Jamie Worsley hit his first 33/1 winner of the season on the LPGA Tour last week and now he’s back for the LA Open, where he has four more selections, as well as his usual substantial preview.
LA Open Tips
- 2.5pts Hyo Joo Kim – each way (1/4 5 places) – 16/1
- 2pts Nasa Hataoka – each way (1/4 5 places) – 25/1
- 0.75pts Aditi Ashok – each way (1/4 5 places) – 90/1
- 0.5pts Stacy Lewis – each way (1/4 5 places) – 200/1
Celine Boutier got us up and running for the year on the LPGA with a 33/1 winner on Sunday, winning the LPGA Drive On Championship in a playoff against England’s Georgia Hall, with birdie on the first extra hole.
She entered that final round with a one-shot lead and extended it early on in her round to two but following a bogey on six, the pack closed up on and eventually passed her, creating a hugely bunched leaderboard.
Boutier got things going again on the back nine with birdies on 11 and 13, though then had to find another one on her final hole to match the -20 winning score set by Hall earlier.
The Frenchwoman duly delivered and with a birdie on the first playoff hole, secured her third LPGA win.
There are just two more events to go before the first women’s major of the year: the Chevron Championship at The Club at Carlton Woods. The players will be off to Hawaii for the LOTTE Championship in two weeks but first we head to California for the LA Open at Palos Verdes Golf Club.
This tournament was created in 2018, with Moriya Jutanugarn winning the trophy – her first and only solo title on the LPGA – in a two-stroke victory over Jin Young Ko and Inbee Park; successes for Minjee Lee, Brooke Henderson and Nasa Hataoka following in the other three renewals.
That inaugural edition and the following three in 2019, 2021 and 2022 (2020 cancelled due to covid) all took place at Wilshire Country Club, though the event moves to Palos Verdes Golf Club for the first time this year, with Wilshire CC returning as host of the new LA Championship in April.
Though this is the first time Palos Verdes has hosted this event, it did host the Palos Verdes Championship on the LPGA last year; where in tough conditions, we saw Marina Alex hold off a stellar leaderboard – including Jin Young Ko in 2nd and Lydia Ko in 3rd – to win her 2nd LPGA title and first since 2018.
Palos Verdes Golf Club is the design work of renowned architect duo George Thomas and William Bell – who collaborated on Riviera amongst other venues – and is nearly 100-years-old, opening for play in 1924.
Playing to a par 71 at 6258 yards, this traditional gem is one of the shortest courses they’ll play all year but as shown by last year’s event staged here, is incredibly challenging; with Marina Alex’s victory coming with a -10 winning score.
The course is very hilly with elevation changes throughout, many of which are uphill and particularly into the greens, making the course play longer than it says on paper.
Though there’s a combination of tree-lined and more open holes, the fairways remain predominantly narrow and doglegging, many protected by strategic bunkering and some tricky rough, whilst line of sight issues require players to not only find fairways but the right areas.
This is imperative if wanting to hit the tiny, undulating poa/bentgrass greens, which are protected by severe run-off areas and imposing bunkering; wind arriving from the Pacific adding a further dimension of difficulty to an already demanding course.
The front nine pummels you with par 4s (seven of the front nine are such holes) and with more rain in the area than there was last year – meaning the course is said to be playing much softer – there looks a series of shorter ones that the strongest iron-players should fancy attacking.
This changes up greatly on the back nine, where no two consecutive holes play to the same par, here we find three of the four par 3s, including the lengthy 214 yard 13th, with two of the three par 5s also on this nine.
It’s tough to know what to expect, the course was very difficult last year and with troublesome weather on the way it should play so again. However, the softer conditions changes the dynamic somewhat and means that the straight drivers that littered the leaderboard there may not be quite as prevalent.
There was one thing that stood out and with those softer conditions, I expect to be even more important this year: high-quality approach play.
On some of the smallest greens on tour (averaging less than 4000 sq ft), it’s little surprise to see approach play and an ability to hit greens holding significance.
Out of last year’s top 8, only two sat outside the top 50 in approach on the LPGA, with Ryann O’Toole only narrowly so. The 3rd and 4th best iron-players on tour, Andrea Lee and Lydia Ko, finished 5th and 3rd respectively, whilst Jin Young Ko in 2nd, Megan Khang in 3rd and Hannah Green in 5th all rank top 30 in approach. This overriding quality on show in GIR too, with seven of the top 8 ranked top 50.
On greens which will be missed by the bucket-load, a strong short-game is a must, whilst the challenging nature of the putting surfaces means those with proven ability on similar poa/bent greens should have an advantage. Indeed, Lydia Ko is the best putter on tour and Khang the 3rd best player around-the-greens.
As mentioned, straight drivers dominated the top of the final leaderboard last year, with four of the top 8 ranking top 25 in driving accuracy. However, Hannah Green – an all-round strong driver but one who carries more power than accuracy – led going into that final round, whilst Ryann O’Toole isn’t the straightest either. The longer hitters can club down on many holes and with softer conditions, the course should play a little more into their hands compared to last year.
With that, whilst I won’t completely ignore the benefit of straight driving, I’m cautious to put too heavy an emphasis on driving accuracy and will weight it lower than other areas.
Key Stats: SG: Approach, Greens-in-Regulation, SG: Putting, SG: Around-the-Greens
Secondary Stats: Driving Accuracy
Correlating Events (Courses)
Portland Classic (Columbia Edgewater CC)
Columbia Edgewater is a similarly old, traditional, tree-lined course with small poa greens and requires strategy over brute force to overcome.
Three of last year’s top 10 at Palos Verdes have won there: winner Marina Alex, along with Andrea Lee, who won the Portland Classic last year and Hannah Green, who won in 2019. Megan Khang and Ryan O’Toole, also hitting the top 10 at both courses.
Shoprite LPGA Classic (Seaview GC – Bay Course)
The Bay Course is again, an old fashioned golf course. Despite the much larger poa/bent greens and more exposed layout of the course, it compares closely in terms of length, width of fairways, heavy bunkering and lack of water.
Marina Alex has an excellent record there, recording finishes of 3rd, 6th and 8th, whilst Annie Park – who was 5th here last year – is a past winner at the Bay Course. Ryan O’Toole again strengthening the form tie with a 6th place finish there.
Dana Open (Highland Meadows GC)
Highland Meadows is longer but small poa/bent greens, narrow tree-lined fairways and strategic bunkering should mean it acts as a good guide to this week’s test.
Marina Alex has a 5th place finish there, whilst Megan Khang has a 2nd to go with her 3rd here last year. Andrea Lee also has a top 5 and Lydia Ko has won the event twice, though as the best around, she is liable to go well anywhere.
It will be a stormy, cold and wet start to the week in California, with wind gusts of up to 50kmh accompanying on Thursday. Whilst the storm dissipates from Friday, the cold, windy conditions will remain throughout the week to make for a challenging event.
We have a stellar field, with the top 4 players in the world teeing it up in California this week, headed by world #1 Lydia Ko; with Nelly Korda, Jin Young Ko and Atthaya Thitikul ranked 2nd to 4th. They are joined by a further fourteen players from inside the world’s top 25.
Nasa Hataoka returns to action as defending champion, whilst Marina Alex may feel a defending champion in her own right after winning the event here last year.
Lydia Ko heads the betting at 7/1, followed by Jin Young Ko and Nelly Korda at 10/1, with Atthaya Thitikul at 11s. I was keen on Jin Young Ko, who now looks back to her best and with a 2nd place finish here last year, is the one I feel they all have to beat but at 10/1 I’m happy enough to leave her alone.
However she didn’t rank first in my model this week, that fell on compatriot, Hyo Joo Kim, who with a little more juice in the price, goes in as this week’s main selection.
2.5pts Hyo Joo Kim – each way (1/4 5 places)
Kim enjoyed a strong year in 2022, winning her 5th LPGA title in the LOTTE Championship, whilst recording a further eight top 10s – three of them in majors – and missing just two cuts.
Her start to 2023 has been equally promising, finishing 18th in the Saudi International on the LET on her first start of the year; following up with two top 10s in the LPGA events out in the Far East.
Though not playing here last year, Kim is a perfect match for the test at Palos Verdes. She possesses one of the best short-games on the LPGA, ranking 2nd around-the-greens and 28th in putting on tour last season, something she compliments with a strong approach game, where she ranked 7th and 33rd in GIR should come in handy on these small putting surfaces.
A strong record in the Dana Open, where she’s finished 4th and recorded multiple other top 20s is another positive and as a Korean, it’s no surprise to see she plays the wind well, as she did when winning the LOTTE Championship last year.
Kim has virtually everything in her favour for a strong showing in California this week.
2pts Nasa Hataoka – each way (1/4 5 places)
Japan’s Nasa Hataoka continues to make winning look easy on the LPGA, with her win in this event – albeit at a different course – last year her 6th in just four years. Off the back of a strong start to the year, she makes a compelling case for going back-to-back in the LA Open this week.
In twenty-six starts on tour last season, Hataoka missed just one cut and outside of her solo win, recorded sixteen further top 20s, with six of them top 10s.
Fast-forward to her strong start to this year and we find her finishing 5th in the Tournament of Champions on her first start and followed that with an 8th in Saudi Arabia; most recently finishing 23rd and 11th out in the Far East.
Like Kim, she didn’t play here last year but has a game suited to the test. Approach play is her biggest strength, ranking 25th last season and was 28th in GIR. The putter very much a strength too, where she ranked 33rd and is solid enough around-the-greens.
In addition to her making sense statistically, she has an extremely strong book of correlating form. Hataoka is a past winner of the Dana Open and has recorded top 5 finishes both in the Portland Classic and Shoprite LPGA Classic.
She’ll have to overcome a month-long absence but Hataoka is a proven winner and can add win number seven here this week, retaining her title in the process.
0.75pts Aditi Ashok – each way (1/4 5 places)
India’s Aditi Ashok has had a superb start to the season on the Ladies European Tour and can bounce back from a disappointing performance in Arizona last week at this course which should be a better fit.
We can actually go back to the end of last year to see Ashok starting to find some form, as she finished 4th at home in the Indian Open. She’s gone better than that on each start in the new year, first winning the Kenyan Open – her 4th win on the LET – on her first start of 2023, following with a 3rd in the Lalla Meryem Cup behind Swedish stars Maja Stark and Linn Grant. Before finishing a superb 2nd to Lydia Ko on a star-studded leaderboard in the Saudi International.
She made her 2023 LPGA debut last week, missing the cut by some way but is forgiven due to it being her first start in five weeks and because of the fact that wide open, lengthier course wouldn’t necessarily suit.
She possesses a top-tier short game, ranking 6th around-the-greens and 8th in putting on tour last season, whilst her straight hitting – where she ranked 24th in driving accuracy – will be beneficial if the event plays out similarly to last year.
Approach play would be the concern and area she’ll need to find some improvement, though if the worst of the weather arrives, many will miss these tiny surfaces, in which case her elite short game will serve her well.
A missed cut here is of little concern, as she only missed by one despite being in very poor form, much opposed to how she’s looking now. An 8th in the Dana Open is an indication of her potential to perform well here, as is a top 20 in Portland and with the confidence she’ll have gained from the early part of this season, I’m expecting Ashok to produce her best LPGA performance to date this week.
0.5pts Stacy Lewis – each way (1/4 5 places)
Cheyenne Knight’s steady ball-striking held plenty of appeal this week and she was one of many at 100/1+ that appealed. Though I only had room for one more and I just couldn’t ignore the 7th place finish put up by two-time major winner Stacy Lewis last week. On a course which should suit, despite her missed cut last year, I’m taking her to compound that strong performance this week at a huge price.
Lewis’ form tailed off at the end of last year following a strong start. Though there’s been gradual improvements at the start of this year. After opening the year with a 68th place finish in Thailand, she improved in Singapore, finishing 39th and stepped it up significantly last week with that 7th place finish, where she fired every round in the 60s, looking particularly good with the putter and off the tee. Very much representative of what she’s about.
Lewis is a strong, accurate ball-striker, ranking 7th in driving accuracy and top 50 in approach last season, with the putter also looking good, ranking 30th. Stats all the more impressive considering the form she was in.
Her missed cut last year was disappointing but her correlating form is as strong as anyone, as a past champion of the Shoprite and in Portland, whilst she’s also recorded multiple top 10s in the Dana Open.
After being named Solheim Cup captain for the next two years, she has plenty on her plate but that 7th may signal she is far from done winning and if able to kick on from there, she can add her first title since 2020 this week.
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