Preview: LPGA Tour’s Kraft Nabisco Championship

Preview — LPGA Tour – Kraft Nabisco Championship — Mission Hills Country Club (Dinah Shore Tournament Course) — Rancho Mirage, California—

Golf’s first major championship of the season tees off Thursday with the LPGA Tour’s Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage, California near Palm Springs.

With Rolex Ranking World No. 2 Suzann Pettersen’s withdraw due to injury, top-ranked Inbee Park is the clear favorite this week as the defending champion. Park has yet to win in 2014 on the LPGA Tour, but captured a Ladies European Tour start at Mission Hills in China outplaying  Pettersen in the final round.

The LPGA Tour season has a pair of multiple winners already this year including Hall of Famer Karrie Webb and Anna Nordqvist. Paula Creamer and Jessica Korda have victories in 2014 as well.

A two-time Kraft champion, Webb is back in the Top 10 of the world rankings after finishing 13th on the money list a season ago.

Stacy Lewis, with a string of Top 10s, is searching for her maiden 2014 victory in this spot. She tees off with Nordqvist at 7:58 a.m. local time off No. 10. Nordqvist is fresh off victories at the Kia Classic last week and the Honda in Thailand in February.

This week could prove to be a first-time major championship victor. If that’s the case, look at the 1:06 p.m. tee time of Azahara Munoz and Lexi Thompson. Lexi finished two strokes back at the Kia Classic last week, while Munoz logged Top 3 finishes including a playoff loss to Creamer at the HSBC Women’s Champion in China.

Look for the winner to be grinding it out through late Sunday. Begin a leader at the Greens In Regulation (GIR) statistics tend to dictate some success at the Kraft.

2013 Outcome:

  • Park (15-under) finished off the week with three straight rounds in the 60s – 67-67-69 – to capture the title by four shots. So Yeon Ryu’s final-round 65 placed her solo second, while Caroline Hedwall and Pettersen ended up T-3. Haeji Kang and Webb were T-5.

FANTASY: Long hitters tend to score well at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, which can stretch to more than 7,200 yards. Thompson fits the bill and is more consistent now with a few seasons on tour under her belt. Lizette Salas, a runner-up last week at the Kia Classic, is hunger to contend here.

BETTING: Lewis and Park are both 8-to-1 betting favorites at Ladbrokes coming into the event. Experience is valuable at Kraft and in majors, so take Webb at 16-1. She’s a great value. For the payday odds, consider Munoz at 33-1. Although she is not playing well, Na Yeon Choi is a whopping 40-1.

Other Golf News:

  • World No. 9 Dustin Johnson has five Top 10s in five match-play starts this season on the PGA Tour. He was runner-up to Bubba Watson at Riviera. He was also T-4 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He is a 14-1 pick this week at the Shell Houston Open.
  • For Pettersen, she has three career runner-up finishes at Mission Hills Country Club. Due to injury, she is sitting out this week’s LPGA Tour major.
  • The European Tour hosts the NH Collection Open this week in Spain. David Howell, Bernd Wiesberger and Alejandro Canizares are among the headliners in the field.