Evian preview: Five players to watch
It's been a great summer for Norway's Suzann Pettersen, and as we transition into fall, she could put another big trophy on her mantel.
Pettersen should be among the favorites for this week's Evian Championship, which this year has been elevated to major status and is being played in September for the first time. Previously, the event has been held in June (2000-02) and July (2003-12).
"The Evian has always been a special place on the calendar," Pettersen said Wednesday in her news conference at the Evian Resort Golf Club in France. "So to come back here in a different month, different atmosphere, seeing the course, I think it's a phenomenal addition to our schedule.
"It gives the fall a little more of a boost. We used to have Evian and [the Women's British Open] so close together, and it almost felt like not too many peaks after that."
The Solheim Cup in August -- where Petterson took a key leadership role for Europe and played well individually -- certainly was one of the peaks of her career. The European victory -- the first on American soil -- was followed by her 12th LPGA title, which came at the Safeway Classic in Oregon on Sept. 1.
That was Pettersen's second victory of the 2013 season, and she also has eight other top-10 finishes. Ranked No. 3 in the world, Pettersen has one major title -- the 2007 LPGA Championship -- and at age 32 is still in the peak years of her career.
She's had a strong showing in three of the previous majors this season, tying for third in the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the LPGA Championship, and tying for fourth in the Women's British Open. The only major where she struggled was the U.S. Women's Open, where she missed the cut.
The Evian has long been one of the LPGA players' favorite events because of the large purse ($3.25 million), the first-class atmosphere and the course, which has undergone a renovation in the past year that particularly impacted the closing holes.
All that is why the LPGA opted to make the event a major, although Pettersen said that doesn't change her approach.
"Not really," she said. "For me, I prepare for every tournament the same. I come here to win and that's also how I play."
Who else goes into the Evian with a good chance to take the title?
Inbee Park, South Korea
Ranked No. 1 in the world and with six victories in 2013, Park has played in only one event since the Women's British Open; she finished tied for 13th at the CN Canadian Women's Open on Aug. 25.
She's the defending champion at the Evian. Her victory in 2012 at this event came almost four years to the day after her first LPGA title, the U.S. Women's Open. And it really was the start of what's been a remarkable 12-month period for Park. She said this tournament gave her back her confidence that she could be a winner on the tour.
"I was really amazed to see the course change dramatically in one year," Park said of the Evian renovation. "I couldn't imagine how much work they have put in to make this work. This course looks great; the layout is great. I think it's really like a true major golf course now."
Park still has a chance to become the first player -- male or female -- to win four professional major titles in a year, even if it would not be four in a row.
"Four out of five majors is an amazing thing to achieve," she said. "I would really love to win this week -- not because I'm playing for four majors, but because the tournament is really special for me.
"I'm sure the experience I had in the British Open -- all the pressure I had and the things I experienced -- will help me going through this week. I think this week is going to be a much better week."
Stacy Lewis, United States
When asked another player to watch out for, Park mentioned Lewis.
"I think she is in her best condition at the moment, especially coming from a win from the British Open and runner-up finish from the last [tournament]," Park said. "I played Stacy last year here in the final round. We had a really good competition. So I think her game really suits this golf course."
Like the rest of the American team, Lewis didn't play particularly well at the Solheim Cup, which was two weeks after her Women's British Open win. But she finished 2 shots behind Pettersen at the Safeway Classic, and is looking for her fourth victory of 2013.
Lewis is ranked No. 2 in the world behind Park.
"We're making each better," Lewis said of Park. "We're pushing to work harder. I think it's great for both of us. I've had different people throughout my career that have made me better. As players, that's what we're always trying to do. I'm trying to hang with Inbee."
Caroline Hedwall, Sweden
She was the star for the European team in the Solheim Cup, becoming the first player ever to win five points in a single competition. She is still looking for her first LPGA victory, and it could come this week.
Hedwall has four top-10 finishes in 2013, including a tie for third at the recent CN Canadian Open. She also tied for third at the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship back in the spring, although she did not play well in the subsequent three majors.
This is just her second appearance at the Evian, but she's playing confidently now.
Lizette Salas, United States
This pick is a little bit of a flier, but speaking of players looking for their first LPGA victory, Salas has been knocking on that door. The 24-year-old has six top-10 finishes this season, including placing third in the Safeway Classic and sixth in the Women's British. Her best finish on tour is runner-up, which she did earlier this year.
Other players to keep an eye on:
• France's Karine Icher, who had a big performance in the Solheim Cup, and was runner-up to teen Lydia Ko at the CN Canadian Open.
• Taiwan's Yani Tseng, the former world No. 1 who hasn't won since March 2012, but rebounded from four consecutive missed cuts to tie for 24th and ninth in the past two events.
• Spain's Beatriz Recari, who's been hit-or-miss the past couple of months. But the hits include winning the Marathon Classic in July, and playing well for the winning Europeans in the Solheim Cup.