I think most Europeans consider this tournament as a major, defending champion Sophie Gustafson said shortly after her win last year.
Her sentiments were echoed less than a month later when LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw officially declared the 25-year-old event a major championship on the LPGA Tour schedule.
Its the biggest event in Europe. It may not have the biggest prize fund, but status-wise it is the biggest, Gustafson said.
Gustafson, who won the Open last year as a non-major, will face a stiff field this year. 'I'm obviously happy to come back and defend my title<' Gustafson said.
Gustafson won last year at Birkdale - a windy course with a traditional links layout. 'It(the course)probably doesn't suite me as well as Birkdale did. It's a chipper and putter's golf course. But I'm looking forward to Thursday.'
All of the top-10 players on the LPGA's 2001 money list are lined up to participate in the newly named major.
Number two on the list, Karrie Webb, will be of particular concern to Gustafson who took home the event in 2000 with scores of 70-66-71-75=282. Webb captured the trophy in 1997 ' the last time the event was held at Sunningdale ' with a four-day total of 19-under-par 269. In the process Webb set a new tournament record of 9-under 63 during the third round.
Those scheduled to play at Sunningdale include last weeks winner of the WPGA Championship of Europe ' Helen Alfredsson, as well as Battle at Bighorn participant Annika Sorenstam, and Hall of Fame members Beth Daniel and Juli Inkster.
Rounding out the field are some of the LETs and LPGA Tours up-in-coming superstars. They include Sara Sanders, Smriti Mehra, Silvia Cavalleri, Mhairi McKay, last week's LPGA winner Dorothy Delasin, Se Ri Pak and Grace Park.
Also joining the field are Natasha Fink, Suzanne Strudwick, MJ Rouleau, LaRee Pearl Sugg and Shani Waugh - all qualified at the Michelob Light Classic.
Jean Bartholomew, Donna Andrews, Heather Daly-Donofrio, Penny Hammel, Leta Lindley and Marnie McGuire have all withdrawn from competition allowing Arizona States Jen Hanna in the field along with Laurel Kean, Smriti Mehra and Mardi Lunn.
Amateurs Rebecca Hudson and Marta Prieto are in the field.