Date: March 30, 2017
Author: Golf Australia

Smith eyes major breakthrough

In-form Sarah-Jane Smith is relishing the prospect of brutal first-round conditions as she bids to break Australia's decade-long drought in women's majors at the ANA Inspiration starting overnight.

She doesn't boast the profile of Karrie Webb and Minjee Lee, but Smith looms as Australia's surprise challenger at the season's first major in California.

While three-time PGA Tour winner Lee has missed her past two cuts, Smith is 20th on the LPGA Tour money list following a string of impressive results, most notably a 17-under-par finish at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup two starts ago.

The 32-year-old is playing with renewed freedom after a runner-up showing at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November secured her full LPGA Tour playing rights in 2017.

The Orlando-based star also credits a reunion with former coach Sean Foley – Tiger Woods' one-time mentor – as another key to her resurgence.

Foley has helped Smith with her short game and it's showing.

"He's just really good to talk to as well. He's out a lot with the guys on the PGA Tour so he sees a lot and understands what's going on," Smith told AAP today.

"So it's been great to be back working with him."

Third at this year's ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, Smith says she's ready to vie for major trophies.

"The results are trending that way and I've been very consistent in majors," she said.

"I haven't contended yet, but I feel like I've been up there in a lot of the stronger fields this year so hopefully that bodes well for this week."

A top-20 at last year's Women's British Open is also fuelling her confidence after officials issued a "wind advisory" for the first round at the famed Mission Hills Country Club.

"They're predicting about 60kmh winds starting at 12 o'clock and I have a 12.15 tee time, so I should get most of it," Smith said.

"I love playing in the wind and I hit a lot of little shots anyway, so it's something I enjoy.

"I probably don't enjoy 60kmh winds, but it's a good way to contend. If you buckle down and have a good round in conditions like that, you can really make a move."

Webb, whose victory at this event in 2006 – then known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship – was Australia's last success at a women's major, and Lee also have afternoon tee times in round one.

Victorian Su Oh hits off early as New Zealand superstar Lydia Ko tries to defend her title, as well as her long-standing world No.1 ranking.

Last year, three weeks shy of her 19th birthday, Ko became the youngest golfer to win two majors since Young Tom Morris at the 1869 British Open.

But if Ariya Jutanugarn wins this weekend and Ko finishes fifth or worse, the Thai will end the Kiwi's 75-week reign after a dominant five-title season in 2016.