Another week and another major for us to enjoy with the world's best women at Woburn in search of British Open success. Matt Cooper has the lowdown...
"Nelly Korda @ 40/1 has hit a bit of a dip, but seventh in mid-June was followed by third in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and her T25th last week saw her hit more greens than everyone in the field bar two. She ranks ninth for Driving Distance on tour this year."
It's always a little surprising to discover that this event was first played in 1976, almost as gobsmacking as being told that the second tournament was decided on countback (really - and you thought the Cricket World Cup conclusion was arbitrary). Woburn's Duke's Course was a common host layout for many years, but once the championship became a major in 2001 it was moved to links courses (and occasionally Sunningdale). Then, in 2016, it returned to Woburn.
In theory, club member Charley Hull ought to have had a huge advantage, but, as this year, it was played on the Marquess Course, her least favourite of the club's three layouts and Ariya Jutanugarn prevailed. Two years ago In-Kyung Kim found major championship redemption at Kingsbarns (she had missed a tiddler to win the Nabisco some years earlier) and last August England's Georgia Hall reigned supreme on a glorious afternoon at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Woburn's Marquess Course is a par-72 playing to 6,585 yards. It was designed by the European Golf Design team alongside the old-time BBC commentary trio of Peter Alliss, Alex Hay and Clive Clark. As with all of Woburn's layouts it threads its way through dense woodland and while some holes have distinct elevation changes perhaps the most obvious course characteristic is that there are many doglegs which somewhat limit options from the tee. Charley Hull said that she usually plays the course from the back tees in practice and was a little surprised the tees were up for the 2016 championship, meaning she hit fewer drivers. It's far from impossible to hit a hatful of drivers, it's just often bringing risk into the equation for very little reward.
The 2019 season so far...
Korea's Jin-Young Ko claimed her first major win in April at the ANA Inspiration and her second last week in the Evian Championship (yes, last week - the women's major schedule this year is even more insanely packed than the men's). Jeong-Eun Lee 6 (she's the sixth player on the Korean LPGA with that name and has added the six in a rather smart piece of self-conscious marketing) also won a maiden major title, the U.S. Women's Open at CC of Charleston, whilst Aussie Hannah Green made it three newbies with a shock victory in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Hazletine. Sung-Hyun Park, Brooke Henderson and Sei-Young Kim have joined Ko as two-time winners on the LPGA this season, while England's Bronte Law clinched a first LPGA win in May.
Issues to note
In 2013 the women's game added a fifth major to the schedule and since then South Koreans have dominated with 16 wins, America has grabbed eight and the rest of the world ten. It's also the case that the men's game is not alone in having some superstar college graduates hitting the pro circuit. Keep an eye out for Jennifer Kupcho, who won the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur, turned pro and was fifth three starts ago, then second last week in the Evian. She defeated Maria Fassi at Augusta and the charismatic Mexican will also tee it up this week. Finally, watch out for Europeans and Americans trying to catch the eye of their Solheim Cup team captains.
Live on Sky Sports all four days and highlights each evening on the BBC.
Bright and clear, possibly blustery on Thursday (and it is currently forecast to die down in late afternoon for First Round Leader seekers). Temperatures might creep into the early 70s and only Sunday is likely to see rain showers. But today (Tuesday) it is raining, often hard, and it's unlikely to stop until very late.
The Winning Formula in 2016
Jutanugarn is known for frequently leaving her driver out of the bag, but it became a real story here three years ago. As discussed above, it's really not a club that's especially needed. The Thai ranked fourth for Greens in Regulation whilst Mirim Lee and Mo Martin, who shared second, ranked second and first for the same category. Ha Na Jang, who was tied fifth, shared fourth for GIR with the winner. (The course was also used for the 2015 British Masters when the three players who tied second all ranked top ten for GIR, winner Matt Fitzpatrick thrived with a hot putter.) One reason GIR matters is that most of the greens have at last one side which you absolutely would not want to miss on - it leaves an almost impossible scramble.
Arrival at the course this morning was met with heavy sporadic rain showers and a chat with Nelly Korda revealed that, although she is a course debutant, her sister Jessica confirms that the course is playing longer and softer than three years ago. The rain has impacted on that, calling for longer carries and greens which are holding more approaches.
I'm going to look for strong performers tee to green, but also steer clear of anyone I feel will have been over-exerted last week at Evian - and also anyone who might have been irked by the poor state of the course. Lexi Thompson, for example, had a bit of an Instagram rage about it and will probably face questions. I'm also going to pick three to take on the favourites, who all have at least one factor which makes me wary of backing them below 20/1.
The Canadian has been superb tee to green all season, ranking fourth on Tour. She was also brilliant in that part of the game three years ago, once again ranking fourth. Her problem that week was a wonky putter and that does tend to be the difference with her performances, but when she's good she's very good with the flat-stick. At just 21 she already has nine LPGA titles to her name (one of them a major) and she's never looked entirely comfortable on the linksland so will be wanting to make the most of a parkland British Open. Taken Korda's update into account, Henderson ranks eighth on tour for Driving Distance.
Another player with a stellar tee to green game (fifth in the rankings) and another whose long game stats were excellent three years ago. In her case she ranked first for Driving Accuracy, 16th for GIR and therefore fourth for Ball Striking. She missed the cut last week, but I'm not going to fret over that. She's a five-time winner on the LPGA and in her quest for a first major might be inspired by the success of Green. Like her compatriot Lee has been greatly helped by Karrie Webb, the legendary seven-time major winner who has carefully mentored young Aussies. It might not escape the attention of those Aussies (and hopefully this one in particular) that Webb won this event at Woburn in 1995 (and was tied fifth three years ago).
Unlike the above two Korda is a course debutant, but she does have 2019 GIR stats that better them both - she ranks second this year behind only Jin Young Ko. Another 21-year-old, she was in superb form at the end of 2018 and beginning of this year, collecting nine top tens in just 12 starts including wins in Taiwan and Australia. She hit a bit of a dip, but seventh in mid-June was followed by third in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and her T25th last week saw her hit more greens than everyone in the field bar two. She ranks ninth for Driving Distance on tour this year.