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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

My "5 to Watch" at the US Women's Open

The women are back in the major game this week. The US Women's Open is being played at Shoal Creek in Alabama, which will be playing a bit over 6700 yards. This time of year in Alabama, that should make for a hard and fast course -- but the extended forecast looks like the ladies will be dealing with heat, humidity and rain.

Defending champion Sung Hyun Park

As usual, Tony Jesselli has a preview of the event over at his blog, so I refer you to it for more info. I'll be focusing on my picks in this post.

And those picks are tricky enough when dealing with the men; the parity among the ladies has turned my picks into a real crapshoot. The ladies not only have depth -- which the men also have -- but more of the ladies tend to be "on their games" each week. You need look no further than Pernilla Lindberg's win at the ANA Inspiration, as she took down Inbee Park head-to-head without any apparent nerves at all despite not having been in that position before.

So looking at "current form" is less useful when picking winners among the ladies, although...
  • Minjee Lee certainly has to be one of my picks this time. Minjee is not only coming off a win at the Volvik last week, she won the Oates Victorian Open (cosponsored by the ALPG and LET) earlier this year. And her control from tee to green last week was incredible. This season she is, in my opinion, in her best form heading into the thick of the major season, so I like her chances this week.
  • Moriya Jutanugarn finally broke through for her first LPGA win just a few weeks back, but she had been playing well enough to win for well over a year before that. While some players get their first wins at majors -- Danielle Kang and Pernilla come to mind, among others -- it's more typical to have a win under your belt first. Moriya is consistently in the Top10 these days and, with her control from the tee, a US Women's Open seems a likely track for her first major.
  • Defending champ Sung Hyun Park has already proven she can win a US Women's Open and she won on tour only a month ago, at the Volunteers of America event. If Shoal Creek should get waterlogged, her length will give her a huge advantage.
  • Jessica Korda has cooled down a bit since her early win this season but it's not as if she's played badly. She has three Top4s and no finish worse than T26, and she is certainly feeling better as she gets further along in her recovery from surgery. I think she's more ready for this major than she has been in quite some time.
  • And my flier is... Nasa Hataoka. The youngster seems to have found her legs on the tour in the last month, with finishes of T19, T19, T7, T2 and T10 in her last five starts, and she hasn't shot over par in her last four Sunday rounds. I think she could post a good score early on Sunday and sneak up on the rest of the field.
I know that I have left off a number of players who should be favored above the ones I listed above. Inbee Park, Shanshan Feng, Ariya Jutanugarn, Lexi Thompson and more have stronger major pedigrees than all of my choices other than perhaps Sung Hyun Park. But I think Pernilla may have set the pace for this season, and I suspect her win may encourage some of the other "close but not yet" players to believe they can do it too.

And so my pick this week is Moriya. I really like the trajectory of her game over the last couple of years and I think she could be the next player to stake her major claim.

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