The first major of 2021 has arrived in the form of the ANA Inspiration. Who will make the leap into Poppie’s Pond?
DEFENDING CHAMPION: South Korean Mirim Lee shot 15-under-par 273 last year and defeated Brooke Henderson and Nelly Korda on the first play-off hole.
COURSE: The Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, opened in 1970 and was designed by Desmond Muirhead. The layout measures 6,184 metres (par-72) and features an exciting, 591-metre closing hole with an island green, which usually plays its role in determining each year’s champion. It is also home to Poppie’s Pond, which Amy Alcott jumped into following her victories in 1988 and 1991 to spark what has since become the traditional celebratory leap.
PLAYERS TO WATCH …
Former World No.1 Lydia Ko jumped into Poppie’s Pond back in 2016 after claiming her second major title and has never missed the cut from her eight appearances at Mission Hills.
The New Zealander, still only 23, hasn’t added to her impressive trophy cabinet since defeating Minjee Lee on the first play-off hole at the LPGA Mediheal Championship in April of 2018.
But Ko, who slumped as low as World No.55 last year, has found some serious form since the LPGA Tour returned from its coronavirus break, posting 11 top-15s, including two runner-up finishes.
Expect the World No.22 to be in contention this week, as she searches for her third major victory and 16th LPGA Tour title. She was solo sixth here last year, having shot six-under 66 for the best final round.
RIGHT: Mirim Lee claimed her maiden major title at the ANA Inspiration after defeating Brooke Henderson and Nelly Korda in extra time. PHOTO: Christian Petersen/Getty Images.
Perth product Minjee Lee has been one of the most consistent players on the LPGA Tour for the past seven years, bagging 53 top-10s and five victories. But she hasn’t really made much of a splash at the majors, despite making 28 of 33 cuts and registering 19 top-25s.
Lee has enjoyed the Dinah Shore course, however, finishing T7th last year and T3rd in 2017 after missing the play-off by just one shot.
The 24-year-old returns to Mission Hills in solid form, too, having shared fifth place at the Kia Classic last week in what was her first appearance on US soil for 2021.
Former champ Lexi Thompson won her maiden major title here in 2014 and has gone close just about every year since, banking five top-10s and losing out to So Yeon Ryu on the first play-off hole in 2017.
The 26-year-old American, like Lee, will return to the Dinah Shore course in good form, thanks to two runner-up finishes in her past four starts, including last week’s Kia Classic behind runaway winner Inbee Park.
Thompson isn’t the favourite in the betting. But she probably deserves to be closer than she is, because there’s plenty to suggest she will be right amongst it once again.
72-HOLE RECORD: Two-time champion Dottie Pepper (1992 & 1999) won her second title in 1999 by reaching 19-under-par 269, defeating her American compatriot Meg Mallon by six shots.
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Karrie Webb (2006 & 2000).
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Hannah Green, Sarah Kemp, Katherine Kirk, Minjee Lee, Su Oh and Gabriela Ruffels.
Round 1: Friday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 3am – 7am and 10am –12pm)
Round 2: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 3am – 7am and 10am –12pm)
Round 3: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 8am – 11am)
Round 4: Monday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 8am – 11am)
*AEDT for Friday and Saturday, AEST for Sunday and Monday, check local guides