SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - For the second-straight week, Candie Kung's mission is clear. The 23-year-old is defending her second consecutive title this week when she takes on 143 players at the State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill.
Kung won a rain-shortened event last year by a single stroke over Laura Davies after finishing three rounds with a 202 (-14) total.
This year, the three-time LPGA champion will face seven other past State Farm Classic champions: LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame member Nancy Lopez (1980, 1992); Michelle McGann (1996); Cindy Figg-Currier (1997); Mi Hyun Kim (1999); Laurel Kean (2000); Kate Golden (2001); and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc (2002).
In addition, 10 tournament champions from 2004 are teeing it up at the Rail Golf Course this week, including two-time champions Cristie Kerr, Lorena Ochoa and Karen Stupples and champions Moira Dunn, Catriona Matthew, Se Ri Pak, Grace Park and Sherri Steinhauer.
Ochoa heads into the event with the lead in the State Farm LPGA Series Bonus Pool standings and will be looking to hold onto that lead and claim the $100,000 first-place prize. The State Farm LPGA Series is an 11-event tournament series consisting of LPGA events on ESPN and ESPN2, where players can earn points for their finishes in those 11 events towards the bonus pool.
The race for the 2004 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award also continues this week, with Shi Hyun Ahn (624 points) holding a slim lead over Aree Song (549) in the points standings. The State Farm Classic is one of the five remaining events on the LPGA schedule in which players can earn points toward the top-rookie honor.
Also in the field are amateur sponsor exemptions Brittany Lincicome and Leigh Anne Hardin. Lincicome, 16, is no stranger to LPGA events this year, as she held the first-round lead at the U.S. Women's Open in July. Hardin, a graduate of Duke University with an impressive amateur record, is making her first appearance in an LPGA event since 2001.
In 2003, Kung grabbed the first-round lead after tying her career-low score with a 64 (-8), then stretched her lead to four shots after a second-round, 5-under-par 67. Kung posted a 1-under-par 71 in the third round, while Davies crept to within one shot of Kung's lead thanks to a third-round 66 (-6).
Heavy rains drenched the 6,558-yard layout following the third round and then again throughout the day on Sunday, forcing tournament officials to shorten the event to 54 holes and crown Kung as champion. The win was Kung's third of the 2003 season, a breakout year in which she finished sixth on the ADT Official money list.