HSBC Women's Champions 2017

Golf: New Tanjong test for the world's best

World No. 1 Lydia Ko is no stranger to change, having recently replaced her coach, caddie and clubs. The 19-year-old New Zealander will confront a new challenge today when she tackles the New Tanjong Course.
World No. 1 Lydia Ko is no stranger to change, having recently replaced her coach, caddie and clubs. The 19-year-old New Zealander will confront a new challenge today when she tackles the New Tanjong Course.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Undulating greens, little protection from wind will pose challenges for 63-strong field

Progress, George Bernard Shaw once wrote, is impossible without change. Lydia Ko would agree, for even the world No. 1 tag was no excuse not to tinker in her search for perfection.

She won four LPGA Tour titles, including a Major (ANA Inspiration), last year but decided an overhaul was needed and replaced her coach, caddie and Callaway clubs.

The revamp was widely debated but last week's tied-eighth finish at the Honda LPGA Thailand reaffirmed her decisions. She had four sub-par rounds and recorded her second top-10 finish in her last eight appearances.

"I'm excited about this season and it feels like I'm a rookie again," the New Zealander, who turns 20 next month, said yesterday. "There are still a lot of aspects of my game I need to improve on and if that happens, I think naturally the results will come."

Her record at the HSBC Women's Champions, finishing 15th, second, tied-15th in her three previous trips to Singapore, along with her undoubted pedigree - this is her 90th week at the top of the world rankings - suggest she will be in contention come Sunday at the Sentosa Golf Club.

The US$1.5 million (S$2.11 million) tournament celebrates its 10th anniversary this week in fresh surroundings, having moved from the award-winning Serapong to the adjacent and recently renovated New Tanjong course.

While Ko is one of the shortest hitters on Tour (she averaged 246.73 yards last year and was ranked 126th), she feels sheer power is not necessarily the key to scoring at the par-72, 6,683-yard layout.

"The greens have a little bit of very subtle undulation, so even though it might not be a very long putt it could break three different ways," said Ko, who last year ranked first in putting average (28.31 putts per round) and putts per greens in regulation (1.71).

Her rival - only in the rankings table, for both now share the same coach, Gary Gilchrist, and enjoy each other's company - Ariya Jutanugarn also possesses a painter's light touch around the greens but wields her two-iron (which carries 230 yards) like a sledgehammer.

The world No. 2, who posted a Tour-leading five wins last year and has been chipping away at Ko's world ranking lead, said she was pleased with her start to this campaign. The Thai has two top-10 finishes so far, tied-third at last month's ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open and tied-eighth in Thailand.

The 21-year-old said: "I'm really confident in my game... to me there's no pressure because I'm not going to compare myself this year and last year. I have my goal that I'm going to work on my commitment and I want to have fun and be happy on the course."

COOL APPROACH

To me there's no pressure because I'm not going to compare myself this year and last year.

ARIYA JUTANUGARN, the world No. 2, on having fun on the course. The Thai had a Tour-leading five wins last year.

Unlike the tight and narrow set-up at Serapong, Tanjong's wide and expansive layout - it was opened last November and most trees are still young - makes it more attractive for the long hitters, said world No. 14 Anna Nordqvist.

The Swede added: "It's a bomber's paradise. The par-fives are short, there's no trouble off the tee (making them birdie chances)... here you can afford to miss a little."

Such freedom from the tee box comes at a price, warned American Megan Khang, who noted that the absence of tall trees could complicate matters.

"There's nothing to block the wind and if it picks up, the course will get tricky."

The world-class 63-strong field, which features 19 of the top 20 players, plus former winners Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford and Karrie Webb, will also be a tough proposition. Singapore will be represented by local pro Amanda Tan.

They will begin today on equal terms as they acquaint themselves with their new arena. Ko, for one, is relishing the challenge.

She said: "I had a good time with my pro-am group this morning. I think we got these butterfly pins with every birdie we make. I got four butterflies and I was excited about that. It's a nice course."

•Additional reporting by Alvin Chia

HSBC WOMEN'S CHAMPIONS

Day 1: Singtel TV Ch115, 10am, StarHub Ch209 & Mediacorp okto, 11.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'New Tanjong test for the world's best'. Print Edition | Subscribe