Ariya Jutanugarn

Ariya Jutanugarn hits her tee shot on the tenth hole during a practice round at the 2019 U.S. Women's Open at Country Club of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

When Hollis Stacy and Meg Mallon talk U.S. Women's Open favorites, it might pay to listen.

After all, the two golfing legends have five Open titles between them, three won by Stacy.

"This is a second-shot golf course," Stacy said Wednesday at the Country Club of Charleston, where the 74th U.S. Women's Open is set to begin Thursday. "If I were to handicap, I would say it would be a mid-length player that hits a lot of greens in regulation and the putting stats are good."

Said Mallon, "I feel like you are talking about Inbee Park."

Park, the 30-year-old Korean who has seven majors and two U.S. Open titles among her 19 career wins, is a popular choice to win the first $1 million first prize for the Women's Open this week.

That may depend on her putter, normally a strength for her.

"I haven't really been putting well this year at all," said Park, who is just 24th on the LPGA money list this season. "I have been striking the ball really, really good this year, probably better than any other years on Tour. Just the putter wasn't really there.

"That's really been the disappointing part of my game this year."

Park is part of a strong Korean contingent that includes No. 1-ranked Jin Young Ko, No. 3 Sung Hyun Park and No. 9 Sei Young Kim.

Others to watch:

• The coolest name in the 156-player field might belong to Japan's Nasa Hataoka, who actually was named after the NASA space program, because her mother wanted her to dream big.

Hataoka, just 20 years old, has taken off like a NASA rocket and already is ranked No. 5 in the world and No. 9 on the LPGA money list. She was top 10 at her first Open last year, and already has won this season at the Kia Classic, with a tie for second last week at the Pure Silk.

Lexi Thompson is the top-ranked American in the world at No. 8, and is seeking her second major title. The 24-year-old has been up and down  this season, with two top 5 finishes and two missed cuts in her last four starts.

After missing the cut last week, Thompson spent time at Florida with her father, working on her game.

"Everything, we worked on everything," Thompson said. "We worked probably five to seven hours each day just practicing ... a lot of work around the greens, and a lot of ball-striking work and putting as well."

• The top-ranked player in the world is South Korea's Jin Young Ko, a 23-year-old who joined the LPGA Tour last year and already has four victories. She won her LPGA debut at the Women's Australian Open and has won twice this season with six top 5 finishes.

• The defending Open champ is Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, ranked No. 4 in the world and a popular figure at the Country Club this seek. Jutanugarn is in just her fourth year on Tour, but already has won 10 titles and two majors.

Her older sister, Moriya Jutanugarn, is ranked also in the field and is ranked No. 21

• One of the hottest players on the LPGA Tour this year has been Canada's Brooke Henderson, who is No. 3 on the money list and won the Lotte Championship before finishing second last week at the Pure Silk Championship.

Henderson has three top 25 finishes in the Open, including a tie for fifth in 2015.

• Looking for a Palmetto State player? There's Seneca's Austin Ernst, who is No. 35 in the world, played college golf at LSU and has won once on Tour.

nelly korda

Nelly Korda hits her tee shot on the 15th hole during a practice round at the 2019 U.S. Women's Open at Country Club of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

• Behind only Lexi Thompson among Americans in the world rankings, sisters Nelly Korda and Jessica Korda are ranked 12th and 13th, respectively. They are the daughters of former pro tennis player Petr Korda.

Nelly, the younger sister at age 20, won this year at the ISPS Handa Australian and made the top 10 at last year's Open. Jessica, age 26, has won five times on Tour and was tied for 7th at the 2013 Open.

• Some experts think the Country Club might favor a European player, and there are a trio of Brits who might be poised for a breakthrough. Georgia Hall, Charley Hull and Bronte Law are all ranked in the top 20, and Law won for the first time on Tour last week at the Pure Silk Championship.

Bronte Law

Bronte Law hits a pitch shot on the first hole during a practice round at the 2019 U.S. Women's Open at Country Club of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

• Australia's Minjin Lee is ranked No. 2 in the world and has won five times on Tour. But she's never made the top 10 at the Women's Open.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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