DEFENDING champion Ariya Jutanugarn is determined to retain the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open title on her return to East Lothian.

Jutanugarn, who won the tournament in spectacular fashion last year at Gullane Golf Club, is back on the Golf Coast this week to defend her title at the first women’s professional golf event to be hosted at The Renaissance Club, Dirleton.

It takes place just three weeks after the men’s Scottish Open at the same venue.

Thailand’s Jutanugarn, the current Rolex Rankings No. 4, is one of the most consistent performers with 10 LPGA career victories to her name.

Over the last two seasons, she has been particularly steady, having spent more than 20 weeks as world number one, winning four times worldwide and recording 14 top five finishes.

She said: “Every victory for me is special but to win in the ‘Home of Golf’ is something every golfer wants to achieve in their career.

“The Scottish fans were so supportive last year and they really spurred me on when it was tight down the closing holes.

“Aberdeen Standard Investments and VisitScotland put on an amazing tournament and I’m looking forward to defending my title at The Renaissance Club.”

Joining her in the 156-strong player field, competing for $1.5 million, are fellow major champions Georgia Hall and North Berwick’s Catriona Matthew who captured the Women’s British Open in 2018 and 2009 respectively.

Hall, a 23-year old from Bournemouth, will be making her fifth consecutive appearance in the tournament having recorded two top 10 finishes.

While Team Europe Solheim Cup captain Matthew is no stranger to the event, having lifted the trophy in 2011 and 2013 at neighbouring Archerfield Links.

Matthew is set to make her ninth appearance and heads to her national Open with an additional motive in mind.

She said: “I always look forward to playing in my home Open – it’s one of my favourite events of the year so from a personal perspective my goals this year are no different. The tournament means a lot to me and to win so close to home and in front of friends and family is an exciting prospect.

“I will, though, certainly be keeping an eye on who is performing well with my Solheim Cup captain’s hat on as this event is the last in a 24-month qualification process and I will be looking to take the strongest team possible to Gleneagles.”

The co-sanctioned Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open is the final Solheim Cup qualifying event for Team Europe with the full team announced at Gleneagles on Monday.

Martin Gilbert, chairman of Aberdeen Standard Investments, said: “We are pleased to welcome Ariya back to defend her Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open title. We always strive to host the world’s best international champions and Ariya, Catriona and Georgia certainly fit the bill.

“Ariya has won titles all around the world and her performance last year proved just how strong the women’s professional game is right now.

“The tournament is continuing to grow and showcase the world’s best talent to not only Scottish spectators but to a global audience.”

Entry to the event is free of charge, with play getting under way this morning (Thursday) and the competition running until Sunday.