Familiar venue can inspire Lewis to triumph
There’s plenty of evening golf to watch with the first LPGA major of the year, the Inspiration, starting tomorrow and first up before the Houston Open.
At 11-1 the field it’s pretty punter-friendly and my pick of the value is American Stacy Lewis at 20-1 even though she hasn’t won since 2014.
The Inspiration was her first major triumph in 2013 and she almost did it again two years later when missing out in a playoff.
She’s very much at home at Mission Hills, the California home of this tournament for 46 years.
Teenage phenomenon Lydia Ko did the winner’s leap into Poppie’s Pond last year with Britain’s Charley Hull getting as close to a first major as she has done by sharing second. Hull had high hopes of a playoff until Ko’s perfect pitch for a last-hole birdie settled all arguments.
Ko is not in the same sort of form this time after changing swing, coaches and equipment – she even missed the cut last week – and the marginal favourite is the awesome Thai Ariya Jutanugarn who got the vapours at Mission Hills last year when looking the most likely winner and had to settle for fourth.
Jutanugarn atoned for that lapse with five subsequent victories, including three on the spin in May and the British Open. She will be hard to beat on the 6,763-yard Mission Hills layout at Rancho Mirage where the weather is forecast to be glorious.
Korean putting wizard Inbee Park, champion in 2013 and Olympic gold medallist last year, is my idea of the best value among the market leaders at 14-1 but neither Jutanugarn nor Park advertised her chance when only sharing 21st place behind runaway winner Mirim Lee in the Kia Classic on Sunday.
But the unflappable Park is a great player of majors and reserves her best for them. She has picked up seven and will be much more interested this week.
Americans Lewis and Brittany Lincicome hold strong each-way appeal. They have plenty in common: they both got married last year and their first major victory came at Mission Hills. “Bam Bam” Brittany has even win there twice, in 2009 and again in 2015.
This could be a big year for Lewis, another former world number one. She has not won since 2014 and admits her desire had dipped. For years it has been nothing but golf, golf, golf but having a husband and a different lifestyle has been a great settler. A victory could be just around the corner. Her Mission Hills record suggests it might be this week.
Lincicome, the longest driver on tour at 280 yards, is not the most consistent but when she’s good, she’s dynamite and is already off the mark for 2017 with a January victory in the Bahamas. An 11th place finish in the Kia was a perfect warm-up.
Since finishing tied second at Mission Hills 12 months ago, Hull has made her US breakthrough at the Tour Championship. With its monster $500,000 first prize, it was the right one to win too.
Chun’s two US wins have both been majors which is a tip in itself. She is just one of many classy Koreans who are likely to be involved at the end.
Sung Hyun Park, So Yeon Ryu and Ha Na Jang are just three more off the Korean production line who are not short of inspiration for the Inspiration, while it would be folly to ignore Mirim Lee, who took the Kia field apart last week and looked a world-beater.
2pts each-way 20-1 general
1pt each-way 14-1 bet365, Betfred
1pt each-way 40-1 Betfred
1pt each-way 50-1 Betfred
Course Mission Hills CC (Dinah Shore Tournament course), Rancho Mirage, California
Prize money $2.7m ($405,000 to winner)
Length 6,763 yards Par 72 Field 114
Course records – 72 holes 269 Dottie Pepper (1999)
18 holes 62 Lorena Ochoa (2006)
Course winners taking part Juli Inkster (2), Karrie Webb (2), Brittany Lincicome (2), Morgan Pressel, Yani Tseng, Stacy Lewis, Sun Young Yoo, Inbee Park, Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko
When to bet By 2.30pm Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports 4 from 5pm Thursday
Time difference California is eight hours behind the UK & Ireland
Last week – Kia Classic 1 Mirim Lee, T2 So Yeon Ryo, A Ernst, T4 G Piller, Sung Hyun Park, K Icher, C Kerr, Mi Jung Hur
Course overview Famous for its rolling hills, deep bunkers and signature 18th, a par-five with an island green. A resort course but always a decent test with single digits under par winning as often as not (four players got into double figures last year). By tradition, the winner has to jump into Poppie’s Pond beside the 18th green
Story of last year Lydia Ko was pitch-perfect at the last hole and her birdie there consigned Charley Hull and In Gee Chun to a share of second place in a thriller
Weather forecast Relentless sunshine and temperatures up to 33C. Moderate wind, up to 12mph
Key attribute Accuracy