With Ladbrokes listing Lorena Ochoa at 5-4, one wonders if there will much action anywhere else as this, professional golf's first Major championship of 2008, kicks off on Thursday in Rancho Mirage, California. Ochoa must be the heavy favorite, of course, but there is no shortage of potentially interesting stories all around her. Imagine, for example, if Annika Sorenstam were to beat Ochoa head-to-head; now that would certainly put a damper on Ochoa's-as-great-as-Tiger talk... Or if Korea's Ji-Yai Shin, still little-known in this country, were to introduce herself in a big way... Or if Suzann Pettersen awakens from her early season slumber, or Paula Creamer grabs her first Major championship... About the only player not looking at great possibilities this week is Michelle Wie, who is home nursing her re-injured wrist. That costs the field some glamour of course, but not, at this moment anyway, a realistic contender.
Anyway, the favorites as I see them (odds based on realistic chance of winning, not the betting handle):
Lorena Ochoa (Mexico) (3-1): Not a lot to say here. She’s the world’s best player and she’s red-hot. Ladbrokes is indeed listing her at 5-4, but with only one victory in 24 Major starts, we shouldn’t get carried away here. Still, she’s a runaway favorite.
Annika Sorenstam (Sweden) (8-1): Okay, so she’s back…sort of. One win in four 2008 starts (with a worst finish of T9) suggests that Annika is indeed rolling again – but Ochoa has beaten her by a combined 22 shots in the two events they've both started.
Ji-Yai Shin (Korea) (13-1): The 19-year-old Korean star recently won her first JLPGA Tour title, and took Karrie Webb to a playoff at the Australian Women’s open back in February. Finished T15 here a year ago (as well as 6th at the U.S. Women’s Open) so she’s no rookie.
Paula Creamer (USA) (14-1): The Pink Panther has a win and a 3rd in four LPGA starts in 2008, and was twice among the top 10 in last year’s Majors. One of these days...
Suzann Pettersen (Norway) (14-1): Hasn’t played well thus far in 2008, with nothing better than a 15th at the Fields Open to show for four LPGA starts. There’s no denying the talent, though – and she shouldn’t be lacking for motivation after last year’s heartbreaking loss here.
Karrie Webb (Australia) (15-1): Another who has been quiet in America thus far in 2008, though she did win the Women’s Australian Open in February. Her game seems up and down these days, but as a two-time former champion here (2000 & ’06), she’s tough to look past.
Morgan Pressel (USA) (21-1): The 19-year-old defending champion is another who’s started 2008 slowly, logging a single top-10 last month in Singapore, but then missing last week’s cut at the Safeway. Still, she’s aggressive, and we know she can win here…
Cristie Kerr (USA) (30-1): The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champ has logged three top-5 finishes here (2002, ’04 & ’05) but with only a single top 10 in 2008, she’s not quite on form.
Angela Park (Brazil) (30-1): The 2007 LPGA Rookie of the Year has started more slowly in ’08, and finished 80th last week in Arizona. Was twice among the top 5 in 2007 Major championships, including a tie for 2nd at the U.S. Women’s Open. Would rate higher save for this season’s slow start.
Juli Inkster (USA) (32-1): At age 47, and without a win since early 2006, Hall-of-Famer Inkster would appear to be on the downside – but a closing 65 at last week’s Safeway International might be hinting at better things?
Jee Young Lee (Korea) (32-1): Twenty-three-year-old Korean was struggling in 2008 prior to last week’s T2 in Arizona. Has logged top-10 finishes in four of the last six Majors, however, including a T2 at last August’s Women’s British Open.
Catriona Matthew (Scotland) (35-1): Veteran Scottish player has 11 career top 10s in Major championship, and seems focused on them of late; she finished 28th in LPGA winnings in 2007, with five top 10s, three of them being in Majors – including a tie for 2nd here.
Jeong Jang (Korea) (36-1): A very consistent money earner (finishing among the LPGA's top 10 for the last three seasons) but to date more of a show horse than a winner. Did claim the 2005 Women’s British Open, however, she’s been up the mountain.
Christina Kim (USA) (36-1): Perhaps a bit overlooked – if that’s possible given her outgoing nature – following two winless seasons, but the colorful Kim has finished in the top 10 in her last three starts, with six of 11 rounds in the 60s. Looks to be rounding into form.
Angela Stanford (USA) (37-1): Steadily improving 30-year-old with two top 10s since late February, including a T4 last week when she opened with a career-best 62. Tied for 10th here a year ago. Can she stay hot?