Match play makes return to LPGA slate in Mexico City

IRVING, TX - APRIL 28:  Lydia Ko of New Zealand plays her tee shot at the seventh hole during the second round of the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout at Las Colinas Country Club on April 28, 2017 in Irving, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)

A return to match play for the first time in four years and an exhibition match featuring four of the great players in LPGA history are just a few of the anticipated highlights for the Lorena Ochoa Match Play.

The tournament begins play on Thursday at the Club de Golf Mexico in Mexico City.

Sixty-four golfers split into four pools will battle for the $1.2 million combined purse in single elimination match play. It will take six match wins over four days of competition to claim the title.

Even though the course will be carded at 6,804 yards, it will play a lot shorter because of the mile-high altitude in Mexico’s capital city.

This week’s revamped event marks the first match-play tournament on the LPGA Tour’s schedule since the Sybase Match Play Championship in 2012. It has attracted a strong field featuring 22 of the top 30 players in the Rolex Rankings.

The field was determined by a combination of the Rolex Rankings and the 2017 LPGA Money List, and contains two players selected by the tournament sponsor.

There are four separate brackets: Ochoa, Sorenstam, Inkster and Pak. Players have been seeded Nos. 1-64. Even though there are four brackets, the Rolex-ranked player No. 1 will play No. 64, No. 2 will play No. 63, and so on.

World No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand leads the way and will take on Mexico’s Ana Menendez in the round of 64. Third-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand will launch her bid for a sixth LPGA Tour victory with a first-round matchup against Amy Anderson.

This event was founded nine years ago as the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. It is the first time the tournament will be conducted in a match-play format and the fourth year in a row the event has been played at Club de Golf Mexico.

Ochoa is happy with the progression of the tournament, its status on the LPGA schedule and the challenge of the course the players will face while trying to beat their match-play contestants.

“We feel that the golf course is amazing; it’s perfect for the LPGA,” Ochoa said. “It’s the 10th anniversary, so we’ve come a long way because of the support of the sponsors, the fans and the media.

“I can tell you that golf is changing (in Mexico). Now we have many, many little kids playing. We have more than 100 players playing in the United States for college golf, girls or boys, and that’s a huge step.”

Two-time LPGA Tour winner Carlota Ciganda of Spain is the defending champion, but won when the tournament was a stroke-play event. Ciganda, who will take on local favorite Gaby Lopez in the opening round, tried to play down her comfort level at Club de Golf Mexico, a course on which she finished second in the 2015 before winning last year by two strokes.

“I just want try to play my game,” Ciganda said. “I like the golf course — I have played really well here. When you are playing in a stroke-play event, it’s more about just trying to get into the top 10 for the Sunday so you can have a chance (to win the tournament) so it will be different this year. But I love match play. I am very comfortable with the format.”

There are two past winners of LPGA match-play events in the field — Brittany Lincicome, who won the 2006 HSBC Women’s World Match Play Championship, and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, the 2011 Sybase LPGA Match Play champion.

In an exciting addition to the tournament weekend, four legendary LPGA Tour players will compete in public exhibition matches. Host Ochoa, a 27-time LPGA Tour winner who will be enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame in September, will be joined by Hall of Famers Juli Inkster (Class of 2000), Annika Sorenstam of Sweden (Class of 2003) and Se Ri Pak of South Korea (Class of 2007).

This week’s Lorena Ochoa Match Play is the 10th event in the season-long Race to the CME Globe.

So Yeon Ryu, who won the 2017 ANA Inspiration and has finished in the top 10 in all seven starts so far this season, currently sits atop the standings with 1,605 points.