Each of the world’s top-ranked players prepare in their own way for the season’s five major championships. This week, 12 of the world’s top-20 ranked players opted to tee it up at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, one week before the season’s second major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
World No. 2 Lydia Ko headlines the field as defending champion. She returns to Arkansas where, in 2016, she captured her third win of the year. She’s joined by two-time major champion and world No. 3 So Yeon Ryu, who returns to action for the first time since the ShopRite LPGA Classic where she missed the cut, ending the longest active cut streak on Tour which dated back to 2014. Rounding out the top-10 in the field this week in Arkansas are world No. 7 Inbee Park, No. 8 Sung Hyun Park, No. 9 Anna Nordqvist and No. 10 Sei Young Kim.
Different Year, Different Scenario for Ko
Defending champion Lydia Ko returns to Arkansas in a much different position than when she teed it up at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship last season. Then ranked No. 1 in the world, Ko had already won twice in 2016 when she teed it up in Arkansas. She carded rounds of 66, 62, 68 to capture her third of what would be four wins that season. This year, Ko arrives in Arkansas as the world’s second ranked player still in search of her first win of the year. But the defending champ has come close in recent weeks, with top-10 finishes in each of her last three starts.
Wie Poised For a Win
One of the more thrilling storylines this season has been the resurgence of Michelle Wie. Plagued by injury and illness in recent years, a healthy and injury free Wie has put herself in contention week after week in 2017. She arrives in Arkansas off her best finish of 2017, a runner-up finish at the Meijer LPGA Classic for her third top-4 finish in her last three starts. It’s hard to anticipate Wie’s performance in Arkansas given her struggles in recent years, with three missed cuts in her last four appearances, but in that fourth appearance she finished tied for eighth, an indicator of Wie‘s potential to pick up her sixth top-10 of the season.
LPGA rookie Mariah Stackhouse makes her seventh start of the season on the LPGA Tour this week at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, thanks to a sponsor invite. With her limited status this season, Stackhouse has been able to tee it up in a small number of events in which she has made two cuts, both resulting in a tie for 60th. When Stackhouse isn’t teeing it up on LPGA, she’s getting reps on the Symetra Tour where she has made four of six cuts, including a tie for second at the Symetra Classic in April.
Natalie Gulbis also received a sponsor invite this week. She’s making her third start of the season and looking to make her first cut of 2017. University of Arkansas junior Alana Uriell also received an invite to make her second consecutive appearance at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.