The U.S. Women's Open returns to Pine Needles this week for the third time. U.S. Women's Open preview: All eyes on LPGA Tour's new breed

When the U.S. Women's Open gets underway Thursday at Pine Needles, all eyes will be on the LPGA Tour's new, young breed to climb the leaderboard. Suzann Pettersen, Morgan Pressel, Britney Lincicome and Lorena Ochoa are among the favorites, but don't count out veterans like Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam. Meanwhile, the feud between Sorenstam and Michelle Wie continues.

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. - The LPGA Tour's first two major titles of 2007 bypassed veteran champions Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and other hall of famers.

Instead, both went to first-time major winners, a seemingly inevitable step in the emergence of the LPGA Tour's new generation of young stars.

Nineteen-year-old Morgan Pressel won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March. Norway's Suzann Pettersen - who blew a lead to Pressel on the Sunday at the Kraft, held on to win her first major at the McDonald's LPGA Championship at the age of 26 earlier this month.

That left Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, No. 1 in the Rolex world rankings, still waiting for her major breakthrough amid 12 LPGA victories in her career.

Ochoa enters this week having won a playoff in last week's Wegman's LPGA. The 26-year-old is no stranger to U.S. Open drama. At Cherry Hills in 2005, Ochoa took a 3-under final round to the 18th tee before quadruple-bogeying the hole to finish four shots back of eventual winner Birdie Kim.

"I made some big mistakes, but I think I'm ready to get a Major," said Ochoa. "It will be amazing to get the U.S. Open. So now that we're here this week, why not win on Sunday?"

With a hobbled Sorenstam, all eyes will be on Ochoa to break through here at Pine Needles when the U.S. Women's Open begins Thursday. Sorenstam repeated here in 2006 for her second Open title. Rolex No. 3 Karrie Webb won her second in a row as well here in 2001.

All eyes will be on the LPGA Tour's new-breed. Twenty-somethings Ochoa, Pettersen, Paula Creamer and Britney Lincicome are among an international field littered with young talent - including 12-year-old qualifier Alexis Thompson, the youngest to qualify for the Open since Pressel did at 13 in 2001.

"I'm just going to go out there and have fun," said Thompson. "I'll probably just try and shoot maybe 75 or 74 or under. I think that's pretty good with all the woods I'll have in on the par-3s and par-4s. And hopefully I make the cut."

Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam still at odds

After choosing to withdraw from the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, 17-year-old Michelle Wie is here this week to compete in the U.S. Open. She hasn't fared well so far in 2007. After making the cut on the number at the LPGA Championship, she finished last over the weekend - finishing ten shots behind the next competitor and 35 off the lead.

Wie and defending champion Sorenstam have evidently not reconciled after Wie withdrew from the Ginn Tribute hosted by Annika in the first round last month due to a wrist injury (controversy ensued when Wie, in danger of carding an 88 for the round that would have banned her from LPGA Tour events for a year, was seen practicing at the McDonalds LPGA Championship venue that same weekend).

"I just voiced my opinion a couple weeks ago," said Sorenstam on Tuesday. "All I can say is I said what I wanted to say and I stand for what I say and I still feel that way."

The two camps have reportedly not spoken to one another since the incident.

Since her playoff victory over Pat Hurst last year, Sorenstam has had a tumultuous year. She's suffered injuries to her back and neck and on Tuesday, said she was content with her career to this point, including ten major championships and 69 victories worldwide.

"I've won so many tournaments around the world that I never thought I could," said Sorenstam. "My career has been fantastic, a lot more than I thought -- look at me, I came from a little town in Sweden and this game has taken me everywhere and I've met some great people and I've just experienced a lot of things. It comes to a point where you say, ‘I'm happy.' My glass is full and I'm enjoying it."

June 27, 2007

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.

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