- Associated Press - Thursday, May 31, 2012

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. For the LPGA Tour, however, summer begins this weekend, fittingly enough at a shore resort.

Twenty-one of the top 25 players in the world rankings will take the course Friday, as the ShopRite LPGA Classic begins at the Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, just a few miles from Atlantic City.

The 54-hole affair marks the start of a stretch of five tournaments over the next six weeks, two of them major championships. Brittany Lincicome will defend her title against 143 challengers who will be going after a $1.5 million purse. The champion will collect $225,000.

The field features all seven players who have won official LPGA events so far this season, including top-ranked Yani Tseng, along with Ai Miyazato, Stacy Lewis, Sun Young Yoo, Angela Stanford, Jessica Korda, and Azahara Munoz.

It also includes Morgan Pressel, fresh off her semifinal loss to Munoz at the Sybase Match Play Championship two weeks ago in an event that saw Pressel penalized for slow play.

Cristie Kerr hasn’t won a tournament in nearly two years, since the 2010 Wegmans LPGA Championship, but she’s known success at Seaview in years past. Kerr won here in 2004 and tied for second last year, one shot behind Lincicome. She also tied for third here in 2001, and has two top-10 finishes this season.

Kerr has a familiar face on her bag this week. She’s reunited with Worth Blackwelder, who caddied for her earlier in her career. In fact, Blackwelder worked with Kerr when she won this tournament eight years ago, one of five victories the two have as a team.

“I like to be part of the team,” Kerr said. “Yes, I drive the ship, but I like to have a teammate out there. You need them to obviously get the information correct and be able to judge conditions and to know your game.

“So you’ve got to get information correct and you have to have somebody that knows your game and kind of knows how you tick, and you have to have somebody that’s positive because things aren’t always going to go well. You need to have somebody that’s a support structure as well. Worth’s got all of that.”

The 34-year old Kerr is fifth in the world rankings and the highest-rated American. She points out that it’s become more difficult for American players to stand out on a tour that has truly become a global one.

“I think really, honestly, in the last couple years I think we have stepped up,” she said. “Angela’s won this year. Stacy’s won this year. I have not won in over a year now, and I’m looking to get back into the winner’s circle.

“You say I’m the top-ranked American. I have to work hard to keep that. There are a lot of talented people out here and I don’t discount that.”

Lewis also has her sights set on being the top American player. The 27-year old, who is currently ranked seventh in the world, picked up her second career victory at the Mobile LPGA Classic in Alabama in late April, the last time the LPGA conducted a full-field event.

Her first win came 14 months ago at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

“It was satisfying just to win again,” she said, “and to be in contention and have that feeling again. I guess it kind of proves to people that I’m here to stay and want to keep winning.”

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