The 2014 Women's British Open couldn't boast much more hype in terms of star power. Prodigy Lexi Thompson won her first major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and Michelle Wie broke through for her maiden major title at the U.S. Women's Open last month.
Wie was runner-up to Thompson at the season's first major championship. The woman set to defend at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, world No. 1 Stacy Lewis, finished second to Wie at Pinehurst No. 2.
All of these players are intertwined, with Lewis coming off a victory at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, an event in which Wie tied for eighth and Thompson missed the cut. Even fellow LPGA stalwart Natalie Gulbis recognized the significance of Lewis' triumph:
Congrats @Stacy_Lewis winning in Arkansas!! She won the event as an amateur 8 yrs ago (unoffical) when she was in college— Natalie Gulbis (@natalie_gulbis) June 29, 2014
That provides some idea of the game's top stars and their form ahead of the season's third major in Southport, England. Check out when and where to catch the action along with a more detailed preview of this prestigious tournament.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of LPGA.com.
When: Thursday, July 10 through Sunday, June 13
Where: Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, Merseyside, England
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit the official website.
Purse: $3 million; Winner's Share: $450,000
|Thursday, July 10||9 a.m. - 12 p.m.||ESPN|
|Friday, July 11||9 a.m. - 12 p.m.||ESPN|
|Saturday, July 12||8 a.m. - 12 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sunday, July 13||8 a.m. - 12 p.m.||ESPN|
2014 Women's British Open Preview
All that's missing from Lewis' strong season is a major victory, and she finished third and second in her previous two starts in those events. There's reason to believe she can do one better this week in Southport.
Golfweek's Beth Ann Nichols highlighted how Lewis struggled the last time the Women's British Open was held at the 2014 venue:
The last time the women were at Royal Birkdale was in 2010. @Stacy_Lewis finished 15 shots behind a dominant Yani Tseng. Feels like ages ago— Beth Ann Nichols (@GolfweekNichols) July 8, 2014
However, that was before Lewis had risen to the peak of her powers, fending off Yani Tseng to win her first tournament, which happened to be the 2011 Kraft Nabisco. That launched Lewis into instant stardom, leading to a 2012 LPGA Player of the Year award.
But no one creates the buzz Wie does, something Lewis acknowledged in an interview with Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press:
I don't know if anybody could be a female Tiger Woods, but Michelle definitely moves the needle. I think her playing good golf is good for everyone. It's good for the tour and it's good for the other players. I said the U.S. Open couldn't have been scripted any better. We're on our biggest stage there and our biggest star winning there — and she won't even tell you that, but she is our biggest star. Her winning was huge for us.
Similar to what Tiger Woods can do, one of the shots Wie boasts in her arsenal is a low, stinging tee shot, something Randall Mell of Golf Channel alludes to in his analysis:
Michelle Wie's stinger should work well as she tries to become 1st American woman to win consecutive majors in 15 yrs http://t.co/Z5bsnAt0uI— Randall Mell (@RandallMellGC) July 8, 2014
That should allow Wie to cut through the swirling breeze on the tricky Open course and position her for success by avoiding the perilous rough that flanks the fairways. As an amateur in 2005, Wie finished in a tie for third at the Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale.
A budding rivalry is developing between Lewis and Wie, who are friends away from the links but looking for any edge to conquer women's golf between the ropes.
Lewis usually has the edge with regard to her short game, but Wie made clutch putts down the stretch to win the U.S. Women's Open.
Thompson can't be discounted, of course. Even though she's just 19, the young star has proved she can get it done on the major stage, managing a major victory before Wie. Another phenom in Lydia Ko is just 17 years old but already No. 2 in the world rankings.
Who will win the 2014 Women's British Open?
Although she doesn't have ideal driving distance off the tee, Ko makes up for it with exceptional iron play and a knack for draining a ton of putts. She's already won three times in her young career, including twice as an amateur.
Another one to watch for is Inbee Park—a magnificent putter in her own right and a four-time major champion. This is one of the two marquee events Park has yet to capture, but she finished in the top 10 at Royal Birkdale in 2010 and is bound to bounce back soon from her recent lackluster form.
This is an exciting time to be monitoring women's golf. Lewis is just approaching her prime, Wie is beginning to realize her potential, and Thompson and Ko have a long way to go before capitalizing fully on their immense talents. And presuming Park regains her dominance, the next several years on the LPGA circuit figure to be as exciting as any in recent memory.
The first two majors of the 2014 season have featured many of the biggest names taking center stage. That leaves the Women's British Open with a lot to live up to.
Given how consistent these quality golfers have been, though, it isn't unrealistic to expect yet another thrilling major championship showcase at Royal Birkdale.