Jutanugarn set to defend LPGA Volvik Championship title

WILLIAMSBURG, VA - MAY 19: Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand during the second round of the Kingsmill Championship presented by JTBC on the River Course at Kingsmill Resort on May 19, 2017 in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

The LPGA Tour makes the first of two stops in Michigan this season when it returns to Ann Arbor for the LPGA Volvik Championship on Thursday, with defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand and Lexi Thompson, last week’s runaway winner, among the top competitors.

This is the second year of this event, which will be played again at Travis Pointe Country Club.

The 144-player field includes 83 of the top 100 players on the LPGA Tour’s 2017 official money list and eight players who finished in the top 10 behind Jutanugarn last year — including runner-up Christina Kim and Brooke Henderson of Canada and Jessica Korda, who tied for third.

Those golfers will be in the hunt for a total purse of $1.3 million as they try to tame a par-72, 6,734-yard course designed by Bill Newcomb.

Last year a red-hot Jutanugarn blew away the field to earn her third consecutive win and complete her sweep of LPGA events in the month of May, shooting a final-round 67 to finish at 15-under and five shots clear of Kim.

With that victory, Jutanugarn became the first player in Tour history to have the first three wins of her career come in consecutive tournaments (Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic, Kingsmill Championship and the LPGA Volvik Championship). She was also the first player since South Korea’s Inbee Park in 2013 to capture three LPGA tournaments in a row.

Jutanugarn was asked on Tuesday whether she gets nervous when defending a title.

“Not really,” she said. “I get a little bit excited like before the first round, but after I play the first few holes, I feel OK. I feel like comfortable.”

Jutanugarn has captured all five of her LPGA Tour titles without carrying a driver in her bag, and she sees no reason to change that strategy this week.

“I just feel like more confident if I hit 3-wood,” the powerful Jutanugarn explained. “I’ve been working with my driver and one day if I have really full commitment with my driver I’m going to use it.”

Jutanugarn, the world No. 3 player, is tied with So Yeon Ryu for the most top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour this season with eight. All five of Jutanugarn’s wins came within a stretch of 10 starts last season, but she has gone 19 starts since her last victory.

Six of the 11 tournament winners from this season are entered, namely Brittany Lincicome (Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic), Anna Nordqvist of Sweden (Bank of Hope Founders Cup), Ryu (ANA Inspiration), Haru Nomura of Japan (Volunteers of America Texas Shootout), Sei Young Kim of South Korea (Citibanamex Lorena Ochoa Match Play) and Thompson, who looked unstoppable last week in sweeping to the victory at the Kingsmill Championship.

“It’s all about confidence in golf, and I definitely have that right now,” Thompson said.

The LPGA has hosted 27 events in 10 Michigan cities since its first trip to the Great Lakes State in 1955 for the Wolverine Open in Detroit.

In June, the Tour returns to Grand Rapids for the fourth playing of the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give.

This week’s LPGA Volvik Championship will mark the 12th event in the season-long Race to CME Globe.

Ryu is atop of the standings with 1,605 points, while Jutanugarn is second with 1,578 points.