LPGA Stars Headlining in Sin City

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Wendy Ward returns to Las Vegas this week for the 54-hole LPGA Takefuji Classic and is in a similar situation she found herself last year at this event-looking for consistency.
 
Finding a little roulette-style luck would not hurt, either. Like last year, Ward heads to the $1.1 million event with only one top-30 finish on her current season's resume. She is 43rd on the ADT Official Money List-compared to 46th last year-and could use a pick-me-up that only Las Vegas can provide.
 
A year ago, Ward torched the par-72 layout winning wire-to-wire. She was the only player to shoot in the 60s all three rounds and finished the event at 16-under-par to win her fourth career LPGA title. But, more importantly, she parlayed her Las Vegas success to four more top-10 finishes and a 17th place finish on the 2005 ADT Official Money List.
 
To do the same this year, she is going to have to top some pretty tough competition. Juli Inkster, who checks in at No. 1 on the ADT Official Money List, has been on Tour-now in her 24th year-longer than some of her competitors have been alive. But at 45, Inkster is still one of the best in the game. The LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame member won the Safeway International Presented by Coca-Cola last month and, two weeks ago, finished fifth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
 
Second to Inkster on the ADT Official Money List is Lorena Ochoa, who has had her share of ups and downs this year. She has shot 62, 64 and 65, respectively, this year, but has also suffered defeat twice in sudden-death playoffs. The 24-year-old Mexican is one of the most aggressive players on Tour and played well here last year, finishing second to Ward.
 
Ochoa ended the tournament at 14-under-par, but that was after opening up with a 74. She shot a 63-65 to end the tournament and provided a brief scare to Ward. If she can shake off her early-season disappointments and pick up where she left off last year, then Ochoa might be leaving Las Vegas with her first trophy of the year.
 
Hometown favorite Natalie Gulbis and 2004 champion Cristie Kerr have to be considered favorites, as well. Gulbis has been on the cusp of winning for some time now and maybe all she needs is some hometown cooking to put her over the top. She earned more than $1 million last year and already has four top-five finishes this year in five events, so a win could be right around the corner for her.
 
Like Gulbis, Kerr has been playing great golf this year. The six-time champion has four top 10s this year.
 
Perhaps one of the rookies will breakthrough this week and become a Rolex First-Time Winner. Four of the top-five players in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year race are playing and are poised for a win. Seon Hwa Lee, who leads the standings with 280 points (74 more than Morgan Pressel, who is not playing this week), has shared a similar fate as Ochoa this year.
 
The Duramed Futures Tour graduate is consistently at the top of the leaderboard, but lost in a three-hole playoff to Meena Lee at the Fields Open in Hawaii. She also tied for second to Annika Sorenstam at the MasterCard Classic Honoring Alejo Peralta. Maybe this is the week she finally puts together three solid rounds and cashes an oversized paycheck.
 
Fellow rookies Brittany Lang (174 points), Julieta Granada (149 points) and Ai Miyazato (90 points) join Lee in the field this week. If either Lee, Lang, Granada or Miyazato wins, you will not see them risking their winnings at a roulette table Saturday night-no matter how tempted they are. Miyazato, the oldest of the four, doesn't turn 21 until June.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - LPGA Takefuji Classic