The AIG Women’s Open takes a step into uncharted territory this week as Walton Heath plays host for the first time and it is not just the new venue which makes predicting a winner a tricky task.
The historic heather-filled heathland setting is sure to provide a stern test but there are no shortage of stars in the field ready to tackle that challenge head-on.
Chief among them coming into the week is Céline Boutier, who could not ask to be in finer form on arrival.
The Frenchwoman is fresh from a remarkable double header, backing up Amundi Evian Championship victory in front of her home fans with a two-shot triumph at the Scottish Open in Dundonald last weekend.
To win three competitions – including two majors – in as many weeks would be a staggering feat and Boutier admitted on Tuesday that she is keeping any expectations around a hat-trick to a minimum.
“I know the odds,” she said – though her own have shortened significantly in light of recent events.
“To be fair, like even winning two in a row is already pretty low, so I know three is like… it would be unbelievable if it happens, but I'm just not going to put a lot of pressure on myself about that.
“I'm honestly trying to put some good rounds together and see at the end.”
Boutier heads a list of contenders stacked full of depth, with 29 of the top 30-ranked players in the world teeing it up in Surrey.
Heading that particular list is Nelly Korda, looking to improve a modest AIG Women’s Open record. She missed the Scottish Open last week to rest following a T9 finish at the Evian Championship while the consistent Korda has a third-placed finish in the Chevron Championship and Aramco Team Series victory on her last visit to England on her record this year as she bids for a second major.
The softer than expected fairways could suit the American – though she played down those thoughts when addressing the media – and nature, as ever, will play a significant part in proceedings.
Beaming sun on Wednesday and the forecast for a repeat on Thursday should make for firmer conditions when the action begins and Charley Hull, who plays as part of the same group as Korda and Lydia Ko on the first two days, will be among those hoping to capitalise.
Hull lives half an hour away from a course she feels suits her game and those home comforts could propel her to a best-ever finish at an event she remains yet to finish inside the top 10 in.
Georgia Hall will be another not lacking for support, particularly as part of an eye-catching group with Boutier and Atthaya Thitikul, while Leona Maguire’s best major finish to date came at Muirfield last year and she will hope to build on that T4 placing as she bids to become the first Irish woman to win a major.
Jin Young Ko has had two near-misses at the AIG Women’s Open, finishing second on debut in 2015 and third four years later. She will be powered by pastry as she attempts to top the lot this time around, the Korean having reignited her love of sausage rolls during her time in England, and she is not the only one of her compatriots who will be confident of challenging.
A Lim Kim backed up T3 at the Amundi Evian Championship with T4 in the Scottish Open and In Gee Chun is looking to go one better having missed out in a play-off to Ashleigh Buhai 12 months ago.
Buhai is the most recent of 10 champions in this year’s field and tees off alongside two-time major winner Brooke Henderson and Rose Zhang, around whose performance there is plenty of intrigue.
Last year’s Smyth Salver winner has taken seamlessly to life in the professional ranks, emerging victorious from her debut event at the Mizuho Americas Open, and she would become the youngest winner in AIG Women’s Open history were she to repeat the feat this week.
It all adds up to a fascinating spectacle at a club whose first captain was Edward VIII – let the battle to be crowned AIG Women’s Open champion commence.