The LPGA Tour heads from the Arizona Desert to Southern California this week for the eighth edition of the Kia Classic, which starts Friday morning Australian time.
A high-quality field of 144 players will tee it up for the US$1.8 million prizemoney on offer this week, including the leading eighteen players in the Rolex Rankings, all of the tournament winners from the LPGA Tour in 2016 and the top-100 on the 2016 LPGA Tour money list.
World number one Lydia Ko returns as defending champion after cruising to a 4-shot victory over Inbee Park in 2016, her win at Aviara last year was the springboard for the Kiwi’s superb season in 2016 where she picked up four wins including the season’s first major at the ANA Inspiration.
While Ko has remained at the top of the world rankings others have closed the gap in the past twelve months, most notably Thai sensation Ariya Jutanugarn, whose final hole meltdown at the ANA Inspiration last year handed the New Zealander her first major title.
Jutanagarn bounced back from the devastating loss in style, demonstrating her mental strength and class to win three LPGA tournaments in a row in May before finally claiming a major championship of her own at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Another victory the following week at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open and a string solid finishes to end the season ensured that she would emerge from 2016 with the coveted Player of the Year honours. Jutanagarn has finished second in the last two LPGA events in Singapore and Phoenix, and few would bet against her claiming her first title of 2017 this week in San Diego.
While Ko and Jutanugarn have dominated the headlines in recent times, former world number one Inbee Park’s resurgence in 2017 after a long lay-off due to injury has been another big story on the LPGA Tour this year.
The Olympic Champion appears back to her best form having won the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore three weeks ago, despite coming into 2017 with her most recent completed four round tournament on the LPGA Tour being back in April 2016. Park finished in a tie for fifth place last week, and is sure to feature again this week on a course which clearly suits her game, finishing runner-up twice including to Ko last year.
With all of the world’s top 10 players seemingly in fantastic form heading into this week we should definitely expect some fireworks at the pointy end of the leaderboard, and it would seem impossible to nominate a clear stand-out this week.
Of the four Australians in the field this week both Minjee Lee and Su Oh will be hoping to bounce back from surprisingly failing to make it to the weekend at the Founders Cup last week, while Sarah Jane Smith will look to continue her strong 2017 form after finishing 19th. LPGA Hall-of-Famer Karrie Webb showed signs in Phoenix that she has finally found some form after a disappointing start to the season, and despite the fact that no Australian player has won this event it would be no surprise to see any of the four aussies featuring on the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
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