Chevron Championship: England's Georgia Hall buoyant for first women's major of 2022

Chevron Championship: England’s Georgia Hall buoyant for first women’s major of 2022

Thailand's Patty Tavatanakit jumps in Poppie's Pond after winning in 2021
Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit took the traditional dunking in Poppie’s Pond after winning last year at Mission Hills
Venue: Mission Hills Country Club, California Dates: March 31-April 3
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 22:00 BST on Saturday and Sunday

Georgia Hall noted immediately after her recent victory in Saudi Arabia the importance of notching a win early in the season.

That five-stroke triumph sets up the British number one for the first major of the year. Hall should be taking a healthy dose of confidence to this week’s Chevron Championship at Mission Hills Country Club, Rancho Mirage, California.

“It’s fantastic to win in March,” Hall said, no doubt with one eye on the first of the five annual women’s majors, which has changed identity from its previous incarnation, the ANA Inspiration.

Two more UK stars, Charley Hull and Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow, will be encouraged by their top-10 finishes down the road in Carlsbad last week.

Indeed, it promises to be a poignant week for the women’s game as it will be the last time this tournament is played on the iconic Dinah Shore Tournament Course.

It has been a fixture since American Jane Blalock banked $20,000 for her three-stroke win at the inaugural staging, played over only three rounds, back in 1972.

Within 11 years the tournament acquired major status, such was the allure of the spectacular course and the quality of the field it attracted.

Under the latest deal, the event switches next year to Houston, Texas and will be played in May. This means it will no longer clash with the recently instituted Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the Masters curtain-raiser in Georgia.

Former Women’s Open champion Hall would become the first British winner and only the fifth European victor if she can maintain current form and fight off a field that includes nine of the world’s top 10.

The second-ranked Nelly Korda will be missed. She continues to be treated for a blood clot in her arm but the line-up remains formidable, especially with the astonishing form of world number one Ko Jin-young.

The 26-year-old Korean claimed this title in 2019, one of two major titles to her name, and has won four of her past five tournaments including the recent HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore.

Since coming ninth at the Olympics, Ko has not finished outside the top 10 in nine consecutive tournaments, winning five of them. That is a performance level reminiscent of Tiger Woods in his pomp and she is a justifiable short-odds favourite.

World number four Minjee Lee, the winner in Evian last July, when Ko incongruously finished 60th, is looking to trade on her newly acquired major champion status.

“I think the confidence I gained in winning the Amundi Evian Championship last year should really help,” said the 25-year-old Australian. “So I am really looking forward to our first major of 2022.”

And like all of the leading contenders, Lee already has half an eye on the traditional celebration that accompanies victories in this week’s California-staged championship.

“It’s our last chance to win and make the historic winner’s leap into Poppie’s Pond,” she said. “I think the course suits my game pretty well.”

It is a layout that works for a variety of styles of play. Last year the exciting Thai Patty Tavatanakit claimed her debut major title with a powerful display that thrillingly held off a charging Lydia Ko, the world number three.

Back in 2013 it was the most sedate style of Inbee Park that prevailed and the experienced Korean is relishing one last tilt at glory on the Dinah Shore course.

“I think the excitement is raised to a whole new level,” said the 33-year-old from Seoul. “We are welcoming fans back to Mission Hills for the first time since 2019 and it’s the final edition at Rancho Mirage.

“It is going to be a huge week for women’s golf, and I am hoping I can play my best.”

It will be exciting to see how Ireland’s Leona Maguire fares having broken into the world’s top 20 off the back of her sensational Solheim Cup debut last September.

An LPGA Tour winner, after victory at the Drive On Championship in early February, the tenacious Irishwoman will be looking to improve upon her best major performance, a share of sixth at last year’s Evian.

Another hero of Europe’s stunning Solheim Cup win is Anna Nordqvist, the most recent major winner after her superb triumph at Carnoustie in the AIG Women’s Open last August.

The Angus coast does not share too many characteristics with the California desert, but the current world number 17 is capable of emulating fellow Swedish champions Annika Sorenstam (three times), Helen Alfredsson (Europe’s first winner) and Pernilla Lindberg (2019). Nordqvist boasts four top-10 finishes in this event, although none since coming fourth in 2015.

But whoever makes that final splash, there is one certainty. It will be an emotionally charged week. The women’s game is saying farewell to one its favorite venues and with it, its most recognizable tournament identity.

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