A week after winning a historic major championship at home in the Evian Championship, France’s Celine Boutier completed a memorable double, by following up with a commanding performance to take home the Women’s Scottish Open at Dundonald Links last week.
She now heads to Walton Heath looking for what would be an incredible treble, as the Women’s Open brings the curtain down on the major story for 2023. With each of the previous four this year going to first-time winners, will that trend continue this week in Surrey, or will a more renowned major performer re-enter the major-winning circle?
The Women’s Open has only held major championship status since 2001. It started off life as an amateur event also open to professionals in 1976, replacing the previous Ladies British Amateur Stroke Play Championship.
It became a full professional event as part of the Ladies European Tour in 1979 and remained sanctioned solely by that tour until 1994, when the LPGA stepped in to co-sanction it. This brought about increasingly stronger fields and resulted in the event growing in prestige, leading to that conversion to a major championship in 2001.
That first major championship renewal in 2001 was held at Sunningdale and saw Korean golfing legend, Se Ri Pak take home the trophy in what has proven to be the most international of majors. With twelve of the twenty-two renewals going to varying nationalities.
Korean golfers have enjoyed the greatest success, having won six editions. This includes Jiyai Shin, who with her two wins in 2008 and 2012 is one of just two players to win the event twice since it upgraded to a major, with Taiwan’s Yani Tseng the other player, winning her first at Royal Birkdale in 2010 and retaining the following year at Carnoustie.
Ashleigh Buhai is this week’s reigning champion, winning her first major at Muirfield last year in a playoff over Korea’s In Gee Chun. She showed a fabulous temperament to compose herself for the playoff after letting a five-shot lead – that she took into Sunday – slip over the course of that final round.
The famous and beautiful Walton Heath Golf Club will host the event for the first time this week, as unlike the men’s version of this event, the ladies don’t limit themselves to purely seaside links courses.
The makeup of the course will be a composite of the Old and New Course – both of which were designed by Herbert Fowler in the early 1900s – though will primarily comprise of holes from the Old Course (16) with just the 12th and 13th from the New Course. It is the same layout that was used for the 2018 British Masters on the DP World Tour, which was won by Eddie Pepperell.
Aside from that, the course famously hosted the 1981 Ryder Cup, that saw a star-studded US Team trounce their European counterparts 18 ½ – 9 ½ and was the home of the European Open on the DPWT five times from 1978-1991; whilst it is also seen annually as one of the courses which holds a qualifying event for the US Open.
This heathland course will this week play as a par 72, measuring a lengthy 6881 yards. It has always provided a difficult challenge on the DPWT, with the lowest winning score among the six events held here over the years standing at -11 and the expectation is that it could be one of the more demanding Women’s Open tests in recent years.
Though very much inland, this course has often been compared – in terms of the way it plays – to many a seaside links. Leading people to describe it as an inland links course.
The fairways are largely generous and firm, with slopes and bumps potentially leading to unlucky bounces into the thick, snatchy heather that frames every hole. This results in virtually an instant penalty should you find it and with penal fairway bunkers – many which encroach on the landing areas rather than merely sitting at the side of the fairways – there is plenty of danger on these fairways.
Despite the landing areas being generous, another feature of the course is that the fairways narrow the further up you go, therefore it is important for players to know when and where to attack off the tee.
Merely finding the fairways isn’t enough though, as it’s imperative to find the right spots of them to give yourself the best angle of attack into the large, speedy and deceptively sloped greens.
Though large, the greens are designed to repel unprecise approach play, with run-offs and false edges sending the ball trundling off the greens, often into the deep bunkers which defend most holes.
The other defence – and a further similarity to links golf – is that the course is predominantly open and exposed; making it susceptible to wind. Which looks to be on the cards this week.
Whilst long and full of danger, there are chances to score this week. The four par 5s should be reachable in two for the majority of the field and many will be tempted to take on the potentially drivable par 4 10th, which comes in at just 260 yards.
This course places demands on every area of your game – apt for our final major of the year – though I believe it’s what you do into and on the greens that will matter most this week.
Simply hitting greens is not enough at Walton Heath, some of them are so big that you will be leaving yourself in three-putt territory regularly if not dialled in enough with your irons, whilst quality approach play will also be required to avoid the danger which lurks around the challenging putting surfaces.
Try as you may but you will still be left with many long putts on these greens. They’re notoriously difficult to read and full of subtle slopes which can outfox many. Therefore, quality putters must also be respected this week.
- SG: Off-the-Tee + Driving Distance
- Par 5 Scoring
Strong scrambling skills evidently came to the fore in the DPWT event here five years ago, indeed it was an area that Eddie Pepperell led and runner-up, Alexander Bjork ranked 2nd in. Though large, the greens may still prove difficult to hold, especially if the wind kicks up as predicted.
I expect short and longer hitters alike to hit approaches from similar spots this week with the way these fairways tighten the further up the hole you go. However, there are a number of holes where the very longest hitters may be able to carry significant patches of heather and various bunkers, giving themself much shorter shots into the green.
Additionally, the course length is as long as courses typically get for the ladies, and I could definitely see a scenario where a long driver of the ball will best be able to handle Walton Heath more than anyone this week. Having said that, the course will not be forgiving for long yet wayward players; any bombers will need to produce a controlled driving performance to make the most of any possible advantage.
Finally, the par 5s offer the most significant amount of birdie chances on this course and as such, we should look at players who score well on these longest holes.
Walton Heath will be like nothing many players in this field will have faced before, so I’m keen to not dwell too much on correlating events this week. However, there are a few sensible events we can look at to find players who are suited to exposed and firm golf courses.
Though not an actual links course, there’s enough similarities to those traditional seaside links that means we can look at those events for clues this week. Therefore, previous form in the Women’s Open and Scottish Open can only be seen as a plus.
Back over to the U.S and like last week, the best routes to go down for this test look to be the Shoprite LPGA Classic at the Seaview GC Bay Course and the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National. Both courses are exposed and linksy in feel.
Women’s Open Trends
Concrete trends for the Women’s Open are a little thin on the ground. It has simply been the most random, unpredictable and open of the majors over recent years.
We’ve had two of the last seven winners making their debut in the event, Sophia Popov (2020) and Hinako Shibuno (2019), whilst Ariya Jutanugarn in 2016 had only finished 45th in the event prior.
It has been a good event for first-time major winners, with seven of the last ten editions going to such players, though it is notable how seven of the last ten winners had also previously recorded a major championship top 5.
Strong recent form looks to be the most telling factor, with each of the last eight winners recording a finish of 15th or better in their three most recent starts; six of them had finished top 10.
The conditions over the first three days are set to be relatively warm and dry, before the temperatures drop a touch on Sunday and bring with them some rain.
Wind is likely to be a major factor over the course of the week, with a constant breeze of between 8-12mph and gusts of between 25-31mph currently forecasted to blow.
This is typically the most eclectic field of the five majors and that is certainly the case this week.
The entirety of the world’s top 25 will be in attendance, including our defending champion, Ashleigh Buhai, who is one of ten former winners present.
As well as the very best of the LPGA, there are spots for the top players from the LET (Europe), JLPGA (Japan) and KLPGA (Korea). Included among them is the top-ranked player from Japan, Miyuu Yamashita, who has won four times in her home country this year and nine times over the last two years.
There was also a final qualifying event held at Hankley Common yesterday, where twelve spots were up for grabs. Chloe Williams of Wales topped the leaderboard to secure her spot and she was joined by – amongst others – Sweden’s Ingrid Lindblad, who currently ranks as the best amateur in the world.
The market is struggling to separate the first four in the betting, with Nelly Korda, Celine Boutier, Rose Zhang and Hyo Joo Kim all sharing favouritsm at 14/1.
Boutier is an obvious threat with the confidence she’ll no doubt be feeling after an incredible couple of weeks, though is entitled to be a little weary. Korda was the one who appealed most of this quartet, especially as she produced her best iron display of the year last-time-out in the Evian Championship, though she has yet to really produce her best in this event, which was just about enough for me to look elsewhere at the price.
She and the rest at the top are passed over for a player who I’ve put up in each of the last two majors with a decent level of success, Nasa Hataoka.
2 pts Nasa Hataoka each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 25/1
In both of those tournaments, Hataoka had every chance to win. She led entering the final round at Pebble Beach in the US Women’s Open before eventually settling for 4th and she was sat 2nd before the start of the fourth round in the Evian Championship, three behind Celine Boutier; again, having a final round to forget as she shot 1-over to finish in 3rd.
It would be easy to be critical of the Japanese star but in the simplest terms, she enters this week with two major top 4s in her last three starts and it looks only a matter of time before the six-time LPGA winner puts one of these away. Hopefully it’s a case of third time lucky this week.
This would be the major in which Hataoka has performed worst in so far, but she is visibly trending in the right direction. After missing the cut on her first two attempts in 2018 and 2019, she finally made the cut in 2020, finishing 64th. She then improved on that when 26th in 2021 and recorded her best Women’s Open finish to date last year at Muirfield, finishing 7th.
That completed the set of top 10s in majors for her, with her best finishes coming when runner-up in the 2018 Women’s PGA Championship and 2021 US Women’s Open. When added to another four top 5s across the five majors, we find a player with a consistently impressive major record.
Hataoka’s game is one of all-round quality, though she excels with her approach play, ranking 11th. She also possesses a strong short game, ranking 37th both in scrambling and putting, whilst is solid with the driver and though not long, is by no means short. A ranking of 23rd in par 5 scoring provides extra encouragement for this week.
She has plenty of form on similarly exposed, firm courses. She comes into this after finishing a solid 24th in Scotland last week, a place where she has recorded finishes of 7th and 12th in the past; as well as featuring inside the top 10 in the Shoprite Classic.
Hataoka has shown over those two recent major finishes that she remains one of the best players on the LPGA without a major win and I see no reason to not fancy her chances of another big performance this week.
1.75 pts Ruoning Yin each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 28/1
Ruoning Yin is already a major champion this year and coming into this week after a promising 3rd in Scotland last week, this supreme tee-to-green player can double up her major tally for the year at Walton Heath.
Yin showed some promise towards the end of her rookie season last year, as she recorded four top 20s over her last seven starts, including a 4th-place finish in the Dana Open.
She made swift work of that promise at the start of this year, with an impressive win in the LA Open on just her second start of 2023 for her first LPGA title.
It would’ve been easy for her to struggle a little following that breakthrough win but she has shown signs of doing no such thing. Just two starts following that victory she finished 4th in the LA Championship and within four starts of that, became a major winner, taking home the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
She then hit the top 20 in the US Women’s Open and following a first missed cut of the year in the Evian Championship, she bounced back with a 3rd-place finish in Scotland last week.
Yin ranks 1st on tour this season tee-to-green and is an excellent ball-striker, ranking 2nd in approach and 5th OTT, where she has plenty of length, ranking 18th in driving distance. Her scrambling skills are similarly impressive, ranking 7th and she also ranks inside the top 25 in par 5 scoring.
It’s inevitable that when a player possesses such strength tee-to-green, that they might lose a little on the greens, or else she’d be winning virtually every time she tees it up. Having said that, she has produced her two best putting performances of the season over her last three starts. Something I’m hoping she can replicate this week.
Yin’s 3rd in last week’s Women’s Scottish Open shows how she has the game to handle similar tests to this week, as does a 15th in the Shoprite Classic this year and provides further reasons as why to expect the 20-year-old Chinese star to put up a strong debut effort in the Women’s Open.
1.75 pts Yuka Saso each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 30/1
2021 US Open winner, Yuka Saso has been in superb form of late, hitting the top 20 in each of the last three majors and with her irons now starting to fire, this excellent driver and putter looks a formidable contender this week.
Saso started the year in good shape, recording 6th-place finishes twice in her opening four starts. She hit a bad phase from the end of March-May but has come back strongly over the last two months.
Her form turned around when she finished 7th at Liberty National in the Mizuho Americas Open and she’s continued to perform since. She followed with a narrow runner-up finish to Ruoning Yin in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, before then finishing 20th in the US Women’s Open on her next start.
That finish was engineered by one of her best approach performances of the year as she ranked 17th in the field and the irons were an important reason why she managed to finish 3rd in the Evian Championship on her latest start two weeks ago, ranking 18th.
When we combine these improved iron displays with the rest of her game, it’s easy to see why her results have improved considerably in recent starts.
Saso excels most with the driver, an area she ranks 4th on the LPGA and is one of the longest, ranking 10th in driving distance. She also possesses quality with the putter, ranking 18th and this blend enables her to score strongly on the par 5s, ranking 4th.
Though she hasn’t quite fired in the Women’s Open as yet, she is a major winner and with the recent quality of her ball-striking and continued strength with the putter, she should have a major say this week.
1 pt In Gee Chun each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 80/1
I’m going to sign off with last year’s Women’s Open runner-up and three-time major winner, In Gee Chun. Though she hasn’t quite managed to hit the top of the leaderboard yet this year, her results have been decent and her tee-to-green game continues to look strong. All things considered, the Korean is a class act and looks a big price this week.
Chun returned from an eight-week absence in the Meijer LPGA Classic in June. Although she missed the cut there, she hasn’t missed another over her latest six starts and has recorded no finish worse than 41st, with two top 30s.
She’s the 20th-best player T2G this year, a quality of performance which she has produced across all of the majors. She ranked 1st when 24th in the Women’s PGA, 6th when 18th in the Chevron Championship, 7th when 36th in the Evian and 21st when finishing 27th in the US Women’s Open.
Chun’s main strengths this year have come in her scrambling, where she ranks 3rd and in approach, ranking 10th. Though she is struggling a little with the putter this year, she is more than capable of finding it when she needs it.
That is what she managed to do when runner-up to Ashleigh Buhai in this event last year, as she ranked 5th on the greens and she also putted well when winning the Women’s PGA; both of these coming despite producing largely uninspiring numbers on the greens throughout the rest of the year.
Her 2nd in the event last year was Chun’s third top 10 in total in the Women’s Open. We can be confident that she has the ability – both mentally and technically – to get the job done if getting the chance this week. She’s recorded wins in the Evian and US Women’s Open, with that win in the PGA last year taking her to three majors in total and she looks an attractive price to add a fourth major win this week.