Kraft Nabisco Championship
Brittany Lincicome’s triumph at last year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship stands as the only American victory in the last nine major championships played in women’s golf.
In a tough year for the Americans, last season’s first major rivaled the Solheim Cup as the showcase event for the United States.
Lincicome’s magnificent 3-iron hybrid from 210 yards to set up her winning eagle ranks as one of the greatest shots in major championship history. Down by a stroke to McPherson at the final hole, Lincicome drained a 4-foot putt for the victory. She finished a shot ahead of Kerr, who birdied the final hole, and two ahead of McPherson. It was the first time a major ended with American women finishing 1-2-3 since Hilary Lunke, Angela Stanford and Kelly Robbins finished that way at the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open.
Stance: Asian dominance continues on the LPGA with the winners of the year’s first three tournaments all coming from the Far East. South Korean Hee Kyung Seo’s victory Sunday at the Kia Classic followed Japan’s Ai Miyazato's titles in the season’s first two events. The top four finishers were all Asian Sunday at the Kia Classic. Sixty-one of the top 100 players in this week’s Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings are from the Far East. South Korea has 35 players among the top 100, more than any other nation, and Japan is close to overtaking the Americans for the second spot. Americans have 21 spots with Japan claiming 20.
Takeaway: Seo, who is playing the Kraft Nabisco Championship this week, showed the potential to be a new force on the LPGA if she chooses to take up membership. She won the right with her victory but says she isn’t certain yet whether she will become a member. She plans to finish the year on the Korean LPGA tour and is thinking about taking up membership next year.
Bunker shot: The Kraft Nabisco Championship has become the LPGA’s grandest annual stage. With great finishes accumulating at Mission Hill’s Dinah Shore Tournament Course, where risk/reward design is a factor, especially at the finishing hole, there’s a nice history building up. Lincicome’s eagle last year, Karrie Webb’s closing eagle with a hole-out from 116 yards on her way to a playoff victory in ’06 and dramatic failures by various challengers make the winner’s leap into Poppy’s Pond one of the most anticipated events on the tour schedule.
Shell Houston Open
With the Masters a week away, the Shell Houston Open is making the most of its spot on the schedule.
Once again, the Redstone Golf Course in Humble, Texas, is being set up as close as tournament officials can make it to an Augusta National warm up. Firm and fast is the aim to give pros a chance to prepare for the type of conditions they’ll see at the year’s first major.
Stance: Eight of the top 13 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are in the field, including Ernie Els, the only two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season, and Phil Mickelson, the highest ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world. Paul Casey is back as the defending champion in good form. Casey’s done everything but win this year after rebounding from a rib injury at the end of last season. Casey hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in four PGA Tour starts this year with his best finish a runner-up at the Accenture Match Play Championship.
Takeaway: Mickelson hasn’t gone this deep into a season without winning since 2006, when he won the BellSouth Classic a week before the Masters by a whopping 13 shots and then went on to win at Augusta National.
Bunker shot: Ernie Els won’t just be the sentimental favorite at next week’s Masters. Back-to-back victories at the WGC-CA Championship at Doral and last weekend’s Arnold Palmer Invitational make it appear the Big Easy has regained his best form. The key seems to be that he is working harder than he’s ever worked without trying too hard when the tournament begins. Els isn’t worrying about some three-year plan to be No. 1 or even winning the Masters. As his sports psychologist Bob Rotella says, he’s into the process. He’s just playing the game free of the burdens that have weighed him down the last few seasons. Watching Els slip into a green jacket next week would rank as a popular triumph given the heartaches he’s endured at Augusta National and other majors. Of course, he'll have to contend next week with the return of Tiger Woods, a figure who has blocked Els’ path so many times before.