Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How Deep Is the International Crown's Pool A? Sizing up Team USA's Chances Against Thailand, Spain, and Taiwan

By outpointing Team Korea at the last second of International Crown qualifying, Team USA earned its way into a much weaker pool, as measured by the Rolex Rankings, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and my own career ranking system (for those who joined the LPGA since 2005).

Consider Thursday's match-up against Taiwan (the percentage increase or decrease listed after my system tracks how well a player has done relative to their standing at the end of last season):

TEAM USA (1)

Stacy Lewis:  #1 RR (11.72), #1 GSPI (68.35), #4 MH (+15.7%)
Lexi Thompson:  #5 RR (6.67), #10 GSPI (70.01), #9 MH (+16.1%)
Cristie Kerr:  #10 RR (5.16), #12 GSPI (70.08), n.r. MH
Paula Creamer:  #12 RR (4.35), #16 GSPI (70.44), #6 MH (+/-0%)

TEAM TAIWAN (8)

Teresa Lu:  #44 RR (2.11), #24 GSPI (70.63), #43 MH (+/-0%)
Ya Ni Tseng:  #53 RR (1.86), #93 GSPI (72.15), #1 MH (-4.5%)
Phoebe (Hsuan-Yu) Yao:  #105 RR (1.07), #77 GSPI (71.85), n.r. MH
Candie Kung:  #118 RR (.97), #103 GSPI (72.11), n.r. MH

Obviously, Team USA is much higher-ranked and playing well (except maybe for Creamer, who seems like she's trying to play through an injury after starting the season with 3 top 3s in her 1st 4 starts, including her 10th LPGA victory), but it is worth noting that everyone on Team Taiwan is playing better in 2014 than they did in 2013 except for their leader Tseng (although she does have 2 top 5s this year).  Lu has a 4-event top-20 streak going on the JLPGA that includes her 2nd win on that tour.  Yao got her 1st JLPGA win earlier this season, but has missed the cut in her last 2 starts.  Kung has 2 top 20s in her last 5 LPGA starts.  Assuming Kerr/Creamer and Lewis/Thompson pair up for Team USA, and LPGAers Tseng/Kung and JLPGAers Lu/Yao pair up for Team Taiwan, it's hard to see Team Taiwan getting any points on Thursday.  Even if you mix the teams up differently, the American advantage seems too hard to overcome.

The Thailand-Spain matches are going to be much more evenly matched:

TEAM THAILAND (4)

Pornanong Phatlum:  #28 RR (2.84), #25 GSPI (70.64), #42 MH (+14.9%)
Ariya Jutanugarn:  #43 RR (2.16), #56 (71.41), n.r. MH
Onnarin Sattayabanphot:  #88 RR (1.25), #62 GSPI (71.48), n.r. MH
Moriya Jutanugarn:  #120 RR (.96), #141 GSPI (73.03), #60 MH (-26.0%)

Phatlum ended last season hot, beating Stacy Lewis in Dubai to cap off that run, and hasn't lost any steam in 2014, with 4 top 10s and 7 top 20s on the LPGA thus far this season.  Sattayabanphot started 2014 hot on the JLPGA, with a gold (her 2nd on tour), a silver, and a bronze in her 1st 6 starts, but has since cooled off, with only 1 top 10 in her last 9 starts and 2 missed cuts in a row heading into this week.  You might say that Moriya is suffering a sophomore slump, but I wasn't all that impressed by her Rookie of the Year season in 2013.  Ariya is not as dominant as she was before injuring her shoulder in Rochester last summer, but is still #21 on the LET's Order of Merit (she finished #19 in her injury-shortened rookie year there).

TEAM SPAIN (5)

Azahara Munoz:  #20 RR (3.48), #15 GSPI (70.35), #18 MH (+5.1%)
Beatriz Recari:  #37 RR (2.39), #118 GSPI (72.70), #27 MH (-8.2%)
Carlota Ciganda:  #63 RR (1.67), #75 GSPI (71.79), #48 MH (-26.6%)
Belen Mozo:  #112 RR (1.03), #108 GSPI (72.39), n.r. MH

Munoz started 2014 with 9-straight LPGA top 25s, and added 4 more in her last 8 starts on tour, but has a T37 and MC in her last 3 starts, her worst 2 finishes this season on the LPGA.  Ciganda has only 1 top 20 on the LPGA this year, but she's #28 on the LET's Order of Merit in only 3 starts, and she bounced back in last year's Solheim Cup, so don't count her out this week.  I can see Munoz and Ciganda taking advantage of their Arizona State connection.  Recari, meanwhile, got off to a terrible start to the season due mostly to injuries, but has 2-straight top 25s, while Mozo has 2 top 10s in her last 7 LPGA starts, so they're a little more of a risk to put together, but I think they'll go for it.

Assuming Phatlum/Sattayabanphot match up against Munoz and Ciganda and the Jutanugarn sisters go up against Recari and Mozo, I think I'd give a slight advantage to Team Spain because of their Solheim Cup experience, but I expect this one to be close and hard fought.

Tomorrow I'll look at Pool B, where my fave Team Japan has a tough crowd to battle against!

[Update 1 (10:55 pm):  Got everyone's pairings right except Taiwan's!]

Monday, July 21, 2014

Getting Psyched Up for the International Crown!

The LPGA's International Crown is finally here!  Caves Valley Golf Club is the host site and their web site has an excellent course tour.  There's water in play on the 3 of the 1st 4 holes, so players will need to come out of the gates swinging.  There are a range of tees that the tournament organizers can choose from, so the course could look and play quite different each day.

Here's the schedule of pool four-ball ("best-ball") matches, with links to LPGA.com team previews (the videos available on LPGA.com are also good set-ups).  I'll focus on Pool A tomorrow and Pool B Wednesday!

THURSDAY

Pool A

U.S. (1) vs. Taiwan (8)
Thailand (4) vs. Spain (5)

Pool B

Korea (2) vs. Australia (7)
Japan (3) vs. Sweden (6)

FRIDAY

Pool A

U.S. (1) vs. Spain (5)
Thailand (4) vs. Taiwan (8)

Pool B

Korea (2) vs. Sweden (6)
Japan (3) vs. Australia (7)

SATURDAY

Pool A

U.S. (1) vs. Thailand (4)
Spain (5) vs. Taiwan (8)

Pool B

Korea (2) vs. Japan (3)
Sweden (6) vs. Australia (7)

[Update 1 (10:30 pm):  Brent Kelley has a great overview.]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Marathon Classic Sunday: Lydia Ko Outsprints So Yeon Ryu and Cristie Kerr to the Finish Line

In a week when youth was served around the world of men's and women's golf, 17-year-old Lydia Ko was the youngest winner of them all today at the Marathon Classic.  In addition to 25-year-old Rory McIlroy holding on for his historic win at the Open Championship, 21-year-old Misuzu Narita got her 3rd JLPGA victory of 2014 (this one in a playoff over 22-year-old Kotono Kozuma) and 5th of her short career, 18-year-old Charley Hull shot a Sunday 65 to force a playoff with 27-year-old Kylie Walker on the LET (which she lost--it was the Scottish rising star's 2nd playoff victory of the year), and 19-year-old Hyo Joo Kim came within 3 shots of winning her 3rd-straight KLPGA event (Inbee Park missed the playoff by 1 shot!).

Like Rory, Lydia was able to avoid a playoff, but unlike him, she couldn't afford to play defense, as she started the final round 2 shots behind Laura Diaz and Lee-Anne Pace.  Even as the co-leaders faded, Karine Icher (63) and Pernilla Lindberg (65) charged, and 1st Cristie Kerr and then So Yeon Ryu went on birdie barrages, Ko kept the pedal to the metal with birdies on 3, 4, 8, and 10 to get to -13.  By the time she reached the 16th hole, she was tied with Kerr and led Ryu by 1.  When she birdied it, and Kerr pulled her approach on 15 and failed to get up and down, Ko was the sole leader at -14 with 2 par 5s left to play.  A bad drive on 17 put her on the defensive, but a missed 8-foot birdie putt by Kerr on 16 allowed her to dodge a bullet; after those 2 missed putts in a row, Kerr wasn't a factor on the par 5s and would end the day at -12.  But then Ryu put on another charge of her own, making a great birdie on 16 and an improbable one on 17 after an even worse drive than Ko's to join her at -14.  Ko had a little pitch into the 18th hole seconds after Ryu tied her, and she stuck it, making the 5-footer to finish at -15.  Then she could only wait to see if Ryu would make her 7-footer from the opposite side of the hole.  When it missed wide right, Ko had earned her 2nd LPGA victory of 2014 and 4th LPGA title in her career.

Plenty of other players made some noise but in the end fell short.  Rookie Kelly Tan needed a birdie on 18 to finish at -13 and put some pressure on the big names behind her, but her approach skipped into a nasty tuft of rough just off the back fringe and she failed to get up and down, which allowed Pace and Katherine Kirk to catch her at -11.  Julieta Granada (66), Lindsey Wright (68), and Kris Tamulis (68) joined Lindberg at -10, as did Women's British Open champion Mo Martin, who gave herself a lot of chances to go lower but just couldn't get her putts to drop down the stretch.  A 6-birdie 68 got Ai Miyazato to -9, tied with Rebecca Lee-Bentham and rookie Mirim Lee.  And joining Icher at -8 were Lexi Thompson (67) and Candie Kung (70).

It wasn't quite as successful a week in the end for Diaz, whose final-round 75 dropped her to -7, tied with Tiffany Joh (67), Mariajo Uribe (69), Austin Ernst (72), Brooke Pancake (72), and Jaye Marie Green (74), but she has nothing to be ashamed of with her top 20.  After all, she beat world #1 Stacy Lewis (70, -6), defending champion Beatriz Recari (70, -6), veterans Jennifer Rosales (68, -6), Meena Lee (70, -6), and Brittany Lincicome (71, -6), and up-and-comers Jenny Shin (69, -6) and Marina Alex (71, -6), not to mention Na Yeon Choi (71, -5), Chella Choi (69, -5), Caroline Hedwall (73, -5), Morgan Pressel (69, -2), and Paula Creamer (72, +1).

But the day belonged to Ko.  The way she kept hitting knockdown short irons and hybrids into greens with such accuracy all week, the way she came back from an off day on the greens yesterday with flawless putting today, and the way she calmly went about her business through thick and thin were some of the most impressive aspects of her game.  And her reward was to break the $1M barrier in season and career winnings as an LPGA member, move up to #3 on the money list, Race to the CME Globe, and Player of the Year race, and lay down a marker to everyone else on tour that they'd better watch out when she's in contention on the back 9.  It's just too bad there couldn't be a dual Australia-New Zealand team for the International Crown next week!

Samantha Thavasa Ladies Sunday: Misuzu Narita, 21, Beats Kotono Kozuma, 22, in Playoff for 3rd Win of 2014

22-year-old Kotono Kozuma fired a bogey-free 64 to finish the Samantha Thavasa Ladies at -16, but 21-year-old Misuzu Narita birdied 2 of her last 5 holes to force a playoff, which she won (in a way I have yet to discover).  It's Narita's 3rd win of 2014 and 5th in her short JLPGA career.  More details after I return from (hopefully) conquering Valley View in the final round of the Utica City Amateur!

[Update 1 (11:44 pm):  I had my 1st decent round of 2014 from Valley View's blue tees today, a 78 with 29 putts marred only by my butchering the Robert Trent Jones-design's 2 easy par 5s and missing a couple of 3-footers on the front (my back).  Then I watched Lydia Ko win at Highland Meadows, ate dinner with my folks, and drove back to Hamburg.  So I'm just now catching up on JLPGA blogging.  Let's see, the Yomiuri Shimbun notes only that Narita won on the 1st playoff hole.  The JLPGA site explains she did it with a birdie.]

[Update 2 (7/21/14, 12:01 am):  Here's what the tour's money list looks like as a result of Narita's impressive win:

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥81.37M
2. Bo-Mee Lee ¥67.68M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥66.11M
4. Miki Sakai ¥55.38M
5. Erina Hara ¥40.04M
6. Ji-Yai Shin ¥39.33M
7. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥37.84M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥37.23M
9. Teresa Lu ¥34.45M
10. Esther Lee ¥34.30M
11. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
12. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥31.48M
13. Rikako Morita ¥29.74M

14. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M
15. Phoebe Yao ¥26.57M
16. Lala Anai ¥26.41M
17. Ritsuko Ryu ¥26.23M
18. Na-Ri Lee ¥24.31M
19. Mayu Hattori ¥23.30M
20. Hikari Fujita ¥23.07M
21. Shiho Oyama ¥21.55M
22. Sakura Yokomine ¥20.58M
23. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
24. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥19.79M
25. Junko Omote ¥18.29M
26. Kaori Ohe ¥18.16M
27. Mami Fukuda ¥18.10M
28. Mamiko Higa ¥17.80M
29. Saiki Fujita ¥17.63M
30. Yukari Baba ¥17.53M
31. Momoko Ueda ¥16.97M
32. Rumi Yoshiba ¥16.90M
33. Akane Iijima ¥16.52M
34. Soo-Yun Kang ¥15.63M
35. Megumi Kido ¥15.59M
36. Kotono Kozuma ¥14.93M
37. Asako Fujimoto ¥14.91M
38. Yumiko Yoshida ¥14.69M
39. Na-Ri Kim ¥14.29M
40. Miki Saiki ¥13.46M

Next up is a new event on the JLPGA, the Century 21 Ladies.  With Sakura Yokomine and Mamiko Higa playing in the LPGA's International Crown, representing Japan with Ai and Mika Miyazato, along with Onnarin Sattayabanphot on Team Thailand and Teresa Lu and Phoebe Yao on Team Taiwan, it'll be interesting to see who in the JLPGA event's field stands up to Sun-Ju Ahn and Bo-Mee Lee!]

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Move Over, Rory! Kylie Walker Fires 3-Straight 64s on LET

Charley Hull has shot a pair of 64s in Germany on the LET this week, but trails leader Kylie Walker by 6 shots.  Yup, Scotland's 27-year-old rising star, who's won once already this year and is #22 on the tour's Order of Merit, shot 3--count 'em, 1, 2, 3--64s in a row.  How's she done it?  She's birdied half the holes she's played thus far this week.

Granted, this is not Royal Liverpool, and lots of players are going low--Yu Yang Zhang is also -18, Anne-Lise Caudal and Celine Herbin are -16, Amy Boulden is -15, Sandra Gal and Carlota Ciganda are -14, and a total of 20 players are double digits under par already--but in the midst of a historic week by Rory McIlroy, a crowded and diverse leaderboard on the LPGA, and chances for a 3rd win in 2014 by Misuzu Narita on the JLPGA and Kyu-Jung Baek on the KLPGA, but I hope that the non-bloggy media picks up on this story.

I can't remember a player ever doing what Walker's done.  Can you?  Think she has any hope of making it 4 in a row?

Marathon Classic Saturday: Lee-Anne Pace Catches Laura Diaz at -11

Lee-Anne Pace has won 8 times on the LET and she looked comfortable playing in the group ahead of 1st- and 2nd-round leader Laura Diaz today at the Marathon Classic.  She went out bogey-free in 32 and bounced back from a pair of early bogeys on the back with 3 birdies in her last 6 holes to post a 68 and catch Diaz at -11.  The 39-year-old mother of 2 followed up a birdie on the par-4 3rd with a double on the par-4 4th, but hit the short 9th with her drive and sank the 12-foot eagle putt to return to -12.  However, she bogeyed the par-4 12th and couldn't find the hole coming in, ultimately failing to take advantage of moving day.

Plenty of other golfers did, though, and the co-leaders have plenty of company.  Jaye Marie Green found the form that had her setting records at least year's Q-School as she fired a 9-birdie 63 to move to -10.  So Yeon Ryu had nothing going until the end of the day, when she just missed making her 4th birdie in a row on the final hole for a 68 to join Green 1 shot off the lead.  Lydia Ko made 3 birdies in her last 6 holes to salvage a 70 and move 2 behind Diaz and Pace.  Women's British Open champion Mo Martin shot her 2nd 67 of the week to move to -8.  She's joined by Cristie Kerr, who birdied 5 holes between 9 and 16 but failed to birdie the par-5 17th and bogeyed the par-5 18th; Brittany Lang, who hung in there for a 69; Katherine Kirk, who rode the roller-coaster for a 7-birdie 68; and college rivals Austin Ernst (66) and Brooke Pancake (67), who each hit 16 greens and made only 1 bogey each all day.  The 2nd-best round of the day belonged to Kris Tamulis, whose bogey-free 64 lifted her into a tie at -7 with rookies Mirim Lee and Kelly Tan (who both shot 68s), youngsters Caroline Hedwall and Kayla Mortellaro (69s), and veterans Candie Kung and Lindsey Wright (also 69s).

And that's not all!  Ai Miyazato shot a bogey-free 67 sparked by 4 birdies on the back 9 for the lowest score she's shot since the final round of the ShopRite Classic on September 1st last year.  After a 2014 that has gone from mediocre to bad to worse, this is now the 2nd week in a row that she finds herself within sight of the leaders through 54 holes.  Tomorrow is going to be very important for her.  But it's going to be just as important for everyone else at -6.  Brittany Lincicome  (69) also needs to jump-start her year, while Marina Alex (69) and Rebecca Lee-Bentham (72) need to move up the money-list.

You don't start to see names as big as Ryu, Ko, and Kerr until you get to -5, with world #1 Stacy Lewis and 7-time LPGA winner Na Yeon Choi shooting 68s and not even having the most impressive rounds of the bunch, as Meena Lee fired a 66 and Pat Hurst and Kim Kaufman 67s.  Lexi Thompson also shot a 66 to get to -4, where she is joined by Moira Dunn, Christina Kim, Kristy McPherson, Jenny Shin, Pernilla Lindberg, and Marissa Steen.  Shin's 67 was matched by Chella Choi, Tiffany Joh, and Amelia Lewis, who at -3 will need to go off tomorrow to have a chance.

Bottom line:  given the super-low rounds we've already seen this week and even lower ones that we know are out there from previous years at Highland Meadows, this is really anyone's tournament.  I'm looking forward to watching the action after I try to find my touch in the 2nd round of the Utica City Amateur.  Diaz still has a chance to go wire-to-wire this week, but probably 40+ other players will be going to bed tonight with dreams of taking the title away from her.

Samantha Thavasa Ladies Saturday: Na-Ri Lee Shoots 2nd-Straight 66 to lead Misuzu Narita by 1

Na-Ri Lee fired her 2nd-straight 66, this one a bogey-free round with 3 birdies on each side, to take a 1-shot lead at the Samantha Thavasa Ladies on Misuzu Narita, who opened with 5 birdies in her 1st 8 holes but parred out the rest of the way for a 67.  Right behind them is 22-year-old Hiroko Azuma, who's made only 4 cuts all season but shot her 2nd-straight 67 to get to double digits under par.

And then there are 3 players at -9 (including Ji-Yai Shin and Esther Lee, who have both won on the JLPGA this year), 6 at -8 (including 6-time winner Rui Kitada), 5 at -7 (including 9-time winner Shinobu Moromizato and 4-time winner Yumiko Yoshida), and 11 at -6 (including Ji-Hee Lee, Natsuka Hori, and amateur Haruka Morita).  So it's really still anyone's tournament.

But if Lee and Narita do separate themselves from the field, it would make for an interesting duel.  Lee won twice last year but started 2014 with 5-straight missed cuts.  She's bounced back in recent months, however, with 4 top 10s and 6 top 20s in her last 7 starts.  Narita, meanwhile, has 2 victories in her last 8 starts, bringing the 22-year-old's career total on tour already to 4.  If Narita could prevail, she could move to #2 on the JLPGA money list!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Marathon Classic Friday: Laura Diaz Finishes Strong to Maintain 3-Shot Lead on Lydia Ko and Lee-Anne Pace

On a day when Rory McIlroy overcame his Friday jinx, Laura Diaz had to deal with some 2nd-round struggles of her own at the Marathon Classic after opening with a bogey-free 62.  She was having trouble hitting fairways and getting anywhere near the pin on her approach shots for her 1st 12 holes, but she bounced back from a bogey on the par-3 6th with 4 birdies in her last 6 holes to post a 69 and get to -11.  That was good enough to maintain a 3-shot lead on Lydia Ko, who fired her 2nd-straight 67, and Lee-Anne Pace, who birdied both closing par 5s for a 68.

But even though Diaz tried valiantly to close the door she had left wide open over the 1st two-thirds of her round, many golfers made up ground on her today.  Brittany Lang led the way with a 6-birdie 66, while the list of players to match Ko's 67 was long:  So Yeon Ryu and Rebecca Lee-Bentham at -7, Kayla Mortellaro joining Lang at -6, Cristie Kerr and Candie Kung getting to -5, Mirim Lee moving to -4, and Karine Icher climbing the leaderboard to -2.  Many also made it to -3 on the day, including Caroline Hedwall and Katherine Kirk at -5, Beatriz Recari at -4, Kristy McPherson, Belen Mozo, Pernilla Lindberg, and Line Vedel at -3, Jaye Marie Green at -2, and Lisa McCloskey at +1.

Which is where the cut line fell this week.  Just barely making it into the weekend were Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson, Chella Choi, Tiffany Joh, and Amelia Lewis, among others.  Not so fortunate were Angela Stanford and Haeji Kang at +2, Sun Young Yoo and Jennifer Song at +3, Hee-Won Han and Gerina Piller at +4, Michelle Wie at +8, Birdie Kim and Azahara Munoz (playing with borrowed clubs as Air Canada has misplaced her regular set) at +9, and Lorie Kane at +10.  Among those who flirted with the cut line were Morgan Pressel, Meena Lee, and Jenny Shin at E, while Chie Arimura made 5 birdies in her 1st 10 holes of bogey-free golf to get to -5 for the week, but fell all the way back to -1 by the time she finished the front 9 (her back).

It was nice to see Harukyo Nomura make a hole in 1 and win a car on the par 3 14th (site of many entertaining caddie races today and a Paula Creamer defeat of Lexi Thompson in a long sprint of their own), but I'm even more excited that Ai Miyazato and Na Yeon Choi will be paired together on moving day, despite the fact that they're both back at -2 thus far.  Other cool pairings include Moira Dunn and Jennifer Rosales at -3 and Mina Harigae and Christina Kim, also at -3.

Me, I'll be trying to turn my season around in the 1st round of the Utica City Amateur tomorrow.  We should be done in time for us to catch the 3rd round on Golf Channel.  Loving the Karen Stupples-Juli Inkster team this week!

Samantha Thavasa Ladies Friday: Ji-Yai Shin Shares Lead at 66

Ji-Yai Shin eagled the short par-4 13th hole in her opening round at the Samantha Thavasa Ladies to cap off a 66 that left her tied for the lead at -6 with Yumiko Yoshida, Na-Ri Lee, Misuzu Narita, and Kaori Nakamura.  Lee birdied her last 4 holes in a row, while Yoshida and Narita didn't make a bogey today.

The top of the leaderboard is bunched, as Esther Lee, Hikari Fujita, Kotono Kozuma, Yukari Nishiyama, and Hiroko Azuma are only 1 back, Hiromi Mogi, Yukari Baba, and Asako Fujimoto are 2 behind, and 16 golfers are 3 off the pace, including Shinobu Moromizato, Rui Kitada, Na-Ri Kim, Mayu Hattori, Megumi Kido, Natsuka Hori, Ayaka Watanabe, and Erika Kikuchi.  With the likes of Mi-Jeong Jeon, Ji-Hee Lee, and Erina Hara at -2, Yuri Fudoh, Rikako Morita, and Ritsuko Ryu at -1, and Akane Iijima, Young Kim, and Kaori Ohe at E, there are actually 65 golfers within 5 shots of the lead and 78 at E or better.

Not every big name in the field did well, though, as Akiko Fukushima, Momoko Ueda, Saiki Fujita, and Soo-Yun Kang are +1 and Yuko Mitsuka, Kaori Aoyama, and recent winner Yeon-Ju Jung are +4, so it'll be interesting to see if they can get it going tomorrow, when moving day and cut day are the same day.  It'll be even more interesting to see how well those who came from Royal Birkdale last week can play over the course of 54 holes this week!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Marathon Classic Thursday: Laura Diaz Sets Pace with Opening 62

Laura Diaz started her day at the Marathon Classic with 5 straight birdies and never looked back, finishing with a 9-birdie 62 on the par-71 Highland Meadows course.  And she left the field in the dust.

With that early number staring them in the face, not many American big names played all that well.  World #1 Stacy Lewis needed 2 birdies in her last 4 holes on the front to post a 70, while fellow Americans Lexi Thompson (71), Paula Creamer (72), Angela Stanford (72), Morgan Pressel (72), Gerina Piller (73), and Michelle Wie (74 with 3 straight bogeys to close out her round) had even tougher days.  Even those who started hot cooled off fast:  Brittany Lincicome eagled the par-5 17th as she prepared to make the turn, but played the rest of her round birdieless and +1 as she settled for a 69; Cristie Kerr was -3 and bogey-free after a hole in 1 on the par-3 6th, but ended up with a 70 after bogeying 2 of her last 3 holes.

International stars did somewhat better.  Lydia Ko birdied 3 holes in a row on the front and finished with consecutive birdies on the closing par 5s for a 67.  So Yeon Ryu went out in 31 and posted a bogey-free 68.  Ai Miyazato got off to a hot start (-4 through 11) and hung on for a 68 of her own.  Na Yeon Choi bounced back from an awful start by going -5 over her last 11 holes for a 69, while Caroline Hedwall went -3 over her last 12 holes to join NYC at -2.  Defending champion Beatriz Recari bounced back from a bogey-double run as she made the turn from back to front with 3 birdies in her last 6 holes to post a 70.  Chella Choi had an up-and-down 71.  The only exception to the general good vibrations from the international big names was Azahara Munoz, who made 5 bogeys and a double on her way to a 77.

With so many great golfers struggling to find their rhythm today, the door was open for the rest of the field, and several walked right through it.  Probably the most exciting and gratifying one of them was Women's British Open champion Mo Martin, who fired a bogey-free 67.  She wasn't quite in 2nd place at the end of the day, however.  Early in the day, LET star Lee-Anne Pace fired a 6-birdie 66, while late in the day American Austin Ernst made an eagle on the par-5 18th and sprinkled 5 birdies through her round to join her at -5.  Rookie Marissa Steen birdied 4 of her last 5 holes and fellow American Katie Burnett birdied 3 of her last 4 holes to post 67s of their own, while Mariajo Uribe matched them with the most adventurous round of the day despite hitting 17 greens in regulation, which included 8 birdies in all and only 1 par on the front 9, where she fired a 30.  And in the very last group of the day, Lindsey Wright put together a bogey-free 67 of her own.  With Julieta Granada, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Paola Moreno, Emma Jandel, and Kelly Tan also at -3, it was a good day for the LPGA's less-heralded golfers.

I was happy to see solid rounds from Danielle Kang (69), Harukyo Nomura (69), Mina Harigae (70), Moira Dunn (70), Hee-Won Han (71), Jeong Jang (71), Chie Arimura (71), Ayako Uehara (71), and Tiffany Joh (71).  I'm hoping that Meena Lee (72), Eun-Hee Ji (72), Jenny Shin (72), Jane Park (73), and Jennifer Song (74) can bounce back and make the cut tomorrow.  All in all, 32 players broke 70 and 73 shot par or better.  Meanwhile, NYer Laura Diaz has built herself a big cushion.  Let's see how she follows up on her amazing round!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Congratulations to Mo Martin and Amy Yang!

Mo Martin's 1st career LPGA victory and 1st major title also bumped her over the $1M mark in career winnings.  She moved up from #45 to #35 in my ranking of the top careers among LPGA rookies since 2005, as well.

Amy Yang joined the LPGA's $4M Club at Royal Birkdale, too.  With Shanshan Feng, Meena Lee, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lang, Anna Nordqvist, Seon Hwa Lee, and Sun Young Yoo already in it, it'll be interesting to see who'll be next to join Brittany Lincicome and Morgan Pressel in the $5M Club!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Picks for the Marathon Classic

The LPGA returns to the Toledo, Ohio, area for the Marathon Classic, where Beatriz Recari defeated Paula Creamer in a pitched battle last year, and where Se Ri Pak has won 5 times, most recently in 2007.  The field features many top golfers, but no Pak, Karrie Webb, Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, Shanshan Feng, Amy Yang, Ya Ni Tseng, Hee Young Park, or In-Kyung Kim.  After a truly horrific week of picking at Royal Birkdale, I'm stacking my entries in this week's PakPicker at Seoul Sisters.com with golfers who have a great history in Sylvania!

1. Ryu
2. Lewis, Stacy
3. Wie
4. Thompson
5. Ko
6. Creamer
7. Munoz
8. Kerr
9. Stanford
10. Recari
11. Choi Chella
12. Choi Na Yeon

Alts: Shin; Lee Meena; Pressel

You can compare my picks to Tony Jesselli's.  Tony just passed me in the season-long PakPicker race....  Plus, he's attending the tournament with his wife, so be sure to check out his blog!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Attack on Titan(s) and Other Storylines of 2014 in the World of Women's Professional Golf

I've been looking for ways to put Mo Martin's Ricoh Women's British Open victory in perspective and in context off an on all day today, particularly by examining patterns among 2014's winners on the major female professional golf tours.  Here are a few attempts.

This Is No Cinderella Story--It's Attack on Titan(s).  Martin's win doesn't really fit the Cinderella scenario.  Nope, it's David and Goliath, or better yet, Jack the Giant-Slayer.  Taking down Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, and Shanshan Feng while other Titans crashed and burned at Royal Birkdale is a huge deal.  But it's not unprecedented in 2014, particularly on the JLPGA.  23-year-old Miki Sakai denied Sun-Ju Ahn her 4th victory of the year and 17th of her JLPGA career just a few weeks ago, while 22-year-old Yeon-Ju Jung held off 22-time winner on tour Sakura Yokomine the week before the WBO.  Back in May, Yoon Kyeong Heo defeated Ha Neul Kim, one of the KLPGA's big superstars.  And even further back, in January, Mi Hyang Lee went low to deny Lydia Ko a victory on the LET.  So for those who know the anime Attack on Titan, it makes sense to think of Martin as part of an elite group that's kept the world's superstars from gobbling up every single title in reach.  For those who haven't seen it, let me switch metaphors fast, because there's lots of actual gobbling in the anime.  Put it this way:  Martin's like the Han Solo of the group, though, because most of the winners have been as young as Luke Skywalker was in the original Star Wars movie.

The Global Youth Movement Accelerates.  I keep having to update my 22 Under 22 ranking this season because so many pros in the 21 and younger crowd keep on winning!  Since my latest update in mid-May, Jessica Korda, Misuzu Narita, Kyu-Jung Baek, and Hyo Joo Kim have won around the world.  Kim, in fact, has a 2-event win streak going on the KLPGA.  If it weren't for those pesky kids...

The Empire Strikes Back.  ...the world's elite golfers would have gotten away with all the titles this year!  Narita knocked off Shanshan Feng and Mika Miyazato in May to win her 1st JLPGA major.  15-year-old amateur Minami Katsu beat JLPGA and KLPGA star Bo-Mee Lee to become the youngest winner in JLPGA history.  And there's more.  But let's go through the roster of big-time world-wide winners:  Stacy Lewis and Sun-Ju Ahn have 3 wins each; Karrie Webb, Inbee Park, Michelle Wie, and Anna Nordqvist have 2 each; Paula Creamer, Ji-Yai Shin, Bo-Mee Lee, and In-Kyung Kim have 1 each.  But if you really think about it, I don't think anybody would deny that Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko, Ha Na Jang, and Hyo Joo Kim (all under 22) are also in the Empire, too.  Without them, the Empire has 18 worldwide wins in 2014.  With them, it has 22.  Out of 54.

So there you have it.  Roughly halfway through the year, those are the big patterns in women's golf.  Can you think of any others?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ricoh Women's British Open Sunday: Down to the Wire...

The final round of the Ricoh Women's British Open is underway and early scoring is not pretty.
  • Ariya Jutanugarn took a 9 on the 1st hole, Harukyo Nomura suffered a 5-6-7 start, Brittany Lang opened with a double and 3 bogeys in her next 4 holes and Jeong Jang and Kristy McPherson started with 3-hole bogey trains.  So far, with half the field underway, Thidapa Suwannapura has the lone birdie on #1.
  • I wouldn't put too much stock in the 1st completed rounds; most players would just want them over as quickly as possible.  So Becky Brewerton's 85, Hee Young Park's 79, Hannah Jun's 77, Ji Young Oh's 76, Lexi Thompson's 75, and Valentine Derrey's 74 are not necessarily bellwethers.  And yet, usually you play quicker when you take fewer strokes and these are professionals playing for money in still-benign conditions, so you'd think they're not that much worse than average for the day.  We'll see.
  • Alena Sharp and Ayaka Watanabe have been the only 2 players so far to shoot even-par 35s on the front.  Nobody has been under par for the entire 9, although amateur Emma Talley is -1 through 8.
More not-quite-live-blogging all morning!

[Update 1 (6:20 am):  Anna Nordqvist opened bogey-double, but has been -1 since.  Nomura is -2 over her last 13 holes and bogey-free since her awful start.  So there are some scoring opportunities out there in the middle of the round.  As usual, the par-5 6th is giving up a fair number of birdies.]

[Update 2 (6:24 am):  Talley parred 9 for the 1st 34 of the day.  Chella Choi made a rare par on 1 but followed it up with a triple on 2.  Ilhee Lee came in with a 79 and Austin Ernst with a 78.]

[Update 3 (6:25 am):  Mika Miyazato is E through 6, making her -4 over her last 40 holes.]

[Update 4 (6:28 am):  Alena Sharp already has 2 birdies on the back, but also a bogey and a double, so she needs a birdie on 18 for the 1st even-par round of the day.]

[Update 5 (6:30 am):  27-hole leader Ayako Uehara is +4 through her 1st 5 holes today, bringing her to +7 for the week.]

[Update 6 (6:32 am):  Suwannapura is +6 over her last 9 holes.  She hasn't been able to follow up on her opening birdie as of yet.]

[Update 7 (6:33 am):  Sharp doubled 18 for a 75.  Still waiting for that 1st E round of the day.  Ayaka Watanabe is +1 with 3 holes to go.]

[Update 8 (6:38 am):  Par Watch continues.  Mikan bogeyed 7 to drop to +1.  Talley bogeyed 10 to fall to E.  Lee-Anne Pace is E through 8.]

[Update 9 (6:41 am):  Disaster Watch continues.  Beth Allen shot an 85, Vikki Laing an 80, Christina Kim a 77.]

[Update 10 (6:42 am):  Paula Creamer is E through 5.  Rikako Morita started bogey-birdie.]

[Update 11 (6:50 am):  Man, Pace bogeyed 9 for a 36.  Thought she'd have the 3rd 35 of the day on the front!]

[Update 12 (6:52 am):  Creamer has 2 birdies in a row and is -1 through 6.  Only 7th player of the day to make back-to-back birdies thus far!]

[Update 13 (6:53 am):  2 of her predecessors did it on 6 and 7, so maybe Creamer can be the 1st to make it 3 in a row!]

[Update 14 (6:55 am):  Nomura hung in there for a 76 after going +6 over her 1st 3 holes. Jee Young Lee shot a birdieless 79.]

[Update 15 (6:57 am):  Mikan doubles 8 to go to +3 on her day.  Xiyu Lin took an 8 on that hole and there have been plenty of doubles there already.]

[Update 16 (6:59 am):  Talley bogeyed 11, too.  Now +1 on her day.  Only 3 shots up on Georgia Hall for low amateur.  Hall has 2 birdies in a row with only the 18th left to play.]

[Update 17 (7:02 am):  Giulia Sergas has birdied 10 and 11 to fight back to +1 on her day.  Pace has bogeyed 9 and 10 to drop to +2.  Nordqvist now only +1 through 10 after +3 start on 1st 2 holes.  Creamer still only player under par thus far in her final round.]

[Update 18 (7:05 am):  I picked Lydia Ko to win this week.  She's bogeyed her 1st 3 holes in a row to fall to +4.]

[Update 19 (7:07 am):  So Yeon Ryu pars 1 to stay at -1.  Still 13 players under par.]

[Update 20 (7:10 am):  Dori Carter posts 77.  Only 1 golfer has broken 75 thus far today!]

[Update 21 (7:13 am):  Alison Walshe matches Lexi's 75.  Chella Choi +5 through her 1st 4 holes.]

[Update 22 (7:13 am):  Georgia Hall and Ayaka Watanabe match Derrey's 74 for low rounds of the day thus far!]

[Update 23 (7:17 am):  Belen Mozo "only" +3 with 17 and 18 to play.  Can she make like Ji Young Oh on the last 2 holes and get the low round of the day?]

[Update 24 (7:19 am):  Ko got off her 3-hole bogey train.  Morita is on one right now.]

[Update 25 (7:22 am):  Hall finished at +9.  Talley is +6 with 5 to go.  Low am within reach....]

[Update 26 (7:25 am):  Ryu doubles 2 to drop to +1 on the week.  Hull's par on 1 keeps it at 7 golfers under par right now.]

[Update 27 (7:27 am):  Amy Yang doubled 1 to drop to +1.  Stacy Lewis, Eun-Hee Ji, Beatriz Recari, Gwladys Nocera, and Mo Martin all bogeyed 1 to fall to E.]

[Update 28 (7:32 am):  Amelia Lewis doubled 1 to fall back to E.  Now 6 players under par.]

[Update 29 (7:34 am):  Here's a crazy thought.  Laura Davies is "only" +5 with 7 to go.  If she goes on a closing birdie barrage, she could win this thing and earn those last 2 points she needs to make it into the LPGA Hall of Fame!]

[Update 30 (7:39 am):  Hull bogeys 2.  Now only 5 over par.]

[Update 31 (7:41 am):  Ahn doubles 1 to drop to -1.]

[Update 32 (7:42 am):  Creamer bogeys 9 to post 35 and drop to +3.  Talley still has only under-par round on front.]

[Update 33 (7:44 am):  Mozo posts 4th 74 of day.  Pornanong Phatlum "only" +3 with 2 to play.]

[Update 34 (7:46 am):  Disaster Watch continues.  45 for Ariya on front.  81 for Lin.]

[Update 35 (7:49 am):  Phatlum birdies 17 to move to +2.  Can she get low round of the day with birdie or better on 18?]

[Update 36 (7:50 am):  80 for Sarah Kemp a tough end to 2 weeks of pretty darn good golf.]

[Update 37 (7:51 am):  Pettersen doubles 1 to fall to -1.]

[Update 38 (7:52 am):  Granada doubles 2 to fall to E.  Only 4 under par now.]

[Update 39 (7:59 am):  Here's the leaderboard as ESPN's coverage starts:

Inbee Park -4 through 1
Shanshan Feng -3 through 1
Sun-Ju Ahn and Suzann Pettersen -1 through 1
Amy Yang E through 4
Julieta Granada E through 2

Time to talk to the ladies in Japan!]

[Update 40 (8:10 am):  Phatlum shoots 5th 74 of the day and is leader in the clubhouse at +8.]

[Update 41 (8:11 am):  Talley bogeys 16 to move to +7, 2-up on Hall for low amateur.]

[Update 42 (8:13 am):  Nordqvist +1 on the day with 3 to play, +6 overall.]

[Update 43 (8:14 am):  Davies +2 on her day with 4 to play, +5 overall.]

[Update 44 (8:15 am):  Creamer E on her day with 6 to play, +3 overall.]

[Update 45 (8:18 am):  Talley birdies 17 to move to +6!]

[Update 46 (8:19 am):  Inbee pulls 6-foot par save on 2 to fall to -3.]

[Update 47 (8:19 am):  Great approach by Ahn on 3 after 3 doubles in a row dating back to her penalty on 18 yesterday.]

[Update 48 (8:21 am):  Ji-Yai Shin birdies 9 to post 36 on front, +3 overall.]

[Update 49 (8:22 am):  Jessica Korda fights back after double on 2 with birdie on 7 to post 36 on front.  +2 overall.]

[Update 50 (8:25 am):  Carlota Ciganda birdies 2 of her last 4 holes to match Phatlum with 74/+8 finish.  Co-leader in clubhouse!]

[Update 51 (8:27 am):  Sergas +2/+7 heading into 18.]

[Update 52 (8:30 am):  Great lag by Inbee on 3.  Stays at -3]

[Update 53 (8:32 am):  Pettersen misses birdie chance.  Still 2 back.  Nobody else under par outside final group.]

[Update 54 (8:33 am):  Recari erased her double on 5 with birdies on 6 and 7.  +1.]

[Update 54 (8:34 am):  73 by Talley is low round of the day, just as her 34 on the front has been low round there.  She's low amateur and leader in the clubhouse at +6.]

[Update 55 (8:36 am):  Laura Davies birdies 15 to move to +1/+4!]

[Update 56 (8:40 am):  Another pull from Park.  She's now +2/-2.]

[Update 57 (8:40 am):  Nice sandie by Pettersen.  1 back.]

[Update 58 (8:41 am):  74 by Sergas tied for 2nd-best round of the day, but at +7 she's 1 behind Talley.]

[Update 59 (8:42 am):  Dammit.  Dame Laura Davies bogeyed 16.  +2/+5.]

[Update 60 (8:44 am):  Ji-Yai Shin bounced back from a triple on 11 with a birdie on 12.  She's now tied with Davies at +5.]

[Update 61 (8:45 am):  Sweet birdie by Feng on 5 gets her within 1 of Park. Watch out for Gwladys Nocera.  Her 36 on front puts her at +1 for the week, but she's in rough on 10.]

[Update 62 (8:46 am):  Creamer's got to make something happen on last 4 holes.  She's E on day, +3 overall.]

[Update 63 (8:49 am):  Nocera missed long par chance at 10.  +2/+2.]

[Update 64 (8:50 am):  Amelia Lewis leaves eagle putt on 6 in heart, 6 inches shy.  Good birdie, though.]

[Update 65 (8:51 am):  Creamer bogeys 15 to drop to +1/+4.]

[Update 66 (8:52 am):  Anna Nordqvist birdies 18 for low round of the day, a 72 that leaves her at +5.  We have a new leader in the clubhouse!]

[Update 67 (8:54 am):  Great bounce for Feng on approach on par-5 6th.]

[Update 68 (8:55 am):  Korda bogeys 12 to go to +2/+3.]

[Update 69 (8:57 am):  Side-door birdie for Feng for 2nd in a row.  Tied at -2 with Park for lead.]

[Update 70 (8:58 am):  Birdie for Ahn gets her back to E, only 2 off lead!]

[Update 71 (8:59 am):  Great approach on 9 by Beatriz Recari!]

[Update 72 (9:00 am):  Great 3-wood by Park allows her to hit 6th in 2.]

[Update 73 (9:02 am):  Davies needs to birdie 18 to be solo leader in clubhouse.]

[Update 74 (9:03 am):  Angela Stanford birdies 11 to go back to +2/+2.]

[Update 75 (9:04 am):  Nice lag on eagle try by Inbee!  Good bunker shot from Feng a hole ahead.]

[Update 76 (9:05 am):  Pettersen's putt from valley to left of 6 comes up about 20 feet short.]

[Update 77 (9:06 am):  Mo Martin's solid 36 on front leaves her at E with 9 holes to go.  Great birdie putt by Pettersen!]

[Update 78 (9:08 am):  Feng missed par save on 7.  Park birdies 6 to take solo lead at -3.  Pettersen -2.  Feng -1.  Martin E after side-door par on 10.  Ahn also E.]

[Update 79 (9:09 am):  Great approach by Pettersen on 7!]

[Update 80 (9:10 am):  Nocera bogeys 11, Korda bogeys 13, Creamer bogeys 16--all 2nd in a row.  Too late for these kinds of mistakes.]

[Update 81 (9:13 am):  Erina Hara's 75 makes her low Japanese golfer in the clubhouse at +7.  Rikako Morita at +6 with 6 to play, Ai Miyazato having terrible day, +9 through 11 and +10 overall.]

[Update 82 (9:15 am):  Pettersen missed another birdie attempt.  Martin hits 11 in regulation.  Ahn hits 8 in regulation.]

[Update 83 (9:15 am):  Park cans pressure putt to save par on 7.]

[Update 84 (9:17 am):  Charley Hull hanging tough, but bogeys 9 to drop to +3/+2.]

[Update 85 (9:18 am):  Nice 2-putt for Martin on 11, which she 4-putted yesterday.]

[Update 86 (9:19 am):  Korda birdies 14 to get back to +2/+3.  Great lag on 8 by Ahn.]

[Update 87 (9:21 am):  Mika Miyazato +7 in last 10 holes after going -4 over previous 40.]

[Update 88 (9:22 am):  Mina Harigae hangs in there for 75 to finish at +9.  She's having a pretty good 2014!]

[Update 89 (9:24 am):  Pettersen chunked her wedge on 8, just like she did on 5, both times after great drives.  Frustrating!]

[Update 90 (9:26 am):  Great shot by Hull from effectively 225 yards out!]

[Update 91 (9:28 am):  Davies birdied 18 for a 73 that leaves her at +4.  New leader in clubhouse!]

[Update 92 (9:31 am):  Bogey on 8 by Park drops her back to -2.  Let's see if Rikako Morita at +6 can make a move over the last 4 holes.]

[Update 93 (9:32 am):  Pettersen's putt for par pulled badly from 3 feet.  She's now -1 with Feng.  Mo Martin looking good at E with 6 to go.]

[Update 94 (9:33 am):  Morita birdies 15 to go to +5 for the week!]

[Update 95 (9:37 am):  Creamer goes bogey-bogey-double to go +5 over last 9 holes after fighting back to +2 for the week.]

[Update 96 (9:42 am):  Fantastic approaches by Pettersen and Park on 9.]

[Update 97 (9:43 am):  Stanford bogeyed 14 to drop to +3 on the week.  Coming back to Davies!]

[Update 98 (9:45 am):  Huge 9-foot birdie attempt for Inbee on 9 for 36.  Can she do it?  Bang!]

[Update 99 (9:46 am):  Nice birdie by Granada on 10.  She's +4 on day, +2 overall.]

[Update 100 (9:55 am):  Martin +1 with 4 to play.]

[Update 101 (9:57 am):  Azahara Munoz finished birdie-birdie for 75 to join Nordqvist at +5.  Davies still leader in clubhouse with only 12 players ahead of her.]

[Update 101 (9:58 am):  Clutch par save by Stanford on 15 keeps her at +3 for the week.]

[Update 102 (9:59 am):  Inbee goes from bad to worse in heavy stuff left on #10!]

[Update 103 (10:03 am):  Julieta Granada's ball was blown almost in a circle on 11 green.]

[Update 104 (10:05 am):  Inbee got out of the heavy stuff to front of #10 green, but left 100-footer 15 feet short right for bogey.]

[Update 105 (10:06 am):  Great save by Granada!  Now Amelia Lewis's ball appeared to move on 11.]

[Update 106 (10:08 am):  Inbee's putt got stopped by the wind and she has a tester for double.  Pettersen babied her par putt.  Now E.]

[Update 107 (10:09 am):  Nice bogey save by Amelia Lewis on 11.  Park stopped her putt for double at end of backswing!  Then she makes it.  Now -1, tied with Feng for lead.]

[Update 108 (10:12 am):  Davies now in top 10!]

[Update 109 (10:13 am):  Korda now tied with her at +4 after bogeying 17.]

[Update 110 (10:17 am):  Feng didn't set putter on ground when ball moved and then makes 7-foot par save on 11.]

[Update 111 (10:18 am):  Great shot by Stacy Lewis on 14.  Can she get something going from +4?]

[Update 112 (10:19 am):  Great approach by Pettersen on 11!  Great par save by Granada on 12!]

[Update 113 (10:23 am):  More evidence (as if it's needed!) that it's tough out there:  80 by Chella Choi and 79s by Ji-Yai Shin and Jenny Shin today!]

[Update 114 (10:25 am):  Wind blowing Inbee's chip on 11 farther away.  Korda hits 18's back fringe in 2.  Can become leader in clubhouse with 1- or 2-putt.]

[Update 115 (10:27 am):  Rikako Morita was trying to become leader in clubhouse herself but she took a triple on 17.  Meanwhile, Park misses par save on 11.]

[Update 116 (10:27 am):  Great lag on 12 by Feng.]

[Update 117 (10:29 am):  Park loses lead with bogey on 11.  Ahn doubles 12 to fall to +4. Korda birdies 18 with fantastic 12-footer to finish at +3.  Mo Martin +1 with 2 to play.]

[Update 118 (10:32 am):  HUGE birdie by Julieta Granada at 13!  She's now +1.]

[Update 119 (10:34 am):  Awesome bunker shot from Inbee on 12!]

[Update 120 (10:39 am):  Nice par saves by Inbee and Suzann on 12.  Great approach by Shanshan on 13.]

[Update 121 (10:43 am):  Nice approach on 17 by Martin.  Great wedge from behind the 14th green by Julieta Granada.  Good par by Feng on 13.]

[Update 122 (10:46 am):  Another money putt by Granada!  Great par!]

[Update 123 (10:47 am):  Nice green in reg from Shanshan on 14.  Also by Inbee on 13.]

[Update 124 (10:49 am):  Nice birdie by Stanford on 18 to join Korda at +3.  75 makes her co-leader in clubhouse.]

[Update 125 (10:50 am):  How tough was it out there today?  Ai Miyazato shot an 83 and Lydia Ko an 80!]

[Update 126 (10:51 am):  Erina Hara at +7 ends up being low Japanese golfer in field.]

[Update 127 (10:53 am):  Terrific chipped hybrid by Pettersen on 13.  Good par putt by Feng on 14.  Great birdie from 20 feet on 13 by Park!  Now tied for lead!]

[Update 128 (10:54 am):  Pettersen's bogey save dives at end, taps corner, doesn't fall.  Double moves her to +2.]

[Update 129 (10:56 am):  Mo Martin broke the ESPN feed as she rolled ball onto green in 2 and hit flagstick at speed it could have dropped!  Eagle putt coming up!]

[Update 130 (11:01 am):  Martin sinks eagle to tie Feng and Park for lead!  What a last hole--what a finish!  Her 72 is tied for low round of the day!]

[Update 131 (11:04 am):  Gotta give credit to Marina Alex for sinking that birdie putt right before Mo made her eagle.  Great +4 finish for her this week!]

[Update 132 (11:10 am):  Too bad for Amelia Lewis to take that triple on 15.  Feng sticks approach on 15.]

[Update 133 (11:12 am):  Somehow I missed Julieta's bogey on 15.  Anyway, maybe having someone to chase rather than not fall back to as leader in  clubhouse will motivate last groups differently.]

[Update 134 (11:13 am):  Tentative stroke on 4-foot birdie try by Feng on 15 keeps Martin tied for lead.  Huge miss.]

[Update 135 (11:15 am):  83s wild for Japanese golfers today.  Ayako Uehara and Miki Saiki matched Ai-sama's disastrous finish, Saiki with a walkoff 9.  Ugh.]

[Update 136 (11:20 am):  Missed Inbee's bogey on 14.  She's now E.  Great interview with Mo by BBC!]

[Update 137 (11:27 am):  Somehow Pettersen ended up in heavy stuff after 2nd shot on 15 and had to chop out to front of green.  Inbee was in great position and hit a great wedge on her 3rd shot, but hit her birdie putt through the break.  Pars for both.  Still 1 and 3 back of Martin and Feng.  Meanwhile, Shanshan pulled her approach on 16 and hit chip 10 feet left of pin.]

[Update 138 (11:32 am):  Feng misses par save to right.  Martin is alone under par.]

[Update 139 (11:37 am):  More big final round numbers from big names.  So Yeon Ryu and Beatriz Recari 79.  Stacy Lewis and Charley Hull 78.  Gwladys Nocera 77.  Eun-Hee Ji 76.  How great was Martin's 72?!  What a different finish this would have been without her walkoff eagle!]

[Update 140 (11:38 am):  Bad 3-putts by Granada on 15 and 16 take a win out of the question for her.  How did Pettersen's wedge not drop?!  Wind blowing in right direction....  Not gonna happen.]

[Update 141 (11:41 am):  Feng plays smart layup on 17.  Needs to get a wedge to the right level.  Good birdie try by Inbee on 16, but also hit it through the break.]

[Update 142 (11:43 am):  Pettersen needs to make an eagle and a birdie to catch Martin.  Let's see if she can do what she did on moving day!]

[Update 143 (11:45 am):  Pettersen put it in the higher rough to the right.  Inbee needs to go -2 over her last 2 to pass Martin.  Crunch time!]

[Update 144 (11:47 am):  Looks to me like Shanshan is standing over her putts a little longer than usual and looking up during downstroke a little.  Not a good birdie try on 17.]

[Update 145 (11:47 am):  Feng needs to match Martin's walkoff eagle to beat her.  Birdie to tie.]

[Update 146 (11:48 am):  Good lie but bad angle from right side on 17 for Park's approach.]

[Update 147 (11:50 am):  80 by Amy Yang today.  Good drives by Sun-Ju and Shanshan on 18.]

[Update 148 (11:52 am):  Pettersen runs her 2nd on 17 into front-right bunker.]

[Update 149 (11:53 am):  Tough finish for Amelia Lewis, ends up with 80 to finish at +6.  Park's approach bounds past pin.  Now she has to deal with edge of tier on her birdie try.]

[Update 150 (11:54 am):  Great shot from Pettersen from bunker gives her an uphill birdie try from about 8 feet.]

[Update 151 (11:56 am):  Ahn misses 18 to right.  Feng has 209 in.  Catches front-right bunker.]

[Update 152 (11:57 am):  Park misses 20-footer a few inches to right.]

[Update 153 (11:58 am):  Side-door birdie for Pettersen brings her within 2 of Martin.]

[Update 154 (11:59 am):  Park makes par putt.  Needs eagle to win, birdie to tie.]

[Update 155 (12:01 pm):  Feng's sand shot checks up on her.  15 feet or so short.  Perfect drive by Pettersen on 18, but Park missed hers into heavy stuff right.]

[Update 156 (12:03 pm):  Feng put a good stroke on it, but missed 2 inches left.  She can't win.]

[Update 157 (12:04 pm):  Ahn misses birdie putt to finish with a 79.  Shanshan finishes at E.]

[Update 158 (12:08 pm):  Inbee had trouble even identifying ball.  Hung up in grass short of bunker.  Pettersen has 191 to front with left-to-right helping wind.]

[Update 159 (12:09 pm):  Another front-right bunker for Pettersen.]

[Update 160 (12:12 pm):  Inbee had to chop out from a bad lie and put it in same bunker as Pettersen.  79 by Sun-Ju Ahn, 78 by Stacy Lewis.  How great is Martin's 72 looking?!]

[Update 161 (12:14 pm):  Pettersen goes 1st from raked area.  Puts it 3 feet left of pin, but never had a chance.  Now it's Inbee's turn from pristine part of trap.  Not even close.  Martin wins!!!!!!]

[Update 162 (12:15 pm):  Another great interview from Martin.]

[Update 163 (12:21 pm):  Pettersen birdied to tie Feng for 2nd, 1 shot back of Martin.  Both shot 75s.  Inbee ended up with a 77 to finish 2 back.]

[Update 164 (12:22 pm):  Great to see T-Joh so happy for Mo!]

[Update 165 (12:26 pm):  Who would have thought Mo would be the American to make it 3 in a row for the USA in LPGA majors?!  Congrats!!!]

[Update 166 (12:29 pm):  I never saw this coming, I'll tell you that.  I had Martin 27th among those without an LPGA victory at the start of this season and didn't even put her in my top 40 of those without an LPGA major.  Amazing!]

[Update 167 (1:21 pm):  With her victory, Martin moves from #77 to #28 on my list of best performers in LPGA majors since 2000.]

[Update 168 (1:28 pm):  Mo-linkage via Tony Jesselli, Shane Bacon, and I'm sure more coming!]

[Update 169 (3:38 pm):  Stephanie Wei interviewed Martin and Feng.]

[Update 170 (6:47 pm):  Martin gets the Golf Babes treatment!]

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ricoh Women's British Open Saturday: Fasten Your Seatbelts!

It's moving day at Royal Birkdale and a lot's been happening in the Ricoh Women's British Open while we in the States have been sleeping!
  • Charley Hull started bogey-bogey to fall to +7 on the week, but responded with 8 birdies over her next 14 holes.  She bogeyed 17 and is now playing 18, which she has gone bogey-double on, both times with great saves.
  • Marina Alex has made 5 birdies in her 1st 12 holes and fallen back to E for the week with a bogey on 13.
  • Lydia Ko opened with a 4-birdie 32 to move back to +1.
  • Rikako Morita fired a 5-birdie 68 to fight back to +2 for the week.
  • Inbee Park has opened with a pair of consecutive birdies to move to -2 for the week.
So stay tuned.  I'll be doing some not-quite-live blogging this moving day morning!

[Update 1 (7:26 am):  Add Stacy Lewis to the under-par crowd!  She birdied 5 to join Alex at E.  Meanwhile, Hull birdied 18 for a 66, the low round of the week!]

[Update 2 (7:31 am):  Nice 70 by Mika Miyazato!  She's +4 on the week now.]

[Update 3 (8:21 am):  Got a call from the lovely ladies in Chiba!  Watching the coverage on DVR, so won't update until I catch up to live.  Hope what happened to Ayako Uehara on the back yesterday when she started missing fairways doesn't happen to Mo Martin today after she missed the 1st 2 fairways of her round....]

[Update 4 (9:30 am):  Glad to see Martin steadying the ship!  If Ahn were putting better, she'd be in the lead!  Ryu is looking like a champion!]

[Update 5 (9:31 am):  Ko parred out on the back for a fine 69.  Good to see Paula Creamer shooting a 71 and moving back to +3.]

[Update 6 (9:32 am):  Wish we were seeing more of Inbee Park's round.  It would also be nice to see how Stacy Lewis's hot start cooled off.  Clear that ESPN has a limited budget for today's coverage.]

[Update 7 (9:33 am):  Another player we should be seeing more of is Suzann Pettersen.  After just missing her 4th birdie in a row, she hasn't been on tv at all.]

[Update 8 (9:34 am):  Ah, seeing her now getting into trouble on 15!]

[Update 9 (9:36 am):  Very impressed by the way Amelia Lewis is playing the last 2 weeks.]

[Update 10 (9:38 am):  Love how Ryu has been aggressive off the tee the last several holes!]

[Update 11 (9:41 am):  There have been no bogey-free rounds in the 1st 2 days, but Shanshan Feng is -1 and bogey-free heading into 15-18!]

[Update 12 (9:45 am):  Nice 70 from Meena Lee and 71 from Ji-Yai Shin to join Morita at +2.]

[Update 13 (9:50 am):  Great closing birdie from Laura Davies!  Back to +3!]

[Update 14 (9:52 am):  Love how Beatriz Recari is turning around her year this week!  Great approach shot on 10!]

[Update 15 (9:53 am):  Angela Stanford just birdied 17 to fight back to +1 for the week.]

[Update 16 (9:54 am):  Still no mention that Feng is bogey-free.  Is this like a pitcher in the midst of a no-hitter?]

[Update 17 (9:55 am):  Sweet birdie putt from Mo on 10!  Bad miss from short range for birdie by Feng, but keeps bogey-free run going.]

[Update 18 (9:56 am):  Nice birdie by Recari!]

[Update 19 (9:58 am):  Chella Choi's 72 keeps her at +2.  Nice birdie from Ai Miyazato on 16 to get back to +2, too!]

[Update 20 (10:00 am):  By the way, Marina Alex ended up with a great 68 and is E through 54!]

[Update 21 (10:04 am):  Eun-Hee Ji bounced back from her lone bogey of the day with a birdie on 16 to fight back to E.]

[Update 22 (10:05 am):  Stanford finished birdie-birdie to get back to E!]

[Update 23 (10:06 am):  Amy Yang is having a roller-coaster round, but she has just birdied 2 holes in a row to fight back to E for the week with 5 holes left to play today.]

[Update 24 (10:08 am):  OMG.  Recari's shot went backwards on 11 right after Ryu went from left to way left on 13!]

[Update 25 (10:09 am):  Great comebacker by Recari.  Hope she makes the 10-footer!  Oooh--great approach by Ahn on 13!]

[Update 26 (10:11 am):  Nice that Ayako Uehara birdied 18 to post a 72 and stay at +4.  Even nicer that I don't have to listen to Terry Gannon finding a way to mispronounce her name every single try!]

[Update 27 (10:12 am):  Dammit, how did Ryu find that tiny creek?!]

[Update 28 (10:12 am):  Fantastic bogey save by Recari!]

[Update 29 (10:12 am):  Whoops, Yang just bogeyed the par-3 14th like Park before her.]

[Update 30 (10:16 am):  Ouch, Martin just 4-putted 12 for a double!]

[Update 31 (10:17 am):  Ryu just missed her bogey save, a 35-footer that looked in until the final 6 inches.]

[Update 32 (10:18 am):  Nice birdie by Ahn.  She's -3 with Park!]

[Update 33 (10:19 am):  Eagle on 17 by Suzann Pettersen!  -2 and right in this thing!]

[Update 34 (10:21 am):  Another smart approach shot on 14 by Ahn!]

[Update 35 (10:22 am):  Ryu safely on the green, too.]

[Update 36 (10:23 am):  Lewis birdies 18 to join Hull at -1.]

[Update 37 (10:25 am):  BTW, Sophie Giquel-Bettan had made an 8 on 15 but bounced back with a birdie on 18 for a 73 that leaves her at +2 for the week.  Jenny Shin's 73 was less volatile, but she's also at +2.]

[Update 38 (10:27 am):  Ariya Jutanugarn birdies 15 to claw back to E on a roller-coaster day and week!]

[Update 39 (10:29 am):  Another terrible long eagle try from Shanshan.  Barely made it to the ledge halfway there.  But she calmly sinks the 8-foot birdie putt to get to -2 on her day and for the week!  Finally Terry Gannon mentioned that she's bogey-free!]

[Update 40 (10:31 am):  Ai-sama birdied 18 to get to +1 for the week and remain low Japanese golfer.  Morita's 1 back of her, Uehara 2 behind, and Mikan, Miki Saiki, and Erina Hara 3 off her pace.  Forgot to mention yesterday that Ayaka Watanabe also made the cut.  After a 75 she's now +7.]

[Update 41 (10:33 am):  Ahn side-doors her par save to stay at -3, but Inbee birdied 17 to take the lead at -4.  Martin had earlier bogeyed 12.]

[Update 42 (10:34 am):  Awesome to see Julieta Granada playing well.  She birdied 15 to get to -2.]

[Update 43 (10:36 am):  Nice eagle-birdie finish by Pettersen to move to -3!  And Eun-Hee Ji joins Hull and Lewis at -1 with a walkoff birdie.]

[Update 44 (10:37 am):  That's a 68 by Pettersen.  I didn't think she'd be a contender this week, but she may well be the 54-hole leader when today's done!]

[Update 45 (10:38 am):  Well, that may be an overstatement.  Inbee's -4 and 18 is one of the easiest holes on the course....]

[Update 46 (10:42 am):  Shanshan got her pace down on her last eagle try.  Tap-in birdie for bogey-free 69!]

[Update 47 (10:44 am):  Nice birdie by Ryu on 15!]

[Update 48 (10:45 am):  Martin made a great out from a tough spot in the trap short of 13 green, but couldn't sink the par putt and goes +4 over her last 3 holes.  Meanwhile, Ahn birdies 15 to tie Park for the lead at -4!]

[Update 49 (10:49 am):  Amelia Lewis birdies 17 to get to -3!]

[Update 50 (10:50 am):  Inbee had a great lag from the back of the 18th green and has 2 feet to get to -5.  She hit the right edge and missed!]

[Update 51 (10:51 am):  Another good approach shot from Ahn on 16.  She has a great chance to take the solo lead over the last 3 holes!]

[Update 52 (10:53 am):  Ouch, Ariya doubled 16!]

[Update 53 (10:56 am):  Ouch, 3-putt bogey from Martin on 14 after hitting front of green in regulation.  She's -1 for the week still and still right in this thing if she can come back on the last 4 holes!]

[Update 54 (10:57 am):  Ryu is in trouble on 16.  Needs to make a toughie to save bogey.  Great par save by Recari on 14 to stay at E for the week.]

[Update 55 (10:58 am):  Ahn slam dunks birdie putt from 20 feet on 16.  That makes up for those earlier missed short ones!  She's your solo leader at -5!]

[Update 56 (11:01 am):  Check out Elizabeth Bethel on Charley Hull!]

[Update 57 (11:03 am):  Ryu made both doubles on the back with wedges in her hand. Now down to -1 for the week.]

[Update 58 (11:05 am):  Wow, Inbee's 68 could have been much lower!  She's tied with Morita, Alex, and Pettersen for 2nd-low round of the day, though.]

[Update 59 (11:06 am):  Tough walkoff bogey by Amelia Lewis, but she's the only golfer in the field at -2 right now.]

[Update 60 (11:07 am):  Ryu found the bunker off the right side on 17 and had to pop it out, even as Recari and Martin hit good approaches on 15.]

[Update 61 (11:08 am):  Ahn finds the greenside bunker on 17.]

[Update 62 (11:11 am):  Jessica Korda finished birdie-birdie to fight back to +1 for the week.]

[Update 63 (11:12 am):  Recari couldn't keep her birdie try high enough.]

[Update 64 (11:13 am):  Great break for Ryu on 17, giving her an unexpected birdie chance!  Martin missed her short birdie try on 15.]

[Update 65 (11:15 am):  Ahn ended up on top of the shelf past the pin on 17; her bunker shot just squirted out a bit too hard to catch the slope and roll back toward the pin.]

[Update 66 (11:17 am):  Back at +2 are Jenny Shin, Azahara Munoz, and Ariya Jutanugarn.  They're all T20.]

[Update 67 (11:19 am):  Ahn and Ryu both par 17.  Recari well over on 16.]

[Update 68 (11:20 am):  Gwladys Nocera doubled 15 but finished birdie-birdie to claw back to E.]

[Update 69 (11:24 am):  Yes!  Martin's par save on 16 falls on last rotation!]

[Update 70 (11:25 am):  Nice up-and-down for Recari, too!]

[Update 71 (11:27 am):  Great drive by Martin on 17!]

[Update 72 (11:30 am):  Announcers wondering if Ahn built her stance in greenside bunker on 18.  She caught the shot clean and went well past pin.  She's been -11 over her last 39 holes!]

[Update 73 (11:33 am):  Amy Yang birdied 18 to get to -1.  6 birdies and 6 bogeys!]

[Update 74 (11:36 am):  Good pars by Ryu and Ahn.  Hope Ahn isn't penalized.  BTW, Granada had earlier birdied 18 to get back to -2, tied with Amelia Lewis.  Ryu's 40 on the back leaves her at -1 for the week.]

[Update 75 (11:37 am):  I would say nobody in the top 20 is out of this thing, especially if the weather turns tougher on Sunday.]

[Update 76 (11:39 am):  Good little wedge by Martin on 17.  She can get right back in this thing with a birdie!  Recari just missed that eagle putt from the left side off the green.]

[Update 77 (11:41 am):  Misread by Martin on 7-footer.  But it's still a par.]

[Update 78 (11:42 am):  Nice birdie by Recari to join Martin & Co. at -1.]

[Update 79 (11:47 am):  Emma Talley 2-up on Georgia Hall in race for low amateur.]

[Update 80 (11:50 am):  Recari and Martin getting punished for their slow play.  Only players to get rained on at this year's WBO!]

[Update 81 (11:52 am):  Park and Morita hit every green today!]

[Update 82 (11:59 am):  Pars for Martin and Recari on 18.  Great comeback for Martin; missed opportunity for Recari.  2 shot penalty on Ahn for building stance on 18.  Now -3 and 1 back of Park.]

[Update 83 (12:00 pm):  Ko, Ai Miyazato, and Korda now only 5 off lead.]

[Update 84 (1:45 pm):  Hottest golfers heading into final round?  Ahn -9 over last 41 holes, Hull -8 over last 16, Park -6 over last 27, Pettersen and Feng -5 over last 32, Morita -5 over last 24, Mika Miyazato -4 over last 34, Ji -4 over last 23, Alex and Meena Lee -4 over last 22, Ko -4 over last 19.]

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ricoh Women's British Open Friday: Mo Martin Shoots 2nd-Straight 69 to Take 3-Shot Lead into Weekend

Even as the mighty fell during the 2nd round of the Ricoh Women's British Open, Mo Martin stood tall, shooting her 2nd-straight 5-birdie 69 at Royal Birkdale and taking a 3-shot lead on So Yeon Ryu and Beatriz Recari into the weekend.  Martin's continued accuracy off the tee--she hit 12 out of 14 fairways for the 2nd round in a row--stood her in good stead as Recari followed up yesterday's walkoff eagle with a 6-birdie 67, capped off by 3 in a row to finish her round, and Ryu bounced back from a double bogey on the 2nd with 4 birdies over her remaining 16 holes of bogey-free golf.  Sun Ju Ahn tied Recari for low round of the day and the week, as she followed up her eagle-par-par-birdie finish yesterday by bouncing back from an opening bogey with 6 birdies in her last 13 holes.  So with Recari -7 over her last 19 holes and Ahn -8 over her last 22, it's amazing that Martin has maintained such a large lead on them.

And let's not forget Julieta Granada, who joined Ahn at -2 for the week by finishing birdie-birdie.  Or Ariya Jutanugarn, whose 68 (capped off by an eagle-birdie finish) puts her at the head of an impressive class at -1 that includes Amy Yang (birdie-birdie finish), Gwladys Nocera (who just missed an eagle-eagle finish when her bomb from the back of the 18th green spun out of the cup), and Amelia Lewis (who had hopes of moving into solo 2nd but doubled the 18th after playing her previous 16 holes bogey-free and -4).  If Yang can improve her ball-striking on the weekend, watch out for her:  she's taken only 48 putts over the 1st 36 holes--6 better than Martin and Ahn!  It's amazing that she's hit only 13 fairways in her 1st 2 rounds--something Martin seems able to do in a single round--but is still in the hunt at a Royal Birkdale that's punished most players for missing fairways in a big way.

Before I get into who else is still in contention heading into the weekend, let's look at some of the mighty who have fallen to the +6 cut line:  Catriona Matthew, who had everything on her scorecard from a 3 to an 8 today on her way to an uncharacteristic 83 to finish her week at +13; JLPGA young gun Misuzu Narita, whose 79 dropped her to +12; 2-time WBO champion Ya Ni Tseng, who bounced back with a 72 today to finish at +10; world #1 amateur Minjee Lee, whose 71 today allowed her to tie Tseng; U.S. Women's Open champion Michelle Wie, whose 78 eclipsed yesterday's 75 as her worst round of the year and finished at +9, tied with Cheyenne Woods; fellow USWO champion Na Yeon Choi, whose 75 today also left her at +9, tied with super-amateur Su-Hyun Oh; last week's LET winner In-Kyung Kim, whose birdieless 75 today left her at +8, tied with Solheim Cup star Caroline Hedwall; 3-time WBO winner Karrie Webb, whose missed birdie putt on 18 capped off a 79 that left her 1 shot on the wrong side of the cut line, right with JLPGA star Shiho Oyama, who bounced back from yesterday's 79 with a 72 today thanks to a bogey-free 34 on the par-37 back 9.  A moment of silence for all of their hopes of winning this year's WBO.

Whose hopes are still alive?  Certainly everyone at E and +1, which includes the likes of Inbee Park, Shanshan Feng, Azahara Munoz, Jessica Korda, Morgan Pressel, and Eun-Hee Ji right where they started the week and Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen, Ai Miyazato, Jenny Shin, Sophie Giquel-Bettan, and amateurs Georgia Hall and Emma Talley.  The group at +2 all finished strong, as well:  Angela Stanford birdied 14 and 16; Chella Choi her last 3 in a row; Hannah Jun 3 of her last 4; and Vikki Laing with a double eagle/albatross on 17.  And even though Ayako Uehara finished with a disastrous 44 and Ji-Yai Shin and Pornanong Phatlum didn't do much better with their closing 40s, they're still not out of this thing at +3.

That's assuming, of course, that everyone under par in the 1st half of the tournament is due for some serious struggles in the 2nd half.  I mean, if Lexi Thompson can take a 10 on the 1st hole and still make the cut, if Charley Hull can hit 1 shot OB on 18, almost go OB on her provisional, have to take an unplayable, and salvage a double from it, tying Thompson at +5 in the process, then Lydia Ko and Paula Creamer at +4 aren't out of this, because anything can happen.  Especially if the weather turns anything but the near-perfection it's been the last 2 days....

[Update 1 (10:32 pm):  Nice to see Mika Miyazato and Rikako Morita hanging in there to make the cut, Miki Saiki and Erina Hara joining Uehara at +3, and Ai Miyazato leading Team Japan at +1.  With Ahn, Feng, and Shin doing well thus far this week, the JLPGA will be well-represented on the weekend, despite the loss of Narita and International Crown team member Mamiko Higa.]

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ricoh Women's British Open Thursday: Ayako Uehara and Mo Martin Are the Only Players in the 60s

Even though the weather was fantastic for England, only 2 players broke 70 during the 1st round of the Ricoh Women's British Open.  Ayako Uehara and Mo Martin both hit 14 greens at Royal Birkdale; the JLPGA transplant made 4 birdies between the 5th and 12th holes, then birdied the 18th to post a great 68, while the Symetra Tour graduate birdied 3 of her last 5 holes for a fine 69.  Martin showed why she leads the LPGA in driving accuracy, hitting 12 of 14 fairways, which amazingly is slightly worse than her average for the season!  Uehara, 10th on tour in finding the fairway off the tee, was well below her season average, but took only 1 bogey all day, on her 1st hole.

The surprises continue among the group of golfers at -2.  Morgan Pressel has not had a great 2014, but she was -3 and bogey-free through her 1st 12 holes and held on for a strong 70, despite hitting only 7 greens all day.  The key was that she took only 22 putts (a bit surprising even for someone ranked 3rd on tour in average putts per round).  Mina Harigae bounced back from an opening double with 4 birdies in her last 6 holes to join Pressel at T3.  She was 4 for 4 in sand saves on her day.  And Sarah Kemp, who played well last week on the LET, birdied 3 of her last 4 holes to match Pressel's and Harigae's 70s.  The Aussie beat last week's top 3 finishers, In-Kyung Kim, Nikki Campbell, and Stephanie Meadow, by 7 shots each, T3 and T6 finishers Lee-Anne Pace and Ariya Jutanugarn by 5 shots each (despite a walkoff eagle by the Thai sensation!), and world #1 amateur Minjee Lee by 13 shots.  Kemp's key was hitting 15 greens in regulation.

Add Holly Clyburn's name to the list of surprises.  Sure, she's #6 on the LET Order of Merit, but it took an eagle on the par-5 6th to get her going after a bogey-bogey start; birdies on 13 and 18 after a bogey on 11 made her the leader in the clubhouse from the very 1st group off the 1st tee this morning at 6:30 am.  Not only did she beat playing partner Karrie Webb by a shot and fellow Brit Florentyna Parker by 5, she ended the day low among a promising crop from England, including LET Order of Merit leader Charley Hull (73), amateur Georgia Hall (73), and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (75).

Joining Clyburn at -1 are names you'd expect near the top of the leaderboard:  world #1 Stacy Lewis, #8 So Yeon Ryu, and #16 Amy Yang.  All of them had their ups and downs early on, but they each finished strong to round out the total of 9 golfers who got under par.  Suzann Pettersen would have joined them, but she took a penalty on the par-5 17th when her ball moved after she addressed it (she had hit the green in 2 and resolutely slammed home the birdie putt!).  But I'm sure all 14 players at E, from youngsters Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and amateur Emma Talley to prime-time players Inbee Park, Anna Nordqvist, Azahara Munoz, Ji-Yai Shin, and Ai Miyazato to big surprises like Amelia Lewis and Marina Alex to a small surprise like Julieta Granada (who takes a 4-hole-and-counting birdie streak into tomorrow's round), can tell a similar "coulda woulda shoulda" tale or ten.  I paid particular attention to Ai-sama's round, and it seemed like while she was putting very well, she was having trouble with her positioning shots on the par 5s and was inconsistent with her approach shots.

But her troubles pale beside those of Ya Ni Tseng (82), Cristie Kerr (81), Se Ri Pak (79), Shiho Oyama (79), Caroline Hedwall (79), Na Yeon Choi (78), Mika Miyazato (78), Mamiko Higa (78), and Misuzu Narita (77).  Like Inky, Meadow, and Minjee, these players will be fighting to make the cut after horrific starts to their 2014 WBO campaigns; unfortunately, Caroline Masson, who finished T3 at the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters last week, won't be joining them, as she had to withdraw.

Given how high so many great golfers went, those who hung in there and stayed in the mid-70s have nothing to be ashamed of.  Paula Creamer was +5 through her 1st 5 holes but fought back to a 75 with birdies on 15 and 16 and near-misses on 17 and 18.  Like Ariya Jutanugarn, JLPGA money-list leader Sun Ju Ahn made a late eagle to salvage a 75 of her own.  Last year's JLPGA money-list title-holder, Rikako Morita, was E through her 1st 14 holes, but then went double bogey-bogey and failed to birdie either of the closing par 5s, so she's probably a little more frustrated with her 75.  Michelle Wie's walkoff birdie kept her at +3, as well.  True, it was her worst scoring round of the year, but she's by no means out of the tournament.  Neither are Laura Davies, Catriona Matthew, Angela Stanford, and Eun-Hee Ji, who headline the big group at 74 (but were overshadowed by Linda Wessberg's 6-hole birdie train on the back that allowed her to recover from a bogey-quad opening!), or even Hee Young Park, Gerina Piller, Brittany Lincicome, Miki Saiki, and Su-Hyun Oh, the biggest names among those who shot 76s today.  I'm sure they'd all rather be tied at +1 with the likes of Shanshan Feng, Jeong Jang, Meena Lee, Brittany Lang, Chella Choi, Jenny Shin, Pornanong Phatlum, Erina Hara, and Gwladys Nocera, but given how tough the opening holes have been playing, it's entirely possible they could be after 21 holes instead of 18!  Particularly if tomorrow's weather forecast is a little too optimistic....

Bottom line is, Royal Birkdale's already been showing its teeth this year, thanks primarily to the rough being lusher than it's been in previous WBOs.  Even the 17th, which gave up loads of birdies today, threw a 7 at Ya Ni Tseng, a 9 at Line Vedel, and a 10 at Bree Arthur!  It's going to be a real mental, emotional, and physical challenge over the next 54 holes for everyone who makes it into the weekend!