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Karen Stupples stars at Kent tournament

The Robe di Kappa Ladies European Tour (LET) returns to Chart Hills GC in Kent this week for the €165,000 Ladies English Open (LEO), from July 8-10.

Headlining this year's star field is the reigning Weetabix Women's British Open Champion Karen Stupples, who hails from the nearby coastal town of Deal and Laura Davies, from England . Both will be vying for their national title at the prestigious Nick Faldo-designed layout.

Dover-born Stupples will be playing virtually in her own back garden and she is joined by a top-class array of former Solheim Cup stars including Patricia Meunier Lebouc from France, Catriona Matthew and Janice Moodie from Scotland , as well as the defending champion Maria Hjorth, from Sweden .

Davies, the most successful female British golfer of all time with 66 professional victories and four major titles to her name, will be determined to secure her first win of the season in front of her home supporters, as will Stupples, who romped to a five-shot victory around Sunningdale's Old Course last July to win her first major championship.

Davies last won the event in 1996, before it was successfully brought back to the LET schedule last season.

She and Stupples last played together on the LET in the Women's World Cup of Golf at Fancourt G&CC in South Africa in February and will each have no bigger incentive than to secure a home victory at one of the Tour's flagship tournaments.

They will also both be keen to head up Europe's defence of this year's Solheim Cup at Crooked Stick in Indiana, from 9-11 September and will be vying for the valuable points that come with a top-ten finish. Davies has played in every Solheim Cup since 1990, and will be aiming for her ninth Cup appearance, while Stupples will be aiming for a debut.

With a host of other experienced Solheim Cup stars in the Ladies English Open field as well as some keen young hopefuls from Europe , they will face a tough but fair challenge this week.

Linda Wessberg from Sweden , Gwladys Nocera from France, Italian Veronica Zorzi and Finland 's Minea Blomqvist, will all be eager to enhance their bids for Solheim Cup debuts.

Matthew, from Edinburgh , who holed the winning putt for Europe at Barsebäck G&CC in Sweden in 2003, will be a stern contender for the English title, as will Meunier-Lebouc from Dijon .

Like Stupples and Davies, the French woman is a proven major winner having claimed victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2003.

Yet all will have a tough task to beat the records set by the defending champion Hjorth, who stormed to a six shot victory over Joanne Mills from Australia at last year's Ladies English Open.

The tall blonde Swede finally had her breakthrough victory after eight years as a professional with a stunning course record equalling 64 in the final round last year. She finished at nineteen-under-par for the tournament and in doing so broke the eight-year-old Tour record for a 54-hole total. With that exciting finish, she earned a place in the $2.5 million Evian Masters and the £1.04 million Weetabix Women's British Open at Sunningdale three weeks later.

It was here that Stupples became an overnight house hold name, becoming the first home winner of the Weetabix Women's British Open in 13 years.

"The support from the crowd was absolutely amazing," said Stupples, who went into the final round at Sunningdale trailing by a shot to Rachel Teske.

"People who didn't even know me too well came out with flags, cheering me on. It was like nothing else I'd experienced before. They gave me an extra edge. Everyone wanted me to win and I could feel them willing me on. The other players could feel it too, so it not only helped me but it hurt them."

Stupples flew out of the blocks starting eagle albatross in the first two holes on the final day. She went on to post 64 and win by five shots, with a nineteen-under-par total.

"It was amazing walking onto the 18th green knowing that I had the tournament in the bag. I was able to really enjoy the moment and just absorb the atmosphere. Everybody pretty much knew I'd won by then and it was a really special feeling. I'm getting goose bumps even now, just thinking about it!" she said.

"I knew I wanted to go out and play with an aggressive style and I certainly did that," admitted Stupples, who became the first woman in history to post an albatross in a Major championship.

"I hit a five iron to make eagle on the first so after a good drive on the second I took five-iron again. After that I knew it was just a question of bounce, but I couldn't see a thing. Then I heard the crowd clapping and I thought 'Oh my God, I must've holed it.' It was incredible, I mean, who does that?"

Last year's Ladies English Open provided just the preparation she needed going into the busiest and most important part of the season.

 "Coming to Chart Hills last year and playing so well stood me in good stead for Sunningdale.

"I had my family there watching and I was able to go out with them at night and really enjoy myself.

"I used to think that I had to be away from those situations in order to play at my best. But it proved to me that I could play quality golf and have a good time as well. It gave me the tools I needed to win at Sunningdale."

This year at the Ladies English Open, a huge amount is at stake once again and it promises to be a thrilling week with so many talented players present.

"Any week can be anybody's tournament, I came close last year, now I want to win it!" said Stupples.

She added: "I played Chart Hills for the first time last year and I really like it. It's a lot like an American course in its set up - it's well bunkered and has water featuring all around the course.

"The Ladies European Tour did a great job with the Ladies English Open at Chart Hills last year and I'm looking forward to playing there again."


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