Tiger and the PGA Tour are at Pebble Beach this week, but if you want to see a genuinely world-class field tackle an innovative piece of golf architecture, the Australian sandbelt, home of Royal Melbourne and the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, probably has the edge over Monterey.
Not only will the latter pit the cream of the Ladies European and LPGA Tours against one of the world’s most imaginative tournament venues, it will also mark Yani Tseng’s first competitive appearance of the new year.
If she’s to finish the week having claimed a hat-trick of Women’s Australian Open titles, the five-time major champion – who collected a staggering 12 international victories last year – will have to fend off a host of high-profile challengers, including Jiyai Shin, Christie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome and world number two Suzann Pettersen.
Though Tseng sounds optimistic, her decision to debut a number of swing changes this week could well render a title defence that little bit less likely.
“I have tried to change my back swing. I have tried to get physically stronger, so my swing can match my physique. I have been working out very good [sic]. My trainer was in Orlando with me last month, and my coach. We work really hard.
“I have more power. I don’t swing as hard as before. I feel I am swinging easier and striking the ball better.
If Tseng’s current form is uncertain, the person best placed and most determined to take advantage of a potential lapse in the 23-year-old’s dominance is Norway’s Suzann Pettersen.
Encouraged by a winter of hard training, the Solheim Cup hero begins this season hopeful of mounting a run at the summit of the world rankings.
“It’s always been a dream of mine… And I definitely think my game is there.
“I look at my game and what I can do better to get the most out of it every day,” she said. “She’s a great No. 1, she’s very aggressive, very fearless and obviously has a lot of confidence at the moment. But I’ve beaten her before so I know you can do it.”
Also notables in the field this week include teen stars Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko, home favourite Karrie Webb and Australian Ladies Masters champion Christel Boeljon.