Monday, September 22, 2014

Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Sunday: Mi Jung Hur Turns Tables on Stacy Lewis

When Golf Channel coverage of the final round of the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic started, it looked like world #1 Stacy Lewis was going to charge past leader Mi Jung Hur.  Lewis had birdied 4 of her 1st 8 holes to get to -15, only 1 behind Hur after she bogeyed the 7th; the margin stayed 1 as Lewis birdied 10 and Hur 9 and again as Lewis birdied 13 and Hur 11.  But Hur simply outplayed Lewis down the home stretch, as she kept sticking approach after approach and sinking birdie after birdie as Lewis started burning edges, spinning out, and flat-out missing great birdie opportunities.  In the end, Hur's sweet 66 enabled her to set a tournament record at -21, beating Lewis by 4 shots.  Hur's 2nd career LPGA victory and 1st since 2009 continued the recent South Korean surge on both the LPGA and JLPGA, as Ji-Yai Shin had earlier lived up to her Final Round Queen nickname to join Evian Championship winner Hyo Joo Kim as the only 4-time winners this season in the wold of major-tour professional women's golf.

But plenty of other golfers had plenty to celebrate yesterday.  Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Moriya Jutanugarn, and Kim Kaufman moved into the top 50 on the money list, ensuring they can play as many events as they like in the tour's fall Asian swing.  At #61, Kris Tamulis might get a chance to play in some of those tournaments, as well.  3rd-place finisher Paula Reto assured herself of full status on tour next season, while Karin Sjodin, Cydney Clanton, Stacey Keating, and Perrine Delacour got themselves some kind of status for 2015 even if they don't play well in Q-School or choose not to enter it.  Plus, 10 golfers guaranteed themselves full membership by graduating from the Symetra Tour.  Oh, and the tour's Japanese contingent played well this week (except for Chie Arimura), so they should be getting pretty psyched for the Japan Women's Open in 2 weeks.  So there's plenty of congratulations to go around!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Sunday: Ji-Yai Shin Wins for 4th Time in Her Last 9 JLPGA Starts

The cliche may go that "when the cat's away, the mice will play," but it didn't hold true on the JLPGA today.  With Bo-Mee Lee and Sun-Ju Ahn, the 1-2 players on the tour's money list, both deciding not to play this week at the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic, 22-year-old Mami Fukuda had a great chance for her best-ever finish and possibly even a win.  But when you're being chased by #3 Misuzu Narita and #4 Ji-Yai Shin (who's also a former world #1!), you'd better bring your A-game.  Fukuda did not, making an early and a late double that knocked her out of contention.

Maybe the cliche should go, "when some cats are away, other cats will play," instead?  Because even as Fukuda fell from -10 to -7 with a birdieless 39 on the front, Shin birdied the par-3 6th and par-4 9th to move to -11.  That's around the time former LPGAer Na-Ri Kim bogeyed her last 3 holes on the front in a row to fall back to -8 and Na-Ri Lee caught Rui Kitada at -9.  While Esther Lee was making a charge from 8 groups ahead of the final threesome to move into contention--her 5 birdies in her 1st 7 holes on the back got her to -11--Shin kept making pars.  That also opened the door to Na-Ri Lee, who birdied the par-4 10th and par-5 12th from 2 groups ahead of Shin's to also move to -11, along with Kitada, who moved to -10 with a birdie on the par-3 11th.

Things got kicked up a notch after Esther Lee parred out to become leader in the clubhouse at -11.  Na-Ri Lee responded with an eagle on the par-5 15th to move to -13, which Kitada birdied to move to -11 and then Shin did the same to get to -12.  So it was a 3-player race over the final 3 holes to finish ahead of Esther Lee.  And who should win it but the Final Round Queen, who birdied the 194-yard par-3 16th and 331-yard par-4 17th to move to -14?  As first Na-Ri Lee and then Kitada parred out, all Shin needed for her 4th win in her last 9 JLPGA starts was a par on the 367-yard 18th hole.  When she did it, she had secured her 9th career JLPGA victory and joined Hyo Joo Kim as the 2nd 4-time winner in 2014 in the entire world of major-tour women's professional golf.

She also moved to #2 on the JLPGA money list.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Ji-Yai Shin ¥92.53M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
4. Misuzu Narita ¥86.06M
5. Miki Sakai ¥62.55M
6. Esther Lee ¥52.54M
7. Erina Hara ¥50.65M
8. Na-Ri Lee ¥47.84M
9. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
10. Lala Anai ¥46.45M
11. Ayaka Watanabe ¥45.25M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥44.61M
13. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥44.56M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥38.35M
15. Rikako Morita ¥37.79M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥36.51M
17. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥36.01M
18. Ai Suzuki ¥33.05M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥32.23M
20. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
21. Ji-Hee Lee ¥30.91M
22. Phoebe Yao ¥28.80M
23. Mayu Hattori ¥27.93M
24. Kaori Ohe ¥27.12M
25. Hikari Fujita ¥26.31M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥25.47M
27. Sakura Yokomine ¥24.42M
28. Asako Fujimoto ¥24.23M
29. Erika Kikuchi ¥23.22M
30. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥22.92M
31. Rumi Yoshiba ¥22.85M
32. Junko Omote ¥22.66M
33. Mami Fukuda ¥22.45M
34. Yukari Baba ¥22.10M
35. Kotono Kozuma ¥22.00M
36. Megumi Kido ¥21.42M
37. Mamiko Higa ¥20.81M
38. Na-Ri Kim ¥20.64M
39. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
40. Soo-Yun Kang ¥19.26M
41. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
42. Akane Iijima ¥18.72M
43. Rui Kitada ¥18.55M
44. Miki Saiki ¥17.84M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥17.25M
46. Yukari Nishiyama ¥17.03M
47. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.92M
48. Nana Yamashiro ¥15.06M
49. Da-Ye Na ¥14.56M
50. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M

The Korean resurgence is a worldwide thing, as 5 Koreans are now in the top 8 on the JLPGA, while last years stars Rikako Morita, Sakura Yokomine, Yumiko Yoshida, and Miki Saiki are being left in the dust, along with returnee Momoko Ueda.  True, defending champion Yokomine charged into the top 10 today on the strength of a fine 67 and Saiki into the top 20 with a great 68, but they need to be getting themselves into contention down the home stretch with regularity if they want to have a shot at even the top 10 on the money list at season's end.  

Next up is the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open, the last tune-up before the JLPGA's 3rd major and biggest tournament of 2014, the Japan Women's Open.  Looks like Shin is taking a break, but we should see Lee, Ahn, and Teresa Lu back in action.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Saturday: Mi Jung Hur Catches Paula Reto at -15, 4-Up on Stacy Lewis and Kris Tamulis

Mi Jung Hur fired a 6-birdie 67 to catch 2nd-round leader of the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Paula Reto atop the leaderboard at -15, 4 shots clear of Stacy Lewis (who was -4 and bogey-free over her last 14 holes) and Kris Tamulis (whose bogey-free 65 was the low round of the day).

Hur, who was tied with Lewis for the lead after the 1st round, fired a bogey-free 32 on the back to reel in the surprising South African rookie, who bounced back from a bogey on the par-4 4th, a double on the par-3 7th, and another bogey on the par-4 11th with birdies on 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, and 17.  Both Hur and Reto have hit 45 greens in 54 holes, but while Reto has made 21 birdies to Hur's 18, Hur has taken 7 fewer overall putts than Reto.  If the 2 unlikely co-leaders keep this up tomorrow, everyone else will be playing for 3rd.

Moriya Jutanugarn squandered a whole bunch of great looks at birdie today, or she'd be right with Lewis and Tamulis, but T5 at -8 with Alison Walshe is nothing to sneeze at.  Me, I'll be rooting for Ayako Uehara (-7), Ai Miyazato (-6), and Mika Miyazato (-4) to go low tomorrow.  The Miyazatos were both -7 late on the back, but Mikan tripled the par-5 17th and Ai-sama bogeyed the par-4 18th she had birdied the previous 2 rounds.  Uehara, meanwhile, has been unable to reach her high-water mark this week of -8 through 31 holes, as the 3 birdies she made on the front today were not enough to offset the 4 bogeys she made in that 14-hole stretch, and parring out on the back left her 8 behind the leaders.

As for the race for the top 100 on the LPGA money list, things aren't looking too good for Paz Echeverria (DNP) and Jee Young Lee (MC), who look very likely to get passed by Joanna Klatten (#100, -1) and Reto (#105, -15).  With Becky Morgan (#106, -4), Karin Sjodin (#119, -6), Stacey Keating (#126, -6), Perrine Delacour (#127, -7), and Cydney Clanton (#145, -6) in the hunt for big paychecks, that means even Alena Sharp (#97, +1) and Yueer Cindy Feng (#96, +7) have to focus on making enough money this week to pass Ashleigh Simon, Kristy McPherson, and Lindsey Wright (all of whom missed the cut) to ensure they stay in the top 100.  Conceivably, 1 of those 5 players could be the odd one out if everyone behind them playing well thus far this week continues to do so tomorrow.

So there's a lot at stake for a lot of players in the final round.  Reto is trying to become the 3rd rookie to enter the winner's circle in 2014; Hur is trying to close a deal she's been unable to the last few weeks and nail down LPGA victory #2; Lewis is out to widen her lead in the money-list, Player of the Year, and CME Globe races; Tamulis is out to graduate from journeywoman status.  And then a whole bunch of golfers are doing everything they can to avoid Q-School.  Should be very interesting!

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Saturday: 22-Year-Old Mami Fukuda Vaults into Lead with 29 on Back

22-year-old Mami Fukuda took a ride on the birdie train for 6 holes and capped it off with another on the 18th hole to post a 29 on the back 9 and a 64 for the day.  That run was just enough to move her into 1st place at the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic at -10 through 36 holes.  Fukuda charged past Ji-Yai Shin, whose 7-birdie 67 seemed merely mortal, and Na-Ri Kim, whose bogey-free 68 was, you know, just fine by comparison.  And she held off Onnarin Sattayabanphot, whose bogey-free 63 was sparked by an eagle on the 493-yard par-5 5th and also included a 31 on the back.

Fukuda leads Shin, Kim, and Sattayabanphot by 1, Misuzu Narita and 1st-round leader Rui Kitada by 2, and Na-Ri Lee by 3 heading into tomorrow's final round.  Also in this are Momoko Ueda (4 back after going 69-69), Ai Suzuki (5 back after a 71-68 start), and perhaps even Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-70), Sakura Yokomine (70-71), Mamiko Higa (71-71), and Miki Saiki (70-73).  Missing the cut, however, was last year's money-list leader Rikako Morita, so not all the big names in the field will be in the mix.

We're not quite getting the free-for-all we anticipated between the top 4 players on the JLPGA, but #4 Shin leads #3 Narita by a shot with 18 holes left to play, so there's plenty of time for a showdown to emerge.  Fukuda, meanwhile, has a great chance for her 1st win on tour and 1st top 10 since the KKT Cup Vantelin Ladies back in April (which 15-year-old Minami Katsu won).  She had 4 top 10s in her 1st 7 starts this season, including a career-best finish of T3 at the T-Point Ladies, but has had only 1 top 20 and 3 top 25s in her last 18 starts, with 5 missed cuts in that run.  Maybe we'll see David take on a pair of JLPGA goliaths tomorrow!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Friday: Paula Reto Goes Low Again, Takes 4-Shot Lead on Stacy Lewis

Paula Reto followed up yesterday's bogey-free 65 at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic with a 66 today that was sparked by 5 birdies in her last 7 holes.  When you look at her performance stats--averaging 275 yards off the tee, only 4 missed fairways and 4 missed greens, only 56 putts, and 15 birdies over her 1st 36 holes--you can see why so far she's left the field in the dust.  Even world #1 Stacy Lewis, who's no slouch in the birdies department with 13 already thus week, is 4 shots behind her thanks to 2 early bogeys and 2 late ones.  1st-round co-leader with Lewis, Mi Jung Hur, is E through her 1st 6 holes and still -8 overall.  Nobody else on the course right now is closer than 8 behind Reto's pace.

Looking over Reto's performance stats in this her rookie year, it's looking like improved accuracy, both off the tee and with her approaches, is the key factor.  It stands to reason that more and better looks at birdies will lead to more of them, but to improve from 2.76 birdies per round over the course of 46 previous rounds to 7.50 over these 2 means that the South African golfer is making way more of her birdie opportunities.  It's doubtful she can sustain that pace over the next 36 holes, but you never know.  Robert Trent Jones courses are set up to give you a lot of birdie opportunities if you're hitting the ball long and straight and making good clubbing selections to the correct parts of the gigantic green complexes.

For now, though, let's see who can make a move on Reto from the afternoon wave--if anyone.  There aren't that many hot starts out there right now!  More later!

[Update 1 (3:38 pm):  Looking ahead again just for a moment, Reto had the best finish of her LPGA career in her last event; with 3 rounds in the 60s, she got a top 10 in Portland.  But moving day was tough on her, as she shot a 74.  Let's see how she handles it this week!]

[Update 2 (8:48 pm):  Hur ended up getting to -10 and solo 2nd.  Nice to see Sydnee Michaels putting together a sweet 65 that included 5 birdies in her last 7 holes to move to T4 at -7 with Moriya Jutanugarn (69) and Alison Walshe (68).  But what made me even happier was Ai Miyazato's 67, which shows yet again what she's capable of when she gets her putter going!  At the same time, I felt bad for Ayako Uehara, who got it to -8 with 5 holes to play but bogeyed 3 of them.  Feeling much worse, though, for Chie Arimura, who missed the cut by a single shot and will need to play great in the Mizuno to have a chance to get into the top 100 and avoid Q-School.  On the bright side, my buddy Moira Dunn made the cut with a 7-birdie 69 to keep her hopes of getting into the top 100 alive.  Nice 69 by Tiffany Joh, too!]

[Update 3 (9:10 pm):  Here's the rundown of those closest to #100:

90. Jaye Marie Green $88.4K (71-76, MC)
91. Kelly Tan $88.1K [not in Yokohama field]
92. Alison Walshe $85.4K (69-68, T4)
93. Lindsey Wright $84.7K (75-75, MC)
94. Kristy McPherson $83.9K (75-75, MC)
95. Ashleigh Simon $78.3K (72-77, MC)
96. Yueer Cindy Feng $77.6K (70-75, T64)
97. Alena Sharp $75.3K (72-74, T70)
98. Paz Echeverria $75.0K [not in Yokohama field]
99. Jee Young Lee $74.8K (74-75, MC)
100. Joanna Klatten $72.7K (69-74, T45)
***
101. Alejandra Llaneza $66.1K (71-79, MC)
102. Lisa McCloskey $66.0K (71-74, T64)
103. Chie Arimura $62.8K (75-72, MC)
104. Hee-Won Han $61.1K [retired]
105. Paula Reto $58.4K (65-66, 1st)
106. Becky Morgan $57.7K (72-69, T28)
107. Paola Moreno $57.0K (73-71, T55)
108. Rebecca Lee-Bentham $51.9K (72-75, MC)
109. Jennifer Kirby $51.7K (74-76, MC)
110. Felicity Johnson $50.8K (71-78, MC)


One way of looking at this is that only 4 players have a good chance of leapfrogging those already in the top 100 this week.  But lower down the money list, Jacqui Concolino, Giulia Molinaro, Karin Sjodin, Jane Rah, Stacey Keating, Perrine Delacour, Kathleen Ekey, Cydney Clanton, Louise Friberg, Julia Boland, Heather Bowie Young, and Hanna Kang are under par at the halfway point, while Jenny Suh, Sandra Changkija, Moira Dunn, Ryann O'Toole, Brianna Do, and Reilley Rankin made the cut.  Of course, the further down the money list you are, the higher you have to finish, so the pressure's really on these 18 players this weekend.  But at least their fate is in their hands!]

[Update 4 (9:18 pm):  Hard to believe it's even possible for Lexi to shoot 44 on the front at a place she won not so long ago, but it happened and she's done for the week.  Cristie Kerr would have missed the cut thanks to missed 8-foot par save on 18, but the cut line came down to her at +2.  Julieta Granada also survived despite taking 37 putts today!]

[Update 5 (9:22 pm):  Caroline Westrup had a fine 67 to tie Ai-sama for the 3rd-best round of the day.  Reto has had the 2nd-best score each of the 1st 2 days.  She keeps that up and she wins.]

[Update 6 (9:30 pm):  Lots of my non-Japanese faves having good weeks, too:  Jane Park (-6), Mina Harigae (-3), Tiffany Joh (-2), even Jennifer Song (+1)!]

[Update 7 (9:38 pm):  And let's not count out Brittany Lincicome (-5) and Angela Stanford (68-->E)!]

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Friday: Rui Kitada Leads; Bo-Mee Lee, Sun-Ju Ahn, Teresa Lu DNS

Rui Kitada fired a bogey-free 66 to take the 1st-round lead at the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic by a shot over Misuzu Narita, Na-Ri Lee, Na-Ri Kim, and Rumi Yoshiba, 2 over Ji-Yai Shin and Megumi Shimokawa, and 3 over a group of golfers led by Momoko Ueda.

But just as big a story as what happened on the course is who never got to it.  Money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee, #2 Sun-Ju Ahn, and #7 Teresa Lu were only some of the players who never started their rounds.  It's not like Kitada, whose 6th career JLPGA victory came back in 2010, is going to have a cake-walk over the weekend.  Sakura Yokomine, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Miki Saiki, Ayaka Watanabe, and Kumiko Kaneda are only 4 off the pace, while last week's major winner Ai Suzuki and last season's Rookie of the Year Mamiko Higa are only 5 behind.  We'll have to wait till tomorrow to see if anyone further back can move into contention, too.  I'm hoping last year's money-list title-holder Rikako Morita (74) makes a big move in the right direction on moving day!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Thursday: Strike While the Iron Is Hot!

Mi Jung Hur went low today at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic, opening with a bogey-free 64 to take a 2-shot lead on Cydney Clanton and a 3-shot lead on Beatriz Recari, Christina Kim, Ilhee Lee, and Kris Tamulis.  Hur has been playing great golf pretty much since I followed her at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  She's had 5 rounds in the 60s out of her last 9 and 7 under-par rounds in her last 12.  Should I start talking about a Mostly Harmless bump instead of a Mostly Harmless jinx?  We'll have to see how she backs up this 8-birdie, 25-putt extravaganza over the next 54 holes, but it's really amazing how she's found something so suddenly.

And how about Mika Miyazato making 6 birdies and taking only 26 putts on her way to a 68, her best round since June 1st at the ShopRite?!

I think as golf writers we can make too much of trends and slumps and stats and forget that all these players are capable of doing great things at any time.  Pros have to be so opportunistic about their good shots, good runs, good rounds, and good weeks.  Strike while the iron is hot ought to be the motto of the tournament this week!

By the same token, golf remains a really cruel game, and even someone like Angela Stanford, who's had great success at this tournament, can go +5 in a 7-hole stretch and need a walkoff birdie to salvage a 76, as she did today.  Let's see if she can go on a tear tomorrow.

But before then let's see who's going to shine on Golf Channel today.  I may even get to watch this thing live if I can get a lot of work-related writing done in the next hour and a half.  I'll be back!

[Update 1 (9/19/14, 7:02 am):  Ah, I got caught up in writing and researching other things.  Hoping to find the time to catch Stacy Lewis's bogey-free 66, which was sparked by 5 birdies in her last 6 holes!  It'll be interesting to see how Paula Reto (65, #105 on LPGA money list), Karin Sjodin (66, #119), Cydney Clanton (66, #145), Joanna Klatten (69, #100), and Maria McBride (69, #154) follow up their great opening rounds today, too.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Picks for the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic

Even with the Seoul Sisters site down the last few days, I'm assuming the PakPicker competition goes on.  So here are my picks for the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic, the last full-field event of 2014 on tour.

1. Lewis, Stacy
2. Lincicome
3. Thompson
4. Kerr
5. Stanford
6. Hur
7. Choi Chella
8. Shin
9. Meadow
10. Granada
11. Joh
12. Harigae

Alts:  Park, Jane; Ernst; Recari

Monday, September 15, 2014

It's Crunch Time on the LPGA and Symetra Tour This Week!

The Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic and the Symetra Tour Championship this week will have a huge bearing on who keeps or gains solid LPGA status for the 2015 season and who will have to go to Q-School to improve or secure it.

In a nutshell, those who finish in the top 100 on the 2014 LPGA money list will be able to get as many starts as they want in 2015, as will those who finish in the top 10 on the 2014 Symetra Tour money list.  Those between #101 and #125 on this year's LPGA money list will have a limited number of starts next year, and will probably choose to go to Q-School to improve on their status, while those who finish between #11 and #25 on the Symetra Tour money list will get a free pass into the final stage of Q-School and those who finish outside the top 25 will need to play in Stage II at the end of the month.  With that in mind, let's review the LPGA and Symetra Tour money lists to see who's on the edge.

Let's start with the LPGA:

90. Jaye Marie Green $88.4K
91. Kelly Tan $88.1K [not in Yokohama field]
92. Alison Walshe $85.4K
93. Lindsey Wright $84.7K
94. Kristy McPherson $83.9K
95. Ashleigh Simon $78.3K
96. Yueer Cindy Feng $77.6K
97. Alena Sharp $75.3K
98. Paz Echeverria $75.0K [not in Yokohama field]
99. Jee Young Lee $74.8K
100. Joanna Klatten $72.7K
***
101. Alejandra Llaneza $66.1K
102. Lisa McCloskey $66.0K
103. Chie Arimura $62.8K
104. Hee-Won Han $61.1K [retired]
105. Paula Reto $58.4K
106. Becky Morgan $57.7K
107. Paola Moreno $57.0K
108. Rebecca Lee-Bentham $51.9K
109. Jennifer Kirby $51.7K
110. Felicity Johnson $50.8K

So let's say someone wanted to guarantee she passed Echeverria.  A top-25 finish would be good enough for Llaneza or McCloskey, while Lee-Bentham, Kirby, and Johnson would need more like top-10 finishes.  A top-2 finish would be good enough to leapfrog anyone in the field into the top 100 who wasn't already there, while a top 5 would be good enough for almost everyone.  The only question is how many players from outside the top 100 play well enough to make a move on those near the bottom of it.  To keep their fate in their hands, the most vulnerable players in the top 100--Simon, Feng, Sharp, Lee, and Klatten--need to at least make the cut in Alabama.

On the Symetra Tour, it seems to me that if the purse is the same as last year, then everyone from #8 Kendall Dye on up has already secured their card, no matter what happens this week.  (That's why Yueer Cindy Feng is playing on the LPGA to improve on her #96 position there rather than defending her #6 position on the Symetra Tour money list).  But a top-5 finish from someone fairly far down the money list can have a huge impact on who makes the top 10 and top 25, particularly if those near the edges miss the cut:

9. Mallory Blackwelder $39.5K
10. Veronica Felibert $39.5K
***
11. Sara-Maude Juneau $36.5K
12. Lee Lopez $36.1K
13. Lindy Duncan $36.1K
14. Brittany Altomare $33.9K
15. Demi Runas $33.2K
16. Emily Talley $32.7K
17. Nicole Vandermade $31.9K
18. Olivia Jordan-Higgins $30.9K
19. Laura Gonzalez-Escallon $29.0K
20. Madison Pressel $27.9K
21. Maude-Aimee Leblanc $25.2K
22. Hye-Min Kim $24.9K
23. Daniela Iacobelli $24.2K
24. Jennie Lee $23.6K
25. Rebecca Artis $23.4K
***
26. Jean Reynolds $22.8K
27. Marta Silva $22.3K
28. Molly Aronsson $22.0K
29. Stephanie Na $21.3K
30. Therese Koelbaek $21.3K
31. Calle Neilson $20.1K
32. Megan McChrystal $20.1K [in Yokohama, not Tour Championship, field]
33. Kim Kaufman $19.6K [LPGA card already secured; fighting to make Asian Swing]
34. Casey Grice $19.5K
35. Caroline Powers $19.0K
36. Samantha Richdale $18.2K
37. Katie Kempter $18.1K
38. Madeleine Sheils $17.5K
39. Ashley Tait $17.3K
40. Garrett Phillips $16.1K

McChrystal has decided she has a better shot at improving dramatically on her #133 position on the LPGA money list ($21.8K) than even a win at the Symetra Tour Championship is worth.  Meanwhile, Cheyenne Woods (#58, $12.0K) and Kelly Shon (#71, $8.6K) basically need to win to skip to Stage III of LPGA Q-School, although Cheyenne might get lucky with a solo 2nd.

So keep an eye on these names this week!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Evian Championship Sunday: Hyo Joo Kim Beats Karrie Webb on 72nd Hole on Network TV...and I Miss It!

Hyo Joo Kim looked to be in control of the Evian Championship for much of the final round, despite charges by Na Yeon Choi and Ha Na Jang, and an eagle-par-birdie run by Mi Jung Hur, but right about the time Golf Channel coverage switched over to NBC, things changed dramatically.  Even as Karrie Webb's birdie barrage in the middle of her round--5 birdies between the 9th and 15th holes that got the LPGA legend to -11--put the pressure on the 19-year-old KLPGA superstar, Kim bogeyed both par 3s on the back to drop from -12 to -10.  And even as Choi, Jang, and Hur faltered down the stretch, the tournament came down to the 72nd hole.

Not that I got to see any of it.  I was behind on my DVRed Golf Channel coverage and only found out about the switch to network tv a half-hour after its coverage had ended.  So I didn't get to see how Kim stuck her approach on the final hole and sank her 12-foot birdie attempt while Webb's approach failed to fade and she failed to get up and down from the fringe to force a playoff.  I didn't get to see the look on Webb's face down the home stretch as she was trying to become the 1st golfer to ever win 6 different major championships.  I didn't get to see Kim's body language as she was trying to become the 3rd youngest winner of an LPGA major.  At least I'll have highlights--some time.

But on a day the Buffalo Bills went 2-0 and my entire neighborhood was cheerful, I spent most of the afternoon annoyed at myself that I never double-checked LPGA.com or my tv listings.  That's what I get for purposely staying off the web (after posting on 20-year-old Ai Suzuki's record-breaking major victory on the JLPGA, that is!) so that I could savor the final-round drama!

Konica Minolta Cup Sunday: 20-Year-Old Ai Suzuki Becomes Youngest Major Winner on JLPGA

20-year-old Ai Suzuki made her 1st career top 10 on the JLPGA a major victory as she held off Ji-Yai Shin, Misuzu Narita, Na-Ri Lee, and Lala Anai down the stretch to break Ai Miyazato's record and become the youngest winner of the Konica Minolta Cup.

The 1st player to put pressure on the youngster was Lee, who birdied 6 of her 1st 10 holes from 3 groups ahead of Suzuki, Momoko Ueda, and Kaori Ohe to move to -5 for the week.  But Suzuki responded with 4 birdies of her own in her 1st 7 holes to fight back to -7 with 10 holes left in the tournament.  In the group ahead of her Shin and Narita were playing catch-up, however, as Narita fired a bogey-free 33 to move to -5 and Shin also birdied 4 of her 1st 7 holes to also get to -5.  But a double on 9 knocked the former world #1 back on her heels.  Even though a bogey from Suzuki a few minutes later that forced her to settle for an opening 34 dropped her back to -6, it was enough to extend her lead on her playing partners, as Ueda's 36 and Ohe's 37 left them at -3 with 9 to play.

When Suzuki made 6-straight pars to start the back, she put the pressure on her pursuers to chase her down, and most of them couldn't handle it.  Ohe bogeyed 2 of her 1st 4 holes on the back and was out of it.  Ueda ended up shooting a birdieless 38 on the back.  Narita bogeyed the long par-4 13th to drop to -4.  Lee even bogeyed the medium-length par-4 14th to join her.  But Anai, playing from 2 groups ahead of Suzuki, birdied 3 of her 1st 7 holes on the back to catch them at -4.  As Lee and Anai parred in to become leaders in the clubhouse at -4, that's when things got really interesting.

And Shin was at the heart of things.  She birdied the par-5 16th to make it 4 players at -4.  Even as she bogeyed the par-3 17th, Suzuki bogeyed the 16th to drop to -5.  And then, as Narita made her 3rd-straight closing par and Shin birdied the long par-4 18th to also finish at -4, Suziki birdied 17 to take a 2-shot lead on her pursuers into the final hole.  And it was a good thing she had that cushion, as she bogeyed 18 to finish at -5, just barely good enough to secure the victory over the #3 and #4 players on the JLPGA money list.

Speaking of which, with Bo-Mee Lee withdrawing during the 3rd round and Sun-Ju Ahn sitting this week out, the race for that title just tightened up!

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥84.53M
4. Ji-Yai Shin ¥78.13M
5. Miki Sakai ¥61.77M
6. Erina Hara ¥50.65M
7. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
8. Esther Lee ¥47.34M
9. Lala Anai ¥45.89M
10. Ayaka Watanabe ¥44.68M
11. Shiho Oyama ¥44.61M
12. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥41.96M
13. Na-Ri Lee ¥40.80M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥38.04M
15. Rikako Morita ¥37.79M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥35.37M
17. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥34.88M
18. Ai Suzuki ¥32.37M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥32.23M
20. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
21. Ji-Hee Lee ¥30.91M
22. Phoebe Yao ¥28.43M
23. Mayu Hattori ¥27.93M
24. Kaori Ohe ¥27.12M
25. Hikari Fujita ¥26.31M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥25.47M
27. Asako Fujimoto ¥23.09M
28. Junko Omote ¥22.30M
29. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥22.24M
30. Yukari Baba ¥22.10M
31. Kotono Kozuma ¥22.00M
32. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.82M
33. Rumi Yoshiba ¥21.72M
34. Erika Kikuchi ¥21.69M
35. Megumi Kido ¥21.42M
36. Mami Fukuda ¥21.37M
37. Mamiko Higa ¥20.45M
38. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
39. Soo-Yun Kang ¥19.26M
40. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
41. Akane Iijima ¥18.36M
42. Miki Saiki ¥17.06M
43. Na-Ri Kim ¥16.64M
44. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.24M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥14.65M
46. Yukari Nishiyama ¥14.43M
47. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
48. Da-Ye Na ¥13.99M
49. Nana Yamashiro ¥13.92M
50. Rui Kitada ¥13.35M

Next up is the Munsingwear Yokai Ladies Classic, where Sakura Yokomine secured her 20th career JLPGA victory last year.  All the top players on tour are on the most current field list, so expect tensions to be high as the tour enters its final 3rd of the season!

[Update 1 (11:45 am):  Ai Ai bangkokbobby's Ai to Ai pun on Ai breaking Ai's record!  (Ai means love).]

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Evian Championship Saturday: A Tale of 2 Moving Days

It's hard to get a feel for what's happening at the Evian Championship just from following the live leaderboard, and I won't be able to catch up with the tv coverage until this evening, but it's pretty fair to say that moving day has been a mix of the best of times and worst of times for the golfers who made the cut at the LPGA's final major of 2014.

The Best of Times

  • Mi Jung Hur is -2 today and bogey-free over her last 13 holes and counting, which puts her in the lead at -9 with 6 holes to play today.
  • Anna Nordqvist has made 9 birdies in her last 28 holes of bogey-free golf to pull within 2 shots of Hur's lead. 
  • Na Yeon Choi and Jane Park both fired 6-birdie 67s to move to -4 and E for the week, respectively.
  • Ha Na Jang shrugged off a double in the middle of her round to post a 6-birdie 68 and move to -4 for the week, while Amelia Lewis birdied 6 of her last 10 holes to fight back to +1 on the strength of a 68 of her own.
The Worst of Times
  • Brittany Lincicome opened with back-to-back doubles after playing her previous 31 holes without even a bogey and followed them up with a triple on the par-5 7th.  Now at -3 for the week, she needs to regroup over her final 6 holes to have a chance to fight back into contention.  Ah, she just birdied 13 to fight back to -4!
  • Also tumbling down the leaderboard are Moriya Jutanugarn (who's made 5 bogeys in her last 12 holes to fall to -1), Minjee Lee (who's already made 5 bogeys today, as well, and is currently at E), Julieta Granada (who salvaged a 73 despite making 6 bogeys today and finished her day at E for the week), Mina Harigae (who bogeyed 5 of her 1st 6 holes and recently doubled the par-3 16th), and Amy Yang (who bogeyed 4 of her 1st 7 holes and just took a quad on the 16th!).
  • I didn't expect the likes of Lydia Ko, Paula Creamer, Azahara Munoz, Shanshan Feng, and In-Kyung Kim to be over par today, but that's either where they finished or look likely to finish.
That leaves players like Hyo Joo Kim, Stacy LewisSuzann Pettersen, and Karrie Webb to muddle through today.  Kim just birdied 2 holes in a row to get back to E on her day and -9 for the week; Lewis also has 4 birdies and 4 bogeys today and is still at -5; Pettersen had bogeyed 2 of her last 4 holes to drop to +1 on her day and -5 for the week; Webb is in a similar boat as Pettersen.  Let's see what they can do down the home stretch!

[Update 1 (10:58 am):  I was considering not writing about her until she was done with her round, so as to avoid calling down the Mostly Harmless jinx on her accidentally, but I decided to take the risk and note that Mariajo Uribe is -2 with 4 birdies today and at -6 with only 2 holes to play.  Only Kim and Hur at -9 and Nordqvist at -7 are ahead of her!]

[Update 2 (10:59 am):  That's 2 bounceback birdies in a row from Lincicome.  She's now fought back to -5!!]

[Update 3 (11:03 am):  The par-5 15th looks like it's going to be a key hole today.  Lincicome can make it 3 birdies in a row if she plays it well.  Webb just birdied it to return to -6.  Lewis couldn't birdie it so she stays at -5.  Jutanugarn birdied it to fight back to -2.  Now just waiting to see what Pettersen, Hur, Kim, and Lincicome can do with it!]

[Update 4 (11:06 am):  How about Inky and Ko both birdieing the 16th?!]

[Update 5 (11:08 am):  Lexi Thompson had a 4-birdie, 4-bogey 71 to remain at -2 for the week, while Minjee Lee fought back with 2 birdies in her last 5 holes of bogey-free golf to join Creamer and Ayako Uehara at -1.]

[Update 6 (11:11 am):  Too bad Ayako was the only Japanese golfer to play well today.  Mika Miyazato (76) and Sakura Yokomine (75) fell back to +4 for the week.  Se Ri Pak (75, +6), Beatriz Recari (76, +6), Cristie Kerr (75, +7), and Eun-Hee Ji (75, +8) were also in the moving backward club today, among many others!]

[Update 7 (11:14 am):  Neither Pettersen nor Hur could birdie the par-5 15th.  Opportunity for Lincicome and Kim to make something happen there!]

[Update 8 (11:15 am):  Nordqvist just doubled the par-4 17th to fall back to -5.]

[Update 9 (11:16 am):  Uribe bogeyed 18 to fall back to -1 on her day and -5 for the week.]

[Update 10 (11:18 am):  Man, what a way for Nordqvist to end a 30-hole bogey-free run.  If this keeps up, Kim and Hur could really separate themselves from the field today!]

[Update 11 (11:20 am):  Just realized I never mentioned Inbee Park's 7-birdie 69 today, which also included 2 early bogeys, another bogey in the middle of her round, and a late double!  At -3, she's not quite out of this thing just yet, either!]

[Update 12 (11:23 am):  Kim could not birdie 15, so she still hasn't been able to return to where she was after 18 holes (double digits under par), while Lincicome killed her mo' with a bogey on 15!]

[Update 13 (11:23 am):  This number update is as good as any to report that Yang's walkoff bogey left her with a 78 and left her at +3 for the week.]

[Update 14 (11:25 am):  Walkoff bogey for Inky leaves her at -2.  She'll need some help from Kim and Hur today and tomorrow to have a chance to win.]

[Update 15 (11:26 am):  Inbee has not broken 30 putts all week, which is really rare for her.  Here's hoping she's saved up a lot of 1-putts for tomorrow!]

[Update 16 (11:27 am):  Whoa!  Hur tripled 16!!!  She's now -6!!!]

[Update 17 (11:34 am):  And now Kim goes ahead and bogeys 16 to fall back to -8.  With Lewis's bogey on 17, this race is tightening up!!]

[Update 18 (11:35 am):  Meanwhile, Lincicome birdies 16 to fight back to -5!!]

[Update 19 (11:35 am):  That's 3 birdies and 2 bogeys in her last 5 holes!]

[Update 20 (11:37 am):  OK, Jutanugarn parred 18, so even though she made 3 bogeys on each side, she only had a 75 and is still -1 for the week.]

[Update 21 (11:38 am):  Ko also parred 18, so is safely in at -4.  Who knows how close or far from the lead that will be when all is said and done today?!]

[Update 22 (11:39 am):  Ditto for Nordqvist, so she ends the day at -5.]

[Update 23 (11:40 am):  Lewis finishes bogey-bogey to drop to -3 for the week.]

[Update 24 (11:41 am):  Pettersen now doubled 17!!  She's only -3 now.  What a contrast to her strong finishes the 1st 2 days!]

[Update 25 (11:44 am):  Webb's walkoff birdie gets her to -3 over her last 10 holes, -1 on her day, and -7 for the week!!!]

[Update 26 (11:49 am):  Kim pars 17 to hang onto a 1-shot lead on Webb.  Even pars are dramatic now!]

[Update 27 (11:50 am):  Lincicome's bogey now makes it 6 holes without a par.  And even at -4, she's by no means out of this thing!]

[Update 28 (11:55 am):  Hur pars 18 to stay at -6 and Pettersen pars to stay at -3.  Can't believe how few puts Hur has taken this week!  Also can't believe I have to pull the plug on this.  Girls' Japanese school is almost over!]

Konica Minolta Cup Saturday: Ai Suzuki Moves Backwards But Holds onto Solo Lead; Bo-Mee Lee Withdraws

20-year-old Ai Suzuki double bogeyed back-to-back long par 4s at the start of the 3rd round of the Konica Minolta Cup, but battled back to hang onto a 1-shot lead on Momoko Ueda (69) and Kaori Ohe (69), a 2-shot margin on Ji-Yai Shin (72), Misuzu Narita (72), and Ah-Reum Hwang (71), a 3-shot lead on Lala Anai (74), and a 4-shot lead on Shiho Oyama (70), Ji-Hee Lee (71), Na-Ri Lee (74), and Eun-Bi Jang (68).  With money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee withdrawing on the 10th hole "for personal reasons" (according to google translate), Suzuki's odds of making her 1st JLPGA top 10 a major victory increased slightly, but bogeys on 9 and 17 mean that there are now 26 players within 7 shots of the lead, which is exactly how many shots Jang, who shot the low round of the day, made up on Suzuki on moving day.

Here's some background on the lesser-known players in Suzuki's lead chase pack (I'm assuming Ji-Yai Shin, Ji-Hee Lee, Shiho Oyama, Momoko Ueda, and Misuzu Narita need no introduction for readers of this blog!):

  • Kaori Ohe (24):  won the Fujisankei Classic in 2012, got a couple of silvers last season, but hasn't cracked the top 10 in her last 4 starts and has only 2 top 5s in 2014;
  • Ah-Reum Hwang (26):  won the Yamaha Ladies in 2009, but hasn't cracked the top 10 in 13 JLPGA starts this season, although she did come close the last 2 weeks;
  • Lala Anai (26):  her best JLPGA finish is a silver at the Fujitsu Ladies in 2012, but she's been having a solid 2014, with 9 top 10s that include 2 top 5 (one of them a bronze at the Meiji Cup);
  • Eun-Bi Jang (25):  her best JLPGA finish is also a silver from 2012 (this one at the NEC Karuizawa 72), and she's coming off her 1st top 10 of the season last week;
  • Na-Ri Lee (26):  snagged her 1st and only 2 JLPGA victories in a 4-week stretch last seaosn (including dealing Ai Miyazato a heart-breaking defeat), and has righted the ship after a slow start to this season, with 7 top 10s in her last 13 starts, including 3 bronzes, the most recent coming last week.
So while the stage is set for one of the JLPGA's biggest names to win this thing, Suzuki isn't the only possible Cinderella who could emerge with the crown tomorrow!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Evian Championship Friday: Hyo Joo Kim Opens Door; Who Will Make up Ground on Her?

Hyo Joo Kim came back to earth quickly after yesterday's record-setting 61, but she bounced back from her opening birdieless 39 on the back, which ended with 2 bogeys in a row, with 2 birdies to start the front and 1 to end it, salvaging a 1-over-par 72 and fighting back to -9 at the halfway point of the Evian Championship.  Mi Jung Hur, meanwhile, broke 70 for the 2nd time in a row and pulled within 2 shots of the lead, while Amy Yang, Anna Nordqvist, and Minjee Lee are also closing in on Kim.  We're about to find out what Karrie Webb (-6) and Suzann Pettersen (-4) do with the opportunity Kim's given them.  More to come soon!

[Update 1 (10:05 am):  Ah, best-laid plans and all that!  No not-quite-live-blogging today, or at least not much of it!  Here's the quick run-down of big moves so far today:
  • Nordqvist birdied 6 of her last 12 holes to post a 67 and move to -4, but both Yang and Lee bogeyed 18 to finish at -4 and -3, respectively.
  • Brittany Lincicome is making a move; with 4 birdies in her 1st 11 holes, she's -8 and 1 back.
  • Stacy Lewis, Julieta Granada, and Moriya Jutanugarn are -3 early in their rounds and moving up the leaderboard.  No, wait, Lewis is now -4 today--that's 4 birdies in her last 5 holes to get to -5 overall.
  • Paula Creamer had a pair of doubles and Shanshan Feng a slew of bogeys in the middle of her own round, but both fought back to -2 for the week by the end of their rounds.
  • So Yeon Ryu got DQed!!  Wonder what happened?  No time to check!
Looks like the cut line will fall somewhere around +4 or +5, so the course isn't playing very easy for the field.]

[Update 2 (10:11 am):  Webb had 2 bogeys and 2 birdies on the back (her front) to remain at -6.  Pettersen is also off to a slow start, with a birdieless 36 (+1) on the front--the same side she closed with 5 birdies in a row yesterday.  But she's learned that patience is a virtue, so expect her to bust out her birdie stick any time now!]

[Update 3 (10:14 am):  Lincicome is now tied for the lead!!  And look who's -2 thus far today! None other than Mina Harigae (-4) and Sakura Yokomine (-2).  With Mika Miyazato at -3 for the week and Ai Miyazato fighting to make the cut, I'll definitely have some faves to check in on when I find time to fast forward through today's tv coverage.  Right now I have to go to work!]

[Update 4 (2:41 pm):  OK, short day at work allows me to follow up on my morning updates.  I was deeply disappointed to see that Ai Miyazato basically fell apart on the back and missed the cut by a mile.  By contrast, Lincicome fired a bogey-free 65 to pass Kim by a shot, while Pettersen got it into gear and fired a bogey-free 33 on the back to catch Webb at -6.  A 67 by Lewis and 68s by Lydia Ko and Moriya Jutanugarn got them to -5.  In-Kyung Kim birdied 4 of her last 7 holes to join a big group at -4 that now also includes Mariajo Uribe.  It was the opposite end of the golf spectrum for Granada, who made 3 bogeys and a walkoff double on the back, as well as for Harigae, who also stumbled coming home with 2 bogeys in her last 3 holes, which allowed Lexi Thompson to catch them at -2.]

[Update 5 (2:45 pm):  The cut line ended up saving golfers at +5, including Jessica Korda, Mirim Lee, Jenny Shin, and In Gee Chun.  I was glad to see Morgan Pressel (+4), Jane Park (+4), and Jennifer Song (+2) lived to fight another day, not to mention Na Yeon Choi (E), Sakura Yokomine (E), Hee Young Park (E), Ayako Uehara (E), Inbee Park (-1), Mika Miyazato (-1), and Ha Na Jang (-1). Hoping to see some nice numbers from them on the weekend!]

Konica Minolta Cup Friday: Ai Suzuki's 67 Gives the 20-Year-Old a 4-Shot Lead

20-year-old Ai Suzuki fired a bogey-free 67 in the 2nd round of the JLPGA's 2nd major to move to -7 and take a 4-shot lead on Lala Anai and a 5-shot lead on Ji-Yai Shin, Misuzu Narita, and Na-Ri Lee at the halfway point of the Konica Minolta Cup.  With money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee only 1 shot further behind and Momoko Ueda part of a big group at E, Suzuki still has plenty of big names chasing her.

But the 2nd-year pro, who's spent much of her pro career on the StepUp Tour (where she has 2 victories) and whose T15 last week was her 2nd-best finish on the big tour (her best was T12 Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open back in May), put together the lowest round of her brief JLPGA career today on the biggest stage she's ever played on.  Shooting 5 69s over the course of her 19 previous JLPGA events is one thing, but keeping it going over the weekend in a major is something else.  Let's see if Suzuki can keep her 5-round streak of shooting 70 or below going on moving day.

If she opens the door to the field, don't count out Esther Lee and Phoebe Yao at E, Ji-Hee Lee and Shinobu Moromizato at +1, Shiho Oyama, Yumiko Yoshida, Mamiko Higa, and Ayaka Watanabe at +2, Rikako Morita, Erina Hara, Ritsuko Ryu, and Saiki Fujita at +3, or even Akiko Fukushima (+4), Miki Saiki (+5), or Mi-Jeong Jeon (+6).  If any of them can match or surpass Suzuki's 67 tomorrow, they should be right back in the mix heading into the final round.  As you can see by how high the cut line went, this course has teeth.  Even players who had good rounds ran into serious trouble today:  Na-Ri Lee's 70 was marred by back-to-back doubles and Narita's 70 included 5 bogeys.  Yesterday, Bo-Mee Lee had a hole in 1 and still could manage only a 71; she was +2 over her final 5 holes today.

Bottom line:  this is still a JLPGA major, where par is a great score over 72 holes.  We're going to find out if Ai Suzuki can do at the Konica Minolta Cup what Mika Miyazato has done at the Japan Women's Open:  take over a tournament and turn a big lead into a big win.  Mikan's done it twice, but memorably couldn't on her 1st try (or her 3rd with a late lead, for that matter).  Good luck to the new Ai-chan!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Checking in on the Evian Championship and Konica Minolta Cup

No time to go into depth now, but there are 2 big stories coming out of the Evian Championship and a brewing showdown in the Konica Minolta Cup.

Over in France, KLPGA superstar Hyo Joo Kim fired a bogey-free 61 to take a 4-shot lead on Karrie Webb, a 5-shot lead on Mi Jung Hur, and a 6-shot lead on Brittany Lincicome and Suzann Pettersen, who birdied her last 5 holes in a row to keep her hope of defending her title alive.  The other big story is less encouraging, however, as Michelle Wie had to withdraw from the LPGA's final major of 2014.

Over in Japan, veteran Soo-Yun Kang was the only golfer to break 70 in the JLPGA's 2nd major of the season, but her 69 leaves money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee and #4 Ji-Yai Shin, who have each won 3 tournaments in recent weeks, only 2 shots off the pace, while the #3 golfer on tour this year, Misuzu Narita, and last year's money-list title-holder, Rikako Morita, are only 3 back.  Also in the mix are 20-year-olds Ayaka Watanabe (-2) and Ai Suzuki (-2), veteran stars Ji-Hee Lee (-1),  Mi-Jeong Jeon (E), Akiko Fukushima (+1), Yuri Fudoh (+2), and Shiho Oyama (+2), 2013 Rookie of the Year Mamiko Higa (+1), and ex-LPGAer Momoko Ueda (+1).

So there's a lot to write about when I have the time.  Now it's time to end my lunch break and get back to work!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Picks for the Evian Championship (and Players to Watch at the Konica Minolta Cup)

So the Evian Championship is about to begin and it's high time I got my picks in for this week's PakPicker competition over at Seoul Sisters.com and mylpga.

1. Park Inbee
2. Ryu
3. Pettersen
4. Lewis, Stacy
5. Munoz
6. Choi Na Yeon
7. Nordqvist
8. Ko
9. Kerr
10. Kim Hyo Joo
11. Feng
12. Miyazato Ai

Alts: Kim In-Kyung; Yang, Amy; Stanford

No time for explanations!  But also keep an eye on the showdown between Bo-Mee Lee, Sun-Ju Ahn, Misuzu Narita, and Ji-Yai Shin over in the JLPGA's 2nd major of 2014, the Konica Minolta Cup, also taking place this week!  In fact, play there has already started!

[Update 1 (8:08 pm):  My bad--Sun-Ju Ahn is not playing in the Konica Minolta Cup!]

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Best on the LPGA without a Major, September 2014 Edition

With the Evian Championship starting in a couple of days, it's about time I updated my July 2014 survey of who actually has had the best careers on the LPGA among those who have not yet won a major.  Lexi Thompson was ranked 3rd when she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and Michelle Wie was ranked 4th when she won the U.S. Women's Open, but Mo Martin came out of practically nowhere at Royal Birkdale, so who knows who on this list may graduate from it by Sunday?

In what follows, I'll be relying strongly on my career rankings spreadsheet and major rankings spreadsheet, but the question is how to combine the ranking systems.  Is it better to have a proven record of winning over the course of your LPGA career but not yet have converted that into a major win or is it better to have a history of near-misses in majors?  To me, that's a judgment call, based on individual careers, so what I'll do is simply add together the points players have earned in each system to sort players into rough groups, then adjust rankings within each group based on head-to-head comparisons between the players in each of them.  I'll really fine-tune the future-oriented version of this post when I make my Evian Championship picks for the PakPicker competition at Seoul Sisters.com tomorrow.

[Note:  the numbers in parentheses following each player's name represent total LPGA victories/KLPGA-JLPGA-LET victories, points in my major ranking system (rank), points in my career ranking system (rank).]

Simply the Best

1. Lydia Ko (4/2, 828 [#18], 3333 [#3]).  She's the universal favorite for 2014 Rookie of the Year, #1 in the LPGA's Club 36 (3-to-6-time winners), and already has done surprisingly well in majors, most notably in the Evian Championship last year and the Wegmans LPGA Championship this year.  Here are her best finishes in LPGA majors:
  • Kraft Nabisco Championship:  T25 (2013)
  • Wegmans LPGA Championship:  3rd (2014)
  • U.S. Women's Open:  T15 (2014)
  • Ricoh Women's British Open:  T17 (2012)
  • Evian Championship:  2nd (2013)
In January, I wrote, "I'd be shocked if she didn't improve on her peak performances in 4 of the 5 LPGA majors in 2014.  No pressure, eh?"  So far she's 2 for 4, but she'll need to win the Evian to make it 3 for 5.

2. Ai Miyazato (9/17, 668 [#27], 2075 [#10]).  She's #1 in the Class of 2006, #4 in the Tseng Dynasty, and now #2 in LPGA's Club 79 (those with 7 to 9 wins on tour).  Her best finishes:
  • KNC  T15 (2007)
  • LPGA:  T3 (2006 and 2010)
  • USWO:  T6 (2009 and 2011)
  • WBO:  T3 (2009)
  • Evian:  T15 (2013) 
Of her 15 JLPGA victories, 2 came in majors, the Japan Women's Open in 2005 and the Konica Minolta Cup in 2006.  Despite her struggles with her short game this season, her career record justifies her #2 position.  I think her game is finally starting to round into shape.  Let's see if coming back to a place she's won twice at can kick-start her year!

3. In-Kyung Kim (3/2, 972 [#15], 1701 [#12]).  She's #2 in the Class of 2007, #5 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #6 in the LPGA's Club 36.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  2nd (2012)
  • LPGA:  T5 (2010)
  • USWO:  2nd (2013)
  • WBO:  T3 (2010)
  • Evian:  T19 (2013)
Although she has a better record in majors than many major winners, she's had even more trouble closing the deal in them than in regular tournaments.  I have a feeling that once she finds the next oasis, it'll make finding ones after it that much easier.  Why not at Evian?

The Contenders

4. Amy Yang (1/4, 742 [#26], 1245 [#19]):  She's #5 in the Class of 2008, #8 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #1 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T4 (2012)
  • LPGA:  T5 (2013)
  • USWO:  2nd (2012)
  • WBO:  4th (2011)
  • Evian:  T67 (2013)
Although Yang won a KLPGA major in 2011 and finished 2013 hot, she hasn't been all that impressive in 2014 thus far.  But odds are she'll improve on last year's finish at Evian by a lot!

5. Azahara Munoz (1/2, 422 [#40], 1278 [#18]).  She's #2 in the Class of 2010, #7 in the New Blood Generation, and #2 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T7 (2014)
  • LPGA:  T4 (2014)
  • USWO:  T19 (2010)
  • WBO:  T12 (2014)
  • Evian:  T19 (2013)
Even though she's underperformed in majors relative to her overall career record, she's on quite a roll in them this season.  In January, I wrote, "I expect her to set career high-water marks in most all of the 2014 majors." 1 more good major would make her 4 for 5 in 2014!

6. Hee Kyung Seo (1/11, 522 [#32], 1170 [#24]):  She's #1 in the Class of 2011, #5 among the LPGA's New Blood, and #6 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T4 (2012)
  • LPGA:  T34 (2011)
  • USWO:  2nd (2011)
  • WBO:  T5 (2010)
  • Evian:  T64 (2013)
In addition to her strong performances in most every LPGA major, she won 3 KLPGA majors in 2009.  When she returns from maternity leave, I wouldn't be at all surprised if she pulled a Catriona Matthew!

7. Mika Miyazato (1/2, 441 [#39], 1121 [#25]):  She's #5 in the Class of 2011, #6 among the LPGA's New Blood, and #5 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T7 (2011)
  • LPGA:  T2 (2012)
  • USWO:  5th (2011)
  • WBO:  4th (2012)
  • Evian:  T19 (2013)
Both her JLPGA victories have come at the most important major on their schedule, the Japan Women's Open, so she's another player I'd say is due to do even better in LPGA majors, except for the fact that her short game has been atrocious in 2014.

8. Hee Young Park (2/6, 442 [#38], 1065 [#27]).  She's #4 in the Class of 2008, #11 in the Tseng Dynasty, and now #2 among the LPGA's 2-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T7 (2013)
  • LPGA:  T14/14th (2011 and 2012)
  • USWO:  T9 (2009)
  • WBO:  T2 (2013)
  • Evian:  T19 (2013)
As much as she improved on her record in LPGA majors in 2013, I expected her to do even better in 2014.  Her last chance to do so is this week!

9. Lizette Salas (1/0, 294 [#51], 1198 [#21]).  After breaking through for her 1st career LPGA victory this year, Salas not only leapfrogged 3 players I predicted would do it before her (Caroline Hedwall, Chella Choi, and Carlota Ciganda), she's become a real threat to do it again before Amy Yang and Azahara Munoz, my current top 2 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Plus she's done great in majors already for someone ranked #3 in her Class of 2012:
  • KNC:  T25 (2013)
  • LPGA:  T25 (2012)
  • USWO:  T15 (2011)
  • WBO:  6th (2013)
  • Evian:  T11 (2013)
She's coming back from injuries and seems close to regaining her top form.  Let's see if she make it happen at Evian.

10. Angela Stanford (5/0, 620 [#31], n.a. [n.r.]).  She's the only LPGA veteran with a strong enough record to make it into this category.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T3 (2010)
  • LPGA:  T4 (2004)
  • USWO:  T2 (2003)
  • WBO:  T5 (2014)
  • Evian:  T6 (2013)
At the start of the year, you might have been tempted to think "what have you done for me lately?" when it comes to Stanford's record in LPGA majors, but you'd have been dead wrong.  She has 8-straight top-20 finishes in the KNC (including a T7 this year), she's finished in the top 35 in the LPGA Championship in 11 of her last 12 starts (with another top 5 in 2009), she got a top 10 in the USWO in 2005 and top 5s in 2 of her last 4 starts, and she's got top 25s in the WBO in 5 of her last 6 starts (including a career-best finish this year).  I'm sure if I extended my career ranking system back to the Class of 2001 and the LPGA generation that bears her name, she'd be even higher on this list!

Quantum Leap Candidates

11. Jessica Korda (3/0, 260 [#56], 1173 [#23]).  As the newest member of the LPGA's Club 36, I'd put her at #5 or #6 in that category if I were redoing the ranking today, and I'd probably be ranking her higher than #3 in the Class of 2011 and #10 in the New Blood generation, as well.  She posted her best finish in 5 consecutive LPGA majors until missing the cut at Pinehurst.
  • KNC:  T24 (2014)
  • LPGA:  T40 (2014)
  • USWO:  T7 (2013)
  • WBO:  T5 (2014)
  • Evian:  T37 (2013)
She'll have to play well at Evian to extend her new streak to 3!

12. Brittany Lang (1/0, 506 [#34], 896 [#32]).  She's #6 in the Class of 2006, #16 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #8 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T6 (2006)
  • LPGA:  T18 (2008)
  • USWO:  T2 (2005)
  • WBO:  2nd (2011)
  • Evian:  T57 (2013)
The KNC is definitely her most consistent major, as she finished in the top 21 between 2006 and 2010, but even there she's been inconsistent of late.  Still, she can contend out of nowhere, as she did as an amateur at the USWO in 2005 and as a pro in 2010 and 2013, as well as at the 2011 WBO.  At the very least, she ought to improve on her Evian record this season.

13. Seon Hwa Lee (4/3, 245 [#58], 1173 [#22]).  Even with her pronounced slump of recent years, her career stats actually remain quite strong (she was still #4 in the very strong Class of 2006 at the start of 2014 and #10 in the Tseng Dynasty).  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  5th (2008)
  • LPGA:  T10 (2008)
  • USWO:  T25 (2007)
  • WBO:  T14 (2008)
  • Evian:  DNP (2013)
You can tell how bad her slump has been by the fact that she hasn't made a cut in a major since the KNC in 2012 and has missed it in 8 of 11 starts in majors dating back to 2010.  Even worse, she failed to even qualify for 9 of the last 11 majors (including every single one this year).  Imagine how much higher she'd be ranked if she hadn't fallen off the career cliff and instead been simply mediocre the last few seasons!

14. Jee Young Lee (1/1, 403 [#42], 950 [#31]).  She's #5 in the Class of 2006, #15 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #11 among the LPGA's 1-time winners.  And that's despite a slump that's been only a little shorter and shallower than her fellow Lee in the '06ers.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T13 (2007)
  • LPGA:  T10 (2007)
  • USWO:  7th (2007)
  • WBO:  T2 (2007)
  • Evian:  WD (2013)
She's failed to finish 8 of the last 13 majors she started and missed out on qualifying for 4 others during that stretch, which dates back to 2011.  Even though she's started to pull out of her slump in regular tournaments, she hadn't cracked the top 30 in an LPGA major since the 2010 USWO, until she got a T16 at Mission Hills this year.  Evian is her last shot at turning things around this year.

15. Chella Choi (0/0, 375 [#45], 882 [#33]).  She's now the top player on the LPGA without a win, #6 in the Class of 2009, and #11 in the New Blood generation.  And she's been pretty strong in every major:
  • KNC:  T16 (2014)
  • LPGA:  T5 (2013)
  • USWO:  T13 (2011)
  • WBO:  T10 (2012)
  • Evian:  T6 (2013)
Let's see if she can improve on her great finish last year at Evian and put to rest the ridiculously overblown criticism she's been facing for what seems like an isolated mistake.

16. Beatriz Recari (3/1, 192 [#68], 1057 [#28]):  She's #1 in the Class of 2010 (but not when I update my ranking), #8 in the New Blood Generation, and #3 in Club 36.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T25 (2013)
  • LPGA:  T19 (2013)
  • USWO:  T27 (2011)
  • WBO:  T17 (2014)
  • Evian:  T9 (2013)
You can tell how well she's been playing in the last few seasons by how recent her career bests in majors have been, but she's still underperforming in majors compared to her achievements in regular tournaments.  Like Salas, she's bouncing back from injuries, but she has the added bonus of helping Team Spain win the International Crown.

17. Julieta Granada (1/0, 359 [#47], 795 [#37]).  She's flying up my rankings with top 6s in her last 2 LPGA majors.  At #7 in the Class of 2006, #18 in the Tseng Dynasty, and #13 among the tour's 1-time winners at the start of the season, she's on track to be in a better place at its end.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T7 (2011)
  • LPGA:  T6 (2014)
  • USWO:  T10 (2007)
  • WBO:  T5 (2014)
  • Evian:  T57 (2013)
It's looking like she'll establish her 3rd-straight career-best finish in an LPGA major this week!

18. Caroline Hedwall (0/5, 278 [#53], 869 [#35]).  Despite fine play at the International Crown, she's still in a deep slump in stroke play events.  Her best finishes in majors aren't that great (besides at the KNC), but they aren't that bad, either:
  • KNC:  T3 (2013)
  • LPGA:  T37 (2013)
  • USWO:  T31 (2013)
  • WBO:  T27 (2010)
  • Evian:  T19 (2013)
Maybe playing in Europe will be just what the doctor ordered for her!

19. Meena Lee (2/4, 237 [#59], 872 [#34]).  The veteran has been playing very good golf in 2014.  Her best finishes:
  • KNC:  T29 (2006)
  • LPGA:  T6 (2011)
  • USWO:  T5 (2014)
  • WBO:  T11 (2013)
  • Evian:  T31 (2013)
She couldn't quite manage career bests in Birkdale or Pittsford, but I have a feeling one is coming at Evian.

20. Jenny Shin (0/0, 271 [#55], 759 [#40]).  This Class of 2011er has been blossoming in recent years.  Many of her best finishes have come this season:
  • KNC:  T39 (2014)
  • LPGA:  T13 (2014)
  • USWO:  T10 (2014)
  • WBO:  T17 (2012 and 2013)
  • Evian:  T31 (2013)
I wouldn't be surprised if she makes it 4 for 5 in 2014 at the end of this week!

The Best of the Rest

21. Sandra Gal (1/0, 274 [#54], 726 [#42]).
22. Kristy McPherson (0/0, 409 [#41], 565 [#51]).
23. Gerina Piller (0/0, 223 [#61], 740 [#41]).
24. Jennifer Johnson (1/0, 222 [#62], 681 [#44]).
25. Pornanong Phatlum (0/2, 210 [#63], 694 [#41]).
26. Caroline Masson (0/1, 330 [#49], 546 [#53]).
27. Ilhee Lee (1/0, 211 [#63], 638 [#45]).
28. Jodi Ewart Shadoff (0/0, 232 [#60], 594 [#47]).
29. Haeji Kang (0/0, 199 [#65], 537 [#54]).
30. Carlota Ciganda (0/3, 158 [#73], 582 [#48]).
31. Austin Ernst (1/0, 56 [#79], 620 [#46]).
32. Jane Park (0/0, 184 [#73], 458 [#56]).
33. Ji Young Oh (0/0, 77 [#78], 575 [#50]).
34. Mi Jung Hur (1/0, 55 [#80], 563 [#52]).
35. Chie Arimura (0/13, 187 [#70], 420 [#60]).
36. Vicky Hurst (0/0, 143 [#74], 474 [#55]).
37. Katie Futcher (0/0, 249 [#57], 365 [#65]).
38. Ayako Uehara (0/3, 187 [#70], 376 [#62]).
39. Natalie Gulbis (1/1, 486 [#35], n.a. [n.r.]).
40. Candie Kung (4/0, 483 [#37], n.a. [n.r.]).

So who would you add to this list, and where?  How would you suggest reordering it?  What do you think of my way of combining my 2 ranking systems?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Golf 5 Ladies Sunday: Shiho Oyama Wins for 14th Time on JLPGA

Shiho Oyama nursed her 6-shot lead on Misuzu Narita heading into the final round of the Golf 5 Ladies, matching her rival's birdie on the par-5 2nd hole and closing out her own round with 15 pars and only 1 bogey as she finished where she started the day at -16.  That was good enough for a 2-shot victory over Narita, who birdied 4 holes between the 7th and 13th to put some pressure on the now-14-time winner on the JLPGA, but whose bogey on the par-5 16th helped seal the deal for Oyama.  The round of the day belonged to Na-Ri Lee (65), who vaulted into a tie for 3rd with Rumi Yoshiba (66) on the strength of a 12-hole stretch in the middle of her round that included 2 birdies on the front, an eagle on the short par-5 10th, and 4 birdies in a row before it was interrupted by a bogey on the par-4 17th.  Eun-Bi Jang also fired a 66, while Kumiko Kaneda moved into T11 thanks to a 6-birdie 67.

In the end, Yumiko Yoshida (73, -7, T11) was unable to defend her title and Ji-Yai Shin (72, -5, T18) was unable to make a big move on the idle money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee or #2 Sun-Ju Ahn.  So heading into the JLPGA's major season, here's what the money list now looks like:

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥75.15M
4. Ji-Yai Shin ¥68.75M
5. Miki Sakai ¥61.16M
6. Erina Hara ¥48.57M
7. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥43.22M
9. Shiho Oyama ¥43.15M
10. Esther Lee ¥41.74M
11. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥41.34M
12. Rikako Morita ¥37.11M
13. Lala Anai ¥36.51M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥35.58M
15. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥34.32M
16. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
17. Na-Ri Lee ¥31.42M
18. Momoko Ueda ¥31.17M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥30.77M
20. Ji-Hee Lee ¥29.45M
21. Phoebe Yao ¥27.65M
22. Mayu Hattori ¥27.02M
23. Hikari Fujita ¥25.53M
24. Yumiko Yoshida ¥24.44M
25. Kaori Ohe ¥22.92M
26. Asako Fujimoto ¥22.41M
27. Yukari Baba ¥22.10M
28. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.82M
29. Rumi Yoshiba ¥21.72M
30. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥21.33M
31. Junko Omote ¥21.26M
32. Megumi Kido ¥20.80M
33. Kotono Kozuma ¥20.54M
34. Mami Fukuda ¥20.53M
35. Mamiko Higa ¥20.11M
36. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
37. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
38. Erika Kikuchi ¥19.23M
39. Soo-Yun Kang ¥18.79M
40. Akane Iijima ¥17.68M
41. Miki Saiki ¥16.28M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥16.25M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Megumi Shimokawa ¥14.09M
45. Yukari Nishiyama ¥13.87M

Next up is the Konica Minolta Cup, the 2nd major of the 2014 JLPGA season, where Bo-Mee Lee will be attempting to extend her lead on the money-list and defend her title.  The only big-name player choosing to play in the LPGA/LET's Evian Championship instead will be Sakura Yokomine.  Should be a great showdown between the JLPGA's finest, all of whom come into next week with a lot of momentum!

[Update 1 (12:36 pm):  bangkokbobby has started JLPGA blogging again, with recent posts on wins by Shiho Oyama, Ji-Yai Shin, and Momoko Ueda.]