Golf: World's top golfers ready to strut their stuff at HSBC Women's World Championship

The HSBC Women's World Championship's defending champion Michelle Wie returns to the Sentosa Golf Club armed with a new skill.
The HSBC Women's World Championship's defending champion Michelle Wie returns to the Sentosa Golf Club armed with a new skill.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - World No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn feels pressure-free, defending champion Michelle Wie returns to the Sentosa Golf Club armed with a new skill, and third-ranked Minjee Lee says she's hitting "pretty solid".

The world's top women golfers are raring to display their "A" game when the HSBC Women's World Championship starts on Thursday (Feb 28) at the Sentosa Golf Club's New Tanjong Course.

"I did learn how to become ambidextrous in the off-season," the American Wie told the media. "I can use chopsticks with my left hand. That's a nice little party trick."

Wie's latest talent isn't just for kicks, though. It is a result of her undergoing surgery in the off-season, stemming from a fracture of her dominant right hand in a car accident two years ago.

A win in Singapore last year was her fifth LPGA Tour win - her first for four years - and the former child prodigy is convinced she is healthy again. She's certainly happy, too.

"I just try to make lists every day of what I'm grateful for, especially because the last couple of years have been pretty tough," added the 29-year-old, who finished tied for 23rd in her first start of the year at the LPGA Thailand in Chonburi last week.

"Like this week, I'm just grateful that I'm here. I'm trying to soak in everything. Just trying to keep the good vibes going.

 
 
 
 

"It's definitely a different experience coming back as defending champion.

"It's really cool (and) really awesome to see my picture everywhere."

Indeed, the HSBC Women's World Championship - the fifth LPGA tournament of the year and the final stop in the Tour's four-week swing through Australia and Asia - presents an opportunity for the world's top players to set the tone for the year.

Top-ranked Ariya leads the star-studded 63-strong field, which includes the likes of world No. 2 Park Sung-hyunand former world No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand.

World No. 5 Park In-bee, a seven-time Major champion and a two-time winner of the HSBC event (2015 and 2017), will make her season debut.

The winner of the US$1.5 million (S$2.02 million) tournament will take home US$225,000.

Australia's world No. 3 Lee said the tournament presents "a great test of golf" and she hopes to carry her momentum from Thailand where she finished runner-up to South Korean Amy Yang last week.

A win here will also boost her chances of claiming the top ranking.

The 23-year-old added: "It's at the back of my mind, but I have more statistical goals that I would like to meet and, in meeting those, I think that will eventually get me to world No. 1.

"So I don't really think like, 'Oh, my God, I have to get to world No. 1 like next week'.

"I think that's too much pressure on myself. So I just like to take every week as it comes and try and do my best."

American world No. 8 Nelly Korda believes the challenging course - the tournament was moved to the par-72, 6,718-yard New Tanjong Course only in 2017 - and the rigours of travel will result in few low scores.

"It's playing a lot longer this year. The greens are pretty firm so you're going to have longer putts for birdies," said the 20-year-old, who is the daughter of retired tennis star and 1988 Australian Open champion Petr Korda.

"From what I see, I don't think the scores are going to be so low."

Inevitably, all eyes will be on top-ranked Ariya, who swept almost every major honour on the LPGA Tour last season.

The 23-year-old shrugged off the media scrutiny as she hopes to build on the joint-14th finish in her home tournament last week.

She said: "I feel good after last week because I feel like right now I have no pressure (on me).

"I struggled (the last two weeks) because I was so nervous, and lots of people expected me to play well.

"But, last week, I played a lot better. This week, I feel a lot more comfortable and I feel like there's no pressure any more."