Jamie Worsley is back with his usual LPGA preview from the Bank of Hope Matchplay, as well as four tips for the occasion.
Bank of Hope Matchplay Tips
- 2pt Celine Boutier each way (1/4 – 4 places) – 16/1
- 1.5pt Carlota Ciganda each way (1/4 – 4 places) – 25/1
- 1pt Anna Nordqvist each way (1/4 – 4 places) – 35/1
- 0.75pt Perrine Delacour each way (1/4 – 4 places) – 70/1
The LPGA returns to action this week, as Shadow Creek Club in Las Vegas returns to host the third edition of the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play.
The tournament was launched in 2021; filling the Match-Play void that was opened up following the cancellation of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in 2018.
The format is identical in format to the WGC – Match Play in the men’s game, with 64 players competing in 16 groups of 4 over the opening three days, before the top performer from each group qualifies for the straight knockout stages over the weekend.
Ally Ewing won the inaugural event in 2021, overcoming Germany’s Sophia Popov in the final 2&1. Whilst last year, South Korea’s Eun-Hee Ji got the better of Japanese rookie Ayaka Furue in the final 3&2.
Both of those past winners are back this week, hoping to win the event for the second time and with many of the world’s top players missing, it looks a wide-open event.
The exclusive and renowned Tom Fazio designed Shadow Creek Club has hosted each renewal so far and returns as host again this year.
A par 72, measuring 6765 yards, the tree-lined course has some rather generous landing areas, as well as a few that are quite narrow. They are protected by strategically placed fairway bunkers, though the rough isn’t too challenging providing you don’t stray far off-line.
The bentgrass greens are undulating and relatively small, with plenty of run-off areas that will repel less than the most precise iron shots. Some large bunkers offer further around-the-green challenges; whilst water is in-play on half of the holes at Shadow Creek, providing the course with added penalty.
As with most match play events, there is a requirement to have plenty of risk/reward opportunities. Three of the four par 5s come up on the front 9, half of them protected by water, whilst there is also a drivable par 4
We have no stats from the events here but it is worth noting that when the course hosted the CJ Cup on the PGA Tour in 2020, it showed above average toughness when compared with most courses on tour in tee-to-green difficulty.
- SG: Putting
- Birdie Average
- Par 5 Scoring
The different format always throws a spanner in the works, as players will likely approach the course more aggressively than if it was a stroke-play event; their double or worse only counting as a hole lost, as opposed to giving away multiple shots to the field.
When looking at the players to reach the semi-final stages here in the last two years, there are a couple of stats which bind them together more than others.
The ability to putt under pressure is one of – if not the most important – assets to have in match play. Holing that 6 footer to tie or take the hole from your opponent is vital, as is the chance to pile it on your opponent by holing a putt from outside of the one they have coming up.
Of last year’s final 4, Ayaka Furue ranked 3rd in putting on the LPGA last year, whilst Lilia Vu was 20th. Winner Eun-Hee Ji and 4th place finisher Andrea Lee also solid on the greens, ranking 63rd and 44th respectively. Whilst in 2021, the 3rd place finisher, Ariya Jutanugarn, was the 9th best putter on tour; winner Ally Ewing inside the top 50.
Being able to hit these small greens is another key asset, as it was at Shadow Creek on the PGA Tour in 2020. Three of last year’s semi-finalists: Furue, Vu and Andrea Lee, all ranked inside the top 35 in GIR last year, whilst 2021 champion, Ewing, was the 10th best-ranked player in GIR that year.
In addition to these areas, I always prefer to favour good scorers in match play, as I believe the format favours aggressive golf. Furue and Vu last year were amongst the biggest birdie machines on the LPGA, ranking 11th and 12th respectively, whilst in 2021, Ally Ewing and Ariya Jutanugarn were the 14th and 12th best birdie-makers on tour.
Finally, along that same scoring line, par 5s should play a big part, particularly with the volume of them that come up on the front 9 and gives you the opportunity to get off to a fast start against your opponent.
Temperatures are set to be very warm throughout the week. The heat will be accompanied by some strong winds over the group stages of the event but dies down over the weekend when the event moves into the knockout stages.
The field is not quite as strong as some we’ve seen over the opening weeks of the season. It’s headed by world #4 Lilia Vu, with #8 Brooke Henderson the only other player from inside the top 10; a further five from the top 20.
Both former winners will be teeing it up, alongside Swedish star Linn Grant, who is finally able to get to work stateside, after rules surrounding covid vaccination were relaxed a few weeks ago.
Lilia Vu is a worthy 14/1 favourite this week, followed by the quartet of Celine Boutier, Danielle Kang, Hae Ran Ryu and Xiyu Lin at 16s.
These events can be a little hard to predict, therefore I’m inclined to keep it light, taking one player from each quarter of the draw.
2pt Celine Boutier each way (1/4 – 4 places)
First up is France’s Celine Boutier, who appears to have gotten herself a relatively kind draw and with a win already under her belt this year, she’ll be a danger to all this week..
Her group is completed by Min Lee, Sarah Schmelzel and Paulo Reto. Lee would look the biggest danger of this trio, with her finding a little form in recent starts, finishing 33rd and 17th, though between them there are more missed cuts recently than they are numbers. This in contrast to Boutier, who aside from her win this year has recorded a further four top 15 finishes.
Boutier is a fine putter, shown by her ranking of 14th on the LPGA last year, whilst this season she currently ranks inside the top 20 both in greens-in-regulation and birdies made.
We can find strong match-play credentials on show right back to her amateur career, as a former winner of the British Ladies Amateur in 2015, something which she has continued into her pro career, possessing a 100% record in Solheim Cup singles and I’m expecting her to put that to use this week.
1.5pt Carlota Ciganda each way (1/4 – 4 places)
Spain’s Carlota Ciganda should be in confident mood after winning the Aramco Series – Florida last week. She’s another player who’s landed herself in a generally out-of-form group and can rely upon her extensive match play experience – as a five-time Solheim Cup participant – to advance through the rounds this week.
Gaby Lopez, Amanda Doherty and Pornanong Phatlum make up her group. Lopez would ordinarily be the one you’d fear most here, but she’s out of form, missing three of her last four cuts and whilst Doherty has a couple of solid efforts to her name lately, it’s nothing to worry you too much; Phatlum with five MCs in her last six starts.
She should suit the course too, as an excellent putter, ranking 26th on tour this season and was 8th last year, whilst is also strong on the par 5s and has been hitting greens for fun this year, ranking 13th.
Ciganda has failed to make it out of the group stages so far, though was solid last year and with a positive singles record in the Solheim Cup, where she’s won three and tied one of her five matches, she can put that right this week.
1pt Anna Nordqvist each way (1/4 – 4 places)
Anna Nordqvist looks to be in a tricky part of the draw, with the highest-ranked player in the field, Lilia Vu, potentially waiting in the next round should she get through. However, her group is low on form and shouldn’t take much winning if she brings her best stuff this week.
Her group is made up of Andrea Lee, Elizabeth Szokol and Lauren Coughlin. Lee was of course 4th here last year but has been woefully out of form this season, the same story for Szokol and whilst Coughlin’s recent form would make her the biggest danger, it shouldn’t trouble Nordqvist too much.
Though her starts have been a little sparing this year, when she has played she’s looked good, finishing 13th or better in three of her six appearances, including a 13th at the Founders Cup on her last start two weeks ago.
She’s one of the best putters on tour this season, ranking 8th and was 26th last year to add more emphasis on her ability in this area, whilst from her five starts on the LPGA this year, she has a higher GIR percentage than anyone else.
Nordqvist got out of the group stages on her only previous appearance here in 2021, topping a group that included Jin Young Ko before falling to defeat at the hands of Ariya Jutanugarn in the last 16. A solid record in Solheim Cup singles, in which she’s only lost twice in seven matches is another positive and tells of a player who will be a formidable opponent for anyone this week.
0.75pt Perrine Delacour each way (1/4 – 4 places)
A European quartet of selections is completed by France’s Perrine Delacour. Her group doesn’t look trouble-free, but she is the most well-suited to this test for me and could take some beating this week.
That tricky group sees her take on major winner Jennifer Kupcho, in-form Aditi Ashok and outsider of the four, Caroline Inglis. Delacour’s current form is better than Kupcho’s, where she’s recorded four top 20s in her last seven starts compared to Kupcho’s zero and though Ashok’s recent results are more impressive – with a 2nd, 5th and 15th in recent weeks – her lack of power could be a big disadvantage here, something Delacour doesn’t have to worry about.
Delacour has been strong with the putter this year, ranking 26th and is a strong par 5 player, ranking top 30 last season, whilst this year she’s hitting greens for fun, ranking 9th.
She failed to make it out of the groups on her only try last year, though she’s no stranger to match play success, having won the Girls Amateur Championship in her amateur days and can draw positively on that experience this week.
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