Ex-top dogs biting at Ko's heels

Ex-top dogs biting at Ko's heels
American golfer Stacy Lewis, in action at the pro-am event yesterday, is aiming to become the first two-time winner of the HSBC Women’s Champions, having triumphed here in 2013.

THEY had been the dominant force in women's golf for the past two years, until teen sensation Lydia Ko broke through in recent months.

So it comes as no surprise that at this week's HSBC Women's Champions - one of the LPGA Tour's most glamorous but testing stops - both Park In Bee and Stacy Lewis are determined to show Ko that her current reign at the top of the world rankings is but a brief interlude to their dominance.

Between the South Korean Park and the American Lewis, they have captured 15 titles, including five Majors, since 2013.

They have also jostled for and swopped the world No. 1 spot during that period, with Seoul-born Park (73 weeks) holding the edge over her rival from Texas (25 weeks).

Yet, they now find themselves staring up at Ko, the 17-year-old who reached the pinnacle in January, and thanks to back-to-back wins in Australia and New Zealand last month, cannot be overtaken this week, no matter the results at the Sentosa Golf Club.

Nevertheless, Park believes that the bull's eye is on the South Korean-born Kiwi and the youngster will have to cope with the pressure. "I'm trying to play the same game when I was No. 1.

I feel like I'm mature and ready for the position again and, hopefully, capture it back soon," added the 26-year- old, who had memorably won the first three Majors in 2013 and was denied a historic Grand Slam at the British Open by Lewis.

Park gained some measure of revenge by beating her rival at the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship last November.

That runner-up finish by Lewis was one of a deeply frustrating 10 she had collected in the past 24 months to go with her six victories.

Incredibly, it was the same story at last week's Honda LPGA Thailand, where an uncharacteristic double-bogey on the 15th saw her come in second again, behind Amy Yang.

Still, having battled scoliosis and 18-hour days wearing a back brace as a teenager, Lewis is familiar with adversity.

"What motivates me this year is that last year could have been an unbelievable year.

It was good but it could have been unbelievable," said last season's Player of the Year, Scoring Leader and Money List winner.

"I had three wins by June (but none after), so it's kind of you kick yourself because of what could have been.

"I was working so hard to win those three awards that I lost track of what I do well, which is try to play good golf every day."

Lewis will have to do that for the next four days as she bids to be the first two-time HSBC winner, having triumphed in 2013.

Since the inaugural tournament in 2008, there have been seven different winners from five countries, a testament to the difficulty presented by the US$1.4 million (S$1.9 million) event.

Lewis' winning score at the Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong Course in 2013 was 15-under, but given the firm greens which have been baked by the unrelenting sun this week, former world No. 1 Tseng Ya-ni expects Sunday's tally to be closer to last year's 10-under.

"It's a tough course, easy to get big numbers. No. 3 and 13 are ones to watch out for; if you make par, that's probably going to be better than half the field," said the 67th-ranked Taiwanese, whose joint-second last week was her third top-five finish in a year.

Ko will tee up in today's marquee pairing with American stars and 2014 Major winners Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson.

As she attempts to manage the suffocating burden that comes with being the youngest top-ranked golfer, male or female, she said: "When you're world No. 1, a lot of people think you should win every week but that's really not the case."

As Park and Lewis will tell her, welcome to the top of the world, kid.

HSBC Women's Champions: Day 1

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Tournament details

HSBC WOMEN'S CHAMPIONS

When: Today to Sunday

Where: Sentosa Golf Club, Serapong Course

Prize money: US$1.4 million (S$1.9 million)

Who: An elite 63-woman field with 19 of the world's top 20 golfers, including No. 1-ranked Lydia Ko, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie and defending champion Paula Creamer.

Selected tee times

1st tee

8.36am: Park In Bee (Kor)

9.31am: Tseng Ya-ni (Tpe), Lee Minjee (Aus)

9.42am: Karrie Webb (Aus), Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford (both USA)

9.53am: Paula Creamer (USA), Amy Yang (Kor)

10.04am: Lydia Ko (Nzl), Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson (both USA)

10.15am: Suzann Pettersen (Nor), Jessica Korda (USA), Feng Shanshan (Chn)

10th tee

8.36am: Jennifer Yan (Chn)

8.47am: Koh Sock Hwee (Sin), Anna Nordqvist (Swe)

9.31am: Choi Na Yeon (Kor)

Ticket details

Prices (excluding entry fee to Sentosa and booking fee)

Today & tomorrow: $20 (single-day ticket)

Saturday & Sunday: $30 (single-day ticket)

Season ticket: $60.

Admission is free for those aged below 16. Seniors (60 and over) enjoy a 50 per cent discount. Tickets are available at Sistic outlets and www.sistic.com.sg

Getting there

Parking is available at Seah Im Car Park and VivoCity.

From today to Sunday, a shuttle bus service will run between HarbourFront Bus Interchange and Sentosa Golf Club (public entrance) every 15 minutes (from 7.40am to 5.30pm).

jonwong@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Mar 5, 2015.
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