year in succession the event has been played as an LPGA Tour event.

Past winners under the LPGA umbrella have been Jessica Korda (Royal Melbourne 2012) and Jiyai Shin (Royal Canberra 2013) although the event has a long history as a Ladies European Tour event.

Five players from the world top ten are in this week’s field including Suzann Pettersen, Stacy Lewis, Lydia Ko, Karrie Webb and Lexi Thompson.

The Victoria Golf Club will play host to this event for the first occasion since 1976 although it has been the home of the Men’s Australian Open and the Australian Masters in more recent years. It is considered not only one of the Melbourne sandbelt’s great layouts but one of the finest in Australia and will provide a great test for a field of this calibre.

Suzann Pettersen is the current world number two although given the ground she made up on the incumbent Inbee Park with a great run of form late in 2013, a win this week would give her the mantle of world number one for the first occasion.

Even a runner-up finish this week could potentially give Pettersen the coveted number one position although the permutations are not yet fully calculated. Certainly winning would.

Pettersen has yet to win this event although she has finished runner-up at the nearby Yarra Yarra Golf Club in 2002 when losing to Karrie Webb in a playoff.

Lewis has of course been the number one player in the world and two years ago she too lost a playoff in the six way battle for the 2012 Australian Open at Royal Melbourne. The 28 year old American, who has finished inside the top ten in each of her last 12 starts worldwide, finished runner-up in the first event of the LPGA season in the Bahamas three weeks ago and appears a good chance to do well.

“It’s a really good course,” said Lewis. "It’s really similar style-wise to Royal Melbourne. This one I think you’ve got to be really – it’s a lot of placement golf, not so much off the tees but a lot into the greens, it’s just hitting it into the right spots. Being below the hole is going to be key this week – and staying out of the bunkers. The bunkers I think are the worst and the hardest part of this golf course.

“So for me it’s just going to be playing smart golf and hopefully making a few putts here and there.”

So too does the amazing Lydia Ko who finished third in this event last year as an amateur after leading for most of the week. The 16 year old has since turned professional but in between times she recorded her second LPGA Tour victory and has already won in the paid ranks when successful in a tournament in Korea late in 2013.

Ko’s consistency at the elite level has been quite extraordinary for one of her age and if she was to contend and win this week then few would be surprised.

Karrie Webb is a four time winner of this event and comes off a 2013 season where she won on three continents including yet another event on the LPGA Tour. Webb disappointed last week even before her disqualification for inadvertently signing an incorrect scorecard and spent the weekend working on her game. Whether she can make the improvement she needs to be a contender this week remains to be seen but there if she can find that level of form then there is no reason why she can’t be amongst those in the mix on Sunday especially on the style of golf course that has suited her in the past.

19 year old Lexi Thompson has won two of her last six starts on the LPGA Tour and she has proven herself a great competitor away from US shores. Thompson blazed trails on the LPGA Tour becoming the first to earn the right to play under the age of 18. She is an exciting long hitting golfer but one who also possesses an all round game capable of winning at this level.

Yani Tseng threw out signals last week that her game was heading in the right direction once again. Her final round of 66 at Royal Pines saw her finish 10th which along with one or two other good finishes of late indicates she is putting behind her a horror year in 2013 which saw her slip from the world number one position to a current 43rd.

Tseng has won this event on two occasions on similar golf courses and interestingly finished runner-up at Royal Canberra twelve months ago and if she was to finish well this week then her bubbly personality might well return.

Jessica Korda was solid enough when 8th last week at the Ladies Masters on the Gold Coast after winning earlier in the year in the season opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic. The 2012 winner of this event is already proven on the Melbourne Sandbelt and although not yet a prolific winner she is slowly but surely building her credentials as an LPGA Tour player.

A player who might be well worth consideration this week is the ever improving Caroline Hedwall. In her first event in two months Hedwall stormed home over the closing round at last week’s Ladies Masters on the Gold Coast to finish 5th and although yet to win on the LPGA Tour she is close to doing so.

Her stunning effort at the Solheim Cup last year, where she won all five matches, alerted the world to just how good the Swedish star is and if she was to win her second Australian event (the first was at the NSW Open two years ago) then it would further confirm her great promise.

Another whose progress will be watched with interest will be the Thailand golfer Ariya Jutanugarn. The 18 year old was forging an impressive start to her professional career before an accident in May of last year forced her out of the game. The former outstanding amateur will play her first event since May of last year but there is little doubt that when and if she returns to tournament sharpness she could be anything in the game.

Jutanugarn won on the Ladies European Tour in 2013 and was runner-up at the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters before finishing inside the top five in the five LPGA Tour events she played on invite before her injury.

The Women’s Australian Open has developed into one of the LPGA Tour’s most intriguing events much of that because of the quality of the layouts on which it is played and this year is no exception.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.


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