Focus shifts to Europe, Evian Masters
KOHLER, Wis. -- There's much talk about what Asian players are doing in 2012 on the LPGA tour; they've won the first three major titles. And there's discussion about what Americans aren't doing; just one U.S. player -- Stacy Lewis -- has finished in the top five at any of the majors.
But there is another group to be considered now: Europeans. They get to be "hosts" for the next big LPGA tournament, the Evian Masters later this month in France, where the $3.25 million purse ties the U.S. Women's Open for the biggest on tour.
Next year, the Evian Masters will rise to the status of "major," giving the LPGA five such championships. That's hardly earth-shattering, considering that over the years there have been three different combinations of tournaments that constituted the women's majors.
It makes sense to elevate the Evian Masters. With the resources put into the event and the field it always draws, it already has the feel of a major. But when will it have another European champion?
It did for seven of the tournament's first nine years, starting with its launch in 1994. But since Annika Sorenstam's win in 2002, just one other European has won at Evian: fellow Swede Helen Alfredsson in 2008.
The current top-ranked European player is Norway's Suzann Pettersen, No. 6 in the world. Pettersen tied for ninth at the U.S. Women's Open after having been the 36-hole leader. Her weekend scores of 78-75 at Blackwolf Run were disappointing to her, especially because she thought the course and conditions should have allowed her to shoot much better.
"I played pretty awful today and just hit my irons pretty bad," Pettersen said Sunday. "I still don't think the course is that hard.
"We're all going to Europe [next], so I'm headed back to Norway for a couple of weeks of practice and see some friends and family. And then it's time to work again."
Italy's Giulia Sergas isn't one of the up-and-coming younger Euros, such as Spain's Azahara Munoz, 24, and Beatriz Ricardi, 25, or England's Melissa Reid, 24. Yet at 32, Sergas tied for fourth at the Women's Open, her best finish in the event.
Meanwhile, the top European finisher in the Women's Open -- Germany's Sandra Gal, who was third behind South Korea's Na Yeon Choi and Amy Yang -- would like to make this year's Evian her second LPGA victory. Gal, who turned 27 in May, seems to be coming into her own as a more consistent contender.
Gal's third-place finish at Blackwolf Run was her first top-10 in an LPGA major.
"I think just leading up to this event, my game started to get a lot better and more solid," said Gal, a 6-footer who spent a couple of years playing collegiately for Florida. "And I think the key to it I'll probably keep that to myself. I think it's just less thinking and more playing and really enjoying [myself] out there."
Then Gal went on to add that her putting improved thanks to a new putter she switched to the week before. So, is there really some other element to her improved play that she truly "kept to herself"?
That remains a mystery. As does, for now, exactly what went wrong for American Lewis, who after weekend rounds of 80-75 finished tied for 46th and was in no mood to talk about it.
Lewis turned down media requests to discuss her round Sunday; her agent later sent word of an unspecified foot injury. It didn't seem to impede her from high-tailing it away after signing her scorecard. She clearly was quite upset.
But Lewis, who dropped from No. 2 to No. 3 in the world rankings Monday as Choi moved into the runner-up spot behind Yani Tseng, has some time to regroup before the Evian Masters, which will be played July 26-29.
Choi followed countrywoman Sun Young Yoo [Kraft Nabsico Championship] and China's Shanshan Feng as a major winner this year. Choi said after her victory Sunday she is eager to visit home in Korea this week, play the Evian Masters and then spend a little time attending the Summer Olympics in London.
Her ultimate goal, she said, is to win a medal in the 2016 Rio Games, when golf returns as a Summer Olympics event.
"I want to go to the Olympics this year," Choi said, "and see what the feeling is there."