LPGA Tour Set to Start 2011 Season

Off to a slow start this year with no tournaments in January, the LPGA Tour finally gets underway Thursday with the Honda LPGA Thailand. The $1.45 million event will be held at the Pattaya Old Course at Siam Country Club.

Japanese sensation Ai Miyazato will be on hand to defend her title. In finishing the 72-hole tournament in 21-under 267, the 25-year-old logged the first of her five victories in 2010.

The hottest current woman player on the planet will also be competing. Taiwan's Yani Tseng wrested the No. 1 ranking from South Korean Jiyai Shin after winning the Women's Australian Open and the ANZ Ladies Masters in the past two weeks.

The 2010 LPGA Player of the Year award wasn't expecting such a quick start to her year. "It is so soon," said Tseng. "I wasn't expecting it as quickly as this. I still have another 10 months to go. I just need to be very patient and keep working hard. I still have a lot of things to learn too."

Tseng has already won three of the LPGA's four major titles, lacking only the U.S. Women's Open to complete the career Grand Slam. The 22-year-old will try to accomplish that feat in July in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Citing a need to secure sponsors for tournaments, the LPGA has a 24-event, 13-nation tour for 2011. It dropped a Mexican event in late January, citing concern over violence from the drug wars near the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia.

New Asian events include the Imperial Springs LPGA in Guangzhou, China, in August and the LPGA Taiwan Championship in October.

The Honda LPGA Thailand will be followed a week later by the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore. In all, seven events will be held in Asia, one in Mexico and the others in Europe and Canada.

"We're pleased that golf's global tour was able to withstand the economic downturn," LPGA commissioner Michael Whan said of the tour's expansion. "We're thrilled to add new ideas and new tournaments in the U.S., Taiwan and China."

"The addition of Taiwan and China events further prove we are truly a global tour," Tseng added. "With the economic downturn, commissioner Whan and his team have done a great job to secure as many events as they did in 2010."

The LPGA Tour has never had a more international flavor, particularly with South Korea such a modern force in the women's game. Besides Shin, that nation's stars include Na Yeon Choi, who topped last year's LPGA money list, won two titles and captured the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. Other South Korean standouts include seventh-ranked I.K. Kim, Sun Ju Ahn, Se Ri Pak and Song-Hee Kim.

From Europe comes No. 3-ranked Suzann Pettersen of Norway, a five-time runner-up last season who is looking for her first title since the 2009 Canadian Women's Open. Others include Maria Hjorth, Karine Icher, Catriona Matthew, Gwladys Nocera, Anna Nordqvist and Beatriz Ricari.

As usual, Australia will also be ably represented by players such as Katherine Hull and Karrie Webb.

On the American side is fourth-ranked Cristie Kerr, the first U.S. player to reach No. 1 - albeit temporarily - after winning last year's LPGA Championship by an amazing 12 strokes. Other Americans include reigning U.S. Women's Open champion Paula Creamer, No. 11 Michelle Wie, Christina Kim, Golf Hall of Fame member Juli Inkster, Natalie Gulbis, Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, Morgan Pressel, Angela Stanford and rookies Jessica Korda and Jennifer Song, who both will play in Thailand on sponsor exemptions.

The final three rounds of the Honda LPGA Thailand will be televised on the Golf Channel. For more information and live scoring, visit http://www.lpga.com/tournament_microsite.aspx?id=27013.