5 burning questions ahead of the year’s final major, the AIG Women’s Open
This week, we will finally put a bow on the 2023 major season with the AIG Women’s Open.
The Women’s Open has only been considered a major for a little over 20 years, but it’s had plenty of intrigue in the two decades since. Greats like Annika Sorenstam have made their mark on this tournament, while Cinderella stories like Sophia Popov have enjoyed success as well. When the ladies tee it up across the pond, excellent storylines are never in short supply.
With that in mind, here are questions we have this week as the ladies take on Walton Heath at the 2023 AIG Women’s Open.
Time for a repeat?
Asheigh Buhai entered last summer’s AIG Women’s Open searching for her first career LPGA victory. Despite having a pro career of 15 years, the South African had yet to break through on the LPGA Tour.
That all changed with one magical week at Muirfield. Buhai, buoyed by a third-round 64, captured the Women’s Open title in a playoff over In Gee Chun for her first LPGA victory. The win was not only Buhai’s first, but also the first Women’s Open victory for her home country of South Africa. Now a year later, Buhai returns to the Women’s Open looking to notch another first.
If Buhai can win this week at Walton Heath, she’ll become the first woman to ever win the Women’s Open in back-to-back years. Judging by her form this season, she’s got a fighter’s chance. In 15 starts this year, Buhai has six top 10s — including a victory — and ranks ninth in the Race to the CME Globe standings.
Will the first-time winner trend continue?
Women’s professional golf is in a healthy spot. More people are watching the sport than ever before, and purses continue to increase. Plus, with a talent pool as deep as ever, the competition is fierce week in and week out.
However, with the increase in talent in the women’s game, it’s become more and more difficult for a dominant force to emerge. As a result, we’re on a bit of a streak for first-time major winners.
Since last summer’s Evian Championship (won by Brooke Henderson), there’s been five-straight first-time major winners. Buhai started the trend last year at Muirfield, and wins by Lilia Vu (Chevron Championship), Allisen Corpuz (U.S. Women’s Open), Ruoning Yin (Women’s PGA) and Celine Boutier (Evian Championship) have continued the streak. Will this week give us another first-time winner?
Can the stars get it done?
While the 2023 major season has had plenty of intriguing storylines, it’s been largely devoid of the biggest stars.
Nelly Korda, Jin Young Ko and Lydia Ko — the top three in the Rolex Ranking — have just three combined top 10s at the majors in 12 starts this year. For context, the trio combined for seven top 10s in 2022 and six in 2021.
Some of this can be attributed to injury issues, with Korda and Ko battling their health this season, but a bulk of it has just been plain old bad golf. Other than Korda’s solo third at the Chevron Championship, none of them have even been in serious contention coming down the stretch on Sunday afternoon.
If they want to change that narrative of a major season devoid of star power, they have one last chance this week.
Who’s going to lock up a Solheim Cup bid?
The Solheim Cup is right around the corner, but there’s still a couple weeks left in qualifying — and a solid showing at the year’s final major would go a long way in locking up a spot on the teams.
The top spots on each team have already been claimed by the likes of Nelly Korda and Celine Boutier, but for those on the fringe, this week is huge in terms of impressing their captains.
On the American side, Angel Yin, Cheyenne Knight and Lizette Salas are not yet guaranteed spots, so playing well at Walton Heath is paramount. On the European side, Gemma Dryburgh, Albane Valenzuela and Nanna Koertz Madsen are also looking to make their final impressions a good one.
The top of the leaderboard will be where the fight for first takes place, but down the board there will be planty of jockeying for spots on the Solheim Cup teams.
Can Rose stay hot?
Rose Zhang only turned pro a few months ago, but she’s already established herself as one of the top stars in the women’s game. Since her victory in her pro debut at Liberty National, she’s added three top 10s in three major starts.
Zhang has yet to break through for her first major title, but at this point, it only seems like a matter of time. She claimed low-amateur honors in her last start at the Women’s Open, but this year, she’ll have her sights set on a much larger prize. Can the 20-year-old wonder add a major to her resume in her rookie season? We can’t wait to find out.