Buick LPGA Shanghai 2023 Tips: Nasa back amongst the stars in China

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Our LPGA expert Jamie Worsley picked up another place return at the weekend, courtesy of Lexi Thompson. Can he go one step better this time at the Buick LPGA Shanghai? 

Buick LPGA Shanghai Tips

  • 3 pts Nasa Hataoka each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 14/1 
  • 1.25 pts Angel Yin each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 40/1 
  • 1.25 pts Yuna Nishimura each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 45/1 
  • 0.75 pts Chanattee Wannasaen each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 125/1

Following Hyo Joo Kim finally getting rewards for an excellent year by claiming victory at The Ascendant LPGA last week, the LPGA now heads east for a four-week stint in Asia.

The tour takes us to established events in South Korea and Japan, as well as a new event in Malaysia, but first up is a return to China for the first time since 2019, as we head Qizhong Garden Golf Club for the third staging of the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

Tournament History

The event was first staged in 2018 and again in 2019, with both renewals taking place here at Qizhong Garden Golf Club.

Danielle Kang won each edition, first shooting -13 in 2018 to beat a list of seven players into 2nd by two strokes. She successfully defended the title the following year, firing 16-under-par to beat Jessica Korda by a shot.

After three years of cancellations due to the pandemic, we are back in China and Kang finally gets her chance to complete the threepeat this week.

The Course

Qizhong Garden Golf Club in Shanghai was designed by American architect Dana Fry with the help of local designer, Jun Lu; opening for play in 2013.

It is a par 72, measuring 6672 yards and comprises of ten par 4s (342-419 yards), four par 5s (481-571 yards) and four par 3s (149-176 yards).

The design team took a naturally flat piece of land and turned it into a striking, undulating parkland course, packed full of elevation changes. Water is in-play on eleven holes and trees line most fairways, with heavy and sometimes deep bunkering another prominent feature of the venue.

Though the course is largely tree-lined, it is very roomy and the bermudagrass fairways are generous. The rough isn’t too punishing but strategic bunkers are dangerously in-play on most holes and need to be avoided.

The speedy bentgrass greens are huge and severely undulating. Many are at an angle and appear shallow from the fairway, therefore despite their size they can be tricky to hit at all and especially tough in finding the right areas to leave yourself a simpler putt; run-offs and penal bunkering provide them with ample protection.

Whilst Qizhong Garden Golf Club appears generous, Danielle Kang’s winning scores show the course is no pushover. The par 5s are scoreable but very much risk/reward holes, with three protected by water; the drivable par 4 14th – which will play as short as 255 yards this week – offers another good birdie chance. They are balanced by some trickier par 4s and the par 3s look particularly challenging, with all four guarded by water and heavily bunkered.

The Stats

Key Stats:

  • SG: Approach:
  • SG: Putting (Bentgrass)
  • Driving Distance
  • Par 5 Scoring

We don’t have the benefit of tournament-specific stats but we can draw pretty firm conclusions from our two-time winner here, Danielle Kang. She is a player who excels with her approach play and on the greens, which makes perfect sense for a course where the large, undulating greens are the most challenging aspect.

You will need to be accurate in approach to find the correct spots on these greens, though are bound to leave yourself with numerous lengthy putts throughout the week and will have to call on the putter.

Ariya Jutanugarn has finished 2nd and 7th in the two previous editions of the Buick LPGA Shanghai and is good in both of those areas.

Though the leaderboards in 2018/2019 didn’t reflect much bias towards bombers or accurate drivers, I do feel this is a course where the longer hitters can go well. There should be plenty of chances to pull driver with the fairways so generous and they are best equipped to take it to the important par 5s and that drivable par 4. Whilst not a necessity, it would certainly be a positive in my eyes in co-ordination with the other areas.

Correlating Events (Courses)

I’m not going to get bogged down too much in correlating events this week with Qizhong Garden Golf Club only hosting the event twice and not since 2019. However, there were two courses that I felt had some similarities that are worth considering this week.

HSBC Women’s World Championship (Sentosa GC – Tanjong Course)

This event also takes place in East Asia in Singapore. The Tanjong course has large, quick greens, generous landing areas in the fairways and plenty of water in-play throughout.

Danielle Kang has recorded finishes of 2nd and 3rd there; one of the 2018 runners-up, Ariya Jutanugarn has finished 2nd in Singapore and Xiyu Lin has top 5s at each course.

Arkansas Championship (Pinnacle Country Club)

The second course that appealed is Pinnacle Country Club, host of the Arkansas Championship. This generous driving course has large and fast bentgrass greens, bermudagrass rough cut to a similar length and features water prominently.

Danielle Kang has twice finished 2nd in Arkansas; Nasa Hataoka has won there twice and finished 3rd here in China; Sei Young Kim has several top 6s at both courses and Carlota Ciganda has top 10s.

The Weather

It is forecast to be a cloudy, moderately warm week in China. Wind could play a part over the opening three rounds, with a constant 10mph breeze potentially accompanied by close to 30mph gusts. However it is scheduled to relent on Sunday.

The Field

World #1, Lilia Vu will be making her debut in the event this week and is joined by Chinese rising star and current #2, Ruoning Yin; #7 Minjee Lee and #9 Xiyu Lin make it four players from the world’s top 10 in attendance.

Danielle Kang tees it up as the defending champion, whilst there are further debut appearances for Rose Zhang and Maja Stark, among others.

We also have a number of players from the CLPGA (Chinese LPGA), including current #3 ranked player there, Ji Yuai.

Selections

The Chinese duo of Ruoning Yin and Xiyu Lin head the betting at 15/2, with Minjee Lee next at 9/1. The top of the market is strong and I feel there’s a bit of value amongst them, outside of that leading trio. I was tempted by Lilia Vu but it’s Japanese star, Nasa Hataoka who gets the nod ahead of her this week.

3 pts Nasa Hataoka each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 14/1 

I’ve backed Hataoka more times than any other player on the LPGA this year and it’s easy to see why. In twenty events in 2023, Hataoka has missed just one cut and recorded six top 10s, including two in majors, when 3rd in the Evian Championship and 4th in the US Women’s Open. Adding another trophy to her cabinet has been the only thing missing from her year so far.

It is the quality of her approach play that stands out most, ranking 11th for the season. As a solid top 50 putter and ranking 34th in par 5 scoring, she’s a good fit for this test.

This was evident in her debut appearance in 2019, as she finished T3, three strokes behind Danielle Kang and shot three round of 68 or better; looking particularly good on the greens. In addition to this, she has twice won the Arkansas Championship and recorded two 11th-place finishes in the HSBC Women’s World Championship.

Though she’s hardly played poorly, Hataoka’s results over recent starts haven’t quite been as strong and she underwhelmed when back home in Japan three weeks ago, finishing 38th in the Dunlop Ladies Open on the JLPGA. However, as a player who has had a busy schedule this year, I’m expecting that short break to have revitalised her and she can finally get that deserved win for the year on the board this week.

1.25 pts Angel Yin each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 40/1 

Angel Yin makes her first start this week, since her positive Solheim Cup experience in Spain and as a player possessing a good record in this event, I’m taking her to build on that positivity to win a first LPGA title.

Yin had been having a good year on tour prior to her appearance in the Solheim Cup, with two major performances standing out above all others, when finishing 2nd in the Chevron Championship in April and three starts ago she was 6th in the Women’s Open. In fifteen starts in 2023 in total, she has missed just one cut.

She is at her absolute best on the greens, ranking 2nd on the LPGA this year and has the power to take it to the par 5s and shorter par 4s.

She showed her suitability to the test in both of her previous starts, finishing 17th in 2018 and 14th in 2019, with the 65 she shot in round two of 2018 the fourth-best round anyone has shot across either of the two renewals.

Yin has little in the way of comp form but those two past efforts are cause enough for optimism and looking like a player riding high on confidence in the Solheim Cup, I think she’ll be a feature at the top of the leaderboard this week.

1.25 pts Yuna Nishimura each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 45/1 

Yuna Nishimura continued her recent improved form when we were on in The Ascendant LPGA last week, finishing 13th. As a player who excels in approach and on the greens, combined with a piece of strong correlating form, I’m happy to chance her again in China.

After a slow start to her rookie season on the LPGA, Nishimura has gradually started to find her feet on this elite stage. Back-to-back top 25s in the UK in the Women’s Scottish Open and Women’s Open offered promise and she’s maintained form since heading back to the US; finishing 3rd in the Arkansas Championship and 13th last week, with a 3rd-place finish in Japan sandwiched in between.

That 3rd in Arkansas was a particular positive as one of the comp courses mentioned above but it also showcased the strongest areas of her game, as she led the field in approach and ranked 35th on the bentgrass greens; stats in which she ranks 30th and 35th on the LPGA this season overall.

Both of these assets were on show again last week, as she ranked 10th in approach and 22nd in putting in Texas and reaffirmed my belief that Nishimura will carry over her winning form from the JLPGA – where she won six times from 2020-2022 – to the LPGA. Something which she looks well placed to achieve this week.

0.75 pts Chanattee Wannasaen each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 125/1

Thailand’s Chanattee Wannasaen was also among our selections last week and offered more promise there than her 54th-place finishing position would initially suggest. At a bigger price here – albeit in a stronger field – she looks worth another shot.

Wannasaen actually sat inside the top 15 in Texas after opening with rounds of 69 and 71. She fell down the leaderboard on a difficult Saturday, shooting an 8-over 79 in tough conditions but responded well with another solid closing 71 on Sunday.

It was pleasing to see her maintain the good level of approach play there, that had been on show over her most recent starts and which engineered her outstanding four-stroke win in the Portland Classic four starts ago.

Wannasaen’s length could be a big advantage on her first spin around the course. This helps her score well on the par 5s and with her game continuing to show promise since winning in Portland, the precocious 19-year-old – who has now won nine events worldwide at varying levels since turning pro in 2021 – looks a lively outsider at Qizhong Garden Golf Club.

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