Defending champion Laura Diaz, who finished the 2003 season ranked seventh on the LPGA money list, is back to defend her title in the season-opening, 72-hole event. She became a Rolex First-Time Winner last year when she scored a one stroke, come-from-behind victory against LPGA Tour Hall of Famer Juli Inkster.
This marks the 23rd consecutive year the LPGA will make a stop in Tucson, but this is the first time the event will not be staged at the Randolph North Golf Course. Instead, the Dell Urich Golf Course, part of the Randolph Golf Course Complex, will play host to the $800,000 Welchs/Frys Championship. Dell Urich is 46 yards shorter than Randolph North, but plays at a difficult par-70 opposed to the par-72 Randolph North.
Will the different surroundings yield a new champion in Tucson, or will one of the 71 LPGA tournament champions in the field'who represent 435 LPGA wins'be able to add another line to an already victorious resume? The field is stacked with seasoned veterans like Laura Davies, Rosie Jones, Meg Mallon, Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb, all of whom never get tired of having to make extra room in already full trophy cases.
LPGA Tour Hall of Fame members Betsy King, Patty Sheehan and Inkster are also in the field. Ten rookies, hungry to make their mark on Tour, will make their long-anticipated LPGA debut in Tucson. Among them are European Solheim Cup Team members Raquel Carriedo and Suzann Pettersen.
Mexican sensation Lorena Ochoa will also be on the grand stage, as her LPGA Tour career gets under way. She played in this event the past two years as an amateur and collected a pair of top-10 finishes.
The field also features top LPGA players Beth Bauer, Dorothy Delasin, Natalie Gulbis, Hee-Won Han, Lorie Kane, Cristie Kerr, Mi-Hyun Kim, Kelli Kuehne, Jill McGill, Patricia Meunier- Lebouc, Grace Park, Jennifer Rosales, Rachel Teske and Wendy Ward.
The stage is set for a shootout in the desert. Who will rise to the occasion and grab the coveted first championship trophy of the year, as well as some momentum as the Tour begins a five-week stretch on the West Coast?
After Tucson, the LPGA makes stops in Phoenix, Rancho Mirage, Calif., Los Angeles and Las Vegas before heading east to Atlanta.
At last years event, Ashli Bunch set the bar with an opening-round, eight under- par 64 to lead by a stroke over Pat Hurst, Nancy Scranton and Delasin. Inkster, buoyed by opening rounds of 66-64, led after day two and remained in control after a third-round 70 left her at 16-under-par and with a two-stroke lead. It wasnt Inksters tournament to lose, but instead was Diazs to win. The rising star closed the books on her first LPGA crown after posting a final-round 68 to best Inkster by a stroke. In doing so, she was the only player to post four sub-70 rounds and erased the frustration attached with her four previous runner-up finishes.