The third edition of the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics is set to begin on Thursday, August 17, and the field includes 22 dual LPGA/LET members as well as 10 LPGA Tour winners, including Ireland’s Leona Maguire.
All 144 players will play one round each at Galgorm Castle Golf Club and Castlerock Golf Club with a top 60 cut and ties after 36 holes. The competition will then be held at Galgorm only on the weekend and another cut will be made to the top 35 and ties after 54 holes have been completed. A $1.5 million purse with a $225,000 winner’s check is up for grabs this week, as are valuable Solheim Cup points for those trying to solidify their spots in their respective teams.
Check out a few select groups that will be duking it out over the next four days for the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics title.
Thursday, 8:14 am (Castlerock) – Mina Harigae/Anne van Dam/Leona Maguire
Three veterans will start at 8:14 am. at Castlerock Golf Club, but only one is an LPGA Tour winner. Mina Harigae has come close to winning that mark a few times since her championship year in 2010, most recently falling in the 2022 US Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club and finishing second to champion Minjee Lee. Things have been pretty thin this season for the 33-year-old, as she missed seven cuts in 16 total starts, earning a season-best finish at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club, where she finished T24. But Harigae ranks in the top 20 on the LPGA Tour in shots per green in regulation (1.78, 19) and driving accuracy (79.91%, 20).
Anne van Dam is a name we don’t see much on the LPGA Tour these days, but the Dutch native is playing some good golf on the Ladies European Tour. She has two top-five finishes on her resume, a tie for second at the Jabra Ladies Open and a tie for third at the Scandinavian Mixed, as well as a tie for 25th at the Amundi German Masters. Van Dam has only played in one LPGA Tour event so far this season, the LOTTE Championship presented by Hoakalei where she missed the cut, so it will be interesting to see how she fares this week in Northern Ireland.
Leona Maguire is one of the frontrunners in this week’s field as the two-time LPGA Tour winner is the only Irish woman to show it off at the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics. She became the Rolex Champion last season at the LPGA Drive On Championship at Crown Colony and earned her second career win earlier this year at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give. The 28-year-old has recorded five additional finishes of T11 or better, the best of which came at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards where she finished third. This is just her second appearance in this event, and she finished solo 10th in her debut in 2022. While Maguire has cooled slightly since tying for 11th at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, look for the Duke University alum to step on the gas in front of a home crowd who will surely travel to Northern Ireland to watch her compete.
Thursday, 12:52 p.m. (Galgorm) – Cara Gainer/Stephanie Meadow/Ryann O’Toole
Ladies European Tour member Cara Gainer will be joined by two LPGA Tour veterans on Thursday when the tournament begins, playing Stephanie Meadow and Ryann O’Toole. She has had a strong season so far on the LET, picking up three top-five results after finishing runner-up at the Amundi Evian Masters, sole third at the La Salla Open and in a tie for fourth at the Tipsport Czech Ladies Open. Gainer has recorded three other top 15s, a T9 at the Magical Kenya Ladies Open and a pair of T14s at the Saudi Ladies International and the Belgian Ladies Open. He is currently ranked eighth in the race for the Costa del Sol and will be looking to rise to the occasion this week as he takes on some of the best in the game.
Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow is the only past champion of the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics in the field this week, winning the 2019 edition of the event before it became a co-sanctioned tournament. She beat Charley Hull by a single stroke that year to earn her second career victory. Since then, the 31-year-old has won six of her seven career top 10s on the LPGA Tour, most recently tying for third at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on the Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club. Statistically, Meadow is second in strokes gained putting (+1.41), sixth in putting average (28.93) and 12th in shots per green in regulation (1.77), a lethal combination that proves lethal of her flat stick.
Ryann O’Toole is making her third start at the ISPS Handa World Invitational where she finished T14 in 2021 and missed the cut in 2022. It has been an up and coming year for the 36-year-old so far this season. She earned four top-25 finishes in her first nine events of the year, recording a season-best at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions where she finished T12. But O’Toole missed five straight cuts in June and July, finally righting the ship during the #LPGAEuroSwing with a T28 finish at the Amundi Evian Championship and a T21 finish at the AIG Women’s Open to cap a big 2023 season. She’ll try to continue that momentum this week as she works to win her second LPGA Tour title and first since the 2021 FREED GROUP Women’s Scottish Open presented by Trust Golf.
Thursday, 13:14 (Galgorm) – Georgia Hall/Albane Valenzuela/Esther Henseleit
Another marquee name in the field in Northern Ireland is that of grand champion Georgia Hall. The Englishwoman is competing in the ISPS Handa World Invitational for the third straight year, finishing T14 in 2021 and a solo third in 2022. Hall has started incredibly fast this year, earning six top-15 results in her first six events of the 2023 season, including two solo seconds at the LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain and the DIO Implant LA Open. But she has slowed slightly, missing three cuts, two of which were in the majors, and has just one top-10 finish in her last eight starts, tied for 10th in the Cognizant Founders Cup. She made back-to-back cuts at The Amundi Evian Championship and the AIG Women’s Open to complete her big 2023 season on the LPGA Tour and will hope to keep trending in a positive direction as she looks for her first win since the 2020 Portland Classic this week in North Ireland.
Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela has been in good form this season, earning three of her six career top-10 finishes in 2023, including a T4 at The Chevron Championship, fifth at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards and T6 at The ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer. Statistically, Valenzuela currently leads the Tour in sand saves at 65% and is also 21st in approach won (+0.68). This is her first appearance at the Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics and considering her good form and recent history of Rolex First-Time Winners in Northern Ireland, the stars may be aligned for the Stanford University to take her first tour title since joining the LPGA Tour in 2020.
Esther Henseleit has only played in one ISPS Handa World Invitational, tying for 34th in the 2021 edition of the event, a result she will look to improve on this week. So far this season on the LPGA Tour, the German has been quietly consistent, earning five top-20 finishes, the most notable of which is a tie for 14th at The Amundi Evian Championship a few weeks ago. According to KPMG Performance Insights, the 24-year-old is 11th in strokes gained approach and 26th in green-shirt winning funds. She has played in three LET events this year, not counting co-sanctioned European events, finishing in the top 20 twice at the Magical Kenya Ladies Open (T17) and the Lalla Meryem Cup (T11).
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