Great expectations unlikely to worry Lydia Ko
OPINION: Last year it was hoped Lydia Ko would win the New Zealand Women's Open. This year it's expected.
Last year there were 14 players inside the top 100 players in the world, this year there are three. The 16-year-old begins the defence of her crown today as the hottest of favourites.
Should she win, it will be as much a win over expectation and pressure than it will over the other 132 players in the field.
In a much stronger field last year, Ko beat the course and 143 other players for what was then her third professional title. She was a 15-year-old amateur at the time and shrugged off pressure and expectation.
But this is different. She's now the world No 3 and the next best player in the field is the 2009 winner, Frenchwomen Gwladys Nocera, at 77.
Ko was the sentimental favourite rather than the bookies' favourite last year. Despite being an amateur and with limited playing rights and experience, she held her nerve better than the rest.
She's comfortably the best golfer and, if all things go to plan, could win in a canter, though you lose far more tournaments than you win in golf so she needs everything to go her way.
There hasn't been the elongated preparation there was last year. Instead Ko finished tied for seventh in the LPGA Tour season-opening Bahamas Classic, then travelled more than 13,000km to Christchurch.
There's an air of inevitability at Clearwater this week among spectators, volunteers and even Ko's opponents. Little Lydia adorns all the promotional material, the billboard outside Clearwater's entrance and all the ads; most expect her name to be etched on the trophy again come Sunday afternoon.
She's not long off the tee, even compared to this field, but at Clearwater, accuracy off the tee and putting is the major currency. When the wind gets up, balls tend to gravitate towards nasty spots such as the course's numerous lakes.
Staying out of those and keeping on the short grass is the first key; putting properly is the second. Both are Ko strengths.
The wind will play a part as it did in the 2012 men's open at Clearwater when half the field had wind on the first two days while the other half had next to none.
That could be the lasso the field needs to bring Ko back to them. Of course, she's not guaranteed to win and one bad round, even one really bad hole, could end her chances.
But she doesn't have bad days. Others have good and bad days; Ko has great and good days.
- © Fairfax NZ News