(Salamander Bay, Australia, February 12 2003) European number one Paula Marti makes a welcome return to the Horizons Resort GC here on Salamander Bay in the Hunter Valley to defend her title at the Aus$100,000 Contrabart ALPG Tour Championship, which begins on Thursday.

Marti – defending champion at Horizons

Like last year, the ALPG Tour Championship serves up the perfect appetizer for the two opening events of the Ladies European Tour season, which begins officially next week with the ANZ Masters on the Gold Coast in Queensland.

And this week, many of the world’s best are fine tuning their game around this tight, tree lined course, perfect preparation for both Royal Pines GC next week and Terrey Hills GC in Sydney, venue for the AAMI Women’s Australian Open in a fortnight.

Marti’s main competition will undoubtedly come from England’s Laura Davies, the big hitting Swedes Sophie Gustafson and Maria Hjorth and Australia’s Rachel Teske who goes into the event as the 5-1 favourite.

But with a wealth of talent appearing in women’s golf over the past two seasons and with a tough scoring course, a surprise winner is eminently possible.

Spearheading the youthful charge from ‘down under’ will be European Tour rookies Tamara Hyett and Vicky Uwland, both of whom impressed at last October’s Tour school in Grenoble in France.

But with a wealth of local knowledge, the Hunter Valley area fans will be rooting for the amiable duo of Nadina Taylor and Cherie Byrnes, who represent Horizons GC on the Evian Tour.