Photograph courtesy of Tristan Jones/LET
Rolex Rankings world No. 1. Sung Hyun Park headlines the field at the final LPGA major championship of 2018 this week at the Evian Championship in France. The Korean star will be one of the 144 players in the field this week who will be competing for a share of the US$3,850,000 prizemoney on offer.
Park is in her fourth consecutive week at the top of the rankings and returns to Evian Golf Club looking to become the first player to win four times on the LPGA Tour in 2018. The impressive 24-year-old has an imposing record in France, finishing runner-up in 2016 before carding an opening 63 the following year before going on to finish in a tie for 26th place.
Park is joined in the field by Rolex Rankings No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu, No. 4 Inbee Park and No. 5 Lexi Thompson. In all 21 of the top 25 players in the Rolex Rankings who are in the field this week, high profile absences in the field this week are No. 10 ranked In Kyung Kim and No. 20 ranked Michelle Wie who both miss the season’s final major due to injury
Swede Anna Nordqvist returns to Evian to defend her title this week. Nordvist impressively overcame a five-stroke deficit on the final day last year after shooting a superb 5-under par 66 to force a playoff with American Brittany Altomare. Nordqvist went on to win the playoff with a bogey in torrential rain and icy conditions to capture her second major championship.
The two-time major winner knows what it takes to win back-to-back and a win on Sunday would provide a spark to what has otherwise been a disappointing season for Nordqvist, who has struggled with a series of recent swing changes and missed the cut in three of the four Majors played so far this year. The Swede has now dispensed with her coach and has gone back to basics, preferring to trust her own judgement and has seemingly been playing her way into some of the form that has earned her eight victories on the LPGA Tour, recording four top 10 finishes in her last eight tournaments.
Though an American has not won this event since 2007 Lexi Thompson will be doing everything in her power to break the 10-year-streak and has shown a liking for the Evian layout finishing 3rd in 2013 and 2nd in 2015. Though Thompson has not won on the LPGA Tour in 2018 the 23-year-old has finished in the top 10 on 6 occasions with her best result coming at the Thailand Honda LPGA championship where she finished 2nd. Thompson finished in a tie for 9th at the Cambia Portland Classic in her last outing and it would be a surprise if she did not find herself in contention this week.
Another important sideshow happening this week is the crowning of the Rolex Annika Major Award for the player who has performed the best across all five of the LPGA major championships in 2018.
Thai star Ariya Jutanugarn is sitting at the top of the standings heading into the final major of the year after finishing tied for 4th at the ANA Inspiration, winning the US Women's Open, finishing tied 40th at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and tied 4th at the RicohWomen'ss British Open. Chasing her for the prestigious award are KPMG Women's PGA Champion Sung Hyun Park, recently crowned Ricoh Womens British Open Champion Georgia Hall, ANA Inspiration winner Pernilla Lindberg along with Syo Yeon Ryu and Inbee Park.
Australian hopes this week once again look to lie with in form West Australian Minjee Lee. Lee’s form has been super-solid on the LPGA Tour in 2018, boasting 11 top 10 finishes and breaking through for her 4th LPGA title at the LPGA Volvik Championship in June. Lee now sits at a career-high 6th on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and in 2nd place on the Race to the CME Championship, and despite her incredible consistency will be disappointed not to have landed a second LPGA title in 2018 having been in contention at each of her past four LPGA starts. In her last outing at the Cambia Portland Classic the 22-year-old shot a disastrous final round 77 looking a little jaded over the final nine holes, so a week’s break could prove to be the perfect tonic for her to recharge the batteries leading into what will be her last chance in 2018 to get the major championship monkey off her back.
Lee’s best finish at the Evian Championship was back in 2015 where she finished in a tie for 11th place in her first event as a professional. There is no doubt the young West Australian has the credentials and the pedigree to win a major championship, it would be no surprise to anyone should this be the week she breaks through
Lee will be joined in the field this week by fellow Australians Katherine Kirk, Sarah Jane Smith, Su Oh, Hannah Green and Sarah Kemp and all could be given a chance of contending based on their form this year.
Katherine Kirk narrowly missed out on claiming her first major title at the Evian Championship last year falling agonisingly just one shot out of the playoff for the title. The 36-year-old has had an up and down season again in 2018, but two top 30 finishes in her last two starts will certainly have buoyed her confidence. The key to Kirk’s chances this week lay firmly with her superb short game, if she can once again find a way to master the undulating Evian greens she could again find herself in contention this week.
Sarah Jane Smith is also who is having another solid year on the LPGA having contended at both the US Women’s Open and the KPMG Womens PGA Championship earlier in 2018. However, the Queenslander has not been at her best in recent months having missed five cuts in her last six tournaments and will need to find her best form quickly if she is to find her name on another major championship leaderboard this weekend.
Victorian Su Oh is without doubt yet to reach her huge potential in her third full season on the LPGA Tour. Oh made a slow start to her LPGA season but her form over recent months has been much improved, with the 22-year-old finishing tied for 9th place at the Cambia Portland Classic in her last start and tied 4th at the CP Canadian Open the week prior. It is surely only a matter of time before Oh finds her way into the winner’s circle on the LPGA Tour and once she does the floodgates could really open.
West Australian Hannah Green is another who has had an up and down season on the LPGA Tour. The LPGA Rookie jumped out of the blocks in 2018 with a 3rd place finish at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open followed by a 16th place finish at the first major of the year at the ANA Inspiration. Green has struggled since then missing a string of cuts through the middle of the year, however, a 28th place finish at the Indy Women in Tech Championship a month ago will have lifted her confidence.
New South Welshwoman Sarah Kemp has focused her energy in 2018 on the Ladies European Tour and this move has certainly paid dividends for the 32-year-old. Kemp currently sits 3rd on the LET Order of Merit after a string of good finishes including a 3rd place finish last week at the Lacoste Ladies Open de France. Kemp certainly has the class to contend any week she tees it up but will need to bring her A+ game to Evian with the world’s best players currently firing on all cylinders.
Lee, Kirk, Oh and Smith will all represent Australia in three weeks’ time at the UL International Crown in Korea.
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