Thai stars chase Honda LPGA title
Ariya, Patty, Atthaya among contenders
published : 10 Mar 2022 at 05:11
newspaper section: Sports
PATTAYA: One of the strongest line-ups in women's golf is preparing for the showdown at the 2022 Honda LPGA Thailand, where home favourite and defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn will be aiming to retain the trophy.
Two-time major champion Ariya made history last year when she became the first Thai to win the tournament.
The former world No.1 will head a star-studded cast of players in the US$1.6 million (about 53 million baht) tournament which tees off today at Siam Country Club.
Other Thai players who are considered title contenders in the 15th edition of the tournament include major winner Patty Tavatanakit, who won the 2021 ANA Inspiration (to be known as the Chevron Championship from this year), Ariya's sister and two-time LPGA winner Moriya Jutanugarn, teenage prodigy Atthaya Thitikul, and one-time LPGA champion Pajaree Anannarukarn.
Also in the field are major winners Danielle Kang of the US, Minjee Lee from Australia, Brooke Henderson of Canada and Japanese Yuka Saso and Hinako Shibuno, as well as three-time Honda LPGA Thailand champion Amy Yang of South Korea.
"Before I won the tournament last year, I always told myself that the Honda LPGA Thailand is one tournament that I have to win because it is the LPGA tournament in my home country," said world No.30 Ariya.
"I don't feel the pressure this year but instead I feel very excited because I know I will do my best and I have the support of my family, friends and fans."
Patty, Thailand's highest-ranked player at No.13, said it was great to be back at the tournament where she finished tied for third last year.
"I grew up watching this event and I went from being a spectator to an amateur player to now a professional player at the Honda LPGA Thailand," said the 22-year-old star.
"Watching Ariya win last year was great for all Thais. It was amazing to witness and be part of it in 2021."
LPGA Tour rookie Atthaya, who was runner-up behind Ariya in Pattaya last year, said she too was looking forward to the event and hoped to do her best.
"Alongside Ariya, Patty and other Thai players, it means a lot to us to be part of such a special tournament," said the 19-year-old from Ratchaburi.
"I had a pretty good result last weekend in Singapore [she finished fourth] and I hope to continue doing well here in Thailand this weekend. I cannot wait for the tournament."
In her first three starts as a LPGA Tour rookie this season, world No.14 Atthaya had two top-11 finishes, including her joint fourth place in Singapore.
Kang said: "The conditions of the course are great and I'm chipping better so far so that feels great. During the practice rounds, I've been hitting, putting and chipping well so I hope to put this into execution at the tournament as well."
Lee, the 2021 Evian Championship winner, said: "I'm slowly getting back into the tournament mindset once again. I've been working on my swing and putting and I'm quite confident in my approach shots as well which have always been the strength of my game.
"I feel quite positive as my iron play and my putting have been good on this course. I would say that my game is in the right place and I just need to be focused mentally and physically so that it works out well."
Henderson, who finished six at the HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore on Sunday, is upbeat about her chances at Siam Country Club.
"I love it here in Thailand and I've missed being here over the last two years as it's always an exciting tournament. Having friends on tour who are from Thailand also makes it very special to be here in the country they grew up in.
"It's been a great start to 2022 for me, and it's so much fun to be in contention and to be near the final groups over the weekend and I hope to continue that into this week as well."
The tournament is being organised under the government's strict Covid-19 protocols.
Only a limited number of spectators are allowed at the venue, and there are no tickets available for the general public.