The $3 million ANA Inspiration, the first major women’s golf tournament of the year, begins Thursday at Mission Hills Country Club, with South Korean Sung Hyun Park, the world’s top-ranked women’s golfer, leading the 112-player field.
“It’s the first major of the year, so I’m a little nervous,” Park said through an interpreter. “It’s a tough course, but that’s what will make it a fun challenge this week.”
This will be Park’s fourth appearance in the ANA Inspiration. Her best finish is a tie for sixth in 2016. She finished in a four-way tie for ninth last year.
“Particularly last year I remember hitting well, but then was struggling as each round kind of progressed,” said Park, who began the tournament with a 4-under-par 68, followed by an 8-under-par 64, a 2-over-par 74 and a 1-under-par 71.
“The course is really hard and there are a lot of opportunities where if you make a mistake it’ll be detrimental to the score.”
Park will begin her round at 1:11 p.m. on the 10th hole, paired with Georgia Hall of England, who won last year’s fourth major, the Women’s British Open. Park also won a major last year, the Women’s PGA Championship.
Park moved into the top spot in the rankings for the third time in her career when she won the LPGA Tour’s Women’s World Championship March 3 in Singapore. She won the LPGA of Taiwan’s The Country Club Ladies Invitational in Manila, the Philippines, the following week.
Park tied for second in last week’s Kia Classic in Carlsbad, three shots behind the winner, Nasa Hataoka of Japan.
Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden won last year’s tournament defeating South Korean Inbee Park with a birdie on the eighth extra hole for her first professional victory. Her best finish in seven tournaments this year was a tie for 23rd in the Kia Classic. She’s missed the cut three times.
The field also includes 10 other past champions — Juli Inkster, Lydia Ko, Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, Pernilla Lindberg, Inbee Park, Morgan Pressel, So Yeon Ryu, Lexi Thompson, Yani Tseng and Karrie Webb.
Lewis will be playing in her fourth tournament since giving birth to her first child, Chesnee Lynn Chadwell, on Oct. 25.
“Everything has changed,” Lewis said. “The way I go about my day. My golf swing feels different, my body feels different, the mindset when you leave the golf course is way different.
“My agent says that I’m a little bit more calm and maybe not as high strung as I’ve been in the past. I kind of agree with that. Maybe a little bit more even keel and low-key. Maybe that will help on the golf course. I don’t know. Life is so different. I don’t even remember what it was like before.”
Lewis finished 12th in the Kia Classic, a week after missing the cut the previous week in the Founders Cup. She tied for sixth in her first tournament of the year, the Tournament of Champions.
The field will be cut to the low 70 plus ties following completion of the second round. The winner will receive $450,000 and the Dinah Shore Trophy, named for the late entertainer who co-founded the tournament in 1972 and whose name was part of the tournament’s name through 1999.
The tournament also sparked creation of The Dinah Shore Weekend in nearby Palm Springs, now in its 29th year, and billed by organizers as the world’s largest lesbian and queer girl event and music festival.
The winner makes the traditional leap into Poppie’s Pond adjacent to the 18th green, then emerges to be wrapped in an official tournament robe.
“I don’t know how to swim, and so if the level is deep then I might drown,” Sung Hyun Park said.
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