Sport: ANA Inspiration features slick greens, bomber-friendly layout

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a person holding a golf club: Getty© Getty Getty

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - The year's first major is a bomber's delight.

There's a reason Lexi Thompson and Brittany Lincicome come alive when they make the turn onto Dinah Shore Drive. A confident Lincicome has the chance to become only the fourth player to win the ANA Inspiration three times, joining the likes of Annika Sorenstam, Betsy King and Amy Alcott. Thompson, the 2014 champion, hasn't finished outside the top seven at the ANA in four years.

"Bombers are always going to have an advantage here," said Stacy Lewis, a non-bomber who won in 2011.

That being said, Lewis played 18 holes for the first time in nearly six weeks on Monday at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course and liked what she saw. The rough is thicker this year, and the fairways and greens are playing firm and fast.

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"The greens are unreal, as good as I've ever seen them," said Lewis. "With the weather it's just going to get firmer, which I think helps me."

Lewis, of course, toppled a hard-hitting Yani Tseng at the top of her game here seven years ago. Inbee Park, a seven-time major winner who has also taken the pluge into Poppie's Pond, felt similarly pleased with the setup.

"The rough is not up like 2013 when I won," said Park, "but I think it is going to get longer and longer as the week goes on. Yeah, I think this is the way this golf course is supposed to be played."

On Wednesday evening the maintenance crew planned to top off the rough around the fairways at 3 ½ inches. They won't touch it again the rest of the week. The greens are rolling at 12.5 Stimpmeter. LPGA agronomist John Miller said the putting surfaces are cleaner and more consistent this year.

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"That's one of the things that they overseed with is Poa Trivialis, so it's already a poa plant," said Miller. "So you do from time to time get some contamination. The club has taken some steps here to try to eliminate that to a certain degree. It's starting to pay off now. Because of that, we've got a lot more consistent green speed and the actual rolling of the green, the smoothness, from one through 18, the putting greens, everything has been so uniform this year."

Park, one the best putters in the game, absolutely loves the greens, but said the key for her this week is hitting fairways. Her drives need to run out to minimize the upper hand of a player like Lincicome.

"Even if you hit it in the rough," said Lincicome, "to be honest, I'm still hitting a shorter iron than most girls, so I have a huge advantage when it comes to that."

Brooke Henderson comes into her fourth ANA feeling more confident than ever about picking her spots on the Dinah Shore track.

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"I think if you can birdie all the par 5s every single day, you're going to put yourself in a good position," said Henderson. "Then you're 4 under, and you have a lot of room to make other birdies on the other holes, or you can make up for mistakes on your way around."

Henderson and Thompson led the LPGA in par-5 scoring last year. Officials plan to alternate playing from the forward tees on the 11 th and 18 th holes, with the forward tee being used on No. 18 on Friday and Sunday.

The white line yardage for the par-72 setup will be 6,763 yards, with officials varying tee locations on several holes. They're making a particular effort to put different clubs in the players' hands from day to day on the par 3s.

With forecasted temperatures in the 90s all week, low winds and no rain, officials expect scores to dip into the mid-60s each day. Should a playoff be required, which has been the case in two of the past three years, the 18 th hole will be used four consecutive times before switching to Nos. 10, 17 and 18.

The pool-like Poppie's Pond, which usually hovers around the 65- to 70-degree temperature range, awaits the winner. Only two reigning No. 1s have won the ANA: Lydia Ko and Lorena Ochoa. Current No. 1 Shanshan Feng was asked on Wednesday if she could swim.

Jessica Korda is happier and her scores reflect it, including her 67 in the ANA Inspiration

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"I'm not, like, really good at it," she said, "but I will survive in the water."

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