In Bank of Hope Match Play, which begins Wednesday at Shadow Creek, 64 women can roll dice in golf’s ultimate game of chance
LAS VEGAS – New beginnings most assuredly will continue to be a theme as 2021 unfolds while golf continues its path toward a post-pandemic normalcy.
And that will be the case this week when the LPGA conducts its first regular-season match-play tournament in four years. The inaugural Bank of Hope Match Play, which begins Wednesday at Shadow Creek, marks the LPGA’s first tournament in Las Vegas since 2006.
It’s perfect timing for match play on the LPGA because the top female players from the U.S. and Europe are looking ahead to the Solheim Cup matches on Sept. 4-6 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
There’s a different mindset needed during match play compared with stroke play, and the Bank of Hope will provide a tune-up for the several players who are expected to play the biennial Solheim Cup late this summer. The 64-player field also should provide golf fans a chance to glimpse a potential Solheim Cup singles-day matchup or two, should the bracket fall correctly. (For pairings, click here.)
Las Vegas resident Danielle Kang, who stands second in the U.S. Solheim Cup team standings, is the unofficial hostess this week. Kang, 28, a five-time winner on the LPGA, mentioned using a “match-play mentality” to come back and win the Marathon Classic last summer after being five strokes behind Lydia Ko with six holes to play.
“I’ve always loved match play,” Kang said in March during the news conference for the Shadow Creek event. “I like a one-on-one game more than anything. I really like the mind-set.”
Kang, who is sponsored by MGM Resorts International, the owner and operator of Shadow Creek, has played the course many times, which should be a distinct advantage this week.
“I'm so excited to be a part of it, and for it to be played at Shadow Creek, one of the most prestigious golf courses in the United States, is really, really amazing,” Kang said. “It's also a huge step for women's golf to play a match-play event at a golf course like this.”
Forty-eight of the top 60 players in the Race to the CME Globe season standings are scheduled to play at Shadow Creek, including world No. 1 Jin Young Ko and Inbee Park, another Las Vegas resident and seven-time major champion.
According to BetMGM, which is owned by MGM Resorts International and is also the official betting partner of the LPGA Tour, Jin Young Ko, a two-time major champion, opened as the favorite to win, at 7-1. She was followed by Inbee Park (8-1), Sei Young Kim (9-1), Danielle Kang (10-1) and Brooke Henderson (14-1). Golf betting continues to evolve in popularity, especially on the PGA Tour, but the LPGA should see a nice week at the window with the tournament being played in Las Vegas.
"Match play is really a true test of you and the competitor,” Park said. “I mean, you are playing under the exact same conditions. And, obviously, we don't get this kind of format often, so I think that's why I really miss the match-play format, because in junior and amateur years, we get to play match-play events. I just think it's a lot more fun and I think it really suits Las Vegas.”
Among those likely to play in the Solheim Cup who were scheduled for the LPGA Match Play are Americans Stacy Lewis, Austin Ernst, Angela Stanford and Ally Ewing and Germany’s Sophia Popov. Among the notable players who opted not to play: sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda, Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko.
The Match Play also will spotlight exclusive Shadow Creek, which hosts a tournament on a major professional tour for the second time in seven months. The PGA Tour’s CJ Cup was played on the Tom Fazio-designed course in October 2020. Shadow Creek also was the site of "The Match" in 2018, when Phil Mickelson edged Tiger Woods in a 22-hole exhibition.
Competitors were effusive in their praise, not only for its unique history of hosting A-list celebrities, presidents, hall-of-fame athletes and casino high-rollers, but also for Shadow Creek’s competitive playability.
“I’ve been blown away by the golf course and think it’s absolutely fantastic,” said England’s Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion. “I knew Shadow was kind of a prestigious course. I expected it to be more of a resort golf course, if I’m honest – a little wider, a little easier – and I was blown away by the conditioning of it. To have firm, bentgrass greens in the heat is just unbelievable. They’re the best greens I’ve played on outside of Augusta and potentially Muirfield Village. By far the best greens that I’ve seen on Tour.”
Kang thinks the course will be conducive to low scores, but if a player isn’t careful, a big number is in the offing because of some risk/reward holes.
After playing Shadow Creek in the PGA Tour's CJ Cup, which was relocated from South Korea because of the pandemic, the resurgent Jordan Spieth confirmed Kang’s assessment.
“I like the mixture of holes,” Spieth said. “You have drivable par 4s, and then you have long doglegs. The green complexes are complicated and very challenging. You can score on the course, but it also presents a legitimate challenge.”
The course and return to Las Vegas, which is undergoing a post-COVID resurgence in its own right, appears to be a perfect recipe for a match-play tournament in a city built on the ultimate games of chance.
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