The field list for the NW Arkansas Championship is missing 7 of the hottest players on the LPGA right now--including Suzann Pettersen, In-Kyung Kim, and Momoko Ueda--but this 54-hole event won't be lacking for excitement. Seon Hwa Lee is back to defend her title, Stacy Lewis (who got an unofficial 18-hole "win" as an amateur in the event's inaugural and rain-shortened competition) is looking for redemption after last year's disappointment, Cristie Kerr will be trying to hold off a charging Ai Miyazato in the race for the money title and Player of the Year award, Michelle Wie will be looking to make up some ground on Ji-Yai Shin in the Rookie of the Year race, Ya Ni Tseng and Paula Creamer will be trying to join the Million Dollar Club, Morgan Pressel and Angela Stanford will be aiming to build on last week's runner-up finishes, and every single player who went double digits under par last year will be looking to improve on their standing this time around.
With Pinnacle Country Club undergoing a major renovation this year, the players will to have to adjust to many newly positioned, shaped, and framed green complexes. This relatively shorter course still features generous fairways and large, undulating greens, so I'm looking for the best ball-strikers and precision players to rise to the top this week:
1. Miyazato Ai
6. Lee Seon Hwa
7. Kim Song-Hee
9. Choi Na Yeon
Alts: Lewis, Gulbis, Park Inbee
I'll be hoping that Jeong Jang, Jane Park, and Angela Park recapture last year's magic here this week as they mount comebacks from injuries and other struggles; I'll be sending best wishes to last week's Futures Tour winner Song Yi Choi along with the other low-status and/or low-performing rookies (Samantha Richdale, Tania Elosegui, Pornanong Phatlum, Nontaya Srisawang, Leah Wigger, Jessica Shepley, Jeehae Lee, and Chella Choi) in the field; and I'll be wishing that Louise Friberg, Shanshan Feng, Diana D'Alessio, and Julieta Granada would jumpstart their seasons. But if Ai-sama, the Stone Buddha, or Moira Dunn aren't going to win, I'd really like to see Amy Yang and Vicky Hurst finally play like they're capable of on the LPGA.
I'm curious to see what the tournament organizers do with their Twitter feed and tournament blog. So far, so good on the former, but nothing on the latter. I'm also hoping that Golf Channel will build on their excellent Solheim Cup coverage (on air and on-line), but I'm not holding my breath. Most likely it'll be another case of the players letting their clubs do the talking and hoping for an appreciative audience....
[Update 1 (9/10/09, 4:30 am): Nice job by Jamie RS on his tournament preview and quick guide to next week's CA sectional qualifier for LPGA Q-School at Mission Hills. Names that leap out at me in the field include all the players mentioned in LPGA.com's and Jamie's rundowns, plus ex-NCAA standouts Maria Hernandez, Paola Moreno, Maria Jo Uribe, Azahara Munoz, and Jennie Lee; Emma Cabrera-Bello of the LET; Nikki Garrett of the ALPG; and Futures Touristas Kristie Smith, Libby Smith, Briana Vega, Esther Choe, and Hound Dog's fave, the lefty Malinda Johnson. Just eyeballing the field quickly, my snap judgment would be that the JLPGA's Yuko Mitsuka probably ought to be the favorite for medalist.]