|The 2012 LET No.1 Carlota Ciganda from Spain
World No. 1 amateur Lydia Ko is part of a glamour grouping that will tee off early in the first round of the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open hosted by Christchurch.
The young Kiwi star will be joined by world No. 19 ranked Angela Stanford (USA) and Europe’s No 1 ranked Carlota Ciganda (Spain) in the opening round of the 54-hole tournament which is co-sanctioned between the Ladies European Tour and the Australian Ladies Professional Golf.
The fifth New Zealand Open, to be staged at Clearwater Golf Club, has attracted its strongest field with 14 players inside the world’s top 100 led by Stanford along with three winners of majors in former world No 1 Laura Davies, Anna Nordqvist and Sophie Gustafson.
|Angela Stanford of the USA
The field includes the 2012 European No 1 ranked player, Carlota Ciganda, who became the first player since Davies in 1985 to win the LET’s ISPS Handa Order of Merit in her rookie year. In her first full year on the Tour in 2012, the 22-year-old won the Suzhou Taihu China Open and the Deloitte Ladies Open as well as top five finishes in four other tournaments.
“I just like to play golf, to enjoy myself and play as well as I can,” Ciganda said. “It is not pressure for me to be No 1. Last year I did not have much expectation because it was my first year. I was enjoying my time with friends and my caddy who is a good friend.
“The course at Clearwater is in good condition and it is looking very good – good greens, good fairways. I am looking forward to it.You need a good strategy because it is not easy with the wind. There are a few tricky holes in the front and back nine. It is the same for everyone.”
Ko, the youngest player to win a professional tournament on the ALPG and LPGA last year, is already up to No 38 in the world.
Stanford has six professional wins to her credit including the prestigious HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. In 2011 she finished top four in two of the four majors, the Kraft Nabisco Championship and US Women’s Open.
The group starts from the first tee at 8.10am Friday, followed by the grouping of rising star Cheyenne Woods, (the niece of Tiger Woods), the 2011 NZ Open champion Kristie Smith of Australia and the inaugural champion Gwladys Nocera from France.
“Ever since I was five years old I watched Tiger play on TV and I always knew that it is what I want to be,” Woods said. “Tiger has been a huge influence on me. The first time I watched him I was in a stroller. I’ve always been a huge fan; for him to be in my family is awesome and a huge motivation.”
Woods is hoping for a fast start in the first three LET events of the season, last week at the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters in Australia, this week in New Zealand and next week in the Australian Open.
“I want to play well here. I have some European events on my schedule and I will also look to Monday qualify for some LPGA events and hopefully play well there too. The competition here is good with a lot of girls from Europe, the local Australian and New Zealand players and the LPGA players.”
|Kiwi star Lydia Ko
On the other side of the draw is the grouping of Australian Stacey Keating, a two-time winner on the LET last year, the remarkable Davies, who has 81 professional wins to her credit, and two-time major winner Nordqvist (Sweden).
“I had to improve after last week in Australia,” Davies said. “People think that I don’t practice but that’s not true. If I am playing well I don’t need to practice. But I had a good session on the range and I am pleased with how I am hitting it. I am still motivated to win. The day I am not is the day I will hang up the clubs for good.”
There are 144 players in the field including nine amateurs led by Ko, with a cut after two rounds for the leading 50 professionals and ties for the final round on Sunday.
ISPS Handa NZ Women's Open Feature Group Tee Times
8:10am Lydia Ko (a) NZL
Angela Stanford USA
Carlota Ciganda ESP
8:20am Cheyenne Woods USA
Kristie Smith AUS
Gwladys Nocera FRA
8:30am Stacey Keating AUS
Laura Davies ENG
Anna Nordqvist SWE
8:40am Lee Anne Pace ZAF
Sophie Gustafson SWE
Karen Lunn AUS