American Jessica Korda became a first-time winner on the LPGA Tour at the 2012 Australian Open in dramatic fashion, dropping in a 25-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a six-player playoff.
Korda and the LPGA are back in Australia to open the 2013 schedule at Royal Canberra Golf Club, which hosts the event for the first time. Korda's title defense would entail topping four of the top-10 ranked players on tour, and keeping up with the family legacy.
Her father is famous, especially in Australia. Petr Korda won the 1998 men's Australian Open in tennis and was once the world's No. 2-ranked player.
"It's just a lot of fun to experience the whole defending champion thing," Korda said. "I've never done it before. I'm really enjoying it actually. I think I'm going to have a lot of eyes on me regardless, just the last name, what my dad has accomplished."
In 20 starts last season, Korda made the cut 16 times with two top-10 finishes, including the victory at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. She finished 41st on the money list and has a bright future. Korda turns 20 on Feb. 27.
One of the favorites as play begins is the leader of the pre-tour Rolex Rankings, Yani Tseng, followed by 2012 Rolex Player of the Year Stacy Lewis, who is ranked third entering the opening round Thursday. The loaded field also includes Australian native Karrie Webb, a 38-time LPGA Tour winner who hasn't played the course since she was 14 years old.
"My goal for last year was learn what I can do to be better," Korda said. "What does it take to play out here and win or contend or move yourself up through the rankings, move yourself up on the money list and all these different things. I'd say that I did."
Tseng, 24, won three times in 2012, leading her to assess the season as a "bad, bad year."
Tseng won seven times in 2011, and that act proved difficult to follow. Tseng said she listened to doubters too often and in the offseason decided to walk away from her clubs for the longest break from the game she'd taken -- more than six weeks -- since she's played competitive golf.
"I was happy as ever because I always play golf as my first priority but now after last year I was really struggling. But after that I had six weeks off and I was so excited to get back to practice," she said. "Then I went to Taiwan and went sightseeing around. Last month, I was in Orlando. So I'm really enjoying my practice and enjoying working with my coach and my caddie and my trainers."
Tseng had 12 top-10 finishes and was almost always on the leaderboard entering the weekend. She's a two-time winner at the Australian Open (2010, 2011) and last year won three of the first five tour events.
Webb, 38, is on the other end of the spectrum from 15-year-old amateur phenom Lydia Ko of New Zealand. But Webb is familiar with the challenges of being the new kid on the block, even if she's anything but in 2013.
"It does when you think about when she was born and when I turned pro," Webb said. "I'm talking about being here in 1989 and she was what, about eight years away from being born, so it's definitely different. When I came out on tour, I was the youngest at 20 and there were players that felt old when I came out at 20. So now I know how they felt."
Notes: Webb wasn't overly empathetic for Tseng's down year in 2012. "Yeah, that was a terrible year she had last year, three wins, $1.5 million. I would have hated to have a year like that," she said. ... There are 16 LPGA Tour rookies debuting in Australia and four amateurs. Ko won the New Zealand Women's Open last week in Christchurch. She finished tied for 19th in the 2012 Australian Open. ... Michelle Wie said she hasn't given up the life goal of playing in the Masters. "That is definitely one of my dreams; still is one of my dreams," she said. "You've got to dream high, right, and that's definitely one of my dreams, to play in the Masters." Wie had one top-10 finish in 25 events last season.