After six weeks in North America, the LPGA is off to Asia for four weeks of tournament play. Only five events remain to get inside the top 60 cutoff for the CME Group Tour Championship, so it’s time to cash in those frequent flyer miles if you are on the outside looking in. The LPGA Tour has not played the Buick LPGA Shanghai since 2019. Two-time defending champion Danielle Kang will surely be happy to return to Shanghai after the event was canceled in 2020, 2021 and 2022 since she is the only player to have ever won this event.
In the inaugural event, Kang shot 13-under, and one year later, her total was 16-under, giving the American her second trophy in Shanghai. With the COVID-19 pandemic giving the event a pause, the Tour now returns in 2023 to Qizhong Garden Golf Club, a target-rich, par-72 course that measures 6,672 yards. It’s your stereotypical scorecard with four par 3s, four par 5s and 10 par 4s, and with 10 par-4 holes in play, instincts tell us to dive into scoring to find an edge.
The fact is that Kang’s path to victory was more about the par 5s when it came to total scoring. In 2018, the major champion was nine under on the par 5s and finished at 13-under total for the tournament. Similarly, she was 10-under on the par 5s in 2019 and finished at 16-under. In this field, Xiyu Lin, Ruoning Yin, Minjee Lee and Lilia Vu are all great par 5s scorers, so it’s no surprise that they are also at the top of the betting boards.
Qizhong Garden Golf Club has well over one hundred bunkers. Twelve holes have water in play and all but one of the fairways bend from off the tee. This is a target-specific layout, and the best players from tee to green will have an advantage. Yin, Lee, Rose Zhang, Lin and Nasa Hataoka are ranked highest in the field in strokes gained from tee to green. Keep an eye on them as they should ultimately rise to the top over four rounds.
There is another very important statistic to pay attention to this week in Shanghai. The field is comprised of 81 players, and there is no 36-hole cut, so make the trip to the Buick LPGA Shanghai, and you will play all four days. Give the best in the world a Friday pass on the cut and see what happens. Water will find its level. Eight of the top 30 in the world are competing, and their chances of winning are understandably higher than the rest.
When you have a 72-hole format, it’s interesting to research top-10 success. Yin finishes in the top 10 over 40 percent of the time, and Zhang does so over 30 percent with Carlota Ciganda, Angel Yin and Hae Ran Ryu also finding the top 10 around 30 percent of the time. In four out of every 10 tournaments with a cut, Ruoning Yin finishes inside the top 10. Free her up for a full run of 72 holes and watch out. The number one ranked player tee to green and the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 2 is a great choice this week.
Her odds don’t allow us to select many more players and make sure the week stays profitable. With a four-round examination and the top-heavy odds board, you should take your best player at the top and combine her with one more selection from the middle tier. One player in that range with a lot of upside is Sei Young Kim. She came third at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G and has finished in the top six in both of her previous appearances at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.
Five events remain before the top 60 in the CME Group Tour Championship will be decided, so expect to see a sense of urgency across the Pacific in the next four weeks. This has been an interesting season, and looking ahead to the fall Asian swing, it should continue to get even better.
Keith Stewart is an award-winning PGA Professional. He covers the LPGA and PGA Tour for Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, LPGA, and PGA TOUR. If you are looking to raise your golf acumen and love inside information about the game, check out his weekly newsletter called Read The Line.