Signalling the first of a multi-year partnership with ProMedica, the 2022 Open features a total prize purse of US$10 million, the largest purse in women’s professional golf and one of the biggest in women’s sport.

The tournament also returns to a historic host venue that will set a new record for the most number of U.S. Women’s Opens held, while Annika Sorenstam makes her return to the event, Michelle Wie West bids adieu to her playing career and World No.2 Nelly Korda finally makes her return to competitive golf following the discovery of a blood clot.

This year’s championship also received the most entries in tournament history (1,874), with entrants from 46 of the United States and 57 countries around the globe.

DEFENDING CHAMPION: It was an historic win for Yuka Saso in 2021 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, the 19-year-old tying Inbee Park’s record as the youngest U.S. Women’s Open champion to the day and winning the first major for the Philippines.

RIGHT: Yuka Saso poses with the trophy in 2021 when she became the joint record holder as the youngest U.S. Women's Open champion. PHOTO: USGA.

American Lexi Thompson appeared to have the tournament all but wrapped up late on Sunday, the 54-hole leader ahead by five shots with 10 holes to play before a disastrous run saw her sign for a 75, one shot out of the play-off with Saso and Japan’s Nasa Hataoka.

Both making pars over the two-hole aggregate play-off, Saso buried a 12-foot birdie at the first hole of sudden death to secure the Harton S. Semple Trophy.

COURSE: Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club will host its fourth U.S. Women’s Open this week, elevating the course to the top of the list of most frequented venues by the USGA for its National Championship.

Designed by the prolific Scotsman Donald Ross, who lived in the North Carolina region, Pine Needles opened for play in 1928 and many believe it to be Ross’ finest work.

Purchased in the 1950s by World Golf Hall of Famer Peggy Kirk Bell and her husband Warren, Pine Needles is one of America’s top golf resorts and was restored much closer to Ross’ original work in the early 2000s when John Fought undertook a renovation with historical aerial photographs as his guide.

Once again updated in 2017 to expand green surfaces for more pin positions at the hands of Kyle Franz, Pine Needles will play to a par of 71 this week and measure 6,638 yards, with the 131-yard 3rd hole arguably the standout on the property.

The Donald Ross designed Pine Needles will host the U.S. Women's Open for the fourth time this week. PHOTO: USGA.

“Pine Needles is very much a second-shot golf course. It’s a true Donald Ross test in that way. Understanding where to hit in on the greens and where the slopes are that could feed the ball away from the hole or off the green completely is a big key. Being able to hit irons with the precision and distance control to certain spots on the greens is the key to playing well there,” Karrie Webb says of the course.

Not only does Pine Needles now stand alone with four U.S. Women’s Opens, it boast an exceptionally impressive past champions list of Sorenstam, Webb and Cristie Kerr, with both Webb and Sorenstam defending their titles at the venue.

PRIZEMONEY: US$10,000,000

RELATED: So-called expert golf tips for this week

PLAYERS TO WATCH: As with any major championship, the list of players worth keeping an eye on is almost as long as the 156 starter sheet.

World No.1 Jin Young Ko is, for her, in something of a slump … the Korean hasn’t won in her last five starts!

In all seriousness, Ko is rightfully the favourite by a long way here on the back of six wins since the start of 2021 and one of the most consistent runs of golf seen in the modern era.

Two top-10s since her last win have been the high point in a period where the undisputed form player in all golf has perhaps understandably slowed down a little, but twice a major winner and owner of seven top-10s at the big events at just 26, Ko would surprise if she isn’t in the mix here.

The player immediately following Ko on the ranking, Nelly Korda, makes her return to the Tour at arguably the biggest event of the year, at least for an American.

Out of action since the start of February with a blood clot that required surgery, Korda’s play in recent times has been extremely impressive and she has proven herself the real contender to Ko for top billing in the women’s game.

RIGHT: Nelly Korda was on site early this week as she makes her return to tournament golf. PHOTO: USGA.

A major champion last year, Korda wouldn’t be coming back if she wasn’t ready, it will just be a case of how much tournament rust is on her game, her elite ball striking a perfect match at Pine Needles.

Aussie Minjee Lee sits at the top of the LPGA’s Race to CME Globe after her superp start to the year, and might have quite enjoyed some extra rest after being bundled out of the match play early last week.

Lee’s failure to advance deep in Las Vegas resulted in just her second finish worse than T13 all year from eight starts, that includes one win and two other top-fives.

Another of the major winners from 2021, Lee is exactly the sort of player to have success at both Pine Needles and the U.S. Women’s Open.

An excellent game manager and consistent iron player, if Lee can get the nuances of Donald Ross’ masterpiece under wraps early she should excel at an event where she has missed one cut in eight starts but never truly contended.

Outside the other regulars at the top of leaderboards of late, including Atthaya Thitikul, Lydia Ko, Nasa Hataoka and Lexi Thompson, some of the more experienced players pose as interesting prospects this week.

A winner 72 times on the LPGA, Annika Sorenstam returns to a favourite venue this week after winning the Senior category U.S. Women’s Open last year.

Annika Sorenstam receives her credentials at the site of her second U.S. Women's Open win. PHOTO: USGA.

Sorenstam walked away from the game still well and truly competitive and has made rare appearances since having a family.

Now with a son who loves the game, Sorenstam’s talents have been seen more regularly, including in her one LPGA start this year when she made the cut. Contending is unlikely, but if the course is playing tough and precision is the flavour of the day, Sorenstam making the weekend is well and truly on the cards.

Another former U.S. Women’s Open winner on something of a farewell trip around the championship is Michell Wie West.

Winner at Pinehurst No.2, Wie was of course a teenage standout who took on the men and perhaps didn’t fulfil her potential on the LPGA Tour.

Having battled with injuries, the American will not return to playing full-time and will show off her power and elite ball striking once again this week not far from where she won her lone major title.

72-HOLE RECORD: 272 (Annika Sorenstam, 1996; Juli Inkster, 1999; In Gee Chun, 2015)

18-HOLE RECORD: 63 (Helen Alfredsson, 1994)

PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Karrie Webb (2000 & 2001), Jan Stephenson (1983)

AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Hannah Green, Sarah Kemp, Grace Kim, Minjee Lee and Gabi Ruffels.

Round 1: Friday (Fox Sports 505 2am – 11am)
Round 2: Saturday (Fox Sports 505 2am – 11am)
Round 3: Sunday (Fox Sports 505 2am – 9am)
Round 4: Monday (Fox Sports 505 2:30am – 10am)
*AEST, check local guides