Top golfers contest for China Ladies Open glory

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The China LPGA Tour swings back into action next week with a top field assembled in Hainan Island for the season-ending Hyundai China Ladies Open.

With the national championship celebrating its 10th anniversary, this year's tournament, being held December 11-13 at the Mission Hills Haikou Blackstone course, is being co-sponsored with the LPGA Tour of Korea (KLPGA).

As South Korean players have won the 550,000-U.S.dollar tournament for nine consecutive years, the visitors will again field a strong arsenal of top talent. Kim Hyo-joo, the defending champion, returns after winning last year's tournament by two strokes in Shenzhen for her second Hyundai China Ladies Open crown after first winning the title in 2012.

The 20-year-old comes into Haikou on the back of an outstanding year where she has won three times, including the Kumho Tire Ladies Open in Shandong province in July. Last year, she won the Evian Championship in France for her first major title. Kim currently sits 10th in the Rolex World Ranking.

Chun In-gee, the world No. 9, is the top-ranked player in the 108-player field. The glamor girl of the KLPGA Tour finished runner-up at last year's Hyundai China Ladies Open and then went on to have a breakout season. In 2015, the 21-year-old won eight times around the world, including the US Women's Open in July when she beat compatriot Amy Yang by a stroke.

Also in the field next week is Park Sung-hyun, a player many are predicting to be the next South Korean star to break out in world golf. The 22-year-old, currently ranked 32nd in the world, won three times on the KLPGA circuit this year. In October, she served notice that she could indeed compete with the best when she finished equal runner-up at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in her US LPGA Tour debut.

China's hopes will rest on the shoulders of a core group of top players who have improved greatly on the world stage since the launch of the China LPGA Tour in 2009.

Pan Yanhong won in Australia and Beijing this year to raise her career total to six wins on the Tour. Her strong play was recognized when the 32-year-old former powerlifter was invited to compete in the US Women's Open in Pennsylvania.

Others to watch include Feng Simin and Yan Jing, both of whom are coming off their rookie seasons on the US LPGA Tour. While the 20-year-old Feng has struggled stateside, making the cut in only seven tournaments this year, she was an instant star in her only year at college in the States the year previous when she won two individual titles and helped lead Vanderbilt University to the SEC championship.

Yan, who burst onto the golf scene in 2010 when she won a silver medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, has posted a promising rookie campaign to build on. After finishing equal 14th at the Blue Bay LPGA tournament in October for her third top-20 result on the US LPGA Tour this season, last month the 19-year-old finished runner-up at the Sanya Ladies Open.

Top young Chinese players will be in abundance in Hainan as others in the field include Shi Yuting, the promising rookie pro who has competed in the US Women's Open the past two years. Joining Shi is Ye Ziqi as both players were instrumental in helping China to a team bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, and Wang Ziyi who captured the Xiamen Challenge in August last year as a 16-year-old.

Others in the field include players from Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Malaysia and Hong Kong, China.

The action for the Hyundai China Ladies Open gets under way on Monday with the qualifying tournament where 20 players will contest for two spots in the championship. 

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