Players to watch: AIG Women’s Open | LPGA

The fifth and final major of the 2023 LPGA Tour season begins this week, with the 47th edition of the AIG Women’s Open pitting the game’s best at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England. All ten players in the top 10 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking are the four major champions in 2023, along with 14 of the 15 winners this season. With so much talent in a 144-player field, here are some players to keep your eye on at the last major championship of the year.

Celine Boutier

Golf’s hot hand is hard to ignore and no one is hotter than Celine Boutier right now. The Frenchwoman captured her first major championship at The Amundi Evian Championship two weeks ago, beating reigning champion Brooke Henderson by six shots to become the event’s first French champion. If that wasn’t enough, the 29-year-old went on to the Freed Group Women’s Scottish Open presented by Trust Golf, an event where she finished runner-up in 2022, and won another trophy, this time defeating Hyo Joo Kim. Two scenarios. It is the first time a player has recorded back-to-back victories since Jin Young Ko won the Cognizant Founders Cup and BMW Ladies Championship in 2021. It is the first time since 2016 when Arya Jutanugarn won the AIG Women’s Open and CPKC Women’s Open that a player won both a major and a tournament.

Statistically, it’s no surprise to see Boutier win this much because his success is easily calculated. According to KPMG Performance Insights, he ranks second on tour in strokes gained on the green (+0.61), sixth in total strokes gained (+1.75) and 17th in strokes gained tee to green (+1.03). He is fifth in saves (59.09%), ninth in rounds par (29), 11th in controls (72.45%) and 11th in average (70.44).

When she comes to Walton Heath this week, Boutier will look to become the first player to win three straight tournaments since Jutanugarn last won in 2016. Now the five-time LPGA Tour winner will surely battle some fatigue as she pulls off an impressive record. Although she has missed the cut in four of her previous seven appearances at the AIG Women’s Open, Boutier has finished in the top 10 twice, finishing seventh at the 2022 event at Muirfield and sixth at Woburn Golf and Country Club in 2019. A place similar to Walton Heath.

Ashley Buhai

While it’s rare to see a player successfully defend her title at a major championship, South Africa’s Ashley Buhai will become the first player to do so after Inbee Park won her third KPMG Women’s PGA Championship of 2015 at Walton Heath this week. The 34-year-old became Rolex’s first-ever winner of the 2022 AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield, defeating In Kee Chun in a four-hole playoff to claim her first major championship title. Since then, Buhai has won three times worldwide, the 2022 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open on the WPGA Tour of Australia, the 2023 Investec South African Women’s Open on the Ladies European Tour and the 2023 Shoprite LPGA Classic on the LPGA presented by Acer. Tour.

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Not including last year’s victory, the LPGA Tour player has had mixed results before winning her 14 starts at the AIG Women’s Open. He missed seven cuts at the event, but finished in the top 15 in 2019 and 2020, finishing fifth and in a tie for 11th, respectively. A top five finish at Woburn in 2019 should give the defending champion even more confidence as this year’s venue, Walton Heath, will require a similar style of golf as it is not the traditional links course usually found in this part of the world.

This week marks Puhai’s 16th start of the 2023 season, and in addition to his win in New Jersey, he has five top-10 finishes, the best of which came in the Cognizant Founders Cup, a solo third. Statistically, Buhai is second in birdies (212), third in greens in regulation (1.75), seventh in approach stroke (+0.94), ninth in rounds par (29), 11th in driving accuracy (82.15), and 12th in average (29.15). place (29.15) and 14th in strokes (+1.36), all of which indicate that he is looking to retain his title for the first time.

Minjee LeeMinjee Lee

Given her recent results at the AIG Women’s Open, it’s shocking that Lee has yet to win this major championship. This week marks his 10th start at the event, and in his previous five appearances, the Australian has not finished outside the top 11, with a solitary 10th in 2018, a T11 in 2019, a solitary third in 2020, a T5 in 2021 and a T4 in 2022. The 27-year-old has one additional top 10, a T9 at Trump Turnberry in 2015, as well as a T25 at Woburn in 2016. She missed the cut just twice at the AIG Women’s Open in 2014 and 2017.

Lee’s 2023 season got off to a slow start as he finished no better than T41 in the first four events of the year, but things picked up after he helped Team Australia to second place at the Hanwha LifePlus International Crown. The major champion finished second alone the following week after losing in a playoff to Jin Young Ko at the Cognizant Founders Cup. Since then, Lee has never finished worse than a T20, most notably a tie for seventh at the Dana Open and 13th at the US Women’s Open at Pebble Beach.

Statistically, the eight-time LPGA Tour winner’s game is as strong as ever, ranking second in strokes gained (+1.57), strokes gained from tee to green (+2.07), 13th in strokes gained (+0.61) and 16th in strokes gained total (+0.61). 1.35). Lee finished second in birdies with 74.31%, fourth with 198 birdies and fourth in sub-par holes with 203. Considering the past five AIG Women’s Open champions have hit an average of 57 greens en route to victory, and the last four have ranked in the top 10 in greens in regulation, the Aussie, always deadly on the ball, fits the profile of an AIG Women’s Open champion.

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Anna NordquistAnna Nordquist

Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist captured her ninth LPGA Tour win and third major title at the 2021 AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie, beating Georgia Hall, Madeleine Saxstrom and Lisette Salas by one shot. Nordqvist won on tour for the first time since 2017. The 36-year-old has been incredibly consistent since then, missing just four cuts since Aug. 19, 2021, and finishing in the top 10 five times, including a solo third and a third at the 2022 CME Group Tour Championship. 2023 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

This will be her 14th start of the 2023 season and 17th appearance at the AIG Women’s Open. In his previous 16 starts at this major championship, not including his win, the LPGA Tour winner has finished in the top 15 six times, finishing seventh in 2011, 2015 and 2017, 11th in 2013 and 2019 and 12th. 2014. In Nordqvist’s other 13 starts this year and in addition to that T3 at Baltusrol Golf Club’s Lower Course, he has two top-20 finishes, including a T20 at The Amundi Evian Championship two weeks ago. Nordqvist is fifth on tour this season (73.61%), 11th in strokes gained (+0.86) and 15th in scoring average (70.65).

As he works to capture his first win since 2021 this week, Nordqvist is also looking to cement his case to play as assistant captain in the 2023 Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin in September. Currently, she is on the bubble of automatically qualifying for the European team, with fellow Swede Madeleine Sackstrom hot on her heels in the last available qualifier based on position in the Rolex rankings.

Hinako ShibunoHinako Shibuno

Hinako Shibuno burst onto the LPGA Tour scene in 2019 in dramatic fashion, winning the AIG Women’s Open at Woburn Golf and Country Club as a non-member. Opting out of the automatic LPGA Tour membership offered to winning nonmembers on the tour, the Japan native became a 2022 LPGA Tour rookie after finishing in the top 45 of the 2021 LPGA Q-Series. She finished in the top 10 five times last season, the most notable of which were a solo third-place finish at the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield and a tie for fourth at The Chevron Championship. So far this year, Shibuno has one top-10 finish, including a seventh-place finish at the LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain. According to KPMG Performance Insights, the 24-year-old ranks fifth in strokes gained (+0.98) and 11th in strokes gained around the green (+0.38) this season, a combination that will prove useful in these challenging key situations. .

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Although Walton Heath and Woburn are markedly different in that both courses are inland and in trees, the AIG Women’s Open is very different from the traditional links-style venues where it is often contested. All four of Shibuno’s winning rounds in 2019 were in the 60s as she posted a 72-hole total of 18-under 66-69-67-68, the lowest winning score in the last five editions of the AIG Women’s Tournament. open A lot has changed in the four years since Shibuno won this championship, but given this week’s conditions, 2019 will be the same as when he captured his only LPGA Tour title, don’t count him out of his sophomore year on the LPGA Tour at Walton Heath.

Madeleine SackstromMadeleine Sackstrom

Although Madelene Sagstrom wholeheartedly admits she hated playing links golf when she was younger, the 30-year-old Swede seems to have found something when she wins the AIG Women’s Open. In his last two appearances at the event, Sackström has finished in the top five, second at Carnoustie in 2021 and fourth at Muirfield in 2022. This week’s venue, Walton Heath Golf Club, may not be the same layout as the previous two years, but those two results are sure to boost confidence.

It will be the 14th event of the 2023 LPGA Tour season and she is coming into her fifth and final major of the year after tying for ninth last week at the Freed Group Women’s Scottish Open presented by Trust Golf. It was his second top-10 finish of the season — Sackstrom finished T10 at the Cognizant Founders Cup — but his fifth top-20 and first since a T13 at the Mizuho Americas Open in June. While other parts of his game leave much to be desired, the Swede has excelled off the tee this year as he currently ranks fifth in average driving distance at 274.74 yards and 17th among drivers in strokes gained (+0.58).

Riding high on the momentum gained from a solid finish in Scotland last week and plenty of confidence from her previous two appearances at the AIG Women’s Open, Sackstrom could be a surprise contender at Walton Heath this week.

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