Australian Karen Lunn is at the ISPS Handa Portugal Ladies Open this week, to defend her title at CampoReal Golf Resort and Spa, about 35 km north of Lisbon in Turcifal, near the city of Torres Vedras.
The 1993 Women’s British Open champion claimed a one stroke victory over Trish Johnson and Iben Tinning with a winning total of 12 under par at the same venue 11 months ago.
Despite having struggled with a back injury in recent months, the nine-time Ladies European Tour winner is determined to give the title defence her best shot.
“I normally do play well where I’ve played well somewhere before so in that respect I’m looking forward to it and I know my game’s not far away,” Lunn said.
“I don’t have as high expectations as I would have had I come in 100 per cent prepared and ready to go. I just aim to try and play well and be competitive. If I could be up there going into the last round then I’d be happy.”
Asked what the key will be to playing well over the course, Lunn replied: “It’s a golf course where you have to take your chances. The par fives, you have a chance to score, but there’s also danger on them. There are a lot of really tough par fours and par threes and you have to set your store at the beginning of the week and take your pars on those holes and attack the other holes to make your score on there. If you try and attack on the wrong holes you’ll end up in trouble.”
The challenging par-72 course, which lies just inland from the un-spoilt beaches of Lisbon’s Silver Coast, was designed by Donald Steel and opened in 2005. The course meanders up and down the naturally hilly terrain through dramatic slopes and wooded valleys.
The front nine holes are tough and the sixth is the most difficult. Hole 17 is the most picturesque, providing a brilliant view over the resort and the rolling vineyards. Zara Phillips chose to build her first holiday home at the CampoReal Resort, which also boasts an equestrian centre among other facilities.
With such a strong field of competitors teeing up, Lunn admitted the challenge this year will be greater.
“You have Sophie (Gustafson) and Laura (Davies) both playing and it will be right up their street as well. You’ve got two of the best players in the world playing. Obviously they will come into the calculations.
“You never know, but it’s a fantastic field. We’ve really got some strong fields early in the year so you have to play your best golf. You look at the leader boards and you look at the names and it’s going to be good golf that wins these events the next few weeks,” Lunn said.
Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson, Helen Alfredsson and Pernilla Lindberg are expected to do well along with England’s Laura Davies and Melissa Reid.
Last year’s Henderson Money List winner Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa returns to the LET for the first time since finishing tied for fifth at the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters in Australia in February, while recent 2011 tournament champions Christel Boeljon, Zuzana Kamasova and Kristie Smith are also part of the strong field.
Lunn believed that the new generation of young players from qualifying school may enter the mix: “This year I think the class of the rookies is amazing. You have Caroline Hedwall, Klara Spilkova; the quality of the rookies is amazing and I probably don’t know half of them yet. There have been a few of them on the leader board already so I think that this year is going to be a good year. The standard is getting better, without a doubt.”
Among the newcomers are the four Portuguese competitors teeing up including Ladies European Tour professional Monia Bernado and three amateurs: Sofia Camara, Magda Carrilho and Susana Ribeiro. Irish amateurs Lisa and Leona Maguire have also been handed invitations to play in the €200,000 event along with Moroccan Maha Haddioui, Scotland’s Gemma Webster, England’s Kirsty Fisher and Slovakian Vicky Tomko.
Although this week’s field size is 126, there will be a cut after the second round to the leading 50 professional players and ties that will then play for the first prize of €30,000.
The International Sports Promotion Society (ISPS), chaired by the Japanese philanthropist Dr Haruhisa Handa, has become the new title sponsor this year and in recognition of the devastating earthquake in Japan this March, the LET has asked every player to donate five Euros for a birdie and 10 Euros for every eagle to the Official Japan Relief Fund.