LPGA Drive On Championship 2024 Tips: 150/1 shot one of five for Florida

 | January 24 | 

14 mins read

jamie LPGA

Jamie Worsley is back with another lengthy LPGA Tour preview and five selections for the Drive On Championship in Florida. 

LPGA Drive On Championship Betting Tips

  • 1.75 pts Megan Khang each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 28/1 
  • 1.75 pts Leona Maguire each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 30/1 
  • 1.25 pts Allisen Corpuz each way ((1/4 - 5 places) - 40/1 
  • 1 pt Cheyenne Knight each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 60/1
  • 0.75 pts Azahara Munoz each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 150/1

The 2024 LPGA season got underway last week, as Lydia Ko continued her return to form by winning the LPGA Tournament of Champions for the first time, at Lake Nona G&CC in Florida.

Ko is back in action this week and before the tour takes a month-long absence prior to a three-week stint in Asia, we have our first full-field event of the year; with the sixth staging of the LPGA Drive On Championship at Bradenton Country Club in Florida.

TOURNAMENT HISTORY

The LPGA Drive On Championship was created in 2020 as a response to several events being lost to the pandemic, and has maintained a place on tour since.

There were two events held that year, one in Ohio at the Inverness Club, won by Danielle Kang and the second down in Georgia at Lake Oconee, won by Ally Ewing.

The event has kept this theme of ever-changing venues in place and it headed to Golden Ocala GC in Florida in 2021, where we saw Austin Ernst record a most-emphatic five-stroke success.

Leona Maguire followed with a win at another Florida course in 2022, Crown Colony GC; before a move to Arizona and Superstition Mountain G&CC last year, as France’s Celine Boutier recorded the first of her four 2023 victories, later becoming a major champion at home in the Evian Championship.

We’re back in Florida this week, where the Donald Ross-designed Bradenton Country Club will host the first full-field event of 2024. Boutier will be in action against a strong field of challengers, hoping to become the first player to win consecutive LPGA Drive On Championship titles.

THE COURSE

Bradenton Country Club opened for play in 1924 and is a pristine, open, parkland course. It has been renovated a couple of times, most recently in 2018 by Tony Jacklin, who used the original sketches in an attempt to recapture Ross’ magic.

Though it is staging this event for the first time, it will not be unfamiliar to many competing players, as it hosted qualifying events for the US Women’s Open six times between 2015 and 2023.

It plays as a par 71 and measures 6557 yards; containing 11x par 4s (358-415 yards), 4x par 3s (162-188 yards) and 3x par 5s (493-536 yards).

This flat, firm course is framed by several water hazards - which come into play on twelve holes - and tall oak/palm trees. Whilst there is plenty of room out there and the trees aren’t especially dense, some do hug the well-manicured fairways; requiring players to drive the ball smartly and find the correct side of the fairways to avoid line-of-sight issues.

There are some generous landing spots in the fairways but many tighten the further up you go and large, strategic bunkers provide further protection.

As you’d expect with a Donald Ross design, the course amps up approaching the average-sized bermudagrass greens, which will be played at a speedy 12.5 on the stimp and are said to be the most-difficult aspect of play at Bradenton.

They are highly-contoured and many are constructed in that signature “turtleback” style. With run-offs back and front, they’ll be tough to hit, particularly if the wind gets up, which it often does here. This will bring about further difficulties, with deep greenside bunkers and tight lies around the greens making getting it up-and-down a real challenge.

The two nines are flipped for this event which makes for both a tough start and finish to the course. It begins with five mid-length par 4s in a row and finishes with five straight holes played around water.

Those closing holes include the 499-yard par 5 17th, which has water running entirely up the right-hand side and a tricky little 380-yard par 4 to finish; a hole that has a creek left of the fairway and also punishes those longer hitters, who may misjudge and take it that little bit too far off-the-tee.

With wind looking a factor all week and warm conditions keeping the conditions firm, I’m expecting a challenging but fair test at Bradenton CC.

THE STATS

Key Stats:

  • SG: Approach
  • Greens-in-Regulation
  • SG: Around-the-Greens
  • SG: Putting (firm bermudagrass)
  • Par 4 scoring

I suspect players will need a little bit of everything to contend this week but I’m keen to focus on play into and on/around these difficult greens.

Precision approach play will be hugely important, with a necessity in keeping the ball below the hole and avoiding slippery downhill putts on these slick surfaces.

The forecast wind should make conditions interesting and with plenty of greens likely to be missed, a grade-A short game looks vital, especially an ability to chip from tightly-mown bermudagrass. Whilst of course, proven putters on this grass will too have an advantage.

The par 4s are where the event will likely be won and lost, none are easy but some could be got at with high-quality ball-striking. I’m expecting that whoever does come out on top will have done better on these holes than the majority of the field.

CORRELATING EVENTS

The Donald Ross angle is the most obvious place to go here and there are several of his designs that have been used on tour in recent years.

Host of The ANNIKA, Pelican Golf Club appeals most of these - despite its extensive recent renovation - as another Floridian course covered in firm bermudagrass. Though it’s the Shoprite LPGA Classic at Seaview’s Bay Course that provides us with the most event history to delve into, having been used on tour since 1998.

Other courses of Ross’ are the host of the 2022 US Women’s Open, Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club - another course covered head-to-toe in bermuda -  and the Inverness Club, which hosted the first edition of this event in 2020.

THE WEATHER

Warm and bright weather is going to be accompanied by strong, gusty winds throughout the week, which are forecast to exceed 27mph.

That warmth and sun may be replaced by more chilly, stormy conditions for the final round, with those winds set to stick around. Meaning it could be a real slog at the business end of the event on Sunday.

THE FIELD

31 of last week’s 35-woman field in the Tournament of Champions will be teeing it up again in Florida and must feel they have some kind of an advantage over those only returning to action this week.

World #1, Lilia Vu is chief among these players and leads a strong group of players to Bradenton, which includes the next three best players in the world: #2 Ruoning Yin; #3, our defending champion Celine Boutier and #4 Bradenton’s own, Nelly Korda. Meanwhile, Lydia Ko is back among the world’s top 10 after her victory last week and looks sure to be another leading contender.

Boutier is one of three former winners of this event in attendance, along with 2020 champion, Ally Ewing and 2022 winner, Leona Maguire.

Not only does this week see the season debuts of several high-calibre players such as Lexi Thompson, Xiyu Lin, Carlota Ciganda and Ariya Jutanugarn, but as the first full-field tournament of 2024, a whole host of new faces enter the fray.

Nine of the ten players who earned their tour cards via the Epson Tour last year will be teeing it up, led by the top-ranked player there and three-time winner on tour in 2023, Gabriela Ruffels.

In addition, 23 of the 45 players to earn their card via the Q-Series will too be in action. Including the leading player, Robyn Choi. Though it’s perhaps the next two from that leaderboard who will be of most interest, So Mi Lee from Korea and Mao Saigo of Japan.

Both players have been prolific winners in their home countries, with Lee winning five times since 2021 and Saigo a six-time JLPGA winner. It will be interesting to see how much of that ability they can transfer to this premier tour.

SELECTIONS

Market leaders: Lilia Vu 11/1, Nelly Korda 11/1, Lydia Ko 12/1, Brooke Henderson 14/1, Xiyu Lin 14/1

The very top of the market is strong and I was tempted by a couple. Nelly Korda is as familiar with this course as anyone in the field, regularly playing (and playing well) here in US Women’s Open qualifiers; however, she was a touch disappointing last week at a course she usually eats up and it’s hard to go again here.

Lydia Ko would be the one. She’s still arguably the most talented player around when on her game and with her approach play looking back to its scintillating best last week, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if she backed that up here.

Having said that, this is a new course, with a bunch of new, unknown players and when combined with tough conditions and the potential for draw biases, going in right at the top of the betting wasn’t appealing.

Instead, I’ve looked for a bit of value further down and it’s with the best approach/around-the-greens combined player on the LPGA last year that I start, Megan Khang.

1.75 pts Megan Khang each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 28/1 

Despite still being young in age, Khang has been competing at the very top level of the game for several years now but 2023 felt like a real breakthrough for her.

After a slowish start to last season, she sprung into life as major season begun, as she so often does and recorded her first top 10 in the Chevron Championship; the first of three for her in 2023, following with a 3rd in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and 9th in the Evian Championship. However, the most important moment of the American’s season came in Canada, at the CPKC Women’s Open.

After entering the final round with a cosy advantage, she produced a sluggish final-round performance to let several players back into the event and sat one behind seasoned winner, Jin Young Ko with one hole to play. Despite those final-round struggles, she found inspiration from somewhere to birdie that final hole and force a playoff, then beating the two-time major champion with par on the first extra hole for a long-overdue first professional win.

Khang would’ve been entitled in taking a little time to come down from the highs of that win but she continued to play well for the rest of 2023, recording three further top 10s in her final five starts of the year.

That level of form was largely engineered by her superb iron play and short-game skills, ranking 4th in approach, 5th in greens-in-regulation and 10th around-the-greens on the LPGA last season, as well as 12th in par 4 scoring.

These areas were again firing for Khang last week as she finished 11th in the Tournament of champions, ranking 3rd ATG and 7th in approach. With some strong top-10 performances at other Ross designs, namely a 7th in The ANNIKA last year and 8th in the 2022 US Women’s Open, she looks a good fit for this week’s test.

Megan Khang 28-1

1.75 pts Leona Maguire each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 30/1 

Leona Maguire is based here in Florida and doing all of her best work late on in the Tournament of Champions, I’m taking her to carry that momentum over to Bradenton CC and earn a third LPGA victory.

2023 has to go down as another successful one for the Irishwoman. Aside from winning her second LPGA title at the Meijer LPGA Classic in June; she again played a starring role as Team Europe retained the Solheim Cup; made the cut in each of the five majors (missing just one cut all season) and recorded a further six top-10 finishes.

Her form had drifted a little towards the end of the year but she looked good in the ToC, finishing 12th thanks to a closing 4-under 68 – the joint-best round of a tricky final day.

Maguire looked solid enough in most areas there but it was that elite-level short game that stood out, ranking 12th on tour last season; which could prove very important this week.

As a rock-solid iron player and putter, along with being top 25 in par 4 scoring, she has all the skills needed to handle this test, and with top 10s at Pelican Golf Club and Pine Needles, she also has the Ross form to boot.

Leona Maguire 30-1

1.25 pts Allisen Corpuz each way ((1/4 - 5 places) - 40/1 

Allisen Corpuz was a little hit-and-miss last week, firing two rounds over par and two under, but I’m taking the impressive 2023 US Women’s Open champion to put on a show on this fine old course.

The Hawaiian golfer established herself as a strong major performer last year, looking particularly impressive in tough major championship conditions. Her three-stroke success at a blustery Pebble Beach was preceded by a 4th-place finish in the Chevron Championship and a third major top 10 in the Women’s Open; also making the cut in the other two.

She achieved these performances with an accuracy-dependent ball-striking game, ranking 3rd in driving accuracy, 12th in GIR and 15th in approach last year. Complimenting it with a steady short game, as a top-50 player ATG; overall possessing a top-class tee-to-green game that enabled her to rank 14th in par 4 scoring.

In addition to being a good statistical fit, Corpuz has an excellent piece of form on a Ross original, having finished 3rd in the 2022 renewal of The ANNIKA, which should serve her well at Bradenton.

Corpuz

1 pt Cheyenne Knight each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 60/1

Cheyenne Knight looked terrific when finishing 4th in the ToC. If able to repeat the quality she showed there in approach and ATG, she should be able to keep the ball rolling in the LPGA Drive On Championship.

Though Knight’s individual performances in 2023 were a touch uninspiring, recording just four top 10s, including a best of 6th, she did enjoy somewhat of a breakthrough of her own with an impressive debut in the Solheim Cup. Going undefeated in her three matches; winning two and tying one.

An inexplosive but accurate player OTT, it’s in other areas where Knight shines; particularly in her iron play, ranking 18th in approach on tour last season, but also possesses a good short game, ranking 30th ATG.

It was these assets that drove her to that finish last week, as she ranked 2nd ATG and 3rd in approach; as a solid par 4 scorer she has the skillset to perform well here.

There is little Ross form on offer but Knight does appeal in other ways. Her solo LPGA victory came in 2019 at The Ascendant, on another course which uses bermudagrass throughout and originating in Texas, she knows how to play the wind, something she has shown in her two top-3 finishes in the Women’s Scottish Open.

knight

0.75 pts Azahara Munoz each way (1/4 - 5 places) - 150/1

Spain’s Azahara Munoz produced one of her best LPGA performances at the correlating Pelican Golf Club towards the end of 2023, and as a player with more positive recent experience of Bradenton CC than most in this field, I felt she was well worth a shot at this big price on her first start of the year.

The five-time Ladies European Tour winner has struggled for results for much of the last few years but after a couple of encouraging efforts in the two events prior, she produced an excellent runner-up finish to Lilia Vu in The ANNIKA on her final LPGA start of 2023; matching her best finish on the tour in several years.

She was particularly strong in approach and ATG there, ranking 4th and 9th respectively, and it was these areas that shone most for her throughout the entirety of 2023, ranking 18th ATG and 28th in approach for the season as a whole.

That piece of Ross form in The ANNIKA should bode well for her but we needn’t rely just on that, as Munoz played Bradenton in 2023 in US Women’s Open Qualifying, tying the leading score of -6 after two rounds to eventually earn her way into the field at Pebble Beach. She made one of the most well-rounded cases of anyone at three-figures and though it may be tough to see off those players with a start under their belt, the price makes her worth the risk.

Munoz 150-1

You can find all Jamie's latest Golf Betting Tips over on our dedicated golf Insights hub. 

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