ANA Inspiration: 5 players to watch

Ana Inspiration Poppies Pond

The first major championship of the season is upon us – and, as ever, the ANA Inspiration promises to be fascinating.

One of five majors on the women’s calendar, the ANA (formerly the Kraft Nabisco) takes place at Rancho Mirage in California.

Last year’s tournament was won in somewhat controversial circumstances by So-yeon Ryu after Lexi Thompson was hit with a four-shot penalty late in the final round for a rules infraction that occurred late in her third round and that had been reported to tournament officials by a TV viewer.

No doubt, organisers will be hoping that this year’s event will be remembered for all of the right reasons.

Here are five players we think you should be keeping an eye out for…

Lexi Thompson Ana Main

Lexi Thompson

All eyes will be on the world No.2 as she prepares to return to Rancho Mirage for the first time since that rules controversy last year. She has already admitted this wee that it was an “extremely rough” experience and that she occasionally still has nightmares about it. Still, the 23-year-old does have some positive experiences of the tournament to draw on, having won it in 2014. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, that remains her only major victory to date, although she has three top tens to her name in the ANA since that win. Is this the week she doubles her haul in the women’s games biggest events and vanquishes last year’s demons in the process?

MORE - "It was chaotic" - Lexi's caddie reflects on 2017 ANA rules fiasco

Eun Hee Ji

Eun Hee Ji

The diminutive South Korean was tipped for big things when she won the 2009 US Women’s Open at the age of 23. That, though, remained her most recent victory until last October when she won the Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship. She followed that up with a win in the KIA Classic last week. Ji’s record at the ANA Inspiration is a little ‘spotty’. She has missed only one cut – on her debut in 2008 – but her best finish is a tie for 11th (2012). That, incidentally, is her only top 20 finish at Rancho Mirage. Still, after last week’s exploits, she’ll come into this week full of confidence.

Brittany Lincicome

Brittany Lincicome

One of the most popular players on the LPGA, two of Lincicome’s eight career victories have come in the ANA Inspiration (2009 and 2015). With a win already to her name in 2018 – the 32-year-old won the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic at the end of January – as well as two other top tens finishes, it’s little wonder that she is being quietly tipped by those in the know for a big week.

Lydia Ko

Lydia Ko

It’s not so long ago that there was genuine surprise any time the New Zealander didn’t win every time she pegged it up. Still almost a month shy of her 21st birthday, she has 14 LPGA titles – including two majors – to her name… but her most recent victory came back in July 2016. Since her 84-week reign at the top of the women’s world rankings was ended last June, she has steadily slipped down the standings and enters this week in 15th position. Accused of changing too much too soon (she has switched up her clubs, caddie and coach in recent times), there are legitimate concerns about where her career is headed. She could go quite a way towards answering those some of those questions this week.

Lucy Li

Lucy Li

If you’re wondering why this name sounds familiar, it’s because Lucy made history in 2014, at the age of 11, by becoming the youngest player ever to qualify for the US Women’s Open. Now 15-years-old, she has been invited back to the ANA Inspiration, having finished low amateur last year when she was the only amateur to make the cut. She played with Mihelle Wie in the first two rounds last year, which she described as “one of the highlights of my career” and “a dream come true”. This little superstar is destined for big things.

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