Pattaya: Pornanong Phatlum and Ariya Jutanugarn are ready to lead the Thai challenge against world-class players at the Honda LPGA Thailand which tees off today.
Thai golfers, from left, Budsabakorn Sukapan, Sherman Santhiwiwatthanaphong, Ariya Jutanugarn, Moriya Jutanugarn, Pornanong Phatlum, Thidapa Suwannaupura and Paphangkorn Tavatanakit.
The US$1.5 million tournament at Siam Country Club Old Course features last year's top-60 money earners and 10 sponsor invites.
There are seven Thais in the event — Pornanong, Ariya, Moriya Jutanugarn, Thidapa Suwannaupura, Paphangkorn Tavatanakit, Sherman Santhiwiwatthanaphong and Budsabakorn Sukapan.
They will be trying to become the first Thai champion on the women's elite circuit.
World No.28 Pornanong, the highest-ranked Thai, and in-form Ariya are seen as the country's best hopes in Pattaya.
Pornanong, who finished second in Malaysia last year, said she was ready for the task after a two-week break.
The Chaiyaphum native has had a slow start to the season, finishing tied for 24th at the season-opener Coates Championship in Florida and missing the cut in Bahamas.
She did not play in the third event of the season, last week's Women's Australian Open.
"The course was set up well and is challenging, and I am ready for the challenge,'' said Pornanong.
"Good approach shots are important because the greens have a lot of slopes and are fast and tricky."
The 25-year-old said she was looking forward to playing alongside 2013 champion Park In-Bee and Michelle Wie in the first two rounds.
"We have played together before and there will be a lot of fun,'' said Pornanong who was 36th last year.
Sponsor invite Ariya, who is third on the money list after three tournaments, said that her overall play was satisfying at the moment but she must improve her putting.
"My irons and driver are good. But I still struggle with my putting which is key to success at this course,'' said the 19-year-old rookie.
She admitted that she would feel under pressure playing in front of home fans.
Today, Ariya will start at 10am with Haru Nomura of Japan and Tseng Yani of Taiwan, the only two-time champion of the Thai tournament with wins in 2011 and 2012.
Ariya was second in Bahamas after losing in a three-way play-off and finished third in Melbourne on Sunday.
She blew a two-shot lead at the final hole at the 2013 Honda LPGA Thailand to hand the title to Park.
Defending champion Anna Nordqvist said she had fond memories of last year's tournament when she beat Park by two strokes.
"The greens are fast. I usually like that, so I can't wait to get started," said the Swede.
"I am trying to improve a little bit on that part of the game. I think I'm slowly getting better," said the world No.2 who has won 12 LPGA titles including five majors.
"I see a little bit of improvement. I have played two events this year and feel like I'm warmed up and really to go."
Park added that the Honda LPGA Thailand was one of her favourite tournaments.
"The food and the people are just so nice here. I just love to coming to Thailand,'' she said.
World No.5 Michelle Wie said Siam Country Club Old course had a great layout.
"I love the golf course," said the American, runner-up in Pattaya in 2011.
Stacy Lewis said that she loved the course because it could give chances to make a lot of birdies.
"It's one you can make a lot of birdies on. You can be aggressive," said the world No.3 who has had three top-five finishes at the tournament.