Date: April 01, 2008

Kraft Nabisco Championship

The first major of the 2008 season will be played on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California this week. Four Australians, Karrie Webb, Lindsey Wright, Katherine Hull and Rachel Hetherington, have qualified for the time honoured championship. The Dinah Shore Tournament Course, one of three layouts at Mission Hills, was opened in 1970 and was designed by the late Desmond Muirhead who is known in Australia for his role in the original design of Kooralbyn Resort in Queensland. The defending champion is 19 year old, Morgan Pressel, who twelve months ago captured her first and only LPGA Tour victory to date, a major, when she defeated Suzann Pettersen, Catriona Matthew and Brittany Lincicome by two shots. On a demanding final day, Pressel produced the equal best round and created LPGA history by becoming the youngest player – at the age of 18 – to win a major championship. No other player has won a major championship whilst in her teens. Favouritism in the event this year will lie with the brilliant Mexican Lorena Ochoa who has yet to win the Kraft Nabisco but who has often played well at the venue. Ochoa lost a playoff to Australian Karrie Webb in 2006 after Webb had spectacularly holed her approach from 116 yards at the 72nd hole to set the mark for Ochoa to catch. Ochoa finished 8th in the event as an amateur, has four other top ten finishes and also holds the course record of 62. Clearly, the world number one is the force to be reckoned with this week, following her two runaway wins in three starts on the LPGA Tour this season. Annika Sorenstam is a three time winner of this event and appears likely to be Ochoa s biggest threat, given her own form at present. Sorenstam s last win at Mission Hills was in 2005 but she is back playing well again in 2008 and the duel between the world s number one and two will be an intriguing one. Ochoa had Sorenstam s measure last week at the Safeway International but the duel between the two will be much anticipated this week. Seven-time major championship winner, Karrie Webb, is arguably Australia s best hope and has a record at Mission Hills to back up those claims, winning the event on two occasions including her dramatic win in 2006. Her ten shot winning margin in 2000 remains a record, she has eight Top-10 finishes in this event from 14 starts (including a record six Top-5 s). Webb missed the cut at last week s Safeway International which is of some concern given the form being shown by the likes of Ochoa, Sorenstam and others. She did win her first event of the year at the MFS Women’s Australian Open and finished a very solid 5th at the HSBC Champions event in Singapore, but last week s disappointing effort came at the wrong time in her lead up to such a significant event. She does, however, know what it takes to win a major. Lindsey Wright is the leading Australian on the this year s LPGA Money List after finishing in the top 20 in each of the four tournaments she has contested. Her best result at the Kraft Nabisco was 27th twelve months ago, however she proved a few weeks later that she has what it takes to contend in major championship golf when 4th at the McDonald s LPGA Championship. She has continued to develop as a player, recording her best season in 2007 and has already made a great start to her 2008 season including her third place finish in Hawaii and last week in Phoenix where she contended before finishing 9th. Wright is slowly but surely developing into one of the better players Australian golf has produced. The Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills is a great course, said Wright today. It has the best par 3 s we play all year and is a really strong test of golf overall where you have to hit fairways. The 14th through 18th holes are like amen corner at Augusta you just have to hang on . I m pretty confident leading into this week, I ve had a fantastic start to the year, added Wright. I m really excited about my short game, I ve got a lot more control around the greens and I ve been putting really well. You need a strong short game at any time but particularly in the majors The work I put in at the end of last year and over Christmas, in particular with my short game has paid off. I feel if I can hit the fairways this week then anything is possible. Rachel Hetherington finished runner up behind Sorenstam in this event in 2001 but that aside there has not been much to get excited about in her performances at Mission Hills. Hetherington has not made a good start to 2008, missing the cut by six shots at last week s Safeway International and needs a significant turnaround to feature this week. Katherine Hull has made the cut in both her appearances at the Kraft Nabisco but has finished well back on each occasion. Hull missed the cut at last week s Safeway International which does not bode well for improving her Kraft Nabisco record this week. The event is being staged for the 37th occasion at what is its permanent venue although it did not become an LPGA Tour major until 1983. Originally known as the Colgate Dinah Shore, then Nabisco Dinah Shore, then Nabisco Championship, the tournament was renamed the Kraft Nabisco in 2002 when Kraft came on board as a major sponsor. The tournament offers prizemoney of US$2 million. Follow the Australians progress on Fox Sports will televise all four rounds of the Championship.