ISPS Handa European Masters: A preview and best bets for this week's LET event
By Matt Cooper
Last Updated: 02/07/14 11:45am
At The Buckinghamshire GC this week the Ladies European Tour will host the third running of the ISPS Handa European Masters.
Played in front of a grade II listed clubhouse - with Pimms, champagne and strawberries flowing in the tented village - it’s the perfect setting for an event which kicks off a stunning run of tournaments in the UK this July.
On the course, too, the action will be thrilling and if it had a theme it might be “Generation Gap” as a bunch of golfers who have proved themselves for years ready themselves to be taken on by crop of exciting youngsters.
The old-timers are led by Australia’s seven-time major winner Karrie Webb, who defends the title she claimed last year with a stunning closing round of 65. She’ll be joined by Dame Laura Davies - her first appearance in the UK since being honoured by the Queen - and Carin Koch, the Swede who earlier this year was made Europe’s 2015 Solheim Cup captain.
Up against them is a host of young talent from all over the globe.
17-year-old Charley Hull, from Woburn, is sure to attract most attention from both the media and the galleries. She claimed her first tour victory earlier this season in Morocco and memories of her stunning Solheim Cup debut last year continue to resonate.
But she is not the only home grown youthful hope. Northern Ireland’s Steph Meadow turned pro just two weeks ago at the US Women’s Open and in finishing third she became just the fifth British and Irish woman golfer to make the top five in a major championship during the 21st century.
From Australia comes 18-year-old Minjee Lee, the number one ranked player in the world amateur rankings, who won on the Australiasian professional tour earlier this year - by the small margin of six shots.
Other teenage stars to look out for include English amateurs Georgia Hall and Annabel Dimmock, the Czech Republic’s Klara Spilkova and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn.
It’s all set for a great week of golf before the tour moves north to Royal Birkdale for the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
As of next week the golf settles into a links routine, but The Buckinghamshire gives us a hint of what is to come, with the fairways fringed by high, dry meadow grass. Most of it is wide of the fairway however so only the wildest hitters should find it.
The course is designed by John Jacobs and features large greens. Finding the right part of those greens is essential to scoring well, and to do that tee shots need to find good angles into the greens. It is a course that can be attacked and there is potential for a thrilling finish, with a driveable par-four 17th hole and a par-three final hole that Christina Kim aced last year.
Leading contenders (and Skybet odds)
Karrie Webb (9/2): The 39-year-old is impossible to ignore: a double winner on the LPGA this season and the defending champion. Each of her three rounds last year were sub-70. The worthy and obvious favourite.
Charley Hull (10/1): British golf’s big hope. Others have gone before her as potential stars, unlike them she has delivered - winning in Europe, winning matches in the Solheim Cup and contending in the year’s first major. How she copes with the increase in attention and pressure will be interesting. She might just thrive on it.
Caroline Masson (16/1): The German regularly contended when an LET regular before turning to the LPGA at the start of 2013. She’s done a solid job in America, but is yet to taste victory again. It might come back at this level, on a course she knows well. She was third last year.
Minjee Lee (18/1): The 18-year-old amateur is 18/1 fourth favourite in a strong field, but she probably deserves it. On the LET this year she has finished second in the Australian Masters, 11th in the (LPGA co-sanctioned) Australian Open and fourth in the World Championship. She was also T22 in last month’s US Women’s Open. She’s very good.
IK Kim (25/1): Back in 2012 she had a tap-in on the 72nd hole to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Agonisingly she missed it and lost the play-off. She finished second again in the 2013 US Open, but has not won since that disaster. Demons?
Ariya Jutanugarn (28/1): 14 month ago the Thai was hot property, contending every week. But during practice for the 2013 US Open she chased her sister with a water bottle, fell, injured her back and missed the rest of the season. She returned to action in February but is yet to find her stunning pre-injury form.
Stephanie Meadow (33/1): Her third placed finish at Pinehurst was extraordinary. The US college graduate seems to have a sensible head on her shoulders, which bodes well in the long term, but she may be experiencing the busiest few weeks of her life. Will she ride the wave or suffer a come down?
Camilla Lennarth (33/1): A maiden winner in Slovakia two weeks ago, the 26-year-old Swede had been banging on the door for a while and has the attitude to turn one win into two sooner rather than later. She was 11th here last year and ninth in the US Open qualifiers on the course in May.
Holly Clyburn (40/1): Second to Hull in the 2013 Rookie of the Year title, the Lincolnshire golfer also won a maiden title in Holland. Last week she was second in Italy and the course holds good memories for her - she qualified for the US Open here in May.
Karrie Webb makes a solid favourite, but we’ll look elsewhere for an interest.
Based on her last season of full LET competition (2012) Caroline Masson offers a touch of value at 16/1 - she finished top five every third start and she’s proved she likes the course.
Next let’s add some youthful promise.
Charley Hull has lots of attention to cope with, Jutanugarn has injury worries, so let’s concentrate on Minjee Lee, who can play more carefree golf this week. Her form against LET fields is the persuading factor. Take the 18/1.
For an outside interest let’s go with Australia’s Nikki Campbell.
She’s spent most of her professional career on the Japan Tour, and had a lot of success there, but she’s concentrated on Europe in the last two season and her form is improving.
Last year she opened with a 75 in this event before adding quality rounds of 68 and 67. In May she played this course for one week in preparation for the US Open qualifiers and made it through.
Second on her last outing in Europe, with all that course knowledge she’s worth adding at 66/1.
1pt e.w. Caroline Masson at 16/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Minjee Lee at 18/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Nikki Campbell at 66/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
Watch the final two rounds live on Sky Sports 4, coverage starts 5pm Saturday.