By Vince Robitaille
GolfWRX Staff Writer
After a brief stint on the jewel of the Pacific, the LPGA heads back to the core of continent this week, more precisely, to Mobile, Ala. The event has now changed patronyms thrice in three years – the sponsor situation finally settling and a name for the event being selected, hopefully for the long haul this time around, the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic – its location, nevertheless, remains true and steady. While the RR Donnelley Founders Cup was established in an effort to honor the women’s trailblazers, the LPGA Tour, through their yearly stop in the Ole South, lets us appreciate the legacy of one of the upmost illustrious families in golf… well, once more in the year, this time not involving any green fabric nor gold threads. Set on The Crossings course at Magnolia Grove, arguably not the least eleventh of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic will assume the role of battlegrounds for the 143-golfer strong field, come Thursday morning, many of whom have experienced repeated success at the venue.
Maria Hjorth is unquestionably a member of the aforementioned group. The veteran Swede will be looking to defend her title, but, most importantly, to heat up the fire under her lukewarm game of the past months, much like she did in 2011. After disposing of her adversaries in rather tight fashion – late birdies on Nos. 15 and 17 enabling her to edge out her closest pursuer by two strokes – Hjorth went on a impressive run that included eight top-15 finishes and five top-10s; her best subsequent result consisting of a solo third in the HSBC Brasil Cup. Unfortunately for our subject, one of her rare off weeks came in late September with her 1-3 performance on the grounds of Killeen Castle in the 2011 Solheim Cup.
Speaking of last fall’s European victory, while Hjorth’s contribution was left wanting, no one’s impact on the events came anywhere near the seismic force of her fellow countrywoman’s, Sophie Gustafson, who will also be part of this week’s field. While the 38-year-old Gustafson has experienced a downshift in results over the past 7 months, following her 4-0 performance in Country Meath, the course’s setup might prove favorable to her and yet another Scandinavian star that often shined on the Robert Trent Jones Trail, current World No.3 Suzann Pettersen. In fact, The Crossings, with its large receptive greens and exploitable lines that will lend aggressive yet reliant strikers of the ball a helping hand, one could easily see either of our two candidates come out on top in Alabama; the preponderance of the flagstick being significantly diminished and the primary concern becoming sharp iron play.
Leaving without mentioning Song-Hee Kim, after having brought to the table the subject of golfers who’ve made Mobile their proverbial home away from home, would be a probant proof of sheer incompetence on Yours Truly’s part. The 2006 Duramed Futures Tour champion’s bright days now appear foggy – 16 months removed from her stellar 2010 campaign which included 13 top-10’s – but, even in less than optimal form, the Korean simply can’t fare faultily at Magnolia Grove, her 2011 AVNET Classic performance is a prime example of this. Whilst many would find themselves hard-pressed to put their hard-earned money on a player that has shown quite lackluster shape in recent memory, repeated success in precise settings – especially in our beloved game where courses and conditions are, not only, highly peculiar, but demand a specific array of skills depending on said peculiarities – has us wondering if another deep run is in the stars for the now World No. 48.