Ernst looks to defend Portland Classic title

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Austin Ernst is back at Columbia Edgewater a year after her breakthrough victory in the LPGA Tour's Cambia Portland Classic.

''It gave me more confidence. Through the rest of the year after I won, I had a really solid end of the season. I felt like I played better this year,'' Ernst said Wednesday, a day before play begins. ''Now I think that bar is kind of raised just because I know what I can accomplish.''

Last year, Ernst beat I.K. Kim with a par on the first hole of a playoff for her first tour title. Since winning, Ernst has three top-10 finishes in 24 tournaments. This season, her best finish is a tie for fifth at the ShopRite Classic in May.

Second-ranked Lydia Ko also in the field along with No. 6 Suzann Pettersen, the Norwegian star who is trying to win the event for a record--tying third time. She won in 2011 and 2013.

''If you hit the ball well here, you can give yourself a lot of looks,'' Pettersen said. ''You can really take advantage of the par 5s. Overall, it's a good, classic golf course. I mean, if what you see is what you like, you're in good shape.''

Ko, a two-time winner this season, is making her first appearance in Portland.

''I really like the course,'' Ko said. ''You can get really creative on this course. It's a golf course where you can use different types of clubs in the bag. ... the course being in good condition, makes it even better. If the course is in really good condition, you tend to like it.''

No. 3 Stacy Lewis, who missed last year's Portland stop, was second in 2013 after going 72 holes without making a bogey.

''It's something I'd like to do again,'' Lewis said.

The U.S. Solheim Cup team is a subplot to the Portland Classic. Only two LPGA Tour tournaments remain before the U.S. team is set. The top eight players in the Solheim Cup standings, the top two in the world rankings not among the top eight in the standings, and two captain's picks will make up the 12-player team for the Sept. 18-20 matches against Europe in Germany.

Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome and Morgan Pressel have wrapped up berths. Players ranking seven through 25 in the Solheim Cup standings, including No. 7 Angela Stanford and No. 8 Gerina Piller, are playing in Portland.

During the tournament, players are wearing pins and ribbons honoring LPGA pioneer Louise Suggs, who died Friday at 91. Suggs, an 11-time major winner, was an LPGA founding member in 1950.

Portland is a center for women's golf this week, as it is also the stage for this week's U.S. Women's Amateur at Portland Golf Club. Seven former amateur champions are in the LPGA Tour field, including Ko (2012) and Pressel (2005).

The tournament is in its 44th year, making it the tour's longest-running non-major event.

The tournament will be played at Columbia Edgewater, a par-72, 6,476-yard course, for the second year in a row and the 28th time. The event returned to the North Portland course in 2013, after a four-year run at Pumpkin Ridge.

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