Year 2 at Evian packed with big names, big plots

Suzann Pettersen beat out Lydia Ko to win the inaugural Evian Championship in 2013. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images)

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Evian-les-Bains is famous for its mineral springs, with 17th century French scientists believing in the water’s curative powers.

That can’t hurt Michelle Wie's and Lydia Ko’s chances this week when they tee it up at the Evian Championship in the LPGA’s fifth and final major championship of the year.

Wie is making her return after missing the last month with an injured index finger, while Ko is making her first start after having cysts in her left wrist drained from a fluid buildup that caused pain and swelling.

There’s a load of compelling storylines with a field of 120 players competing for a $3.25 million purse:

• Will Suzann Pettersen continue to be the only winner this major championship has ever known?

• Will Stacy Lewis strengthen her grip on the Rolex World No. 1 ranking and quest to sweep all the LPGA’s significant awards this year?

• Can Wie shake off the rust from a month away from competition and add to the U.S. Women’s Open trophy she won in June?

• Can Ko make this a historic week, becoming the youngest winner of a major championship and the youngest No. 1 in the history of professional golf?

• Will Inbee Park recast her role as Queen Bee of the majors, winning a second major this year to claim the new Rolex Annika Major Award as the best player in the year’s major championships?

• Can Lexi Thompson win her second major championship of the year?

• Will the Evian Resort Golf Club prove major championship worthy after a shaky debut last year?

Wie, 24, broke through to win the U.S. Women’s Open in June, but she’s looking to find that winning form after hurting herself hitting out of a divot at the Marathon Classic in late July. She was diagnosed with a “stress reaction” to the index finger of her right hand.

“I'm feeling pretty good,” Wie told reporters in France at a pre-championship news conference Tuesday. “I'm feeling pretty healthy, and I'm just really happy to be here.”

Wie isn’t 100 percent, though. She said she spent two weeks with the finger in a splint, just began chipping and putting a little more than a week ago and only hit full shots in the last week. She has yet to play 18 holes since injuring herself.

“I kind of have the mindset where I'm going to hit 230-yard drives,” Wie said. “Hopefully, I won't play with Lexi, and she won't outdrive me by 50 yards this week.

“But, yeah, I'm definitely one club less, not hitting as far as I want to. At the same time, I'm just really excited that I can hit balls. I can come out here and play. Kind of played just five holes yesterday, 13 holes today. I'm working up to 18 holes, so hopefully by Thursday I can play 18.”

Ko has been playing extraordinarily well through her own injury. She had her wrist drained two weeks ago and will be looking to win her first major championship and third title this year. If Ko wins at Evian, she will become the youngest major championship winner in the history of men’s or women’s golf. She will be 17 years, 4 months and 22 days old on Sunday. Young Tom Morris was 17 years, 5 months and 8 days old when he won the British Open in 1868. If Ko wins, she will also vault to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, becoming the youngest to do so.

Pettersen, 33, put on a ball-striking clinic a year ago, winning her second major. She made strong runs in the last two majors, tying for second at the Ricoh Women’s British Open in July and tying for sixth after a Sunday fade last month at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
Ko pushed Pettersen hard at Evian a year ago in a Sunday back-nine duel and finished second.

Lewis, 29, hasn’t won a major this year, but she’s threatening to sweep all the other significant awards in the women’s game. Lewis leads the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year race, the LPGA money list and the battle for the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. No American has swept all three of those titles since Betsy King in 1993.

Park, 26, is aiming to win back-to-back majors in back-to-back years. She won the first three majors of the year last season, becoming the first to do so since Babe Zaharias in 1950. Park said that run took a lot out of her when it ended at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, and she still felt it playing Evian a year ago.

“I feel like I'm probably in better condition; my body is in better condition; my golf game is in better condition than last year,” Park said. “I didn't win as much as last year, but I feel like I have matured and my golf game has improved a little bit. So, yeah, I think I have a little bit more confidence than last year when I was here.”

Park won the Wegmans LPGA Championship last month.

Thompson, 19, is seeking to add to the Kraft Nabisco title she won in April. She has some nice history at Evian. She finished third a year ago and tied second as a 15-year-old back in 2010, before the event was a major.

“It’s definitely different being introduced as a major championship winner,” Thompson said. “It’s a huge honor . . . I love every bit of it, and it’s great to be back here in France.”

Evian Golf Resort endured a difficult debut as the LPGA’s fifth major a year ago. It didn’t look, feel or play like a major after undergoing a renovation plagued by a hard winter and wet spring. The difficulties were exacerbated by unrelenting weather challenges the week of the championship. The event was shortened to 54 holes last year and played with lift, clean and place in effect every round. The course was pockmarked with bare patches, with dozens of spots marked as ground under repair.

According to Wie and Thompson, the course is ready this week despite another wet year.

“I'm just really impressed with the conditions this year,” Wie said. “The greens are rolling perfectly.

“It's been a short year with bad weather, and it's absolutely unbelievable how great the golf course is playing right now. It could not be any better.”