Japanese sensation Ai Miyazato will be looking to go one better after she finished second in the event last year. The 20-year-old will start as favorite in the four day event after a string of successes in 2005. With six wins at home in Japan and victory in the World Cup in South Africa, she rounded out last year by winning the LPGA Tour Q-School by a record 12 shot margin.
Now, with last years successes behind her, her biggest challenge will be defeating defending champion Karrie Webb of Australia. But there are a host of other promising youngsters in the field ho could challenge for the title, including Swedens Louise Stahle, American Brittany Lang, Japans Shinobu Moromizato, and 2005 Samsung Ladies Masters champion Bo Bae Song from Korea.
Three-time winner of the event and former World No. 1 Laura Davies of England is in the field and keen to return to her winning ways. She is joined by fellow Europeans Maria Hjorth of Sweden, Gwladys Nocera of France, Mhairi McKay of Scotland, and Minea Blomqvist of Finland.
Webb, who has won the event five times, beat Miyazato by a shot in last years tournament. Speaking from the Karrie Webb Room on site at Royal Pines, it was little surprise that she felt very much at home.
'This is like a home course to me as Ive played it so much,' said Webb, who won the ANZ Ladies Masters four-times in a row from 1998. 'I feel like Im easing myself into the year. Im really looking forward to it; Ive put in a lot of hard work and now its time to get some results.'
Her achievements in the game, including six major championship victories, recently saw her inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, but the former World No. 1 claimed that her biggest achievement could still lie ahead.
'To become world No. 1 again would be my biggest achievement,' she said. 'Its just that only now am I learning the mental game. Before, when I was playing well, I was playing out of ignorance and it was all just natural talent, whereas now I feel Im learning how to regain that confidence.'
Webb admitted that despite hating it, she has been in training in the gym, and practicing with the putter 'harder than ever' during the off-season, as well as receiving mental coaching from her coach Ian Triggs.
'I felt that I didnt have the memory bank I needed; when things were going really well I never worked that hard. But Im hitting shots now that I cant even believe; it's just trusting it.'
Now that she is back in business, Webb is likely to pull out something special for the home crowd this week as she knows the par 72, 5892-metre Royal Pines layout like the back of her hand. The ANZ Ladies Masters is being played for the 17th consecutive year and is co-sanctioned by Ladies European Tour(LET) and Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour (ALPG).