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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My "5 to Watch" at the ANA Inspiration

Major season is finally here! The LPGA strikes first with the ANA Inspiration (formerly the Kraft Nabisco, and formerly formerly the Dinah Shore) at the Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills Country Club.

The Dinah Shore statue at the 18th green

Picking my "5 to Watch" for this event -- as it will be for the Masters next week -- is difficult, simply because so many players are in good form. One player who won't make my list, despite playing well, is Lydia Ko. For some inexplicable reason Lydia struggles in the desert, and I haven't seen anything to convince me she won't struggle this time. (Bear in mind that Lydia is generally playing well when she reaches this event, but it never seems to matter.) If she plays well it won't surprise me, but I simply can't pick her as a favorite.

Likewise I have to skip Stacy Lewis, whose game is in pretty good shape but who I fear is still struggling with her mental game. I think she wants it too bad right now and just keeps getting in her own way. A major is rarely the place to overcome that kind of problem. (I would be pleasantly surprised if she proves me wrong, however.)

With those caveats in mind, I offer my list of the five players most likely to hoist the ANA trophy on Sunday.
  • Inbee Park is a past winner of this event (2013) and seems to have finally gotten past her back problems. And with her runner-up finish to Lydia at the Kia Classic this past weekend, it looks like she's knocked the rust off her game and is ready to make a run at Major #8.
  • Lexi Thompson is also a past champion (2014) and she won the Honda LPGA Thailand earlier this year. While Lexi's putting can be streaky, she's gotten much better in the last year at getting streaky more often. Mission Hills suits her game, so this is as good a time to get streaky as any.
  • HaNa Jang has only played this event twice, but she improved last year from T55 to T41. Yeah, I know -- that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of her chances. But HaNa is a much improved player this year, with two victories already under her belt this season. If Inbee can conquer this track, I know HaNa can.
  • Sei Young Kim also has a win this year, to go with the three wins from her rookie season in 2015. Like Lexi, Sei Young has the power game to handle this track, as evidenced by her T4 finish last year.
  • And my flier pick is Catriona Matthew. Her 2016 season has been anything but impressive so far, but she has a pretty good record at the ANA over the last few seasons. I see no reason why she shouldn't find her game at Dinah's Place.
I think most of these are pretty safe bets to do well, but I don't apologize for that. What can I say? My success at the Match Play this past week spoiled me, and I want to do it again.

Of my choices, Jang and Kim are in search of their first majors, Lexi and Catriona their second. And as Lydia put it, Inbee is going to do her "Inbee thing" and probably be there near the end. So let's face it -- these five would make for a pretty exciting final round, don't you think?


  1. Don't count out Brooke Henderson. She leads the LPGA with 5 consecutive top ten finishes.

    1. Have to consider Paula Creamer and Shanshan Feng as well, Tony. Like I said, there's a number of players whose games are on form for this major.