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Preview and best bets for the Chevron Championship

Matt Cooper previews the first women’s major championship of 2023, with In Gee Chun fancied to repeat her excellent elite level form.

Golf betting tips: The Chevron Championship

2pts e.w. Jin Young Ko at 14/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Minjee Lee at 50/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. In Gee Chun at 66/1 (PaddyPower, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Natthakritta Vongtaveelap at 80/1 (PaddyPower, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Like Ben Coley, I have an endless fascination with the puffed-up words used by golf clubs to describe their own courses. Ben has dealt with a prime example of the species in this week’s preview of the ISPS Handa Championship and ahead of the Chevron Championship – the first women’s major championship of the year – I am reminded of how these words can sometimes even veer towards the downright menacing.

A few years ago, for example, the Tseleevo GC in Moscow hosted the Russian Open and boasted that golf could be played “without thinking about publicity, strange glances and random journalists” which is, one supposes, a trio of requirements higher on your average oligarch’s wish list than a par-3 with a Redan green.

This year’s Chevron Championship, on the other hand, moves to The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands. The latter sounds like a golf club in itself but it actually is, according to the club website, “the most successful master-planned community in Texas.” As with Tseleevo, they are marketing words that makes the blood of normal folk not so much run cold as turn to ice.

Carlton Woods, it transpires, is a private, gated community while the Woodlands is a “census-designated place”. That’s more or less a new town just outside Houston to you and me, but the entire project has the whiff of high wealth paranoia and/or the setting for a dystopian JG Ballard novella featuring rich kids on the point of going feral.

The tournament itself has also featured a mish-mash of words, of course. It started life as the Dinah Shore and progressed to the Kraft Nabisco Championship (with all sorts of minor tweaks along the way to both) before becoming the ANA Inspiration and then, last year, being revealed in its latest iteration.

This intro is no mere digression, by the way, because the wordiness and displacement is a symptom of the harsh reality that women’s majors are for sale in a way the men’s versions are not. Consider that the Women’s Open and PGA Championship have title sponsors when the men’s equivalents do not; that the Evian Championship quite literally purchased major status; that women routinely play pro-ams ahead of the majors while the men would not just laugh at but be incensed at such a distraction; and now a much-loved venue for the opening major salvo of the season (Missions Hills) has been lost to the demands of the bottom line.

The flipside of this financial finagling is that the elite of the women’s game are playing for more money than ever and we should maybe stop being too romantic from the sidelines. Male golfers have spent the last 15 months making it plain that they are essentially businessmen so it is only fair to assume female golfers feel much the same. What seems to outsiders like bowing and scraping to Mammon, is perhaps merely greasing the wheels of fellow business owners.

The course this week is a Jack Nicklaus design which reviews suggest plays as you’d expect which is to say that driving needs to be smart in order to approach the greens from the correct angle while those putting surfaces are shaped and protected by bunkers that will test iron distance control through the week.

Stacy Lewis said after a recce: “There are a ton of run-offs where you can get short-sided and have some tough up and downs.” She also added, of concerns about another commercial tweak to a major: “It’s been amazing how much they’ve really leaned on the players, not only to see how can we make this championship better, what traditions need to move, what don’t. And it’s not just the current players, they’re reaching out to former players as well to figure out what made the Dinah Shore so great when it started 50 years ago.”

To the picks and the first two are largely determined by the notion of placing major championship form against current price – and believing that the former has granted us value with the latter.

Korea’s IN GEE CHUN comes first, a golfer fine enough to have triumphed in three major different championships. That, of course, allows her to dream of completing the set and she said after winning last year’s KPMG PGA Championship: “I feel happy to have a chance to try to win the career Grand Slam.”

Her first success had come in the 2015 US Women’s Open, quickly followed by the 2016 Evian Championship. Fallow years followed, during which she struggled with form and mental health issues. However gentle by nature, she is also courageous and a fierce competitor and proved it with a fine return to form.

In her last seven major championship starts she has six top 25s including that win last June, play-off defeat in August’s AIG Women’s Open and sixth place at the 2021 Evian. She did miss the cut last week but it was a first in 12 months. The clincher? She’s finished first, second and third at the Nicklaus-designed Sky72 in the LPGA/KLPGA co-sanctioned HanaBank Championship.

I’m also going to have faith in the elite level results of MINJEE LEE, the Aussie whose third place in the 2020 AIG Women’s Open turned her major championship form around. Since then, in two seasons, she has won both the 2021 Evian Championship and the 2022 US Women’s Open, was second behind Chun in the KPMG last year, and added another pair of AIG Women’s Open top fives.

Like Chun her lack of sparkling form has seen her price push out. In her case, she’s gone nine starts without a top 30. It’s not ideal but the majors might kickstart a return to form and she did enjoy a few days at Augusta National watching her brother Min Woo. That experience had quite an effect last year – she was third on her next start and soon added two wins. There’s a balancing act here and if this elite level performer finds something in her game the price will look good.

Of the top three I favour JIN YOUNG KO. Her namesake Lydia Ko is revitalised with three wins last year and a return to the top of the world rankings but hasn’t won a major since 2016 and Nelly Korda hasn’t landed a major top six since winning her first in 2021. Both are excellent performers, of course, but it’s enough to put me off.

Ko is not without concerns. She’s now gone three years without a major win, but she did win two of them in 2019 and she does have five top 10s in her last 10 starts. Critically, she’s also revisited the winner’s circle this year, when successfully defending the HSBC Women’s World Championship last month, a third top six in four starts for 2023. Hopefully, the injury concerns of late 2022 are behind her.

It’s been a whirlwind year for Thailand’s NATTHAKRITTA VONGTAVEELAP and it might not be over yet. She’s new to the professional game having only left the amateur ranks late last year but she was unusually patient in making the transition.

The 20-year-old won a hatful of championships prior to the move including three against pros on the Thailand Tour. Upon joining the paid ranks she earned an LPGA Tour card and hit the New Year running. In addition to two wins on her home circuit she opened up the LPGA’s Honda Thailand event with rounds of 67-65-64 to create a four-shot pre-final round lead. Alas, a closing 71 left her one shot outside the play-off.

Last week she was at it again, opening 66-70 to tie the first and second round lead in the LOTTE Championship before ending the week tied sixth. This week will be tougher but she’s not entirely raw and plenty of surprise winners and contenders in women’s majors have her profile: young, recent experience of the front page of the leaderboard, lightly tested on the LPGA.

A final note about the British challenge. Georgia Hall hasn’t finished outside the top 15 in nine starts and has a pair of seconds in her last three starts (the books know it). Charley Hull earned a first LPGA win in six years late last year and nearly added another in her first start of 2023. At 40/1 I’d have bitten but 33/1 is about right.

Posted at 1220 BST on 18/04/23

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