Brimming with confidence after claiming her third title on the Ladies European Tour last week, defending champion Aditi Ashok will now look to retain the Hero Women’s Indian Open which tees off at the DLF Golf course in Delhi on Thursday.
Aditi, who had won the Hero Indian Open and Qatar Ladies Open last year, clinched the Fatima Bin Mubarak Ladies Open in Abu Dhabi last week but the 19-year-old from Bangalore will have to fight her way through one of the strongest fields comprising 114 players from over 25 countries.
Among the other Indians in fray, there will be considerable focus on Sharmila Nicollet, who is back after spending three months in the US. From the domestic pool, Gaurika Bishnoi, leader on Hero Order of Merit on domestic Tour, will hope to translate her success onto the HWIO.
Vani Kapoor, Amandeep Drall, Neha Tripathi and Smriti Mehra, who have been playing quite a few events on the Ladies European Tour, as also in Asia, will be watched closely.
For Vani, this is her home course and armed with the confidence and experience of playing a lot outside India in the past 12 months, she will be hoping to do well this week.
The strength of the field has been bolstered by the presence of four of the Top-5 from the LET’s 2016 Order of Merit.
Beth Allen, who topped the Money List last year; Aditi, who was second overall and also the Rookie of the Year, and Florentyna Parker were the top-3 and No. 5 Isabelle Boineau has also made the trip to India.
Carlota Ciganda, who has been to India before, divides her time between the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA these days, and is back to India for this year’s HWIO.
The highest world ranked player in this field at No. 20, Ciganda is a former Order of Merit winner in 2012, which was also her Rookie year on LET.
Aditi’s win last week in Abu Dhabi catapulted her from just around 100 to a 81st and that should be a big boost. There are six players from the Top-20 of the latest Order of Merit, and that includes Ciganda (6th), Klara Spilkova (9th); Florentyna Parker (12th); Aditi (13th); Anne Van Dam (16th) and Ana Menedez (19th).
The 2016 edition was highlighted by a tight battle involving Aditi, Beth Allen and Belen Mozo in the closing stages and all three will be back to renew their rivalry at the Gary Player layout.
“The win last year set the bar for me and then I won two in a row. Qualifying for the LPGA was good. The first half of the year was a struggle as I didn’t know if I would be playing that week or not as I had a conditional status,” Aditi said.
“I played a lot of LPGA event. I also got to play all five majors this which was a great experience as a rookie. I didn’t play as well as I hoped in LPGA. But last week was better and I am happy to be here this week.
“I hit 88% cent of greens last week and with the putting if I can do that then it would be a very good score. I think that was the key. I like this golf course but my chances will be just all everybody else and I would need three good days to win this title again,” she added.
The biggest contingent from outside India is from Thailand. They have won the HWIO four times, of which Phatlum Pornanong won three times.
She is not here this time, but the 2013 Hero Women’s Indian Open winner Thidapa Suwannapura is in fine form, having finished T-sixth in Abu Dhabi.
Another player to watch out for will be Patcharajutar Kongkraphon, who would be looking to emulate Phatlum and Thidapa.