On the world clock the first groups will tee off at the LPGA Reignwood Classic in Beijing, China in about an hour. I’m going to watch three groups in particular, which I predict will set the pace for this inaugural event.
Tseng, Webb & Wei
Twenty-four year old Yani Tseng turned pro in 2007, joined the LPGA Tour in 2008, and during 2011 and 2012 seemed ready to set the golf world on fire. Tseng was ranked No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings for 109 consecutive weeks from 2011 to 2013. Over the course of her 6 year career Tseng, who’s ranked 20th by Rolex, has earned 15 victories and 61 top-10 finishes. Tseng’s very comfortable playing Asian venues. She won the inaugural Sunrise LPGA Tiawan Championship and the LPGA Hana Bank Championship in 2011 and the Honda LPGA Thailand in 2012. Despite a disappointing 2013 season, Tseng could well recover her mental game playing in the culturally familiar Reignwood venue.
Michelle Wie had struggled to get her pro career off the ground. The 23-year old, who’s ranked 86th by Rolex, turned pro in 2005, a week before her 16th birthday. She’s not been able to follow up on victories at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in 2009 and the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2010, and has claimed only 2 top-ten finishes in the 2013 season. Like Tseng, Wie has had a lackluster 2013 season, but like Tseng, she has a game in her bag that could win the Reignwood.
Karrie Webb, Australia’s leading woman golfer, ranked 7 by Rolex, brings an impressive record to the Reignwood. Over her 15 year career Webb has piled up 39 victories and 193 top-10 finishes and her competitive successes span the globe, including tournament victories in Ladies European Tour, Australian Ladies Professional Golf, and LPGA of Japan as well as LPGA-sponsored events. Webb is a consummate pro athlete and she brings a laser-like, single-minded focus to her golf game that consistently serves her well and could take her to the top of the Reignwood board. Webb could also ground Yani Tseng and Michelle Wie, who are both struggling with their mental games, and they could ride her coattails. Let’s watch and see how this trio plays out.
Feng, Park & Ryu
The pairing of Shanshan Feng, the home-town favorite at the Reignwood, Inbee Park, the top-ranked golfer in the world, and So Yeon Ryu, one of the most serious challenges to Park’s hegemony, has all the ingredients of high golf drama. This is the group that could set the pace for the next 4 days.
Feng, who’s ranked 9th by Rolex, hasn;t had an LPGA victory since she won the 2012 Wegman’s LPGA Championship, but she’s scored victories on the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA of Japan, and she’s a serious competitor at the Reignwood.
Park, on the other hand, despite her #1 Rolex Rank, has been in a serious slump for months. Her consistent, robotic game has seemed stiff. Her once flawless putts have been rolling past the cup. But she’s had some time to decompress and relax and the pressure to break records and make golf history is gone. If Park has recovered the core of her game, we could be in for a major battle.
Ryu is the right player to complete this pacesetting trio. 2012 was Ruy’s LPGA rookie year but the #5 Rolex ranked player had been playing on the LPGA of Korea tour for 5 years and had earned 8 victories before she joined the LPGA. Ryu can play world class golf and she delivers under pressure. She won the 2011 US Women’s Open in a 3-hole, very aggressive playoff. She’s coming in to the Reignwood with 7 top-10 finishes this year and she’s ready for a win.
I look for a spectacular shootout from this trio of Asian golfers.
Choi, Lewis & Recari
Na Yeon Choi, Stacy Lewis, and Beatriz Recari are set to tee off right behind Feng, Park, and Ryu, and they’re also likely to treat us to some world class golf. Choi, 25, has been competing since she was 17. She brings 7 LPGA of Korea victories and 7 LPGA victories to the Reignwood. The 6th ranked player in the world, Choi has piled up 7 top-10 finishes in 2013, including a tie for 2nd at the 2013 RICOH Women’s British Open.
Lewis, who got bumped down the Rolex Rankings from #2 to #3 by Suzanne Pettersen‘s win at The Evian Championship, is still hot coming in to the Reignwood. She has 14 top-10 finishes this year and 3 victories, most recently the RICOH Women’s British Open. Lewis wants to pile up another victory or two and she had the game to do it. However, Lewis can let her emotions take over and spoil her golf.
Solheim rookie Beatriz Recari is the wild card in this trio. She’s ranked 18th by Rolex, and in addition to her sterling Solheim performance she’s also piled up 6 top-10s and 2 victories in 2013. She’s a rising star with wins on both the LPGA and Ladies European Tours, and if she’s going to stake a claim in the world of international pro golf she needs to round out her resume with a win at one of the Asian events. The inaugural Reignwood would be a storybook victory for Recari.
I predict that Choi will set the pace in this group, and Lewis and Recari will need to pass Choi before they can see the top of the leaderboard.
Golf Channel will start coverage of the Reignwood at 3am Thursday, and I’ll provide a wrap-up of each day’s round.