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By Ben Parsons at Carnoustie
The preparations are over and the final women’s major of the year is upon us. Nearly 150 of the world’s best players have travelled to brutal Carnoustie, the ultimate golfing test that first played host to the AIG Women’s Open a decade ago.
Back then four-stroke winner Yani Tseng enjoyed a sanitised layout of the Championship course, as the treacherous burns and bunkers were often rendered impotent and the field prevailed with low scores on a generous setup.
But the R&A are expected to challenge the stars on the iconic links off the Angus coast in Scotland this time out, and difficult conditions forecast for the weekend could cause additional drama down the stretch.
And with up to 8,000 expected through the gate on each tournament day, spectators will be spoiled with elite golfing action as players battle it out for the $4.5m dollars total prize fund.
But which player will be walking down the daunting 18th hole on Sunday and tackling the deceitful Barry Burn knowing they are within grasp of the acclaimed trophy?
Here’s ten players to look out for at this week’s AIG Women’s Open...
Nelly Korda - Thursday tee time: 08:09
All eyes are on the world’s best female golfer this week after a stunning year.
Korda’s rise to number one has been remarkable and it’s no surprise the 23-year-old is a firm favourite for the tournament.
Fresh from Olympic gold in Tokyo, the American is hoping to add a second major title to her illustrious 2021 collection following her PGA Championship triumph in Atlanta.
But links golf is a different test and the weight of expectation at Carnoustie will prove her toughest challenge yet.
Sophia Popov - Thursday tee time: 12:05
There have been few greater sporting stories than world no.306 Popov becoming Germany’s first major winner at Royal Troon last year.
Her inspirational recovery from a worrying health battle to the pinnacle of the game struck a chord with so many during Covid struggles.
Popov faces a new pressure as defending champion but is intent on enjoying the experience.
“I think up until last week it was just a regular season and just keep playing, keep playing,” she said.
“And then once I kind of set foot out here, it was like: ‘OK, I’m coming here to truly enjoy this week, you know, regardless of what happens.’”
Lydia Ko - Thursday tee time: 07:58
New Zealand’s Ko may be without a major win in five years but her links form gives her a great chance as she plots her way round Carnoustie.
Ko finished tied second on the equally demanding Dumbarnie Links at last week’s Scottish Open and is ranked third on this year’s official money list.
But the 24-year-old is aware how difficult the course will play.
“This might be the trickiest British Open I’ve played yet,” she said. “You have to be very strategic around here.”
Atthaya Thitikul - Thursday tee time: 07:36
At just 18-years-old, Thitikul has the golfing world at her feet.
The Thai superstar already has that important winning feeling with three victories on the Ladies European Tour.
And she could go one better this week after a tied second finish in the Scottish Open.
A leading amateur in the 2018 and 2019 Championships, Thitikul will be hotly-tipped to claim her first major.
Yuka Saso - Thursday tee time: 12:49
Saso became the first Filipino winner of a major tournament when she secured the US Women’s Open title in San Francisco in June.
The 20-year-old benefitted from a lesson in links golf with a tied 15th finish at the Scottish Open and comes into the event with solid form.
She will be a player for spectators to look out for around Carnoustie, with an eye-catching swing that resembles Rory McIlory.
Georgia Hall - Thursday tee time: 11:54
British hopeful Hall wishes for a repeat of her day in the sun at Royal Lytham in 2018.
Hall is a links specialist and will fancy her chances of becoming a two-time Women’s Open winner.
The 25-year-old simply loves this event and comes in with some form after a tied sixth finish in the last major, the Evian Championship in France.
Plenty will back the English player to negotiate the tough conditions and be in the thick of it come Sunday afternoon.
Charley Hull - Thursday tee time: 08:09
Teeing off with world no.1 Korda, British fan-favourite Hull will attract large crowds on the famous Carnoustie links.
“My golf game this year has probably been one of the best I've ever been. I put so much hard work into it in the winter,” Hull said last week.
Confidence-fuelled Hull could be a threat to the field this week, as she aims for an elusive first top ten finish in the major.
Leona Maguire - Thursday tee time: 12:27
Ireland’s newest female star Maguire is hotly-tipped for a high finish at Carnoustie.
Maguire tees off alongside seven-time major champion and accomplished Korean superstar Inbee Park, another of the favourites this week.
The 26-year-old has been consistent with seven consecutive top 25 finishes in the build up to the tournament.
And a sensational 61 in the final round of the Evian Championship proves she can go extremely low on the toughest of courses.
Amy Yang - Thursday tee time: 07:14
Yang, 32, is one of few players in the field with a positive experience of playing in a Women’s Open at Carnoustie.
The Korean finished fourth when the tournament was last held at the prestigious venue a decade ago.
She is very much looked upon as an outsider this time out, despite two top ten finishes in major championships this year.
But two impressive scores on the weekend at Dumbarnie will give her hope of another successful week at Carnoustie.
Ryann O’Toole - Thursday tee time: 08:20
It would be foolish to overlook O’Toole after the veteran’s long-awaited first LPGA victory at the Scottish Open.
O’Toole finally got over the winning line in her 228th event with a stunning bogey-free final round 64.
"I still feel like I'm in shock and the tears are going to come later when things die down,” O’Toole said after her three shot victory.
The 34-year-old is in the form of her life and now comes to Carnoustie with nothing to lose.
Follow the official AIG Women's Open live blog at www.aigwomensopen.com