Stacy Lewis to get first major test as No. 1
The coronation of a new No. 1-ranked player always adds excitement to the LPGA tour, particularly with more than a year since the last change at the top.
The fact that Stacy Lewis is that player only enhances the storyline heading into the Kraft Nabisco Championship this week in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Lewis, the second American to be ranked No. 1 since 2006, has been a player to beat for several years and won the Kraft Nabisco title in 2011. The question is whether her ascension past former No. 1 Yani Tseng will ignite the natural rivalry between the two.
Admittedly bowing to the burden of the top ranking over the past year, during which time she had no tournament wins, Tseng finished second at the Australian Open and third in Thailand earlier this year. She is always a threat in a major, having won five before age 23.
Tseng's disqualification at the Kia Classic a week and a half ago cost her a chance to defend her title there, but she appears charged up and pressure-free for the tournament she won in 2010.
Adding another dimension at Rancho Mirage will be the jockeying for spots on the Solheim Cup teams, which will be played in August at the Colorado Golf Club. With qualification points doubled in the year the Cup is played, it's certain to give U.S. and European players a little extra motivation.
Among those likely to make it tough on everyone, here are five to watch this week:
Stacy Lewis, United States
Playing in her first major since capturing the No. 1 ranking with a victory at the Founders Cup in mid-March, Lewis says she wants to enjoy her view from the top. A ninth-place finish the following week at the Kia Classic may not have indicated that, but you can bet she will be in the hunt this week.
Lewis leads the tour this year with four top-10s in five events, including two wins and a third-place finish.
I.K. Kim, South Korea
The attention will be heavy on Kim, who missed a one-foot putt on 18 for the win at last year's Kraft Nabisco and eventually lost in a playoff.
Despite a late stumble in the final round of the Kia Classic and finishing second in a playoff to Beatriz Recari, Kim, ranked 15th, is one of the hottest players on tour with two top-10s.
Beatriz Recari, Spain
The KIA Classic champion needed a two-hole playoff to hold off Kim for her second career LPGA win. It was the third top-five finish of the year for Recari, who is 26th in the Rolex world rankings.
Last year, Recari played every event without missing a cut, an achievement that earned her the nickname of tour "Ironwoman."
Na Yeon Choi, South Korea
Ranked third in the world behind Lewis and Tseng, Choi is one of those players who is always going to be around the top of the leaderboard. In her sixth year on tour, she has had 60 top-10 finishes and seven tournament wins. She has two top-10s this year.
Last year, Choi captured her first major at the U.S. Women's Open and also won the tour's season-ending event.
Suzann Pettersen, Norway
Probably the best ball-striker on tour, Pettersen was runner-up at the Kraft Nabisco in 2007, 2008 and 2010. She has 10 tournament victories in her career, including the 2007 LPGA Championship.
Ranked eighth in the world, Pettersen has yet to crack a top 10 this year, but Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin put her among "the top five or six people I would pick to win on this golf course."