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ANA Inspiration gets golf's major season underway

Lydia Ko on her way to the title last year (Photo: Getty Images)
The golfing world’s first major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, gets underway at its long time venue, the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage in California on Thursday, the event one of five annual major championships in female professional golf.

First played in 1972 when known as the Colgate Dinah Shore Winner’s Circle, the event became a major championship in 1983 and has been known as the Nabisco Dinah Shore and the Kraft Nabisco Championship before its most recent name change to the ANA Inspiration in 2015.

ANA are the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways who have had a long association with the sponsorship of golf in Japan but this has taken that relationship to a whole new level. 

This week’s event carries prizemoney of US$2.7 million with US$390,000 to the winner.

The female game’s leading ranked golfer, Lydia Ko, will defend the title she won twelve months ago but she was also the defending champion last week when missing the cut at the Kia Classic so her  progress this week will be quite the talking point especially given the current World Number Two, Ariya Jutanugarn, has moved within striking distance of gazumping Ko for that significant place at the top of the Rolex Ranking.

Ko’s win twelve months ago was her first top 20 in four starts in the event while Jutanugarn recorded her first top ten in four starts in the event when 4th behind Ko last year.

There is little doubt that Jutanugarn is playing significantly better to date in 2017 than Ko and to some extent this week provides a litmus test as to just where the New Zealander is at following the changes she has made for the 2017 season.

Other recent winners of the event, aside from Ko, are Brittany Lincicome (twice), Lexi Thompson, Inbee Park, Sun Young Yoo and Stacy Lewis.

So Yeon Ryu heads the money list in 2017 after two runner-up finishes and two other top tens in four starts. The South Korean, a former US Women’s Open winner, has finished runner-up in this event previously and appears a likely challenger to the two top ranked players.

Rookie Sung Hyun Park finished 6th on debut in this event last year when not an LPGA Tour member but now, as a card holder and having played beautifully in three starts this year, her chances appear very good. 

Inbee Park has won the event previously and since her return to tournament golf a month ago in Thailand she has been in fine form and a repeat win for the Olympic Gold Medallist would be no real surprise. 

In recent years Americans have a much better record in this championship than in any of the other majors having won five of the last ten which is a significantly better winning ratio than the Wegmans LPGA Championship, the US Women’s Open, the Women’s British Open and the Evian Championship.

With that in mind, the relatively in form Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson could well continue that trend.

Australians in the field include the two-time winner, Karrie Webb, whose dramatic win in 2006 included a holed pitching wedge at her 72nd hole before defeating Lorena Ochoa in a playoff for the tile.

Minjee Lee, Sarah Jane Smith and Su Oh make up the other Australians in the field.

While the LPGA’s second tier Symetra Tour’s Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa in Arizona will play very much second fiddle to the ANA Inspiration, the event provides hope for those seeking the right to play the LPGA Tour in 2018.

The leading ten players at season’s end gain access to the LPGA Tour for the following season.

Australians Hannah Green, Rebecca Artis and Jayde Panos will tee it up in the US$100,000 event. 

 

 

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