The Players To Watch At The Evian

The Players to Watch at the Evian

The Players To Watch At The Evian

Five golfers who have a good chance to win the tournament, including the defending champion.

The premier female golfers in the world will tee off this Thursday at the Evian Resort Golf Club in France for the Amundi Evian Championship, the fourth of the LPGA Tour’s five majors in 2022.

The year’s major winners include: Jennifer Kupcho (Chevron Championship), Minjee Lee (U.S. Women’s Open), and In Gee Chun (KMPG Women’s P.G.A. Championship). The final major, the AIG Women’s Open, will be held in early August.

In last year’s Evian Championship, Minjee Lee outdueled Jeongeun Lee6 on the first playoff hole to capture her first major. Minjee Lee fired a 64 in the final round, rallying from seven shots back to take the title.

Here’s who to watch this week:

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Korda, the former No. 1 and 2021 Olympic champion, has had a year that she would surely like to forget.

In January, she got Covid-19, which kept her on the sidelines for a while during the off-season.

Then, in March, she had surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm. Korda didn’t return to the LPGA Tour until the U.S. Women’s Open in early June, where she finished in a tie for eighth. A couple of months before, she hadn’t been sure she would make it back in time for that tournament.

Two weeks later, Korda, 23, lost in a playoff to Kupcho at the Meijer L.P.G.A. Classic. In each of her first three rounds, Korda shot five under or lower, but she cooled off during the final round, firing an even-par 72. She went on to tie for 30th at the KPMG Women’s P.G.A. Championship in late June. She is ranked No. 3.

With two majors to go, Korda, whose older sister, Jessica, also plays on the LPGA Tour, still has a chance to make this year memorable in a different way.

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Lee, ranked No. 2, seems to be a factor in just about every major these days.

That was the case again at the KPMG last month, where she had a chance to nab her third major title in under a year.

Trailing by six strokes going into the final round, she put pressure on the leaders. Lee, however, missed a pivotal 4-footer on 17, coming away with a bogey. She rebounded with a birdie at 18, but finished in a tie with Lexi Thompson, a shot behind In Gee Chun.

Lee, 26, who made her professional debut at the Evian Championship in 2014 — she tied for 16th at that event — grew up in Perth, Australia. She took up the game at the age of 10, and, in 2012, she won the United States Girls’ Junior championship. Just two years later, she had risen to become the No. 1 amateur in the world.

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It’s true: Ko had a disappointing showing recently at the KPMG, where she recorded rounds of 76 and 79 on the weekend to finish in a tie for 46th. But beyond that, Ko, a former No. 1, has been playing extremely well this season.

Before the KMPG, the New Zealander had finished fifth or better in four of her past five appearances. In 12 starts, the KPMG was the only event in which she ended up placing lower than 25th.

Ko, who won the Gainbridge L.P.G.A. in late January — edging Danielle Kang by a stroke — is still only 25 years old. That seems difficult to imagine, given how long she’s been around. Ko was the tour’s rookie of the year in 2014 and player of the year in 2015, the youngest ever in both cases. That 2015 season was capped by a win in the Evian Championship, her first major title.

Like many top players, she’s had her struggles. After compiling 15 career victories through 2018, Ko didn’t win again until the 2021 Lotte Championship. During that dry spell, she fell to as low as 55th in the world rankings; she has now climbed to No. 4.

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For Thitikul, a rookie this year, the future may arrive sooner than she thinks. It might even be here already.

Only 19 years old, Thitikul of Thailand is now ranked No. 5 in the world. At the KPMG, she finished fourth, just two shots behind Chun. Earlier this year, Thitikul picked up her first tour victory at the JTBC Classic. It probably didn’t happen in quite the way she would have imagined — she made a bogey on the second playoff hole to defeat Nanna Koerstz Madsen — but a win is a win. With that victory, Thitikul became the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour since Brooke Henderson in 2016.

“It’s just crazy in my mind right now,” Thitikul said afterward. “I cannot believe that I became an LPGA winner.”

In 2017, when she captured the Ladies European Thailand Championship, Thitikul became the youngest to win on the Ladies European Tour. She was 14 years, four months and 19 days old at the time.

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In June, Kupcho prevailed in a three-way playoff with Nelly Korda and Leona Maguire in the Meijer LPGA Classic.

Kupcho, ranked No. 9, almost blew it that day, missing a short eagle putt on the first playoff hole that would have ended the competition right there. Some players might have been flustered after a failure like that. Not Kupcho. On the second playoff hole, she made another birdie, then pulled out the victory when Maguire missed a short putt that would have extended the match.

Kupcho, who teamed with Lizette Salas to capture last week’s Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, collected her first career win in April at the Chevron Championship. She had trouble on the back nine, but had started the day with a six-stroke advantage.

Over the next two months, she clearly did not play her best, failing to break into the top 15 in any of her six events.

Kupcho had a stellar career as an amateur, winning both the N.C.A.A. Player of the Year award in 2018 and the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019. She went pro later that year and, in 2021, joined the United States players as they faced off against the Europeans in the Solheim Cup.

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