US Open Champion Hilary Lunke will join British Open Champion and World No. 1 Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Rachel Teske and defending champion Laura Davies in the ANZ Ladies Masters at the Royal Pines Resort from 26 – 29 February.
“The field is the strongest in the 15 years the tournament has been played on the Gold Coast,” said Bob Tuohy, the tournament chairman. “This makes it the best field in the history of women’s golf in Australia.”
Lunke’s commitment to the tournament is a big coup for the ANZ Ladies Masters. Never before have two reigning “major” champions competed in the same women’s event in Australia.
In a stunning form reversal, Lunke, 24, won the US Open at the Witch Hollow course in Oregon after an 18-hole play-off with ANZ Ladies Masters regular Kelly Robbins and Angela Stanford. Playing as Hilary Homeyer before her marriage in 2002, she had to go back to the qualifying school after falling less than $20 short of the amount required to keep her card.
The holder of a masters degree in sociology from Stanford University had to pre-qualify for the US Open and just squeaked into the field after an opening round of 80, followed by 72. In the final round she made a 20-foot putt at the 18th to get into a tie for the lead and sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole of the play-off to become the first qualifier to win the US Open.
While Lunke will be seeing Royal Pines for the first time, the other top fancies will tee up with a wealth of experience and local knowledge. Karrie Webb won the title four years in a row from 1998, Laura Davies won in 1993, 1994 and 2003. Annika Sorenstam followed up her 1995 victory by beating Webb at the 76th hole in 2002 and shattering her dream of becoming the first player, man or woman, to win the same event five years in a row.
Australia’s best performer on the USLPGA Tour in 2003 Rachel Teske has her sights on her first Masters title. Swedes Sophie Gustafson and Lotta Neumann are highly ranked contenders. Jennifer Rosales and Karren Stupples will be focused on starting their 2004 season in style.