The six strong Australian contingent will head into this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club fairly confident that at least one of them will be in contention come Sunday.
The massive US $525,000 first prize on offer is one of the biggest prizes in the women’s game, and with 22 of the top-25 ranked players in the world in action this week, we are sure to see a great battle unfold over the challenging 6700 yard Sahalee Country Club layout.
All six of our ladies competing this week have shown some great form at times in 2016, however there is no question that with many of the world’s best players coming here in great form the competition will be extremely tough at the second women’s major championship of the year.
Youngsters Minjee Lee and Su Oh, both of whom have recently celebrated their 20th birthdays have had great starts to their 2016 seasons, albeit in very different circumstances.
Lee started 2016 as an established LPGA star, already having won her first LPGA title at the Kingsmill Championship last year. Oh on the other hand started her 2016 LPGA season at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open after a disappointing 2015, and with only non-exempt LPGA status. She would likely only get a handful of starts on the LPGA tour unless she could make enough money to be re-ranked through playing well in the tournaments she played in.
A very solid 14th place finish at The Grange, followed by a 47th place finish at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii had Oh growing in confidence. She had to endure Monday qualifying (where only 2 players can qualify) to make the field at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and took full advantage with a 14th place finish, which meant that she had accumulated enough prizemoney to be re-ranked to the top of her Exemption Category. This would mean that apart from a couple of the major championships Oh could now play every week on the LPGA Tour in 2016 should she choose.
With this tucked away in the space of 8 weeks and finally able to play with the freedom of knowing her immediate future was secured, Oh managed to get herself into contention at the Kingsmill Championship before eventually finishing in 2nd place, just one shy of Ariya Jutanagarn, who would also go on to win the next two events on the LPGA.
Apart from now having the confidence to know that she belongs on the LPGA tour, as importantly the affable young Victorian has almost certainly amassed enough prizemoney to earn her exempt LPGA tour card for 2017. On her day Oh has the game to match it with the best players in the world, she could well contend this week if she putts well and if the breaks go her way.
In the past year Minjee Lee has firmly established herself as Australia’s leading player, she has played 14 tournaments on the LPGA Tour so far this year, only twice finishing outside the top 26. Her come from behind victory the Lotte Championship in difficult conditions where she shot a final round 64 was impressive a win as you will see and it would be no surprise to see her name on the leaderboard come Sunday. Lee has shown that she has the game to contend in major championships, in her rookie year last year she finished in the top 13 in 3 of the 5 Women’s majors.
Karrie Webb, finished 7th in this event last year, albeit at a different venue, and showed signs last week at the Shoprite Classic that feels that she is not far away from the form that saw her contend at the ISPS Handa Women’s Open Australian in February.
“My ball striking hasn't been at that quality week in and out but my swing feels close to how it did before Adelaide so I'm hoping Sahalee will bring the best out in me.”
The 7 time major winner, who is ranked 130th in putting statistics this year on the LPGA Tour said “My last 2 tournaments have had me going in more of the right direction. My putting seems to making some good progress so if I can put it all together I'm hoping for a good week on course that really excites me to play”
The 41 year old, who has long been renowned for her ability to shape the ball better than many of her peers feels that the course sets up well for her game, “The course is fantastic. It is pretty demanding, asking a lot from the tee. You have to be able to shape it both ways to make sure that you're not only on the fairway but have a good angle to the green without having to hit around overhanging tree branches. The greens are pretty small as well so all up I think good ball striking is key this week. I think it's shapes up pretty well for me. I think the course lends itself to being creative which is good for me in that it gets me focused on the shot at hand and not getting to far ahead of myself. I'm excited to get out there and enjoy the challenge”
Webb hopes that her considerable experience will also stand her in good stead this week,
“ I think my experience does have value and I hope that's the case here this week. I think it's a course that you really have to navigate your way around, trying to eliminate mistakes and making the most of the opportunities when they come. Patience will definitely be a key like always at a major”
If Webb can get the putter going there is no doubt that she still has the game to contend at this level. Don’t be surprised to see her up there this weekend.
The other Australians in the field also come into the second major championship of 2016 with some good form behind them in recent weeks. Sarah Jane Smith has shown us glimpses of her best form in 2016, her best finish of 13th at the Texas shootout at the end of April was followed by a 15th place finish the following week at the Yokohoma Tire Classic.
Sarah Kemp (22nd) and Katherine Kirk (31st) are both coming off their best finishes in 2016 at last week’s Shoprite Classic in Atlantic City.
Round 1 of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will be broadcast live in Australia starting on Friday morning on Fox Sports 3 and Fox Sports Play from 9am AEST.
For live scores go to http://www.lpga.com/leaderboard
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