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Golf notes: LPGA kicks off golf’s major season

While everyone gets amped up for next week’s Masters, golf’s major championship season actually starts on Thursday, with the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first of the LPGA Tour’s four majors.

Like the men’s first major, the ladies are playing the same course: Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., with the eventual winner expected to jump into the pond guarding the 18th green, a tradition that began 30 years ago.

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Stacy Lewis took that plunge two years ago for her first LPGA title. Now she has seven, and along with those came two achievements that had been quite elusive for American women: She was named the LPGA Tour’s player of the year last season, and last month overtook Yani Tseng as the No. 1-ranked player in women’s golf.

Now she’s the heavy favorite at the Kraft, starting the season with two victories, a tie for third, tie for ninth, and tie for 15th in five starts. Lewis is the logical choice, but I.K. Kim might be the sentimental one. Kim missed a 14-inch putt on the 72d hole that would have given her a victory in last year’s Kraft.

Speaking of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, starting in 2014, the most outstanding Division 1 female college golfer will receive the Annika Award, named for Annika Sorenstam, winner of the 1991 NCAA individual title. Winners of the award will be given exemptions into the Kraft Nabisco.

Win and you’re in

There is only one way for a player not currently part of the Masters field to play his way into next week’s tournament at Augusta National, and that’s to win this week’s Valero Texas Open. Four players earned their Masters invitations on Monday: D.A. Points for winning the Shell Houston Open, plus Fredrik Jacobson, Henrik Stenson, and Richard Sterne for landing in the top 50 of the world golf rankings at the Masters cutoff point. That leaves the field at 93. Even if the number gets bumped to 94, it will be the smallest Masters field since 2008, when 94 started; if it’s 93 or lower who begin play next Thursday, it’ll mark the lowest number of Masters participants since 90 teed it up in 2006 . . . Credit the Texas Open for offering Marcel Siem a sponsor’s exemption, and give just as much credit to Siem for accepting. A German who plays on the European Tour, Siem won the Trophee Hassan in Morocco on Sunday, and thought it would be enough to push him into the top 50 in the world, thus qualifying him for his first Masters. But when Points won the Houston Open and Stenson tied for second, both players jumped into the top 50, leaving Siem at No. 51. So the Texas Open reached out to Siem, he accepted, flew across the Atlantic, and now has one final chance to add the 2013 Masters to his schedule. He’ll have to win in Texas . . . All 14 tournaments on the PGA Tour this season have one thing in common: American winners. Tiger Woods (three times), Dustin Johnson, Russell Henley, Brian Gay, Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, John Merrick, Matt Kuchar, Michael Thompson, Scott Brown, Kevin Streelman, and Points account for the 14. It’s the longest season-opening run by the Yanks since 1984; going back to last season, Americans have captured 16 consecutive PGA Tour events, the longest streak since 2006, when US players won 17 straight . . . Connecticut native J.J. Henry has had an unforgettable week, even before he began play at the Texas Open. Henry, paired with President George W. Bush in a Monday pro-am in Dallas, made a hole-in-one and won a Mercedes.

Junior circuit

Last week, we passed along options for those interested in playing competitive amateur golf, no matter the skill level. This week, let’s do the same for interested junior golfers. The New England PGA Junior Tour offers more than 90 tournaments for ages 9-21. Membership is $125, which includes golf balls, hat, towel, bag tag, and rule book. To sign up, or for details and the 2013 schedule, visit www.nepga.com/juniorgolf . . . Sunday marksthe opening event on the US Kids Golf Boston Spring Tour, which features six tournaments, concluding with the spring championship at Glen Ellen Country Club on May 18. The US Kids Golf Boston Summer Tour follows, offering eight tentative tournaments. For information, visit www.uskidsgolf.com . . . Hard to believe, but the deadline for the first Massachusetts Golf Association event is Thursday. Those interested in playing in the Massachusetts Senior Four-Ball Championship, which is May 6-7 at Stow Acres, must get their entries in by 5 p.m. The tournament is for players age 55 and over, and each two-man team must have a combined handicap index of 12.0 or better. To apply, visit www.mgalinks.org . . .Granite Links Golf Club will hold its annual Multi Vendor Demo Day on April 13 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Clubs and shoes will be available for testing . . . With the calendar finally flipping to April, any score from a Massachusetts course can now be posted for handicap purposes. According to the folks at the GHIN, then, golf season is officially upon us.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.
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