ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open Tournament Preview

The 2012 LPGA season officially kicks off this week in Melbourne, Australia with the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, as the LPGA returns to Australia for the first time in over a decade. And for the first time in its storied history, Royal Melbourne Golf Club will be the host of a women's professional golf event with 156 players competing this week for a $1.1 million purse.

Defending champion and Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng is set to begin her quest to replicate a dominant 2011 season, as she tries to capture the LPGA's season-opening event for the second straight season. Last year, Tseng won her first four worldwide events of the year on various tours including the LPGA's 2011 season-opening Honda LPGA Thailand. Tseng captured seven LPGA Tour titles in 2011 and a total of 12 victories worldwide while establishing herself as the clear player to beat in women's golf.

There are plenty of challengers seeking to cut into Tseng's lead in the Rolex Rankings as the 2012 season gets underway and many of them are in this week's field in Australia. Suzann Pettersen, who is currently No. 2 in the rankings, is coming off a strong 2011 season herself, having captured two victories and nine additional top-10 finishes. Rolex Rankings No. 4 and top-ranked American Cristie Kerr is seeking to get back in the winner's circle, coming off her first season without a victory since 2004.

A total of six of the top-10 players in the Rolex Rankings will tee it up at Royal Melbourne this week, including No. 7 Jiyai Shin, No. 9 Stacy Lewis and No. 10 Brittany Lincicome.

This week's tournament will also mark the beginning of Lexi Thompson's rookie season on the LPGA. Thompson became the youngest winner in LPGA history at the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic last September. It was one of two wins worldwide for the 16-year-old last year. She also became the youngest professional to win on the Ladies European Tour (LET) when she closed out her 2011 season with a victory at the OMEGA Dubai Ladies Masters in December.

The ladies will face quite a test this week when they get a rare opportunity to tee it up on the renowned Royal Melbourne Composite course. The Composite course is made up of 12 holes from the West Course and six from the East, contained within the more compact clubhouse precinct of the property. The Composite is considered one of the world's ten best courses and has hosted many important events, including the Presidents Cups of 1998 and 2011, but never a women's event, either professional or amateur.

The course used for the Women's Australian Open will differ from the Presidents Cup by only one hole - the 16th (4th East) - as it resumes its regular place in the Composite. The order of the front nine order is the same but the back nine has been altered to enable the famous 18th hole to revert to its classic finishing position.

Topics: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, Tseng, Yani

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