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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

My "5 to Watch" at the ANA

Yes, I know this is my first "5 to Watch" post of 2018. This year has thus far been so unpredictable that the thought hadn't even occurred to me until this week. But I can't let a major go by without some predictions.

So welcome to the ANA Inspiration, the first major of 2018!

Lexi at her media presser

The ANA is the LPGA's equivalent of the Masters -- built around a single personality (the late Dinah Shore), always played on the same golf course (the Dinah Shore course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage CA), and celebrated with a unique ritual (the jump into Poppie's Pond).

And while the defending champion is So Yeon Ryu, it's Lexi Thompson who is most associated with the event this year after that devastating ending last year... and the resulting rule change it pretty much forced on the USGA and the R&A. (A long-overdue change, in my opinion.)

Let me quickly remind you that Tony Jesselli has a preview for this event over at his blog. I will just point out that both Gerina Piller and Suzann Pettersen are missing the event due to pregnancies, and I can only guess that Karrie Webb, at 105 in the Rolex, didn't qualify.

As with the men's game, the women have been mixing it up a bit as well. Past winners have stepped up and, with the exception of Jin Young Ko, have dominated the podium. The question becomes whether the youngsters can turn the tide at the first major of the year?

I know that, no matter who I choose, I'm going to miss some players with a solid chance. So this list is mostly chalk
  • It's hard to bet against Lexi Thompson, and not just because of last year. Lexi has one of the best records around this course of any player -- she has won here before, back in 2014 -- but she hasn't won yet this year. I'm guessing she's hungry for one... and I'd be surprised if the thought of this event doesn't make her ravenous!
  • Likewise, although she's never won here, Michelle Wie has one of the better records around Mission Hills. In fact, she probably would have bet she would win an ANA before a US Open. But Michelle has struggled with injuries and such since she won that US Open, and the key for her now is that she's finally healthy again and seems to be having fun. I could see her breaking through this week.
  • I have to include Inbee Park. Another previous winner (2013), she missed several months with back pain and a hand injury... then walked back onto the course a few weeks ago and promptly crushed the field. Her game doesn't seem to fit this course but hey, she's already won here! Why not do it again?
  • Brittany Lincicome at Mission Hills, in many ways, reminds me of Bubba around Augusta. She can seem to be completely out of competitive shape until she arrives at this course... at which point she finds her game and eagles the last hole for the win. Twice, in fact (2009 and 2015). And, like Bubba, she's already won this year. It's probably not a good idea to bet against her.
  • And my flier is... Laura Davies. That second-place finish at the Founders Cup shows she's still got it, and I'm encouraged that she's putting better. Laura's always been streaky, but it's possible she's starting a streak at the right time. This is a wide-open course, which should suit her game. And I know she hasn't won the ANA before... but that's part of the reason she's a flier!
To be honest, I don't know how to make a reasoned pick this week so I'm making a gut pick. I'd really like to see Laura get this one, as it would be enough to get her into the LPGA Hall of Fame, and I really hope she wins. But I'm going to pick Michelle Wie, simply because I've got a feeling.

Hopefully it's not appendicitis.


  1. Per the tournament website, all past champions of this major are eligible to play. Heck, even Yani Tseng, ranked over 100 places lower in the Rolex Rankings than Webby, is starting. Hard to fathom why Karrie is absent but she has made only one start so far this year, missing the cut at the Australian Women's Open.

    1. She was also recently given a special exemption into the US Women's Open; the unusual part of that is that the USGA typically waits until AFTER qualifying is completed before they dole out that particular golden ticket into the marquee event of the women's golfing calendar. The last time the special exemption was doled out was in 2016 to Se Ri Pak, who retired that year.

    2. Yeah, IC, I noticed she had gotten the USGA invite. I did a quick Google search before posting the article but couldn't find anything about why she might be out.

      But after your comments, I did another search and found this ESPN article:

      where she says she is only going to play a max 10 LPGA starts this year. She's starting to transition into a life after golf.