Wall Street has its “Triple Witching” days. If there’s a golf equivalent, So Yeon Ryu could be facing it this week at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G.
Three factors come together to make Ryu a player to watch particularly closely this week. The first is that she’s defending champion of the event, having set overall and single-round tournament scoring records last year on her way to an 18-under par finish.
The second is that she just won again last week, claiming last week’s Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give event in Michigan, a triumph that moved her back into the top 5 in the Rolex World Rankings, and was her first victory since last year’s trip to Arkansas.
Finally there’s her rising ranking and the fact that her win in last year’s event boosted her to world No. 1 status for the first time in her career.
The Walmart event is only a 54-hole affair, and doesn’t tee off until Friday of this week. But it apparently is seen by many top players as the perfect appetizer portion to prep for next week’s main course, the KPMG PGA Championship – the third leg of the LPGA’s major championships.
The top-nine players in the world rankings are all in this weekend’s field, as are 24 of the world’s top 30.
Ryu obviously knows how to go low, but so will plenty of other talents on hand this week in Arkansas. The compressed timeline should make this a real shootout-type event.
Here’s more of what you need to know about this week’s LPGA Tour event.
Tournament: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G
Dates: June 22-24, 2018
Where: Rogers, Ark.
Course: Pinnacle Country Club
Distance: Par 71, 6,331 yards
Architect: Don Sechrest/Bruce Lietzke, Randy Heckenkemper
Format: 54 holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $300,000
Defending Champion: So Yeon Ryu
Marquee Players: Ryu, Inbee Park, Ariya Jutanugarn, Lexi Thompson, Shashan Feng, Sung Hyun Park, I.K. Kim, Moriya Jutanugarn, Minjee Lee, Lydia Ko, Stacy Lewis, Yani Tseng, Michelle Wie, Cristie Kerr, Danielle Kang, Jessica Korda, Anna Nordqvist, Pernilla Lindberg
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The LPGA Tour will be making its 12th visit to the northwest Arkansas region with this week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G. Even as just a 54-hole event, it is among the most lucrative purses outside of the majors on the entire LPGA season schedule, with total prize money of $2,000,000.
The tournament got off to a tough start in 2007, its first year, when bad weather allowed only 18 holes to be played. Because less than 36 holes were completed, it was considered an unofficial event, although the champion could hardly have been a more popular choice.
Stacy Lewis, at the time a junior at the University of Arkansas and the reigning NCAA Div. I individual champion, shot her then career-best of 65 during the one round that was completed. Lewis won the full tournament as a pro in 2014, one of her 12 career LPGA Tour titles.
Other prominent past winners include Yani Tseng in back-to-back fashion (2010-11), Inbee Park in 2013, Na Yeon Choi in 2015, Lydia Ko in 2016 and defending champion So Yeon Ryu.
The title sponsor has been Arkansas-based Walmart since 2011. Another one of the world’s biggest corporations, Procter & Gamble, is the presenting sponsor.
HISTORY: TOURNAMENT NAMES
2011-18: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship (P&G)
2010: P&G NW Arkansas Championship (Walmart)
2008-09: P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship (John Q. Hammons)
2007: LPGA NW Arkansas Championship (John Q. Hammons)
HISTORY: RECENT WINNERS
2017: So Yeon Ryu (-18)
2016: Lydia Ko (-17)
2015: Na Yeon Choi (-15)
2014: Stacy Lewis (-12)
2013: Inbee Park (-12)
2012: Ai Miyazato (-12)
2011: Yani Tseng (-12)
195 (-18) So Yeon Ryu (2017)
2 – Yani Tseng (2010-11)
So Yeon Ryu rode a scorching tournament-record score of 61 in the second round to set up victory in the 2017 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G.
Her Saturday play gave Ryu the margin for victory, even as pursuers Amy Yang and Moriya Jutanugarn threw Sunday rounds of 64 and 66, respectively, at her. Ryu posted a Sunday score of 2-under 69. For the week, Ryu made 19 birdies and just a single bogey.
The victory boosted Ryu to the No. 1 spot in the Rolex World Rankings for the first time. Finishing in a tie for fourth place, five shots behind Ryu’s total, were Americans Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis.
FINAL TOP 10
1 So Yeon Ryu -18
2 Amy Yang -16
2 Moriya Jutanugarn -16
4 Michelle Wie -13
4 Stacy Lewis -13
6 Minjee Lee -12
6 Inbee Park -12
8 Nicole Broch Larsen -11
8 Marina Alex -11
It’s hard to argue with favorite’s status for So Yeon Ryu, who could be back on the march toward the top of the world rankings if she can pull off another victory this week. But there are plenty of players capable of keeping up with her.
World No. 1 Inbee Park has already proven she can win on this week’s track, the Pinnacle Country Club, having claimed the title here in 2013. She also finished tied for sixth last year.
The sisters Jutanugarn definitely represent threats for this week’s title. Ariya, the world’s current No. 2 player, went on “59 watch” in the final round last week at the Meijer LPGA Classic. She shot 29 on the front nine, then added birdies at 11 and 14 to get to 9-under for the round with four holes to play. She managed only one more birdie, but still shot a scintillating 62. The biggest caution on Ariya is that she has only played this event twice, and never contended.
Older sister Moriya, currently up to No. 8 in the world, broke through and won for the first time in her six-year LPGA career back in April, claiming the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open title. Since her win, she’s had three more top 10s. She should come to Arkansas with great confidence, having nearly won here the last two years. She finished tied for fourth in the 2016 event, and then tied for second last year.
Being in Arkansas makes this a huge event for University of Arkansas grad Stacy Lewis, and she’s played like it almost every year. If you include the rain-shortened first year event, she’s placed in the top ten at this event seven times in 11 tries, while finishing first twice. Last year, she was good for a tie for fourth.
Lewis is also pregnant with her first child, and will stop playing tournament golf next month. This week, she plans to reveal the gender of her baby in a unique way — with a fireworks display at the event. It will be pink fireworks if it’s a girl, blue for a boy.
Lewis can also welcome a young protege to this year’s event. University of Arkansas senior-to-be Maria Fassi received an invite for this week after earning the ANNIKA Award earlier this year, awarded to the nation’s top collegiate golfer. Given how well Lewis fared when she was an amateur in the event, it’s not out of the question that Fassi could get into the mix this week.
Other big names to keep an eye on include Americans Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie, Danielle Kang, and Jessica Korda. Swedish stars – both reigning major winners – Anna Nordqvist (Evian) and Pernilla Lindberg (ANA) are another pair who could be in the hunt.
Credits: LPGA Tour Media, Getty Images