The backdrop for the 58th staging of the prestigious four-day, national championship, July 3-6, is the picturesque Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore. One hundred and fifty-six of the worlds best female golfers will be on hand competing for the esteemed honor of being crowned U.S. Womens Open champion.
The tournament'with a record $3.1 million purse'can turn any season into a remarkable one as the winner will walk away with a $560,000 paycheck. Last year, that amount alone would have placed a player 16th on the season-ending money list.
The field represents an eclectic mix of golfing talent as contestants ages range from 13 to 48.
Youth will certainly be served as precocious teenagers like 13- year-old Michelle Wie and 16-year-old Paula Creamer prepare to tee it up with LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame members Beth Daniel, Betsy King (the oldest player in the field) and Juli Inkster, who combine for a total of 95 LPGA Tour wins.
Inkster is the defending champion, and once again the 43-year-old mother of two has to be considered one of the favorites. She has a win in the bag this year and is a perennial force in any major championship. Seven of her 29 wins have been majors and she has won at least one major three out of the last four years'a stint that includes two U.S. Womens Open titles (1999, 2000).
Precedence may be on Inksters side, but that can only account for so much when the field includes the likes of Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb.
Sorenstam is a two-time U.S. Womens Open champion and has had a strong season so far. She has won three times, including the McDonalds LPGA Championship Presented by AIG. Sorenstam, who has stated that her main focus is on winning majors, also has some unfinished business at Pumpkin Ridge.
The Swede was aiming for an unprecedented third consecutive U.S. Womens Open title in 1997 when the Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge first played host to the tournament. The course got the best of her as she struggled to a two-day total of 150 and missed the cut.
Pak is a player to keep an eye on. She won this tournament in 1998 and already has four major championships at the age of 25. With two wins this season and 20 for her career, she is unquestionably a threat to win any event she enters. Pak has won a major each of the last two years and traditionally plays well in the U.S. Womens Open. She finished fifth last year and second in 2001.
Buoyed by wins in 2000 and 2001, Webb enters her eighth U.S. Womens Open as the tournaments all-time winning money leader with $1,158,532. The 28-year-old is riding a four-year streak with a major win and has been unstoppable as of late with five wins in the last 14 majors.
Last years U.S. Womens Open was held at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., and showcased a remarkable final round. Sorenstam led by two entering the final day, but a hard-charging Inkster fired a 4-under-par 66 to close the tournament at 276. The result was a two-shot win over Sorenstam and a $535,000 paycheck.