Anybody's race at RACV Ladies Masters

The 2102 Gold Coast RACV Ladies Masters might not include its most prolific winner, Karrie Webb, or female golf's number one ranked player and defending champion, Yani Tseng, but there are so many new and intriguing storylines in the event which gets underway tomorrow at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast, that their absence, while disappointing, has hardly been noticed.

Much of the talk in the early part of the week was on whether the event would get started at all and, if it did, whether 72 holes was a possibility or just a pipe dream. The deluge on the Gold Coast over the past two weeks had both in jeopardy.

Today, as dusk closes in on the eve of the tournament, the event appears as if it will get underway on schedule at 6.50am on Thursday and barring any further significant downpours the full schedule of 72 holes will be completed on Sunday evening.

To say the least as the outcome is a minor miracle and testament to a superb drainage system at Royal Pines and the careful management of proceedings in the lead up.

The Pro Am was staged today and although much of it was played as an Ambrose to reduce wear and tear on the golf course, the layout was definitely playable. It may be that lift clean and place will be necessary for at least day one and perhaps longer although, given how quickly the course has dried out following two essentially rainless days, hopes remain for further improvement as the week progresses.

The greens in particular are in outstanding shape, perhaps as good as they have been for several years, and with the soft underfoot conditions, scoring is expected to be very low.

The leading world ranked player in the tournament is American Stacy Lewis who finished runner-up in this event twelve months ago but has developed into one of the elite players in the game since.

Less than two months after leaving Australia last year, Lewis won not only her first LPGA Tour event but she did it in style with an impressive three shot victory over Yani Tseng at the Kraft Nabisco. Championship - a major on the LPGA Tour.

Today Lewis paid tribute to the importance of her battle with Tseng in this tournament in 2011 as preparation for what she was able to achieve at the Kraft Nabisco.

"The last two rounds of this tournament last year really helped prepare for the rounds of the Kraft, knowing I could play with Yani and kind of hang with her. I just have some good positive memories here."

"It was really nice to get that first win," she added referring to her win in Californian. "Not only to get the first win out of the way but beating number one in the world, and being a Major, getting it all out of the way at once."

Lewis was reluctant to name the likely contenders other than herself when asked but did offer the following thought. "I don't know, obviously Lexi (Thompson) is playing really well and a lot of the girls from the European Tour come here, Mel Reid, I don't know. It's pretty wide open. I thought Yani was going to come back and defend, but with her not here, it opens it up a bit more."

Another to have won a major championship in 2011 is the highly regarded Korean So Yeon Ryu. In Colorado in July of last year Ryu won the US Women's Open, generally considered the greatest event in the female game, and did so with virtually no LPGA Tour experience.

Ryu played only one further event on the LPGA Tour in 2011 but she will focus on that Tour this year. Importantly for her chances this week is the fact that Ryu has played this event and golf course well previously having finished runner-up to Katherine Hull in 2009 and 5th in 2010.

Lexi Thompson is one of the bright young stars of the LPGA Tour and when we say young we mean young. Thompson does not turn 17 until next week but already she has won on both the LPGA and Ladies European Tours.

Thompson has gained a special exemption to play the LPGA Tour on a full time basis in 2011, her extraordinary talent and performances in 2011 enough to convince the LPGA Tour's management to bend their requirement that a player must be 18 years of age to earn the right to play. She played this event in 2011 but finished well back.

Sweden's Caroline Hedwall and England's Melissa Reid are the leading world ranked players in this field from the Ladies European Tour.

Hedwall struggled in this event last year but would go on to win four events on the Ladies European Tour in 2011 and finish third on their money list.

Reid finished runner-up to Ai Miyazato on the Henderson Money list on the LET Tour in 2011 and although she won only twice in 2011 it was her amazing consistency that led to her high placing.

Royal Pines is a layout that does not necessarily suit Reid's style of game however as she relies on an accuracy from the tee to give her an edge. "I drive the ball consistently and I find that if you hit it off a little you can still get away with here it, I like the Melbourne courses more as they are tighter and longer."

Park Hee Young is a player good enough to have won the CME Titleholders event on the LPGA Tour at her last starts and on that basis alone she must be some sort of factor this week. Admittedly it was her first win in over five years but a player good enough to defeat the likes of Paul Creamer, Yani Tseng and others is good enough to be a challenger here.

Another Korean might be one for longer odds. Bo Mee Lee finished runner-up to Karrie Webb in this event in 2010 and has continued to play well in Korea and Japan since.

The Australian contingent is missing Webb but there are several players who appear to be warming to their task and who have good records in this event who could make an impact.

Katherine Hull, Lindsey Wright, Kristie Smith and Nikki Campbell have all played well here in the past and have all shown promising signs of late. Hull is a previous winner and runner-up in the event and last week at the NSW Women's Open recorded a final round of 66 suggesting that her horror year of 2011 may now be well behind her.

The Australasian challenge might however come down to 14 year old Lydia Ko New Zealander who at the age of just 14 last week won the NSW Open. Ko was determined not to get too wrapped up in the hype.

"Yeah I just enjoy it out there," said Ko referring to the fact she will be playing tomorrow with Lexi Thompson and Kristie Smith. "I think it's just like any other round. Obviously I am playing with two special people but just playing casual golf, having fun. My goal is to just to make the cut.

"Even the last two tournaments, the Australian Amateur and NSW Open, I haven't really played to win, I just tried my best, and eventually won, which is pretty good. But this week there are so many great players, advanced from last week and my first goal is just to make the cut. I would like to win, but it's not an urge."

As Stacy Lewis suggested in her press conference today the absence of Webb and Tseng opens up the tournament to any one of many possibilities as far as winning chances are concerned.

That the tournament is likely to even start on time tomorrow is a major surprise. The question now is whether the eventual winner will offer an equal surprise.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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