Golf

Brooke Henderson paired with Ariya Jutanugarn at Manulife Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn is trying to complete another hat trick — and she's giving a misbehaving old friend another chance.

2nd-ranked Thai star plans to bring along misbehaving friend

Brooke Henderson of Smith Falls, Ont. tees off at the Pro-Am of the Manualife LPGA Classic in Cambridge, Ont. at the the Whistle Bear Golf Club on Wednesday. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Ariya Jutanugarn is trying to complete another hat trick — and she's giving a misbehaving old friend another chance.

Jutanugarn said she will use a driver in the LPGA Manulife Classic, the first time she has put the wild, but long club in play since winning the Kingsmill Championship in May for the second of third straight victories.

Hammering 2-iron and 3-wood on the driving holes, she started another streak at the Women's British Open, then rebounded from a knee injury that forced her to withdraw during the Rio Olympics to run away with the Canadian Pacific Women's Open last week in Alberta.

"Actually, I try to bring it out every week, but some course I can't hit my driver," the 20-year-old Thai player said Wednesday, the day before the start of play at Whistle Bear. "But this course, I feel like it's wide enough to hit driver. My distance, I'm not going to get me to have a problem. All the trouble is not in my driver this week."

The second-ranked Jutanugarn will play alongside 18-year-old Canadian star Brooke Henderson and American Cristie Kerr in the first two rounds.

"I really happy to play golf right now and really enjoy it," Jutanugarn said. "I can't wait for tomorrow to tee off with Brooke Henderson. I know we're going to have fun on the course."

Henderson excited to be close to home

Henderson, from Smith Falls, Ont., tied for 14th last week outside Calgary. She beat Lydia Ko in a playoff in June in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship for her first major title, and successfully defended her Cambia Portland Classic title in early July.

"It's so exciting to be back here really close to home," Henderson said. "It's like four or five hours from Smiths Falls. Hoping some family and friends will make it up to the weekend."

Henderson's Olympic teammate, Alena Sharp, is also in the field. 

At age 35, Sharp is in the midst of a breakout season on the LPGA Tour. She finished fourth at the Canadian Women's Open, her second top-10 of the season and her best-ever result on the LPGA Tour. The US$379,657 she has earned this year is almost a quarter of her career winnings.

Sharp credits Henderson and Canadian national team coach Tristan Mullally for her resurgence. Henderson, who is ranked No. 3 in the world, and Sharp play all of their practice rounds on the LPGA together.

"Seeing her do well, it inspires all of us, not just me but all of us Canadians, knowing that Brooke is doing it, why can't we?" said Sharp of the 18-year-old phenom on Wednesday afternoon. "I think she's raised the bar, and she's positive, aggressive. I love being around her.

"Just very infectious attitude, and I think it's helped me kind of try and be an 18-year-old again and not be afraid of things and to go after it."

The top-ranked Ko will tee off in the group behind Jutanugarn, with the 19-year-old New Zelander playing with defending champion Suzann Pettersen and American Stacy Lewis. Ko welcomed the warm weather after playing Sunday in Alberta in chilly conditions.

Brooke has raised the bar. Being around her has helped me be an 18-year-old again and not be afraid of things and to go after it.- Alena  Sharp, golfer

"It's nice to be here where it's really warm," said Ko, a four-time winner this year. "Last week, I expected the cold a little bit, but I guess when you're in that part of Calgary, towards the mountains, you could expect a little bit cooler weather. But nice to be back here in Waterloo."

Pettersen beat Brittany Lang by a stroke last year.

"It's always great to come back to places you've done well on," Pettersen said. "Played really good here last year, had a nice battle coming down the stretch there. I like the course. The course is in great shape again this year, so excited to get started."

Pettersen won at 22 under in the first year at Whistle Bear after three at Grey Silo.

"I think scores shouldn't be quite as low this year," Lewis said. "It's playing a little tougher being a little bit softer, so it's playing longer, and then the rough is up, as well."

Lewis is winless in 57 starts since June 2014. She has 11 runner-up finishes during the drought.

U.S. Women's Open champion Lang won in 2012 at Grey Silo.

"I played great the inaugural year with the win at Grey Silo, which I liked that course, and then I like this course, as well," Lang said. "We've always had housing and nice friends to stay with. It's a really comfortable week. .. I've just felt really comfortable. I like coming back here. It's pretty."

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