Lydia Ko with her 2016 ANA Trophy
World golf’s first major championship of 2021 is played this week when the ANA Inspiration is staged at its long-time venue at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at the Mission Hills Country Club at Rancho Mirage in California.
Six Australians and one New Zealander will tackle the 3.1 million event, looking to add to the 3 previous titles won by players from either Australia or New Zealand.
Karrie Webb won in 2000 and 2006 and Lydia Ko won in 2016 and in 2021 it would appear either Lydia Ko or Minjee Lee have some prospect of adding to that list.
That pair will be joined by Hannah Green, Katherine Kirk, Sarah Kemp, Su Oh and Gabi Ruffels, all seven having played the event previously.
Ko finished 6th last year, her best finish in the event other than her win in 2016 and with two top tens in three starts in 2021 her chances of another top ten seem, at least, good. Her runner-up finish at the Gainbridge event five weeks ago tells the story of her game returning to somewhere close to her best and if that was to be the case then she might just contend for the title.
Lee impressed with a solid 5th place in her first start of the season at last week’s Kia Classic in Carlsbad and has a best of 3rd here behind Ko in 2016. She was also 7th last year so the course would appear to fit her eye.
Hannah Green, Australasia’s most recent major winner, is playing the event for the 4th occasion but, with a 16th place finish on debut in 2018 her best and only top 60 in those starts, she has yet to come to terms with the layout.
Katherine Kirk was 7th last year, her best finish in 13 appearances at Mission Hills. Kirk’s form in 2021 however is not at the same level it was twelve months ago.
Sarah Kemp is playing a lot better now than she has perhaps at any stage in her LPGA Tour career but for her to contend in an event such as this appears to be unlikely. A 5th place finish a few weeks ago was her second-best ever finish on the LPGA Tour however and she has made all three cuts in 2021.
Gabi Ruffels has played one LPGA Tour event in 2021 for a 36th place finish but did finish 4th in a Futures Tour event last week, a performance that will provide confidence ahead of this week.
Ruffels did finish 15th on debut in this event last year and if she was to improve on that it would be of little surprise.
Su Oh rounds out the contingent from down under but although she played well in combined PGA Tour of Australasia and WAPGA events in Australia she missed the cut by some margin last week in her first start of the season on the LPGA Tour.
It could be expected for Oh to improve sharply on that effort but it is hard to see her contending especially given a horror record in this event, having missed her last three cuts and recorded a best of 51st in her other two starts.
The pre-tournament favourites appear to be two of the most consistent performers in the event and previous winners, Inbee Park and Lexi Thompson.
That the pair finished first and second respectively at last week’s Kia Classic adds to their claims.