12 players to watch at the Amundi Evian Championship
Through all the complications in returning to play after pausing for the COVID-19 pandemic, the LPGA Tour missed only one major in 2020: the Amundi Evian Championship. The tour returns to France for the first time since Jin Young Ko won her second major of 2019. The looming Olympics affected the field with Lexi Thompson, Danielle Kang, Yuka Saso, Nasa Hataoka, Hannah Green and Shanshan Feng passing to prepare for Tokyo.
All three major champions thus far in 2021—Patty Tavatanakit (ANA Inspiration), Saso (U.S. Open) and Nelly Korda (KPMG PGA) have been first-time major winners, keeping with a trend on the LPGA Tour in recent years. Thirteen of the last 14 majors, dating back to Georgia Hall at the 2018 AIG British Open, have been won by golfers making it their maiden major triumph (Ko’s Evian title is the lone exception). Here are 12 players to watch this week at Évian-les-Bains, some looking to break this recent streak, and others hoping to continue the first-timer trend.
Jin Young Ko
The defending champion makes her first start since winning in Texas at the Volunteers of America Classic, her fifth consecutive season on the LPGA with a victory. It’s been four weeks since Nelly Korda supplanted Ko as World No. 1, although Ko claims her short-term motivation isn’t to regain the top but rather to win a medal at the Olympics. Of course, picking up a third career major (she also won the 2019 ANA) along the way would be a heck of a momentum builder.
Emily Kristine Pedersen
Pedersen is at the top of the European Solheim Cup points list, holding a 37-point edge over Sanna Nuutinen. The 25-year-old from Denmark built the lead thanks to three consecutive Ladies European Tour wins in November 2020 at the Saudi Ladies International, the Saudi Ladies Team International, and the Andalucia Costa Del Sol Open de España. Playing well this week would prove her game is still sharp and provide a boost as she gets set to compete in the Solheim for a second time in her career.
Emily Kristine Pedersen has been a stalwart on the LET over the past year.
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Castren arrives having accomplished her top goal of the summer in earning her Ladies European Tour membership with a win at the Gant Ladies Open in her home country of Finland. With her LET membership in hand, Castren holds a strong case for a spot on the European Solheim team. This week can help dictate how she makes the squad, by either climbing high enough on the European points lists to qualify or if she’ll still potentially need to be a captain’s pick. She’s 14 spots behind Mel Reid in the Rolex World Rankings and 17 behind Charley Hull.
For all the headlines Castren has claimed in the last month since winning the LPGA Mediheal Championship, the 26-year-old is still early in her pro career. This will be just her fourth major start and only her 19th LPGA appearance.
Boutier is the highest-ranked Frenchwoman globally and on track to represent Europe at the Solheim Cup again. In the history of the Evian, dating back to its founding as a Ladies European Tour event in 1994, there are no French champions. Boutier’s recent form is the best opportunity to change that. She finished T-5 at the LPGA Mediheal Championship in June, closing with a tournament-record 64 in the final round to jump from T-39. She followed that up with a T-7 at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, a T-8 at the Volunteers of America Classic and a T-28 at the Marathon LPGA Classic.
Celine Boutier, who has played well all year, would become the first Frenchwoman to win at home in the Evian.
Montana Pritchard/PGA of America
The Kordas are the two American Olympians playing at the Evian. While Nelly took the pressure off the sisters to win a major, Jessica is the winningest active player on the LPGA without a major victory. Her play this season presents the opportunity for the Korda family to make golf history as the first pair of sisters to win LPGA majors. The six-time tour winner won at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in January and has two other top-three finishes. This will be the veteran’s ninth career Evian start, with her best result a T-8 in 2018.
The Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, where she finished T-17 with sister Jessica in the team event, was the “soft opening” of Nelly playing as World No. 1. Four weeks after her victory at the KPMG Women’s PGA, she faces the first major test in the top spot. The dominance she displayed at Atlanta Athletic Club has to translate into increased confidence that should carry over to France. Meanwhile, Korda leads the Rolex Annika Major Award, given to the player with the best performances at LPGA majors, with 78 points. A player must win a major to win the Rolex Annika Major Award, earning points for any finishes in the top-10. Korda holds a six-point lead over Patty Tavatanakit.
The 2021 ANA Inspiration champion makes her first start since a T-5 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Tavatanakit didn't initially plan her schedule to have a three-week layoff, as she withdrew the night before starting the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in order to clear up paperwork to get into France for this week. The Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Leader is making the first start of her career at the Evian.
Editor's Note: Tavatanakit was a late withdrawal from the tournament due to travel restrictions she faced ahead of competing in the Olympics.
Jutanugarn’s victory alongside her sister Moriya at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational made the 12-time winner the second multiple-time winner in 2021, alongside Nelly Korda. It’s the fourth multiple-win season of Jutanugarn’s seven-year career. She won five times in 2016, twice in 2017, and three times in 2018. The Thai star tends to win in clusters. Jutanugarn won three times in May 2016, then twice over a month from July to August. She won three times from May 2018 to July 2018 and earned two victories over two months this year. Jutanugarn winning her third career major title this week could be the prologue of an Olympic redemption arc. She led after the first round at the 2016 Olympics, then withdrew following the third round due to a left knee injury.
Ariya Jutanugarn (R) celebrates with her sister and teammate Moriya Jutanugarn after winning the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational.
Park makes her final start before defending her gold medal. It’s another opportunity for the Super Slam. The seven-time major champion completed the grand slam in 2015 when she won the then British Women's Open. No one in the LPGA has won all five majors since the Evian Championship became a major in 2013. Park was a year off the mark from accomplishing the Super Slam, as she won at the Evian Resort Golf Club in 2012. The Hall of Famer continues to knock on the door at the Evian, as she's finished in the top 10 in her last four starts.
Sung Hyun Park
On the final day of the 2019 Evian, Park was No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings and started one stroke behind leader Hyo Joo Kim. Park sat in striking distance two back of Kim with nine holes to go before shooting a four-over 39 to lose by four shots. It was a turning point for Park, who could have closed out her third major championship. Instead, Jin Young Ko took over the No. 1 ranking for 100 consecutive weeks after winning.
Park is still searching for her first win since the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in June 2019. Her drought is explained in part by shoulder surgery after the 2019 season. Park said ahead of her HSBC Women's World Championship title defense this year that she's fully recovered from the operation, but her tournament results have yet to come back to the high standards the former world No. 1 set. The two-time major champion had her best finish of the year at T-32 in the Volunteers of America Classic in her last start at the beginning of July.
This major presents an opportunity for Park to turn her season around at a tournament where she's regularly contended. Including her T-6 in 2019, she finished T-2 in 2016 and T-26 in 2017.
Anne van Dam
The current longest driver on the LPGA (292.1 yards) and the only player hitting in the 290s could use a boost for her European Solheim profile with solid performances at the next two majors. The Evian Championship and AIG Women’s Open return van Dam to her LET roots over the next month. She has won five times on the LET in her career, but has yet to win on the LPGA. The success on the LPGA circuit needs to start with more consistent weekend appearances, as Van Dam has made only three of ten cuts in 2021. Her T-16 showing at the Pure Silk Championship in late May is her best finish of the season. She's made three career starts at Evian Resort Golf Club, with her best finish a T-37 in 2018.
Anne van Dam is the biggest hitter on tour, but after a strong run on the LET, she's not been able to translate that to much success so far on the LPGA.
Andy Lyons/PGA of America
Rose Zhang (a)
The reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion added the U.S. Girls’ Junior to her resume last week. The World Amateur Golf Rankings No. 1 heads to France with the chance to become the first amateur to win a major on the LPGA since Catherine Lacoste at the 1967 U.S. Women's Open. The 18-year-old's game has shined on the LPGA major stage before with a T-11 at the 2020 ANA Inspiration. Zhang tied major champions Ariya Jutanugarn and Danielle Kang, along with four-year LPGA veteran Maria Torres. LPGA majors are not unfamiliar territory for the amateur, but this is her first at the Evian Resort Golf Club.