Matt Cooper previews the Evian Championship, where Atthaya Thitikul and Jennifer Kupcho feature among four each-way selections.
Golf betting tips: The Evian Championship
2pts e.w. Atthaya Thitikul at 20/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1.5pts e.w. Jennifer Kupcho at 40/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Min Ji Park at 50/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
0.5pt e.w. Pia Babnik at 150/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook
By any guide you care to think of last year’s Evian Championship witnessed a remarkable conclusion. With 22 holes to play Australia’s Minjee Lee was 10 back of the lead. Twenty four hours and 11 birdies later she set a clubhouse target of 18-under which the 54-hole leader Jeongeun Lee6 was three adrift of with a trio of holes to play. Whereupon she bounced back from her front-nine collapse to tick a hat-trick of par-breakers and force a play-off which the relentless Lee won with yet another birdie.
It was the eighth edition of the tournament since it gained major championship status and the comfortably the best. The action was thrust centre stage where previously there had been appalling weather, doubts about its validity at the top table and grumbling about the idiosyncratic host course. The latter suggests to me that, in a potentially thrilling reversal of the old exercise in letting one woman tee it up in a men’s event, squirrelling Tyrrell Hatton into this field would be akin to sending a half-cut 60-Benson-&-Hedges-a-day man into a firework factory.
Back in reality, I recall that ahead of last month’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship I was convinced that JENNIFER KUPCHO was the wrong price and I still feel this same this week.
At Congressional her only real problem was when missing greens. Notwithstanding the limitations of traditional statistics, she hit lots of fairways (sixth), plenty of greens (22nd), was good on the greens (fourth for Putt Average) and finished 16th. Last week she was lifting third her trophy of the season. It might well have only been the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a pairs event, but it was a reminder that she’s getting plenty of experience contending (and, in fact, emerging triumphant). She won the Chevron Championship at Mission Hills (the first major championship of the year and her first success in the pro ranks) and then landed June’s Meijer LPGA Classic. She’s also not missed a cut since that first win back in April which hints at growing belief.
She backed that up last week saying: “I think after the first win I felt a lot more confident in my game. It’s so hard to win out here, so knowing I can do it really helps. Then to get the second win against a really stacked leaderboard and in a play-off at Meijer (against Nelly Korda and Leona Maguire) made me all the more comfortable. It’s how amateur golf was for me. I started out really slow, then I was able to win and just went off on it. It’s a lot of fun to win and I am a very competitive person.”
Her course form is the clincher. She played the Palmer Cup at Evian in 2018 (winning three of her four matches). A year later (debuting in this event) she carded a first round 66, never left the top 10 all week and added a second 66 on Sunday to land a share of second. She was 50th 12 months ago.
She’s winning, she’s in form, she’s won a major this year, she’s confident and she likes the track. I’d have her shorter this week. There was initially 40/1 around but I like anything at 28/1 and bigger.
Korea’s MIN JI PARK turned pro in 2016, joined the KLPGA the following year and was a winner there in each of the next three seasons, adding a host of top 10s along the way. It was, however, last year that her game moved up a gear or three.
In late April she landed her fourth career title and by early July she was lifting her ninth. Yes, she’d won six times in just 10 starts. More top-10s followed but she had to wait until this May to return to the winner’s circle and, having done so, added another pair of successes in June. In all, she has nine wins in her last 33 completed starts.
This week will be a step up in grade for her and also a very different experience. Her first ever pro start was in the LET’s 2016 Australian Open (missed cut) and she has played just three co-sanctioned LPGA events (all on home soil: T19-T9-T70). But plenty of her compatriots have brushed off being fresh to elite level golf and also the course might suit. Jin Young Ko, winner in 2019, said of it: “It is hilly and narrow. A little bit like home. In Korea the courses are more like mountain courses so we know how to play this course.”
Japan’s Yuna Nishimura who has two wins and a second in her last four starts arrives in similar shape, but at the same price I favour Park to complete back-to-back Minjee/Min Ji success. Park is ranked 16th in the world and can make an impact on her major championship debut.
Thitikul the pick of the favourites
I’ve not yet addressed the top of the market. Defending champion Lee is tussling with favouritism with Nelly Korda and that makes perfect sense. I can’t see any value in either, however. The same goes for the out of sorts Jin Young Ko and Lydia Ko (who closed 76-79 last time out).
On the other hand, there is some disagreement about Thailand’s young star ATTHAYA THITIKUL and I’m with those who have her closer to 10s than 20s. Still just 19, she first played on the LPGA a few days after her 14th birthday, claimed victory on the LET just four months later (on home soil), the win earned her a start in this event (she made the cut) and in 2019 she won that Thai LET event for a second time. And only the following year did she join the pro ranks.
Covid ruined her full-time introduction to the top level but she was brilliant in her delayed rookie year. It opened with second in an LPGA event at home, she then topped the LET rankings with 14 top-10s in 17 starts including a pair of wins. Against LPGA-level competition she was even better: five starts in all, four of them top-five finishes.
Now an LPGA performer she landed a first win in March’s JTBC Classic and was last seen contending at Congressional. She headed into the final round tied for sixth and finished two back in a share of fourth. Now she’s back at Evian where last year she opened 66-69 and closed with a fine 65. Only a Saturday 70 stopped her getting right in the mix.
Finally, I can’t resist adding Slovakia’s PIA BABNIK who I was surprised to see at 66/1 for the US Women’s Open, but it shows that the compilers have noted the teenager’s qualities (in addition to the three top-fives she compiled ahead of that week and her third placed finish in the season’s first major championship).
She made the cut (but no impression on the leaderboard) at Pine Needles. Since then she’s finished inside the top 15 twice on the LET, most recently a tie for 12th in Spain when only a poor second round stopped her contending.
She claimed her first LET win at Evian in last year’s Jabra Open, she was fifth on defence this year (closing with a lap of 66) and, although she missed the cut in her tournament debut last summer, she did open with a 68 to sit three off the lead. Three-figure prices are well worth taking.
Posted at 1415 BST on 19/07/22
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