By Alistair Hogg Although the MFS Women&aposs Australian Open has not been played since 2004, Laura Davies will return to our shores as defending champion. Her score of five-under in 2004 was enough to record a six-stroke victory over Australian Rachel Teske and countrywoman Trish Johnson at Concord Golf Club on the outskirts of Sydney. Wet weather forced the final round to be delayed, but Davies maintained her composure to hold aloft the Patricia Bridges Bowl as she claimed her first Australian Open crown. The big-hitting Englishwoman returns in 2007 keen to defend the title. Although she is not in the career-best form that has seen her claim four majors, Davies will always be a threat to any field she plays amongst. Since turning professional in 1985, Davies has 67 victories under her belt including the 1987 US Women&aposs Open and LPGA Championship in 1994 and 1996. However she&aposs only had one win since the 2004 Australian Open and that came last year at the SAS Norwegian Masters. A final round 68 helped Davies to a six-stroke win over Ellen Smeets as Aussie hope and LET Rookie of the Year, Nikki Garrett, finished equal third. Just last week Davies played alongside compatriot Johnson in the Women&aposs World Cup of Golf at Sun City, South Africa. The pair didn&apost have the greatest of weeks, finishing ninth, but it was a solid hit out prior to their trip down under. Davies is known as one of the most competitive golfers to have ever played the game. She is the only person to have been a member of every single Solheim Cup team and in 2004, became the first woman to compete on the men&aposs European Tour. Despite finishing second last and missing the cut at the 2004 ANZ Masters in Sydney, Davies still holds the record for the highest finish by a woman in a men&aposs event after Michelle Wie finished last in the 2006 Omega European Masters. It&aposs a tough frontier to conquer for the women and if one of the world&aposs longest hitters, cleanest ball-strikers and most successful golfers of all-time can&apost make it, it&aposs hard to see anyone else doing it for a long, long time, if at all. For now though, Davies has her sights set firmly on the Ladies European Tour. After an average start to the season in South Africa, the 43-year old will be on the prowl at Royal Sydney in a bid to defend the title she won in 2004. Standing in her way however will be a mixture of old adversaries and the future of Australian and international women&aposs golf. The likes of Karrie Webb, whom Davies has duelled relentlessly with over the years, Rachel Hetherington and Nikki Campbell headline the Aussie charge while Natalie Gulbis and Brittany Lincicombe will front the international invasion which also boasts players from the European and Korean Tours. The first round gets underway Thursday February 1.
Author: Alistair Hogg