The first event of the year means one thing; everyone starts their quest for the top spot on the ADT Official Money List, Rolex Player of the Year honors, Vare Trophy standings and every statistical category in the exact same place.
All those zeros will be replaced with a wide assortment of statistical and numerical information that throughout the season will eventually separate the best from the rest. The first event of the season can often provide a surprise winner and serve as a springboard to a successful season, as evidenced by Karen Stupples last year and her multi-win season that resulted in a sixth-place finish on the ADT Official Money List.
The field is loaded with established players like Meg Mallon, Cristie Kerr, Grace Park and Lorena Ochoa, who all posted multiple wins in 2004. Mallon, who ranks fourth on the career money list, is one of the most consistent players the game has ever seen. Kerr, Park and Ochoa represent the future and all are looking for performances this year that may help dethrone Annika Sorenstam from her perch atop the world of women's golf.
Park clearly is one of the favorites this week, as she typically starts the year well. Last year she paced second, third and then first in the first three events of the year and was Sorenstam's closest competition on the season-ending ADT Official Money List.
Kerr learned how to win last year. She closed out her first title of 2004 at the LPGA Takefuji Classic in a seven-hole, sudden-death playoff with Seol-An Jeon and then made birdie on 18 at the ShopRite LPGA Classic to earn her second victory of the year by one shot. Her third win came at the State Farm Classic, where she carded four rounds in the 60s to win by one over Christina Kim.
Ochoa is one of the Tour's most aggressive and consistent players. She broke LPGA records for birdies, rounds under par and rounds in the 60s in
2004 as she garnered her first two wins as an LPGA member.
This week there are also many rookies making their LPGA debut, but no debut may be more anticipated than that of Paula Creamer. The 18-year-old, five-stroke medalist of the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament Presented by American Airlines is the flag bearer for a new generation of golfers all looking to make a name for themselves.
Creamer was on the wrong side of Kerr's birdie putt at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in 2004, but with five top-20 LPGA finishes already on her resume, she is ready to tackle her first season as a professional.
Amateur Michelle Wie, who tied Creamer for low amateur honors at the 2004 U.S. Women's Open conducted by the USGA, is playing in the event via a sponsor's exemption. This will be Wie's 18th LPGA event. She has made the cut in 13 events and has posted six top-20 finishes in her last seven tournaments.