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Womens' elite play their greatest test

(Photo: Bruce Young)
The US Women's Open, the third major in a five major season and the most significant in the world of women's golf, begins at the Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island this Thursday.

The Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak collaboration was built opened in 2006 and sits on rolling land overlooking Peconic Bay which eventually becomes the Atlantic Ocean thus subject to the elements and thus, potentially, a very demanding test for the elite of the female game.

Doak's bunkering style is clearly evident but so too is Nicklaus' stamp of wide fairways with emphasis on the second shot rather than that from the tee although the angles left from the wrong position on a wide fairway do place some importance on just where on a fairway a player is.

The event has been played since 1946 and in its first seven years was played under the auspices of the Ladies Professional Golf Association before coming under the umbrella of the USGA in 1953.

In 1953 there were 37 entries in the event, in 2013 there are a record 1,420. Certainly a long way short of the 9,800 entries received for the men's equivalent but the number has been steadily growing in the past 60 years, first reaching 1000 in 2004.

156 will start the event after qualifying and attrition eliminated the balance of the entrants with the game's dominant player at present, Inbee Park, likely to start the hot favourite. Korean golfers have won four of the last five US Women's Open Championships and assisting Park's cause this week is the fact that she has won the event previously.

Park won in 2008 at the Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota, the victory then her first on the LPGA Tour. It has been her record over the past twelve months however that has set Park aside as potentially one of the game's greats. In that time there have been not only seven victories but nine runner-up finishes worldwide. She has every right to be considered the favourite and likely winner.

Stacy Lewis has the sort of game that should do ok at the US Open but her record in the event is not great for one of her standing in the game. Lewis finished 3rd in her second appearance in 2008 but in four starts since has not recorded a top ten.

While not at the peak she was at earlier this year and through much of last year, Lewis is still playing well enough, a 4th place finish behind Park last week in Arkansas having her ready for the challenge ahead.

Suzann Pettersen has only four top tens in tens visits to the US Open, perhaps her volatility an issue at times in an event that requires every bit of a player's patience. She did finishes runner-up behind Paula Creamer in 2010 and as the current world number three and that she is in the middle of a very good season, she deserves respect as a potential winner of her second major championship, six years after her first.

Paula Creamer has not finished outside the top 20 in her last 13 US Women's Open starts and seems to thrive on the demanding layouts that US Open golf typically presents. Creamer does not win often on the LPGA Tour, in fact she has not won since her US Open victory in 2010 but there have been plenty of good finishes and she along with Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr appear the best of the American hopes.

Kerr is another one of the tough uncompromising types that possesses the mindset necessary for success in the US Open. She won in 2007 and has been 3rd on two occasions since. The concern about Kerr is that she has withdrawn from a couple of events lately with an injury issue.

Koreans So Yeon Ryu and Na Yeon Choi are the last two winners of the event and both are in the sort of form that could see them win again.

Choi has yet to win this season but there has been enough good finishes for that not to be a concern.

Ryu has also been unable to win in 2013 but there have been five top fives including a runner-up finish last week in Arkansas. Her consistency should ensure she is in the mix at least on Sunday afternoon.

Karrie Webb is a two time winner of the event and gave an indication a few weeks ago when winning the Shoprite event that she is not far from where she needs to be to contend in this event. Webb has put together several other good finishes this season and has moved back inside the top ten in the game.

The game's two most exciting young talents, Lydia Ko and Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn appear to hold no fear of the big stage despite their relative lack of experience and age.

Ko finished 39th on debut in the event last year and has since gone on to win the Canadian Women's Open and finished 3rd at the Australian Women's Open. She also finished 4th last week in Arkansas.

17 year old Jutanugarn is still not an LPGA Tour member but she has not finished outside the top five in five LPGA Tour starts this season. She is an amazing prospect and a win here would force the issue for her inclusion on the LPGA Tour.

Korea's Amy Yang is another who could do well at longer odds. Yang has yet to win on the LPGA Tour but she has been close on a number of occasions and has played this event well in recent years finishing runner-up last year and 10th and 5th in her other two most recent stars.

Other Australians besides Webb who have a start are Katherine Hull-Kirk, Lindsey Wright, Sarah Jane Smith and qualifier Stacey Keating.

Footnote; Ariya Jutanugarn has been forced to withdraw from the event through injury.

The tournament carries US$3.25 million in prizemoney, equal to that on offer at the Evian Masters

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