DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Korean Joo Mi Kim will have to make it through a deeper field if she is going to defend her SBS Open title -- the first event of the LPGA season -- this week at Turtle Bay. CLICK FOR LARGE
Just 1 of the girls
Korean Joo Mi Kim defends her SBS title against many top LPGA contenders
Normally, not having Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie in the field would be cause for concern. Two of the game's biggest attractions, dueling clubs in hand, would mean better ratings and overflowing crowds for this week's season-opening event for the LPGA Tour.
But before you decide to skip a weekend vacation at the Turtle Bay Resort, a closer look at the $1.1 million SBS Open reveals a star-studded field filled with fresh faces and veterans alike.
Tomorrow's first-round tee times
7:10 a.m.: Charlotte Mayorkas, Heather Daly-Donofrio, Kimberly Hall
7:20: Erica Blasberg, Becky Iverson, Giulia Sergas
7:30: Ji-Young Oh, Sun Young Yoo, Jamie Hullett
7:40: Kristy McPherson, Clarissa Childs, Sherri Turner
7:50: In-Kyung Kim, Karin Sjodin, Laurie Rinker
8: Wendy Doolan, Katie Futcher, Kelli Kuehne
8:10: Cindy Rarick, Ji-Yai Shin, Irene Cho
8:20: Sophie Gustafson, Birdie Kim, Jennifer Rosales
8:30: Lindsey Wright, Nicole Perrot, Heather Young
8:40: Jeong Jang, Maria Hjorth, Paula Creamer
8:50: Danielle Ammaccapane, Cristie Kerr, Hee-Won Han
9: Joo Mi Kim, Reilley Rankin, Christina Kim
11:40: Suzann Pettersen, Lorena Ochoa, Brittany Lang
11:50: Mi Hyun Kim, Karrie Webb, Sherri Steinhauer
Noon: Natalie Gulbis, Se Ri Pak, Jimin Kang
12:10: Aree Song, Ai Miyazato, Morgan Pressel
12:20: Nancy Scranton, Nicole Castrale, Helen Alfredsson
12:30: Briana Vega, Kimberly Kim, Leta Lindley
12:40: Marcy Hart, Candy Hannemann, Virada Nirapathpongporn
12:50: Ji Yeon Lee, Allison Hanna-Williams, Hye Jung Choi
1: Lee Ann Walker-Cooper, Na Ri Kim, Nina Reis
1:10: Silvia Cavalleri, Sae-Hee Son, In-Bee Park
1:20: Ashley Hoagland, Young Jo, Mikaela Parmlid
7:10 a.m.: Jackie Gallagher-Smith, A.J. Eathorne, Yu Ping Lin
7:20: Meaghan Francella, Tracy Hanson, Janice Moodie
7:30: Paige MacKenzie, Carri Wood, Kim Saiki-Maloney
7:40: Maru Martinez, Beth Bader, Amy Hung
7:50: Jill McGill, Mhairi McKay, Nadina Light
8: Dorothy Delasin, Michelle Ellis, Vicki Goetze-Ackerman
8:10: Young-A Yang, Eva Dahllof, Alena Sharp
8:20: Julieta Granada, Marisa Baena, Jee Young Lee
8:30: Christa Johnson, Brittany Lincicome, Juli Inkster
8:40: Diana D'Alessio, Carin Koch, Michele Redman
8:50: Sarah Lee, Gloria Park, Seon Hwa Lee
9: Laura Diaz, Laura Davies, Dawn Coe-Jones
11:40: Sung Ah Yim, Stacy Prammanasudh, Candie Kung
11:50: Pat Hurst, Karine Icher, Meena Lee
Noon: Rachel Hetherington, Angela Stanford, Patricia Meunier-Lebouc
12:10: Young Kim, Soo-Yun Kang, Lorie Kane
12:20: Kyeong Bae, Il Mi Chung, Wendy Ward
12:30: Johanna Head, Song-Hee Kim, Dina Ammaccapane
12:40: Tina Barrett, Angela Park, Taylore Karle
12:50: Minea Blomqvist, Jin Joo Hong, Sarah Lynn Sargent
1: Christi Cano, Moira Dunn, Teresa Lu
1:10: Becky Morgan, Aram Cho, Riko Higashio
1:20: Katherine Hull, Linda Wessberg, Soo Young Moon
Sorenstam is the only top-25 money winner of 2006 missing from the scene, and while she may hold the ranking as the top golfer in the world, those who follow this sport closely would argue the two best players in the women's game are here this weekend.
Currently ranked second and third to Sorenstam, respectively, Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb have played some of the best golf of late. Ochoa finished first on the money list last year with $2.59 million. Webb was second with $2.09 million. Webb is coming off back-to-back wins in her home country of Australia and all Ochoa did in 2006 was win six times and finish in the top 10 an astounding 20 times.
She was named the 2006 Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year as well as the 2006 Golf Writers Association of America Player of the Year. If those two prestigious awards didn't fill the trophy case, being named the 2006 Rolex Player of the Year certainly took up the final spot.
Only 25, it's not a matter of if she will be the top player in the game, but when. In the latest world rankings, Ochoa has closed what was a large gap a year ago, to 2.6 points. Sorenstam is No. 1 with a ranking of 13.27. Ochoa is second at 10.67 and Webb is right on her spikes at No. 3 at 10.47.
Ochoa finished second here a year ago, losing to defending champion Joo Mi Kim in a one-hole playoff. It was one of six second-place finishes for Ochoa, who is 0-3 lifetime in playoffs. The Mexican-born golfer, who had an incredible 12-win career at the University of Arizona, has yet to win a major.
She fired a record-setting 62 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year, and was in the final pairing with Wie and Natalie Gulbis, but couldn't overcome Webb's 116-yard eagle shot from the 18th fairway, losing to her in a one-hole playoff as well.
Webb is an equally intriguing story. She ended a 39-tournament, 22-month drought by capturing the Kraft-Nabisco, the LPGA's first major. She began the final round seven shots off the pace, tying for the largest come-from-behind victory in LPGA major history. Fittingly, it was the seventh major championship for the former No. 1 player in the world.
She won five tournaments last year and finished second three times, including losing in a playoff to Se Ri Pak at the LPGA Championship, who is also in this week's field. Webb became only the second golfer in tour history to win $12 million in a career. Sorenstam was the first.
And if that's not enough star power for you, then feel free to keep an eye on the youngsters, including 20-year-old Julieta Granada of Paraguay. As a tour rookie last year, she won the season-ending ADT Championship and the $1 million first-
place check that goes with it. Currently living in Florida, Granada finished fourth on the money list in 2006 with $1.63 million. That total bested the most money ever won by a tour rookie. The old mark of $1.53 million was set by Paula Creamer in 2005, who began her professional career here at the SBS Open.
The South Korean connection is also alive and well here this week as 138 of the best golfers in the world tee it up at tomorrow's season-opening tourney. Kim is just one of several top Koreans in the field, including Mi Hyun Kim, who finished sixth on the money list ($1.33 million), and 2005 Women's British Open champion Jeong Jang, who was eighth ($1.15 million).
Pak, who won her fifth major by beating Webb last year, is another well-known South Korean in the field, as well as Hee-Won Han, Seon Hwa Lee and Meena Lee. More than 70 members of the Asian media are here to cover the event. Japanese star Ai Miyazato doesn't have quite the contingent she had last year as a tour rookie, but interest remains keen for the 22-year-old.
World No. 4 Cristie Kerr is back as well. She finished tied for second with Wie in 2005 to Jennifer Rosales, who is also in this week's field. Kerr didn't have quite the year as the three women ranked ahead of her, but still pocketed $1.57 million last year to finish fifth overall.
Juli Inkster, who is ranked fifth in the world, is also here this week, as well as Gulbis, Morgan Pressel, Pat Hurst, Brittany Lincicome and Gloria Park.