Five stories to watch at the ShopRite LPGA Classic
The ShopRite LPGA Classic begins at an appropriate time - four days after Memorial Day.
The holiday signals the unofficial start of the summer. The $1.5 million Classic begins the LPGA's critical summer domestic season.
The Classic will be held Friday-Sunday on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township.
The event begins a stretch in which five of six LPGA tournaments will be played in the United States. Two of the tournaments - the Wegmans LPGA Championship (June 6-9) and the U.S. Women's Open (June27-30) - are major championships.
How LPGA golfers play during this stretch will determine, in large part, how successful their season is.
That's what happened last year when Stacy Lewis won the Classic on her way to winning the 2012 Player of the Year award.
Here are five story lines to follow when the ShopRite Classic starts Friday.
1. Stacy Lewis vs. Inbee Park
Sports are built on rivalries and Lewis and Park are the two top players on the LPGA.
Lewis won the 2012 Player of the Year award, but Park finished No. 1 on the money list.
This year, the two have combined to win five of the 10 LPGA events played. Park with three victories is ranked No. 1 the world. Lewis with two victories is No. 2. Lewis was No. 1 earlier this year before Park passed her.
"I'm just very honored that I can play for No. 1 every week," Park said in an interview before she won the North Texas Shootout last month. "I'm just happy to be one of the players that plays for No. 1. That's very good and something very special.
Lewis readily admits to keeping an eye on how Park is doing during a tournament.
"Over the past year and a half, the two of us have been going back and forth," Lewis said. "It's fun to have a (fight) for No. 1. It's good for the tour."
The rivalry is more or less a friendly one.
"Inbee's pretty quiet," Lewis said. "She doesn't say a whole lot on the golf course. We know at the end of the week we're both going to be up there at the top of the leader board, so it's who can make that one or two extra putts."
2. The emergence of Jennifer Johnson
Johnson starred at every level of golf.
She was an All-American in her one year at Arizona State, a runner-up in the 2009 U.S. Women's Amateur and a member of the 2010 winning Curtis Cup team.
Now, she's also a professional success.
The 21-year-old from San Diego won her first LPGA Tournament - the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic - last weekend.
Can she build on that success at this week's ShopRite LPGA Classic? She has had some success on the Bay Course.
Johnson finished tied for 18th at last year's Classic. She opened with a 6-over-par 77 before shooting an 8-under-par 63 in the second round. Johnson finished with an even-par 71.
Johnson's win should give the LPGA a boost. The tour needs all the talented young American players it can get.
3. Can the Americans keep winning?
The focus at each U.S. LPGA event is how American players will perform.
Lewis (No. 2) and Cristie Kerr (No. 10) are the only Americans currently in the Top 10 of the Rolex World Rankings.
But Americans are on a roll lately.
Kerr won the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia on May 5. Johnson won in Alabama on May 19.
American Jessica Korda, 20, has yet to win this year but has played well, beginning last week No. 11 on the money list.
"For a long time, myself and the other American players were asked, 'Where are the top Americans?' " Lewis said. "I got tired of answering that question. I came up with a standard answer. My real response was, 'I have to let my play speak for itself.' That's what all the other girls have done as well."
4. Will the LPGA continue its streak of fantastic finishes at ShopRite?
The LPGA Tour is in the midst of a streak of thrilling finishes that might just be unmatched in tour history.
In case you missed it, here's what has happened in the past month:
• Suzann Pettersen won the LPGA Lotte Championship in a playoff on April 20.
• Park birdied the final hole to win the North Texas Shootout on April 28.
• Kerr beat Pettersen in a two-hole playoff to win the Kingsmill Championship on May 5.
• Johnson won in Mobile by shooting a final round 65. The outcome was in doubt until the final hole as seven players finished within two shots of the winner.
Meanwhile, the Classic hasn't been decided in a playoff since 1992 when Anne Marie Palli beat Laura Davies.
5. Fan favorites and Hall of Famers return
After a one-year absence because of elbow surgery, crowd favorite Juli Inkster returns to the Classic. Inkster, 51, missed the cut at the 2011 Classic but traditionally plays well at Seaview, winning the tournament in 1986 and 1988.
Inkster isn't the only Hall of fame player in the field. Karrie Webb, 38, and Se Ri Pak, 35, will also tee it up this week. Pak won the 1999 Classic.
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