Koreans favourites at Ladies Masters

The 2013 Volvik RACV Ladies Masters begins on Friday at the RACV Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast and despite being reduced to 54 holes and being played for a much lesser purse than in recent years, the tournament has attracted a classy field.

With the Australian Women's Open just two weeks away, many are here to hone their games for the opening event of the LPGA Tour season but many are also here because of their support for an event that has been the mainstay of Australian Women's professional golf for the last 23 years.

That the world number 7 and 8, Jiyai Shin and So Yeon Ryu, and the seven time champion, Karrie Webb are in the line-up, indicates that players of this class feel an allegiance to the event and recognise the benefits it offers as the opening event of the season.

Not that the Gold Coast has necessarily played its part this season. The remnants of Cyclone Oswald lashed the region for three days last weekend creating a the prospect of no event being held at all but as has so often been the case at Royal Pines, the weather is clearing and the course preparations on track for the event to start on schedule on Friday.

So Yeon Ryu, the 2011 US Women's Open Champion and a winner in her rookie season on the LPGA Tour in 2012, is the leading world ranked player in this week's field and given she has finished inside the top ten in eleven of her last twelve starts worldwide, two of those victories, she deserves her standing in the game.

Ryu has finished runner-up in this event in two of her four appearances at Royal Pines suggesting she could well breakthrough for her first victory in Australia.

Jiyai Shin has not played at Royal Pines since 2009 but in her only three appearances prior she indicated she has a liking for the layout having finished 2nd, 6th and 8th. 24 year old Shin, a former World Number One, is the current Women's British Open Champion and while her form late in 2012 was perhaps not at the level it was earlier in the year she is one of the game's classiest players and if she was to win for her first event at Royal Pines it would be no real surprise.

The name Karrie Webb and the Australian Ladies Masters go hand in hand. Webb has been the winner on no less than seven occasions and along with three runner-up finishes she has been the dominant player in the event over the past twenty years but more especially since her first win in 1998.

Webb did not win anywhere in 2012 but she played consistently for much of the season recording seven top tens including a runner-up finish in the event which has now become a major championship, the Evian Masters. Webb did not play at Ladies Masters last year but her presence is a significant boost for the event when it needed it most.

Carlota Ciganda was not only Rookie of the Year on the Ladies European Tour in 2012 but she was led the Order of Merit. Two wins and ten other top ten finishes - what a season for the 21 year old Spaniard.
Ciganda finished 22nd in her only start in this event last year and should improve sharply on that effort.

Caroline Hedwall won last week's NSW Women's Open and had a very good season overall in 2012. Hedwall has played this event twice finishing a respectable 11th in 2012 so her chances of following up her good week in Sydney last week with another here appear good.

Stacey Keating is an emerging star in Australian golf having won two events in her second season on the Ladies European Tour in 2012. Keating finished 5th last week in Sydney suggesting her game is in solid enough shape. Keating has not performed well at Royal Pines and that is of concern for those who may be interested in backing her this week.

Katherine Hull-Kirk is a previous winner of this event and been runner-up on one other occasion but the concern for Hull-Kirk is a form line that dropped away towards the end of 2012.

Christel Boeljon is the defending champion after what could be described as a surprise win last year. She did win again in Turkey later in the season but the last few months of 2012 were a battle and it is hard to see her contending again this week.

Korean Chella Choi played well on the LPGA Tour in 2012 and although playing this event for the first time could do well. She put together seven top ten finishes in 2012 and although yet to win anywhere she appears to be building towards a breakthrough victory.

Minjee Lee was recently crowned the Australian Amateur Champion and having also won the US Girls Championship in 2012 the West Australian teenager is clearly an exceptional talent.

Talented amateurs have done very well at Royal Pines in the past including the 2006 winner, Amy Yang, Yani Tseng and Lydia Ko. Lee could very well continue that tradition.

The 2013 version of the iconic event in Australian golf may start with a couple of negatives in terms of prize-money and lead-in weather but by the time Sunday comes around and the whips are cracking all of that will be lost in the race for the title.

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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