World number one Lydia Ko will start as overwhelming favourite when she tees it up at the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open this morning.
Ko will play alongside last year’s runner-up, Australian amateur Hannah Green, and rising Danish star Emily Pedersen this morning, and huge crowds are expected to follow the group when they tee off at 8:14 am local time.
Ko will be bidding for her third ISPS Hand New Zealand Women’s Open title, and few would bet against the world number one retaining the title she won in style here a year ago defeating Green by four shots. Not even when Tiger Woods was at his absolute peak in the early years of the 20th century has golf seen such a prohibitive favourite as Ko will be this week, when she tees it up against 146 players from 28 different countries this morning.
Former world number 1 Laura Davies praised the 18 year old youngster for the support she has given the ISPS Hand NZ Women’s Open, and suggested that NZ shouldn’t take it for granted that Ko will support the event year after year.
"It's a great credit to Lydia that she comes back to New Zealand. Obviously the money is not an issue for her but it's lovely that she still wants to come back here and play because there's a lot of girls who don't go back to Sweden or Spain when they are those countries' best players. Yet Lydia is in a position, as No 1 in the world, where she still wants to come back and play.
Davies said the wider world of golf wouldn't bat an eyelid if Ko failed to front for her national open. "No-one would criticise her but everyone should be praising her because she's such a lovely girl as well.
"Some of the other No 1s haven't been so receptive about embracing the No 1 status - I'm not saying they weren't nice people, I'm just saying they didn't want to go that extra mile. It seems Lydia is really happy to take everything on board and go with it - which is why I don't think I've heard anyone say a bad word about which is pretty extraordinary at a high level of sport ."That says it all really."
That said Davies still backs herself to play a role over the 54-hole tournament which ends on Sunday. "A chance? I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could win it but having said that I have to play as good as I can play and putt really well because I don't think Lydia is going to shoot any less than 15-under."
Other players to watch this week are last week’s Oates Victorian Open champion Georgia Hall, young Danish trio Nicole Broch Larsen, Emily Pederson and Nanna Madsen, Australians Stacey Keating, Sarah Jane Smith, Rebecca Artis and Sarah Kemp and experienced Frenchwomen Gwladys Nocera.
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