A year ago as the Women’s British Open prepared to tee off at the Woburn Golf Club in England, it was the young guns dominating the headlines.
The focus was on Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn, the trio barely eligible for retirement if you added their ages together but easily the three hottest players in the game at the time.
Fast forward to 2017 and things have undoubtedly changed as the world’s best head to Kingsbarns in Scotland. Ko is mired in what qualifies as a slump, a recurring recent shoulder injury has seen Jutanugarn’s game cool completely and Henderson, while a Tour winner in June and runner-up at the Women’s PGA, has missed one cut and posted no top 10 finishes in three tournaments since.
While any or all of those three could easily turn things around this week, it has instead been a mish mash of players topping leaderboards in recent weeks, veterans and rookies alike sharing in the spoils.
In the past month, Kathrine Kirk broke a seven-year win drought, Sung Hyun Park made the US Women’s Open her first LPGA title and Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr have featured late on Sunday leaderboards.
All of which makes singling out likely contenders for this week’s event one of the game’s more difficult tasks, the fourth of the year’s five majors shaping as a wide open affair.
The course at Kingsbarns is a more traditional links test than last year’s host Woburn and while the style of golf required will be foreign to many in the field, the majors have a way of letting the cream rise to the top.
In that vein, almost all of the world’s top 10 could make a case for favouritism but not surprisingly, the strongest comes from the world’s top ranked golfer.
So Yeon Ryu has climbed to World Number One with some stunningly consistent play in 2017, 12 cuts made and only two finishes outside the top 10 in 13 starts an impressive record to say the least.
Ryu has stated publicly since assuming the top spot that her main goal is to win the career Grand Slam and adding a third leg to the 2011 US Open and this year’s ANA Inspiration will be significant motivation this week.
Ryu’s previous play in this event will also give her confidence, top five finishes at both Royal Liverpool and Turnberry since 2012 testament to her ability to play links golf.
The only other player to come close to Ryu’s 2017 record is World Number Two Lexi Thompson who has an almost unbelievable five runner-up finishes to her name in 14 tournaments this year.
Thompson’s much publicised four-stroke penalty and subsequent play-off loss to Ryu at the year’s first major has seemingly been a driving force for much of the year and that motivation will go up a notch at the year’s fourth major.
Her record at this event is less impressive than Ryu’s but the 22-year-old has a game that continues to mature and handling the unfamiliar conditions this week should pose less of a challenge than in the past.
While Thompson plays the event for just the sixth time, 2015 champion Inbee Park makes her 10th appearance and boasts an enviable record on the links courses of the UK.
Since 2010, she has been outside the top 10 just once and while she has played decent golf in 2017, including a win in March, it hasn’t been her best and a missed cut last start at the US Women’s Open may just sting her into action.
Of those outside the top 10, American Cristie Kerr is having an impressive season and was in the mix all week in trying conditions in Scotland last week.
The 39-year-old is a fierce competitor and, if conditions are ugly again this week, she will be well suited to the challenge.
Fellow veteran Karrie Webb would love nothing more than to add a fourth British Open and second as a major to her resume and after a heartbreaking loss at the Ladies Scottish Open last week could be one to watch at Kingsbarns.