Monday, September 1, 2014

Portland Classic Sunday: Austin Ernst Beats In-Kyung Kim on 1st Playoff Hole

Standing over a 40-foot downhill birdie putt on the 18th green and 73rd hole of the Portland Classic with the cup just 10 feet past the tier, knowing she had a great chance to win the playoff over In-Kyung Kim with a great lag, Austin Ernst flashed the eye of the tiger as she took one last look down the line.  Her putt ended up within tap-in range, and after the LSU grad and 2011 NCAA individual champion putted out, Kim had a 12-foot par save to extend the playoff.  When it missed on the high side for her 1st bogey in her last 20 holes, Inky had gone 0-5 in LPGA playoffs and Ernst had her 1st-ever LPGA victory.

And what a victory it was!  For awhile, it looked like the 2nd-year pro was going to match her 3rd-round 62 at Columbia Edgewater last year.  She birdied the 4th, chipped in for eagle on the par-5 5th, and then rattled off 4 birdies between the 7th and 14th holes to get to -7 on her day and -16 for the week.  In so doing, she kept the pressure on the host of players behind her--and very few of them could handle it.  Plenty of golfers had fine final rounds, but started the day so far off the pace that they needed absolutely great ones to be a factor, so let's focus 1st on those who had a real chance to win.  Xi Yu Lin birdied 3 holes in a row late on the front to get to -13, but made a bogey to finish the front and a double to close out the tournament, so had to settle for a T9 finish.  Suzann Pettersen won here 2 of the last 3 years, started the day at T1, and bounced back from an early double to fight back to -12, but 3 bogeys and no birdies in her last 8 holes torpedoed her chances.  Carlota Ciganda had birdied 3 holes in a row on the front to get to -13, but the 3rd-round tri-leader made 3 bogeys and a double (along with a consolation-prize walkoff birdie) to also drop out of the top 10.  The last golfer in the trio, playing with Pettersen in the final group of the day, fared no better.  Mi Jung Hur had canned 5 birdies in her 1st 10 holes and twice gotten to -14 (after birdies on the par-5 7th and par-5 10th), but she made 5 bogeys in her last 8 holes, including 3 in a row to close out her round and her chances just after she had birdied the par-4 15th to fight back to -13.

So down the stretch it all really came down to a handful of players.  Chella Choi made 6 birdies in her 1st 15 holes to get to -14, but finished bogey-bogey to settle for a 68 that left her at -12 for the week.  But when Ernst also bogeyed the 17th and 18th to finish at -14 (despite going +6 for the week with no birdies on 16, 17, and 18), she gave new life to both Inky and So Yeon Ryu.  Ryu had birdied 5 holes between the 2nd and 13th holes to get to -14 and made several clutch par putts after that to stay there.  Inky, who had made the last of her 4 birdies of the day on the 15th, was the next to finish, and she did it in style with 3 pressure pars on the 3 toughest holes on the course, capped off by a fantastic up-and-down from over the 18th green.  Ryu needed to birdie 18 to win for the 2nd week in a row and par it to join Ernst and Kim in a playoff, but after she lost her drive right and ended up in a fairway bunker, from where she caught it heavy and pulled it into the water, she wasn't able to do either.

At the end of regulation, then, only 2 golfers were left standing.  Ernst won the draw and split the 18th fairway to kick off the playoff.  Kim hit almost as good a drive and ended up a little right of and about 10 yards behind Ernst.  You'd think advantage Kim, right?  She had less than 160 yards to the flag, had parred the 18th every time she played it this week, had recent match play experience at the International Crown, and had 3 LPGA victories to her name.  But she fanned her 6-iron just off the right fringe about 50 feet from the flag, which allowed Ernst to hit a conservative approach to the back of the green.  And then her chip broke less than she expected and ran out further than she hoped, once again letting Ernst a little bit off the hook.  From there, it was history.  An unexpected American broke the Korean winning streak on the LPGA.

Further down the leaderboard, Karine Icher had the low round of the day, an 8-birdie 66 that moved her all the way up to -11, tied for 5th with Na Yeon Choi (68), Eun-Hee Ji (70), and Line Vedel (70).  Moriya Jutanugarn birdied 4 holes in a row as she made the turn and finished with a 7-birdie 67 that earned her a top 20.  Ya Ni Tseng birdied 5 holes in a row on the front to get to -7 for the week and added another on the par-5 12th to get to -6 on her day, but a walkoff bogey forced her to accept a 67.  Kim Kaufman (-7) and Felicity Johnson (-5) also put together fine 67s, but bogeys on 17 and 16, respectively, also kept them from matching Icher's feat.

In a nutshell, then, Sunday was the toughest day for scoring and the last 3 holes determined many players' fates this week.  Fitting then, that Austin Ernst broke through by shaking off a bogey-bogey finish and parring the 18th on the 1st playoff hole!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nitori Ladies Sunday: Ji-Yai Shin Gets 3rd Victory in Last 6 Starts

Ji-Yai Shin is known as the Final Round Queen, but after making 9-straight pars to start her round today at the Nitori Ladies, she had opened the door to JLPGA money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee and 5-time winner Saiki Fujita.  Lee, playing 2 groups ahead of Shin and Fujita, followed up a 1st-hole birdie with 3 in a row later on the front to catch her at -6.  Fujita then caught fire late on the front, with 3 birdies in a 4-hole stretch to join Shin and Lee.  Shin just kept making pars on the back, too, parring 10, 11, and 12 to stay at -6, which was enough to put pressure on Lee, who bogeyed the par-5 12th and the par-3 13th, and Fujita, who bogeyed the par-4 11th and the 12.  When Shin birdied 13 to offset Lee's birdie on 15 and Fujita's on the same hole as her, she had opened up a 2-shot lead on them, which she extended to 3 with a birdie of her own on 15.  When she parred out to finish at -8 and they parred out to end their week at -5, Shin had earned her 3rd JLPGA victory of 2014--and in her last 6 starts--as well as her 8th overall title on tour.

With her win, Shin moves into the top 4 on the JLPGA money list, but Lee's runner-up finish enabled her to extend her lead on everyone except Shin.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥69.87M
4. Ji-Yai Shin ¥68.13M
5. Miki Sakai ¥60.66M
6. Erina Hara ¥48.07M
7. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥42.82M
9. Esther Lee ¥40.73M
10. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥39.54M
11. Rikako Morita ¥37.11M
12. Lala Anai ¥36.01M
13. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥34.32M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥33.78M
15. Shiho Oyama ¥32.35M
16. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
17. Momoko Ueda ¥31.17M
18. Saiki Fujita ¥30.47M
19. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M
20. Phoebe Yao ¥27.65M
21. Na-Ri Lee ¥27.52M
22. Mayu Hattori ¥26.52M
23. Hikari Fujita ¥25.13M
24. Yumiko Yoshida ¥23.42M
25. Kaori Ohe ¥22.92M
26. Asako Fujimoto ¥22.41M
27. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.82M
28. Yukari Baba ¥21.29M
29. Junko Omote ¥21.05M
30. Megumi Kido ¥20.80M
31. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥20.52M
32. Mami Fukuda ¥20.13M
33. Mamiko Higa ¥20.11M
34. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
35. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
36. Soo-Yun Kang ¥18.79M
37. Erika Kikuchi ¥18.73M
38. Rumi Yoshiba ¥17.82M
39. Kotono Kozuma ¥17.54M
40. Akane Iijima ¥17.45M
41. Miki Saiki ¥16.28M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥15.75M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Yukari Nishiyama ¥13.87M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥13.79M

Yumiko Yoshida and Shiho Oyama were the only other players to finish under par this week.  Let's see if Yoshida can continue her strong play next week at the Golf 5 Ladies and successfully defend her title.  I'm not seeing any of the top 3 on the money list in the field list, so it's looking like Shin has a good shot at passing Narita and making it an all-Korean top 3 on the JLPGA this time next Sunday!

Portland Classic Saturday: Suzann Pettersen, Carlota Ciganda, and Mi Jung Hur Pass In-Kyung Kim

Portland Classic 1st- and 2nd-round leader In-Kyung Kim was -13 after 7 holes on moving day, but all she did the rest of the way was move backwards, as she didn't make a birdie the rest of the way and made 3 bogeys in her last 8 holes.  Although she drove the ball great, Inky missed more greens on Saturday than on any previous day and took 33 putts (as opposed to 26 and 27 the 1st 2 days).  As a result, she got passed by a trio of golfers, caught by a couple more, and opened the door to 26 golfers within 5 shots of the lead at -11 held by Suzann Pettersen, Carlota Ciganda, and Mi Jung Hur.

Pettersen rose to the top of the leaderboard on the strength of her 2nd-straight 67.  This one was sparked by an eagle on the par-5 5th; after bogeying the 6th, she bounced back with 4 birdies over her last 12 holes of bogey-free golf, including 2 in a row on 16 and 17.  Her ball-striking hasn't been as great as we've become accustomed to from her, as she's never hit double digits in fairways and until yesterday was missing many more greens and ending up in many more traps than usual, but she's been scrambling wonderfully (5 of 7 in sand saves, never more than 29 putts in a round) and has been sinking loads of birdie putts.  16 birdies (plus that 1 eagle) and counting will be hard to beat if she can keep the pedal to the metal and minimize her mistakes today.

Ciganda had a chance to take the lead by herself into the final round, but her walkoff bogey dropped her back to -11.  Her driving accuracy and greens in regulation went way down yesterday, but she continued to putt and scramble well, making 4 birdies in the middle of the round to more than offset the bogeys that practically bookended it.  She's 4 for 5 in sand saves this week and has never taken more than 30 putts in a round.  If she can keep bombing it out there and add to her total of 16 birdies this week, her 1st LPGA victory is right around the corner.

Hur beat Pettersen and Michele Redman in a playoff here in 2009 for her only LPGA victory to date, so she has great memories of Portland to build on.  She had birdied 3 holes in a row to move to -12 at precisely the point Inky has gotten to -13, but couldn't birdie the par-5 10th, broke her 37-hole bogey-free run on the par-5 12th, bounced back with a birdie on the par-3 13th, but succumbed to the par-4 15th with her last bogey of the day.  Overall, she's made 15 birdies thanks to a super-hot putter; she took 25 and 24 putts the last 2 rounds.  But unless she can straighten out her driver today, it's going to be hard to keep pace with everyone else at or near the top of the leaderboard.  8 fairways and 8 greens in regulation on moving day will not cut it during the final round.

Catching Inky at -10 were last week's CP Women's Open winner So Yeon Ryu and rookie Xi Yu Lin.  Ryu got off on the wrong foot yesterday, bogeying the 3rd and 4th holes, but bounced back with 3 birdies in a row and all pars the rest of the way except for her last birdie of the day on the 15th.  Although she's not quite as hot as she was last week, Ryu is certainly playing well enough to get her 2nd victory in a row today.  Lin bookended her 4 birdies between the 3rd and 11th holes with bogeys on 1 and 15.  She's hit 1 fewer fairway, 1 fewer green, and made 1 fewer birdie each day from her 1st to 2nd to 3rd rounds, but she's also taken 1 fewer putt.  If she can continue the latter pattern while improving her ballstriking, Lin could well become the 3rd rookie to win on the LPGA this year, after Lydia Ko and Mirim Lee.

But the 5 players double digits under par also have 21 players right behind them who could drop a 65 or better on the field and put pressure on them as leaders in the clubhouse.  Moving day didn't give up as many super-low rounds as the previous 2, but there were plenty of golfers who gave a taste of what might happen later today.  Joining Portland's -7 Club yesterday was Hee Young Park, who rocketed up the leaderboard with 8 birdies and no bogeys over her last 14 holes to move within 5 of the tri-leaders.  A bogey on the par-4 4th was the only thing that kept Mariajo Uribe from matching The Rocket's mark, but her 66 pulled the Colombian 2 shots behind Pettersen, Ciganda, and Hur.  Eun-Hee Ji (-9), Ilhee Lee (-6), and Brianna Do (-6) all kept pace with Pettersen's 67, while Lizette Salas (-7) and Marina Alex (-5) put together the only 68s of the day.

So while all the LPGA's Royals except Anna Nordqvist moved up the leaderboard--Pettersen (T1), Ryu (T4), Chella Choi (T12, -8), Na Yeon Choi (T14, -7), Shanshan Feng (T17, -6) all have good chances of winning--they are still wildly outnumbered by the Rebel Alliance.  I'd love to see Mina Harigae (-8) and Tiffany Joh (-6) have a great Sunday.  Harigae salvaged a 72 yesterday by going -2 and bogey-free over her last 7 holes, while T-Joh did the same with a bogey-free 34 on the back.  I'll also be rooting for Ai Miyazato (-4 over her last 14 holes after starting par-bogey-bogey-double) and Mika Miyazato (4 birdies between #5 and #12 after bogeying the par-3 2nd).  They're the only players not named Suzann Pettersen to win here in the last 4 years.  Unfortunately, they won't be paired together, but Hur and Pettersen will get to reprise their 2009 showdown today!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sparkychan and Gojochan Retrospective!

Back in 2006, when I first started photographing graffiti, I thought it would be interesting to get some kid's toys and photograph them amid the gritty territory I was exploring. So I bought two, a plastic model of Gojira (Godzilla in America), which promptly became Gojochan, and a hot-pink plush bear, Sparkychan. Here's some stories about their life: The Collected Adventures of Sparkychan & Gojochan (Thus Far). I've posted some photos of them below.

* * * * *

Oh me oh my
Sparkychan meditating on the awesomeness of existence.

sparky in the hole.jpg
Gojochan raging against the dying of the night.

Ah yes
Gogochan is attracted to Sparkychan's inner peace.

Nitori Ladies Set-Up: Ji-Yai Shin Takes 2-Shot Lead into Final Round

Even as Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi, and In-Kyung Kim are getting their grooves back on the LPGA, their contemporary Ji-Yai Shin has rejoined her former KLPGA rival Sun-Ju Ahn on the JLPGA and seems to have found something this summer.  Despite a WD last week, she has 2 wins and 4 top 10s in her last 5 starts on tour and heading into tomorrow's final round she finds herself leading the Nitori Ladies by 2 shots over Saiki Fujita and Yukari Nishiyama and 4 shots over money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee, Ritsuko Ryu, Lala Anai, and 15-year-old amateur Hina Arakaki.  A 6-birdie 67 on Friday gave Shin the lead on Fujita, which she maintained today with a 3-birdie 71, plus a walkoff double by Nishiyama.

With only 12 golfers at par or better, with the cut line falling all the way down the leaderboard to +7 (which saved last year's money-list title-holder Rikako Morita), and with slow starts from last week's winner Momoko Ueda (+4), last year's Rookie of the Year Mamiko Higa (+4), and International Crown magician Sakura Yokomine (+3), the impressiveness of Shin's performance thus far this week comes into even sharper focus.  A victory tomorrow would make it 8 JLPGA wins for Shin and vault her into the elite in the women's game in 2014, as nobody has taken more than 3 worldwide titles yet this season.  Let's see if she can do it!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Portland Classic Friday: In-Kyung Kim Rolls to -12 through 1st 36 Holes

Coming into this week, In-Kyung Kim was averaging 2.81 birdies per round on the LPGA, but she did blow away the LET field at the Ladies European Masters the 1st week of July when she finished at -18.  So far through 36 holes at the Portland Classic, Inky is playing like it's early July again, as she's made 14 birdies and has gotten to -12.  But there are many fellow players in the LPGA's Rebel Alliance who are looking to make the next 36 holes as pressure-packed for her as possible--plus the LPGA's Royals are making something of a move, as well.

Leading the Royals charge today was So Yeon Ryu, who fired an 8-birdie 66, improving her putts taken from 34 yesterday to 25 today and moving to -8.  Next in line was Suzann Pettersen, who birdied 4 holes in a row late in her round today for a total of 5 birdies in her last 7 holes as she finished the front (her back) and got to -6, catching fellow Royals Anna Nordqvist (71) and Chella Choi (70), who both needed late comebacks to get under par on the day.  And Shanshan Feng put together a 6-birdie 67 with only 24 putts (10 fewer than yesterday's round) to join Na Yeon Choi (69) at -5.

But once again the Rebels outdid the Royals when it came to going low.  Mi Jung Hur's bogey-free 65 not only tied Inky's opening round, but also matched Carlota Ciganda, who made 4 birdies in her 1st 7 holes on the front and turned around and made 4 more in her 1st 6 holes on the back for a 65 of her own today.  Hur and Ciganda caught fellow Rebel Laura Diaz, who shot a 68 to extend her bogey-free run to 36 holes and counting, at -9, only 3 shots behind Inky.  It looked for awhile like 65 shooters Inky, Hur, and Ciganda would be eclipsed by rookie Jaye Marie Green, who found her Q-School form today and was -8 through her 1st 17 holes, but a walkoff double bogey forced her to accept a 66 that got her to -6.  Tiffany Joh birdied 5 of her 1st 8 holes to get to -6 for the week much earlier in the day, but stayed there for the next 10 holes, while Ji Young Oh also took advantage of the front, but for her it was a late charge over her last 9 holes--a 5-birdie 31--that brought her to -6.  Beatriz Recari, who like Ciganda can make a claim to LPGA Royalty-in-Waiting thanks to their role in Team Spain's taking of the International Crown, but who like Ciganda has not had a very good 2014 in stroke-play events, ended up 1 shot behind that Rebel trio at -6.  Like Green, Recari has the 18th hole to blame for having to accept a 66 today; she made her lone bogey of the day there as she made a turn.  Because of that, she's tied with another Euro who just fell short of making a claim to LPGA Royalty when she lost last year's Rookie of the Year race by a single point, Caroline Masson, whose lone blemish came at the very start of her round, but who rallied for a 6-birdie 67.  They reached the halfway point in the tournament just 1 shot ahead of a pair of ex-Royals, Ai Miyazato (7-birdie 67) and Morgan Pressel (6-birdie 67), top 2 players in the Class of 2006 who have not had 2014s to write home about just yet.  Bringing the Rebel Alliance charge to a close were Xi Yu Lin (68), Mina Harigae (69), and Paula Reto (69), who ended the day at -8, 1 shot ahead of Amelia Lewis, who made a nice comeback to salvage a 71.

So with Rebels #1, T2, and T5 to T10 thus far, with the only Royals in the bunch at T5 and T10--or, to put this another way, Rebels outnumber Royals 14-4 in the top 18 after 36 holes--Hound Dog's claim that weaker fields are more likely to result in surprise winners is halfway to gaining another data point in its favor.

But I'd be remiss if I didn't end this post with a look toward the cut line and its larger significance.  Even as Jane Park and Danielle Kang clawed their way to the right side of it, Sandra Gal, Chie Arimura, and Harukyo Nomura fell on the wrong side of it.  It's hard to be a Rebel on the LPGA, but it's even harder to stay one.  Even players who have been having really good 2014s like Meena Lee and Jenny Shin couldn't make the cut this week, nor could future stars like Charley Hull and Yueer Cindy Feng.  It reminds us that all these players put it on the line every week--or as often as they can--for as long as they can.  So it's particularly gratifying to report that Jeong Jang (-3) and Hee-Won Han (+1) made the cut in what will be their last professional event in the States.  I agree with Centurion that it would be wonderful for their last event before full retirement to take place in Korea this fall and heartily recommend and second his tribute to their competitive golf careers.  JJ and Hee-Won Mom will be missed!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Portland Classic Thursday: In-Kyung Kim, Jennifer Song, and Amelia Lewis Lead Rebel Alliance Charge

There were certainly a lot of surprises at and near the top of the Portland Classic leaderboard after the conclusion of Thursday's round.  It's hard to say which was the biggest one of them all, but In-Kyung Kim's bogey-free 65, which was sparked by 7 birdies in her 1st 13 holes, including 4 in a row to start the back 9, has to rank among them.  Once one of the top players in the world, Inky has only 1 top-15 finish all season, way back in late April.  I doubt whether anyone saw the bogey-free 66s from Jennifer Song and Amelia Lewis coming, either.  It was Song's lowest round since the end of June and Lewis's since mid-April.

Just a little further down the leaderboard, only a few of the LPGA's Royals show up--such as Anna Nordqvist (bogey-free 67) and Chella Choi (68 with a double)--it's mostly Rebel Alliance.  From veterans like Laura Diaz (-5) and Juli Inkster (-4) to established players like Julieta Granada (-5), Mina Harigae (-5), and Karine Icher (-4) to newbies like Emma Jandel (-5), Paula Reto (-5), Jennifer Kirby (-4), Xi Yu Lin (-4), and Jacqui Concolino (-4), players we haven't been used to seeing on or near the 1st page of the leaderboard this season are right there today.

Sure, it's not like the Royals are out of this thing.  Lizette Salas (-3), So Yeon Ryu (-2), Na Yeon Choi (-2), and Suzann Pettersen (-1) did just fine today.  But of the 76 players at E or better, the ratio of Rebels to Royals seems much higher than usual for 2014.  It'll be interesting to see whether this can continue over the next 54 holes.

LPGA/JLPGA Q-School Stage 1 Update

Standing out among the new crop of mostly 19-to-22-year-old Japanese amateurs trying to join the JLPGA in 2015 via Stage I of their Q-School are some pretty huge names.  The LPGA's Jee Young Lee and (Jelly is playing in Portland, so it's someone else with her name!) Mitsuki Katahira, the KLPGA's Ha Neul Kim, Min Sun Kim, and Hee Kyung Bae, and the LET's Connie Chen all advanced to Stage II in early November.

Over at Mission Hills for Stage I of LPGA Q-School, Emily Tubert (68-71-67) holds a slim lead on SooBin Kim (71-70-66), with Scooby Liu, Annie Park, and Alison Lee among several others in contention for medalist honors.  Doris Chen WDed and Song-Hee Kim following up yesterday's 72 with an 81 today, but most of the bigger names in the field still have a chance to move on after tomorrow's final round.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

JLPGA Q-School's Stage I Also Happening This Week: Ha-Neul Kim Among Those Trying to Join the JLPGA

A commenter at Seoul Sisters alerted me to the fact that JLPGA Q-School's Stage 1 is in its final stages, as 2 of the 3 qualifying sites have completed play and the last round at the last site is about to start.  The big news is that KLPGA superstar Ha-Neul Kim is tied for 3rd there with 18 holes left to play.  I don't have time right now to figure out if any other big names have moved on or are likely to.  Maybe tonight!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to School: Stage I of LPGA Q-School Starts Today

My 2nd day of the fall semester starts later this morning--and in the afternoon I leave for Cleveland to pick up The Full Metal Archivist, onechan, and imoto from the airport after 2 months in Japan--but I had to mention quickly that Stage I of LPGA Q-School begins today, as well.  Some of the biggest names in the field at Mission Hills include Song-Hee Kim, Naree Song, Annie Park, Alison Lee, Doris Chen, Emily Tubert, Ani Gulugian, Taylore Karle, Kimberly Kim, Louise Stahle, Celine Herbin, Kirby Dreher, and Brooke Henderson's sister Brittany, but consider the following taste of the geographical (and nomenclatural) diversity in this 286-player field:
  • Laetitia Beck (Israel)
  • Yushira Budhram (South Africa)
  • Alejandra Cangrejo (Colombia)
  • Anaelle Carnet (France)
  • Piyathida Chaiyapan (Thailand)
  • Liv Cheng (New Zealand)
  • Francesca Cuturi (South Africa)
  • Tara Dayer-Smith (England)
  • Joana De Sa Pereir (Portugal)
  • Erica Dechowitz (PA)
  • Amelia Ek (CA)
  • Lacey Fears (GA)
  • Christabel Goh (Singapore)
  • Noon Huachai (Thailand)
  • Paula Hurtado (Colombia)
  • Kitty Hwang (Ecuador)
  • Kyla Inaba (Canada)
  • Noriko Inoue (Japan)
  • Laura Jansone (Latvia)
  • Chirapat Jao-Javanil (Thailand)
  • Katy Jarochowicz (Australia)
  • Jamila Jaxaliyeva (Kazakhstan)
  • Keiko Kubo (Japan)
  • Luciane Lee (Brazil)
  • Emelie Lindskog (Sweden)
  • Scooby Liu (Taiwan)
  • Uloma Mbuko (Nigeria)
  • Rhea Nair (United Arab Emirates)
  • Ana Perez (Colombia)
  • Mia Piccio (Philippines)
  • Ket Preamchuen (Thailand)
  • Sophia Popov (Germany)
  • Daniela Recla (Brazil)
  • Kyle Roig (Puerto Rico)
  • Georgette Rolle (Bahamas)
  • Amy Ruengmateekhun (TX)
  • Katerina Ruzickova (Czech Republic)
  • Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong (Thailand)
  • Moyu Sasaki (Japan)
  • Vera Shimanskaya (Russia)
  • Agnes Sudjasmin (Indonesia)
  • Candra Sumedhatip (NV)
  • Anne-Catherine Tanguay (Canada)
  • Prima Thammaraks (Thailand)
  • Foam Wongwaikijphaisal (Thailand)
  • Britney Yada (HI)
  • Eva Yoe (Hong Kong)
  • Pavarisa Yoktuan (Thailand)
And that's leaving out players from South Korea, China, Mexico, and Spain whose names probably sound a bit less unfamiliar to LPGA fans by now....  Me, I'll be rooting the hardest for Jillian Fraccola from Syracuse, NY!

Who will join the already-105-player field for late September's Stage II?  They'll have to do something special to share the spotlight with the likes of Minjee Lee, Stephanie Meadow, Mamiko Higa, and Cheyenne Woods!  Good luck to all!

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Picks for the Portland Classic

With the lovely ladies coming back from Japan tomorrow night, which involves a little jaunt over to Cleveland after I finish teaching my 2nd and 3rd 1st classes of the semester at Fredonia, I'm not sure when I'll get a chance to put together my picks for the Portland Classic if I don't do them tonight!  So, without further ado, here are this week's PakPicker entries:

1. Ryu
2. Pettersen
3. Choi Na Yeon
4. Nordqvist
5. Feng Shanshan
6. Kang, Danielle
7. Recari
8. Choi Chella
9. Stanford
10. Kim In-Kyung
11. Miyazato Ai
12. Masson

Alts: Nomura; Ciganda; Tseng

Somehow I won last week's PakPicker despite picking Lydia Ko for the hat trick north of the border!  Let's see if pickin' on the spur of the moment works another week for me!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Canadian Pacific Women's Open Sunday: So Yeon Ryu Holds Off Na Yeon Choi for 3rd Career LPGA Victory

So Yeon Ryu pulled 1 shot ahead of Na Yeon Choi at the end of the 1st round of the Canadian Pacific Women's Open with a walkoff birdie that got her to -9.  For the next 45 holes, it looked like Ryu's only competition would Annika Sorenstam's feat of -27 for 72 holes, as she made 16 birdies and only 1 bogey to move to -24 with 9 holes left to play.  At that point she was 6-up on Choi, 7-up on Inbee Park, and 9-up on Azahara Munoz.  The only question seemed to be whether Ryu would beat Annika's mark and whether Park would play the entire tournament bogey-free.

The answer to both questions, however, turned out to be no.  Park's bogey-free run would end after 64 holes when she missed a makeable par save on the par-4 11th.  And then NYC cut SYR's lead in half after Ryu bogeyed 10 and Choi birdied the 11th and the par-3 13th.  And when NYC birdied the par-4 15th and SYR bogeyed it, they were right back on the 70th tee where they had last been on the 19th:  1 stroke apart.  And when Ryu had to lay up on the par-5 16th and Choi had a chance to go for the green in 2, that single stroke seemed a very slim margin indeed.  But when NYC pushed her approach into the right bunker and SYR stuck her wedge to about 8 feet, you could feel the tables start to turn.  And when Choi couldn't get the sandie and Ryu hit a perfect putt to fight back to -23, you could almost hear the click.  2 pars later for each golfer and everyone on the course could hear it.  Ryu had won for the 3rd time on the LPGA and 1st time since 2012.

The announcers made a big deal about both Ryu and Choi being Inbee Park's bridesmaids at her October 2014 wedding, so let me make the obligatory "no longer a bridesmaid" comment.  The Park connection I'm more interested in, however, is the notion of a U.S. Women's Open jinx.  Park lost the top spot in the Rolex Rankings after winning last year's USWO and didn't win again until the Manulife (where she also ended up at -23!), which is actually a mild form of the jinx.  Paula Creamer, for instance, had to wait for her 10th career LPGA victory almost 4 years after winning the USWO at Oakmont.  (Park herself had to wait about as long for her 2nd LPGA victory after winning the USWO for the 1st time in 2008).  Admittedly, the comparison isn't exact, as both SYR and NYC have exactly 1 LPGA win since taking their own USWO titles in 2011 and 2012, respectively.  So let's call it a delayed-reaction USWO jinx.  In any case, it's over for So Yeon Ryu.

So congratulations to Ryu on a long-awaited and much-deserved victory.  And congratulations to Kim Kaufman, who fired the low round of the day, a bogey-free 66 that included a 3-putt par on the 16th.  She went -11 over her last 35 holes of bogey-free golf and hit every green but 9.  And congratulations, as well, to Danielle Kang, who tied Kaufman for 5th at -15 and looked like she was having a total blast the entire week.  Caroline Masson and Kristy McPherson, who tied NYC's 67 for the 2nd-lowest rounds of the day, also deserve much congratulations.

As happy as I am for Ryu and the gang, I'm just as sad for Ai Miyazato, who seemed to have turned a corner with her 2nd-round 67, but who tied Sue Kim for the high round of the day today and was +7 over her final 23 holes.  The stats make it seem her putter let her down on moving day and she spent a lot of time in the rough during the final round.  Hope she shakes it off quickly, as the Evian is her best chance to win her 1st LPGA major!  I was hoping for better from Mina Harigae (-2), Jane Park (-2), Tiffany Joh (-1), and Ayako Uehara (+1) this week, as well.  At least Harukyo Nomura (-8) and Chie Arimura (-6) had pretty solid weeks.  Here's hoping they play well in Portland next week!

CAT Ladies Sunday: Momoko Ueda Defeats Rikako Morita for 10th Career JLPGA Victory, 1st Since 2011

Momoko Ueda birdied 3 of her 1st 4 holes in the final round of the CAT Ladies to erase Rikako Morita's 3-shot 36-hole lead, then outlasted the 2013 JLPGA money-list title-holder in a tense seesaw battle.  It was the 10th JLPGA victory of the 2007 money-list title-holder's career and 1st since the 2011 Mizuno Classic.  Be sure to check out bangkokbobby's post for further context and photos of all the contenders!

This tournament really did come down to 2 players, as nobody close to them could make a run and those who did started the day too far behind them to become a factor.  Teresa Lu, for instance, birdied 4 of her last 8 holes for a bogey-free 33 on the par-37 back-9, but couldn't even catch this year's money-list leader, Bo-Mee Lee, who finished 3rd at -6, 3 shots off the pace.  A bogey-free 32 on the front by Asako Fujimoto helped her catch Esther Lee at -3, but neither could chase down 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe, who scattered 4 birdies and 4 bogeys through her round to finish alone in 5th at -4.  Mamiko Higa and Yeo-Jin Kang fired 70s to join Sun-Ju Ahn, Erina Hara, Natsuka Hori, and Kaori Ohe at +1, while Yumiko Yoshida's and Megumi Kido's 69s tied Ueda and Fujimoto for 2nd-lowest rounds of the day and earned them top 20s.  Journeywoman Kaori Yamamoto struggled to a 76, but still ended up with the 2nd-best finish of her career and 2nd-straight top-10 of the season.

So this really was a straight-up duel between Ueda and Morita.  After Ueda caught her, Morita struck back 1st with a birdie on the 158-yard par-3 5th, her 2nd of the day, to get to -9 and take a 1-shot lead.  The ex-LPGAer responded with a birdie on the 329-yard par-4 7th, but gave it right back with a bogey on the 378-yard par-4 8th, so Morita still led at the turn.  But not for long, for she bogeyed the 370-yard par-4 10th and 484-yard par-5 13th even as Ueda birdied the 182-yard par-3 12th.  With a 2-shot lead and only 5 holes to play, Ueda parred in while Morita could manage only 1 birdie, on the 563-yard par-5 15th.  The end result:  Ueda -9, Morita -8.

Lee's 3rd-place finish left her just shy of the 100M yen barrier on the JLPGA money list.  Just as this tournament turned into a faceoff between Ueda and Morita, this year's race to the money-list title is starting to look like a Lee-Ahn showdown.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥99.33M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥69.87M
4. Miki Sakai ¥59.89M
5. Ji-Yai Shin ¥55.53M
6. Erina Hara ¥47.30M
7. Teresa Lu ¥46.57M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥42.42M
9. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥38.39M
10. Esther Lee ¥37.93M
11. Rikako Morita ¥36.57M
12. Lala Anai ¥34.08M
13. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥33.92M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥31.85M
15. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥30.03M
17. Shiho Oyama ¥28.50M
18. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M
19. Phoebe Yao ¥27.65M
20. Na-Ri Lee ¥26.99M
21. Mayu Hattori ¥26.20M
22. Hikari Fujita ¥25.13M
23. Saiki Fujita ¥24.94M
24. Kaori Ohe ¥22.39M
25. Asako Fujimoto ¥21.88M
26. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.42M
27. Yukari Baba ¥21.29M
28. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥20.52M
29. Megumi Kido ¥20.33M
30. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
31. Junko Omote ¥19.91M
32. Mami Fukuda ¥19.73M
33. Yumiko Yoshida ¥19.57M
34. Mamiko Higa ¥19.52M
35. Erika Kikuchi ¥18.73M
36. Soo-Yun Kang ¥18.02M
37. Rumi Yoshiba ¥17.82M
38. Akane Iijima ¥17.45M
39. Natsuka Hori ¥17.32M
40. Miki Saiki ¥15.88M
41. Kotono Kozuma ¥15.62M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥15.41M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Megumi Shimokawa ¥13.79M
45. Yukari Nishiyama ¥13.10M

As you can see, only a few million yen separate players between #25 and #39 on the money list, so leaps like Ueda's from #32 to #16 are still entirely possible in the 14 events, including 3 majors, remaining on the JLPGA schedule.  Next chance for that to happen comes next week at the Nitori Ladies, which features most of the JLPGA's finest.  Let's see if Ueda and Morita can keep it rolling!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Canadian Pacific Women's Open Saturday: So Yeon Ryu Opens Door Early; Will Anyone Kick it Down?

So Yeon Ryu started moving day of the Canadian Pacific Women's Open at -15, with a 5-shot lead on playing partners Anna Nordqvist and Danielle Kang, as well as Na Yeon Choi, who's playing in the group in front of them alongside Cristie Kerr and Brittany Lincicome.  Well, Ryu's bogey-free run came to an end after 38 holes with her 1st bogey of the week on the par-4 3rd and when she failed to bogey the par-5 4th she had officially opened the door to the field.  And Choi has been the 1st to walk through it, making 3 birdies in her 1st 5 holes to pull within 1 shot of Ryu.  Nordqvist birdied the 4th to get to -11, Kang has extended her bogey-free streak to 38 holes herself and is still at -10, Azahara Munoz birdied 3 of her 1st 7 holes to join her at -10, Suzann Pettersen and Lizette Salas have caught Lincicome at -9, and Karrie Webb has just birdied 3 holes in a row late in her round to get to -5 on her day and -8 overall, tied with Kerr, Harukyo Nomura, Kim Kaufman, and a player you may have heard of by the name of Inbee Park.

[Update 1 (1:40 pm):  Webb has a chance to outdo Chie Arimura and Line Vedel for low round of the day.  Both of them moved up to -6 with Karine Icher, who fired a 68 of her own in a round that was highlighted by 5 birdies in a row as she made the turn.  Mirim Lee also shot a 68 today, but generally scores are higher and birdies are fewer and farther between than during the 1st 2 rounds.]

[Update 2 (1:41 pm):  I have to take my car into the shop for a regular check-up now.  Hopefully the wi fi at the dealer's is working!]

[Update 3 (2:05 pm):  It is!  Ryu birdied the 6th to get back to -15.  Salas's bogey-free run ended at 33 holes and then she added insult to injury with her 2nd bogey in a row of the day on the par-3 8th.  She's fallen to -7.]

[Update 4 (2:07 pm):  Nordqvist also birdied 6 to get to -12.  Lincicome joined Munoz and Kang at -10 with a birdie on the par-5 7th.]

[Update 5 (2:08 pm):  Nomura fired a 3-birdie 34 on the front to move to -9.]

[Update 6 (2:10 pm):  Ai Miyazato birdied the 2nd and extended her bogey-free run to 34 holes, but she bogeyed 3 to drop back to -7, where she's stayed the entire front.]

[Update 7 (2:11 pm):  Add Shanshan Feng to the list of players who needed a birdie barrage to squeak into the weekend who kept it going on moving day. Her 5-birdie 68 moved her to -5 for the week.]

[Update 8 (2:13 pm):  Inbee couldn't birdie any of the 1st 3 par 5s today, but she just got one on the par-4 11th to move to -9.]

[Update 9 (2:14 pm):  Ouch!  Turned out Salas doubled 8.]

[Update 10 (2:15 pm):  Munoz birdied 11 to get to -11!]

[Update 11 (2:16 pm):  Ryu makes it 2 birdies in a row with another one on the par-5 7th.  She's now birdied each of the par 5s on the front 2 out of 3 times this week each.  1st time she's at -16.]

[Update 12 (2:20 pm):  Kaufman birdied the par-4 14th to get to -4 on her day and -9 overall.]

[Update 13 (2:21 pm):  Salas's hopes are dimming even further as she bogeys 9 to go +4 in her last 3 holes and fall back to -5.]

[Update 14 (2:22 pm):  Ko has hit every green but 1 and parred every hole but 1.  At -6 with 4 holes to play, she needs a real closing run to have a hope tomorrow.]

[Update 15 (2:25 pm):  Sydnee Michaels has made 5 birdies today, including 2 in her last 3 holes, to move to -8.]

[Update 16 (2:30 pm):  Aza's -5 through 12 and -12 overall!]

[Update 17 (2:32 pm):  Kerr birdies 9 to get back to -9!]

[Update 18 (2:34 pm):  So does Lincicome.  She's -11 now!]

[Update 19 (2:36 pm):  Pornanong Phatlum has birdied her last 2 holes in a row to move to -8.  She's -3 and bogey-free today and has a 27-hole bogey-free run going.]

[Update 20 (2:38 pm):  Mariajo Uribe has birdied 4 of her last 7 holes to move to -9.]

[Update 21 (2:41 pm):  Inbee birdies the par-3 13th to get to -10.  Pettersen bogeys 11 to fall back to -8.  Salas birdies the par-5 10th to fight back to -6.]

[Update 22 (2:45 pm):  Stacy Lewis has been having a quiet day, but she just made her 2nd birdie in her last 7 holes to get to -6.  Like Ko, she needs to make something happen down the home stretch to even have a thought about a hope tomorrow.]

[Update 23 (2:49 pm):  A birdie for Michaels on the par-5 16th gets her to -9.]

[Update 24 (2:50 pm):  Nomura birdies the par-4 12th to get to -10.  Kerr gets her 2nd birdie in a row, this one on the par-5 10th, to join her.]

[Update 25 (2:52 pm):  There are currently 9 players double digits under par, or within 6 shots of the lead.]

[Update 26 (2:54 pm):  So far today there have been only 10 rounds posted in the 60s.]

[Update 27 (2:56 pm):  Aza birdies 14 to get to -6 on her round and -13 overall, only 3 behind Ryu.]

[Update 28 (2:57 pm):  Another birdie for Inbee!  She's now -11!!]

[Update 29 (2:58 pm):  Ko bogeys the par-5 16th to fall back to -5.  Just not her week.]

[Update 30 (2:58 pm):  Miyazato birdies 12 to get to -8.]

[Update 31 (3:01 pm):  Lincicome birdies 11 to get to -12.  She's now -4 on her round.]

[Update 32 (3:03 pm):  Ryu birdies the 10th to get to -17.  The rest of the field should start feeling the pressure right about now.  Let's see who responds!]

[Update 33 (7:21 pm):  Well, the car is fine, I watched the tv coverage, and wow, did Aza go low!  Even though she tied Ryu's course record, she's still 4 shots behind her, as SYR ended up making 6 birdies in her last 13 holes to get to -20 for the week!  NYC made a couple of late birdies to post a 66 and join Munoz at -16.  The only other player seemingly with half a chance to win is Inbee, who extended her bogey-free run to 54 holes and counting and whose 65 got her within 6 of Ryu.  Yup, 5 birdies in a row on the back and she made up 2 shots on the leader.]

[Update 34 (7:30 pm):  So everybody else lost still more ground on Ryu.  Nordqvist has a 20-hole bogey-free run going, but only made 3 birdies in that stretch, so she's 7 back.  She's missed 6 fairways and 5 greens in regulation all week and she's 7 back!  Lincicome birdied 4 of her 1st 11 holes but hit the wall after that, parring out and ending up 8 off the pace.  At least she has a 43-hole-and-counting bogey-free streak going into the final round.  Kang played some pretty solid golf, but offset 2 of her 4 birdies today with a pair of bogeys, so she's also 8 behind.  Kerr's putting isn't up to her standards this week, but she did make 3 birdies in her last 10 holes and has a 17-hole bogey-free streak going, so she's "only" 9 back.  And that's it for those less than double digits behind SYR!]

[Update 35 (7:34 pm):  So of those way behind but still playing well, I'll focus on only a few.  Pettersen's putting has been even more frustrating than Kerr's, so she's 11 down.  Nomura got it to -10 but doubled 14 and bogeyed 18 to drop 13 behind.  Speaking of screwing up the end of a round, Brittany Lang should have been -10 after 16 holes yesterday, but instead she's had to fight her way back to -8 over those next 21 holes.  Uribe finished bogey-bogey to drop back to -7.  Most weeks that would mean, bear down the next day.  Tomorrow, even a 59 from anyone at -7 probably wouldn't win this thing!  Won't stop me for rooting for one for Ai-sama....]

Wegmans LPGA Championship Special Report: On Mina Harigae, Jennifer Song, Danielle Kang, Tiffany Joh, and Jane Park

With Danielle Kang 5 behind So Yeon Ryu at the Canadian Pacific Women's Open, Jane Park continuing to play well for the 2nd week in a row, Mina Harigae and Tiffany Joh making charges yesterday to make the cut, and Jennifer Song missing the cut by a single stroke thanks to a walkoff bogey, now is as good a time as any to report on what I saw of their games during last Sunday's final round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  Basically, I wanted to see how some of my favorite Asian American golfers on tour compared to the Japanese players I primarily followed the previous days.

Mina Harigae:  I got to Pittsford later than I hoped and could follow her only for the 16th through 18th holes, so I didn't get to pay as much attention to her game as I did 4 years ago when I focused on her and Mika Miyazato in "a tale of 2 20-year-olds."  Just as I predicted back then, Mina's made steady improvements each year, tweaking rather than rethinking her precision game.  She's putting the best this season of any year on tour and has a scoring average below 72 for the 2nd-straight year.  However, she was seriously steamed (by her laid-back Californian standards) by the time I got to interview her at the end of her round.  Despite nearly making a tough sandie on the tough par-3 16th, giving herself a great birdie chance on the tough par-4 17th, and nearly chipping in from all the way across the long 18th green, she was very disappointed in her play that week.  She told me she had been hitting the ball great coming into Monroe Golf Club, but had a terrible ball-striking week by her standards (I saw a microcosm of that in just those 3 holes, as she sandwiched a perfect 260-yard drive on 17 between a right miss on 16 and a left miss on 18).  Although she thought the course was set up fairly all week, she definitely bought into the narrative that it advantaged the long hitters on tour, with its generous fairways and relatively benign rough to either side of them.  Clearly she was tired of hitting 4-hybrids in when others were hitting 7-irons.  But think about how far she's come to be talking like that:  1) she's got the confidence as an established veteran to be criticizing the way the majors have been set up this year; 2) just making the cut at a major does not satisfy her (she's done that in her last 5 in a row); 3) she's playing consistently well enough to raise her expectations on herself.  So I'd venture to predict that 2014 will be the best season of her career and that we should see her back in the top 10 soon.

Jennifer Song:  I backtracked to the 6th green and followed her until the 12th green.  Most of that time, she and her playing partner Stacey Keating were on the clock, so they would jog between shots and generally play as fast as they could.  Even so, she displayed great touch around and on the greens, making a fantastic sandie from the very deep bunker to the right of the 7th green by using a backstop to pull the ball back within 3 feet of the cup, knocking down a 20-footer to save par on the par-3 8th after catching a bad lie from the right rough, making a tester to save par on the par-5 9th, and just missing a tester for birdie on the par-5 12th.  Her key performance stats are very similar to Harigae's--the most important area of their games both ought to focus on improving the most would be hitting greens in regulation--but she's struggling to stay in the top 80 on the money list because she's missed a lot more cuts and hasn't broken into the top 20 yet this season (her T30 last week was tied for her 2nd-best finish of the season thus far).  She's definitely pulled herself out of the depths of last season and has a good chance to make this her best year on tour, but she's going to need to get out the gates faster from here on out.  With only 3 more starts until the limited-field fall Asian swing, the clock is ticking to get into the top 50 on the money list and guarantee herself spots in those events.

Danielle Kang:  I spent the most time with DK of anyone today, catching up with her and Laura Diaz on the 10th fairway and staying with them the entire back 9.  And I got to see the most fireworks from her, too, as she pitched in for eagle on the par-5 12th, made a 40-foot sweeper for birdie on the tough par-3 13th after her approach stuck on the front-right portion of the green instead of falling off the cliff and ending up 70 yards away from the green, and followed it up with a delicate 10-foot downhiller for birdie on the par-5 14th after frankly chopping it around for most of the hole.  At that point, she had fought her way back to -2 for the week, and she stayed there after just missing a birdie on the par-4 15th and making a fantastic 20-foot par save on 16, but she just couldn't keep the magic going as she finished bogey-bogey on the 2 tough closing par 4s at Monroe Golf Club.  She found Death Valley to the left of the 17th green and left her 35-foot par attempt dead center but 5 inches short, and she got too aggressive on 18 after blasting her drive 20 yards past Diaz, going over the green, trying to chip in, having it run by into tester range, and just missing the par save.  But at least she was going for it and trying to keep her run going.  She ended up with her 2nd-best finish of the season and clearly left Pittsford with a lot of confidence.  In London, Ontario, she's been driving the ball great, hitting a lot of greens, and putting well.  Can't wait to see how she handles playing in the final threesome with So Yeon Ryu and Anna Nordqvist today.  She's made over $200K each of her 1st 2 seasons on tour but so far this one has barely made over $100K.  But I'm thinking she's turned a corner!  Let's see what she can do over the weekend with her great start to the week!

Tiffany Joh and Jane Park:  T-Joh was in the group ahead of Park, so I kind of tried to keep an eye on both UCLA grads from the 12th through 17th holes, but by the end of the day my focus shifted to Lydia Ko and Inbee Park.  Jane Park was in Chie Arimura-style lockdown mode, making 6-straight pars while I watched her.  Meanwhile, T-Joh stuck a little wedge to 2 feet on the 12th, but missed her birdie attempt right after her playing partner Azahara Munoz made her longer try to get to -9, then bogeyed the 16th after missing it pin-high left and failing to convert a 6-footer after a great pitch after just missing medium-length birdie attempts on the previous 2 holes.  Both were playing really solid golf, with Park the more consistent ball-striker and T-Joh the more artistic player around the greens.  T-Joh has clearly pulled herself back from the brink after 2 forgettable seasons in a row; if her putting were as improved as the rest of her performance stats are this season, she'd be having more rounds like Friday's than Thursday's and be much higher on the money list.  She made 8 cuts in a row to start the season and is on a 4-event-and-counting run right now, so I expect her to give herself a good shot at qualifying for the Asian swing this fall.  Park has been fighting injuries all year, wrist sprains early on and back spasms that forced her to withdraw from the U.S. Women's Open.  She won the U.S. Women's Amateur on a Donald Ross course, so she was very disappointed not being able to compete at Pinehurst and very pleased with her near-top 10 in Pittsford.  This week she's making her 3rd solid start in a row, which has been a long time coming, as she's been driving the ball great all season, hitting the fairway 80% of the time while hitting it about 11 yards farther than last year, the 1st year she was that accurate off the tee.  And she's hitting greens in regulation at a higher rate than at any time in her career (71%), so it's really just a matter of getting those putts to drop.  With 8 birdies in her 1st 2 rounds in London, Ontario, I'd say that's just what's happening.

With Michelle Wie and Christina Kim the most prominent faces of Asian-American golf on the LPGA, I decided to focus my attention on lesser-known but quite promising Asian-American players during the tour's last stop in Rochester for at least awhile.  I'd followed T-Joh several times on the Symetra Tour at their Syracuse stop in recent years, so it was neat to see her in one of the final pairings in a major.  It was nice to check in with Harigae and watch her compete in person instead of just playing in a pro-am.  While I had my most embarrassing interview ever with DK a few years ago in Rochester (it started off with my referring to USC even though I knew damn well she went to Pepperdine and went downhill from there--but at least she could joke about it when I ran into her later at Waterloo), it was fantastic to actually get to see her play close to her potential.  And I came away impressed with Park and Song, whom I've been following online for quite some time but rarely saw on TV.

I'm happy to report that Ai Miyazato, Harukyo Nomura, Ayako Uehara, and Chie Arimura all made the cut this week and seem to be playing well.  So 9 of the 10 players who I followed at Monroe Golf Club who haven't been setting the LPGA on fire in 2014--and actually 12 of 13 if you add Laura Davies, So Yeon Ryu, and Lizette Salas into the mix!--are getting something of a Mostly Harmless bump in Canada.  Here's hoping it lasts for the rest of the season and beyond!

CAT Ladies Saturday: Rikako Morita Leads Momoko Ueda by 3 with 18 to Play

Rikako Morita bogeyed the 18th hole for the 2nd round in a row at the CAT Ladies today, but she still takes a 3-shot lead on Momoko Ueda and a 4-shot lead on Bo-Mee Lee, Ayaka Watanabe, and Kaori Yamamoto into tomorrow's final round, thanks to 5 birdies that enabled her to shoot a 2-under-par 71 and move to -8.

The only golfer to go lower today than last year's money-list title-holder was 20-year-old Watanabe, who made 4 birdies in her last 14 holes and has a 15-hole-and-counting bogey-free run going despite playing in what looked like truly horrendous conditions.  And Esther Lee made quite a back-9 charge of her own, with an eagle on a par 5, a birdie on a par 4, and a birdie on a par 3 over her last 6 holes and no bogeys in her last 11 holes and counting to pull within 6 of the lead.  Da-Ye Na fired a bogey-free 34 on the par-37 back 9 to catch Sun-Ju Ahn, Teresa Lu, Phoebe Yao, and Lala Anai at E, while 20-year-old Saki Okamura hung in there to be 1 shot ahead of them.

But let's focus on the players with the best odds of winning this thing:

  • Rikako Morita:  last year's money-list title-holder (in a rousing duel with Sakura Yokomine) and 7-time winner on tour is languishing at #15 on this year's money list, thanks to 4 missed cuts (the most recent coming last week!) and no top 10s in her last 10 starts.  By contrast, she had a win and 4 total top 10s in her 1st 8 starts of the year.  It would be a huge deal if she could secure her 2nd victory of the season tomorrow.
  • Momoko Ueda:  after fighting to make the top 50 on last year's money list, she decided to play full-time on the JLPGA this year, but it hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns for this 9-time winner on tour and 2007 money-list title-holder.  She began the season by missing the cut in 4 of her 1st 6 starts and has only 4 top 10s and 6 top 20s thus far, which explains why she's only #32 on the money list.  She's coming off a couple of mediocre finishes in a row, as well, so it would be a huge deal for her to shake off the doldrums tomorrow and win for the 1st time since the 2011 Mizuno Classic.
  • Bo-Mee Lee:  this year's money-list leader is looking for her 9th JLPGA victory and 4th of 2014, which would make her the 1st 4-time winner of the year on any major tour.  And, oh yeah, it would mean that she's won 3 of her last 4 starts.  She may well be the hottest player in the world in recent months, with 3 wins, 6 top 5s, 8 top 10s, and 9 top 25s in her last 10 starts.
  • Ayaka Watanabe:  she got her 1st career JLPGA victory early in the season, but last week's T10 was her 1st top 10 in her previous 7 starts, so she has extra motivation to finish in style.  Back in May, I ranked her #13 in my list of the top 22 female professional golfers in the world.  A win would not only move her up that list but also up from #8 on the JLPGA money list.
  • Kaori Yamamoto:  the 40-year-old veteran is the definition of journeywoman, having never won more than 10 million yen in a single season in 13 previous years of trying.  But she's coming off her 1st top 10 of 2014 last week and 4th-best finish of her career, so don't count her out!
To give you a sense of how well these 5 have played thus far this week, consider that 2013 JLPGA Rookie of the Year Mamiko Higa (#9 on my 22 under 22 list), who's signed up for Stage II of LPGA Q-School, by the way, fell back to +4 after shooting a 76 today.  She's tied for 30th with the hottest young Japanese golfer in the world right now, Misuzu Narita, who struggled in her prime-time pairing with Lee and Ahn on Friday.  But at least they made the cut.  Mi-Jeong Jeon, Maiko Wakabayashi, Hiromi Mogi, Hyun-Ju Shin, Na-Ri Kim, and Yuki Sakurai did not.  And top golfers from 2013 Miki Saiki and Yumiko Yoshida barely did.

So whoever wins this week will have really done something special.  Let's hope the weather is better for everyone tomorrow!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Canadian Pacific Women's Open Friday: So Yeon Ryu, -15, Sets High Bar for Field

So Yeon Ryu followed up yesterday's tournament-record 63 with a 66 that extended her bogey-free run at the Canadian Pacific Women's Open to 36 holes and counting and allowed her to open up a 5-shot lead on playing partner Anna Nordqvist and a 6-shot lead on 2006 champion at the London Hunt and Country Club Cristie Kerr as the afternoon wave began their rounds.  The only player in the morning wave to score better than Ryu was last week's runner-up, Brittany Lincicome, who fired a 65 to get to -8 and whose own bogey-free streak is 25 holes and counting despite being dissatisfied with her driving as she came home on the front 9 today.

Of course, it took Lincicome 36 holes to get as many under par as Na Yeon Choi had been after her 1st 18 of the week, but NYC just bogeyed the tough 5th hole to drop back to -7, which is where Suzann PettersenAzahara MunozHarukyo Nomura, and Belen Mozo ended their rounds today.  2-time defending champion Lydia Ko birdied 2 of her last 3 holes today to reach the halfway point of the tournament at -5, 10 shots off the lead.  Let's see how many golfers are between Ko and Ryu when the afternoon action is over.  And whether the cut line gets as high as -2, which would make Ya Ni Tseng's closing 3-hole birdie train in vain and knock Mina Harigae, who fired a 5-birdie 68 today, out of the weekend.  Right now there are 65 players at -2 or better and 82 at -1 or better....

[Update 1 (5:40 pm):  Seems like some players are really starting to figure out this course.  Lizette Salas made 6 birdies in her last 11 holes to post a bogey-free 66 and tie Lincicome at -8.  Chella Choi made 5 birdies in her last 12 holes to fight back to -2, which is sure to make the cut.  Moriya Jutanugarn birdied 5 of her last 15 holes to get back to -1, but will need some help for the cut line to fall there.  There are currently 73 players at -2 or better.]

[Update 2 (5:44 pm):  At the same time, not everyone is as dialed in as these golfers.  Na Yeon Choi made 4 birdies today but had to settle for a 70 and a tie for 2nd at -10 with Anna Nordqvist--and she wouldn't have even done that well if she hadn't strung together late birdies on 15 and 16.  Inbee Park was bogey-free today, but could only manage 1 birdie all day and is stuck at -7.  She took 5 more putts today than she did yesterday.  Paula Creamer, Shanshan Feng, Charley Hull, and Sandra Gal are all -1 with only a few holes to go for each of them...]

[Update 3 (5:50 pm):  Back to the hot golfers:  Stacy Lewis made 4 birdies in her last 12 holes to claw her way to -5; Jodi Ewart Shadoff did the same to get to -3; Ai Miyazato fired a bogey-free 67 that included 4 birdies between the 10th and 16th holes (w00t!!); Alison Walshe has made 6 birdies today and with 4 holes to play is -6.]

[Update 4 (5:51 pm):  Cut watch continues with Chie Arimura, who's birdied 2 of her last 4 holes to fight back to E for the week and is playing the par-5 16th in a must-birdie situation.]

[Update 5 (5:52 pm):  Hot watch continues with Amy Yang, who birdied 5 of her last 12 holes on her way to a bogey-free 67 that gets her to -5.]

[Update 6 (5:55 pm):  And with Joanna Klatten, who's birdied 4 of her last 7 holes to get to -5 and still has 5 left to play.]

[Update 7 (5:57 pm):  Feng has birdied 3 of her last 4 holes to become the 71st player at -2 or better.  Hull needs to birdie 18 to join her.]

[Update 8 (6:00 pm):  We know that Ariya Jutanugarn, Katherine Kirk, Sun Young Yoo, Jee Young Lee, Samantha Richdale, Eun-Hee Ji, Caroline Hedwall, Meena Lee, Lorie Kane, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Jennifer Song, Stephanie Meadow, Mika Miyazato, and Gerina Piller will not make the cut.]

[Update 9 (6:02 pm):  Looks like only 3 golfers can help those at -1 right now:  Mirim Lee, Shanshan Feng, and Sarah Kemp.  2 of the 3 have to drop below -2 to let everyone at -1 in.]

[Update 10 (6:03 pm):  Arimura birdied 16!  So that means that there are 5 live rounds at -1 that can also change the cut-line equation if any of them get to -2.]

[Update 11 (6:07 pm):  Feng matched T-Joh's 68 to join her at -2.  Kemp has birdied 4 of her last 7 holes to get to -3 and has 5 to play, so I think she's looking to rise further up the leaderboard rather than being in danger of falling back to -1.  Although Mirim Lee was -5 at the same point and on a roll, having birdied 3 of her previous 6 holes, but went double-bogey on 14 and 15 to drop back to -2, so you never know.]

[Update 12 (6:09 pm):  Wow, Kemp just bogeyed 14, her 1st bogey since the 3rd hole, to join Mirim Lee at -2.]

[Update 13 (6:10 pm):  Hull parred 18, so she's done at -1.  There are now only 3 players at -1:  Arimura, Christina Kim, and Candie Kung, who can ensure that the cut line moves up to -2, whatever Kemp and Lee do.]

[Update 14 (6:12 pm):  Walshe just bogeyed her last 2 holes in a row now to bring it to 3 on her day.  Back to -5.  Let's see if she can regroup on the par-5 7th.]

[Update 15 (6:27 pm):  Klatten has now made it 5 birdies in her last 8 holes!  She's -6 with 3 to play.]

[Update 16 (6:27 pm):  Ouch!  Mirim Lee bogeyed 18 to go +4 in her last 5 holes and fall to -1.]

[Update 17 (6:28 pm):  There are exactly 70 golfers at -2 right now.]

[Update 18 (6:32 pm):  Arimura couldn't birdie 17 or 18 and Christina Kim also finished at -1, so it all comes down to Sarah Kemp now (unless Candie Kung finishes birdie-birdie).]

[Update 19 (6:41 pm):  BTW, tough finish for Brittany Lang as TV coverage was shutting down:  after birdieing 6 holes between the 4th and the 15th, she had a 4-foot birdie putt on the par-5 16th to get to -10, but ended up 3-putting, then doubled the 18th after duck-hooking her drive and failing to recover from it gracefully.  So she's at -6 now.]

[Update 20 (6:45 pm):  Kemp could not birdie the par-5 16th.  She can go par-par to make the cut and keep it at 70 golfers, but if she finishes +1 over her last 2 holes, she lets at least 87 golfers play on the weekend!]

[Update 21 (6:48 pm):  So Yeon Ryu continues to set records this week!  Check it out!]

[Update 22 (6:50 pm):  Scratch the drama at the cut line.  After fixing an error, the LPGA.com scoreboard now shows everyone at -1 at T70.]

[Update 23 (6:53 pm):  I've studiously avoided mentioning Danielle Kang's round as she followed up her bogey-free 33 with 8-straight pars.  But now that she's birdied the 18th to join the group at -10, I can't possibly jinx her today!  She's got a 34-hole-and-counting bogey-free run going, to boot!]

[Update 24 (6:55 pm):  It wasn't an error:  Chella Choi withdrew.  Hope she's ok!]

[Update 25 (7:00 pm):  A lot of players I really like made it into the weekend thanks to Chella's WD:  Mika Miyazato, Paula Creamer, Ya Ni Tseng, Mina Harigae, and Chie Arimura.]

[Update 26 (7:10 pm):  You know, as easy as this course has been playing, only 12 golfers have broken 70 both days.  If Ryu can make it 4 in a row, somebody's going to have to go low-60s/mid-60s to have a chance of catching her!]

[Update 27 (7:11 pm):  Kemp did finish par-par, btw, to end her day at -2, while Klatten followed up a bogey on 17 with a par on 18 to finish at -5.  Only 4 golfers within 5 shots of the lead but 33 within 10....]

[Update 28 (8/23/14, 6:02 am):  Here's Ruthless Mike's take on Ryu's roll!]

CAT Ladies Friday: Rikako Morita Takes 2-Shot Lead as Bo-Mee Lee, Momoko Ueda, and Sun-Ju Ahn Lurk

Rikako Morita shot a 6-under-par 67 to kick off the CAT Ladies.  Despite bogeying the 532-yard par-5 18th, last year's JLPGA money-list title-holder leads Kaori Yamamoto by 2 and this year's money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee by 3 (along with former LPGAer Momoko Ueda and International Crown competitor Phoebe Yao).  In addition, 22-year-old Saki Okamura (who's missed 12-straight cuts coming into this week!) and 36-year-old Hiroko Fukushima (who's MCed her last 4 starts on the JLPGA, as well) fought their way to 71s.

But it was a tough day for most of the field:  only 13 players ended up under par after 18 holes and only 18 finished at par or better.  With the likes of Erina Hara, Teresa Lu, Soo-Yun Kang, Mamiko Higa, Mayu Hattori, and Lala Anai at +1, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Yumiko Yoshida, and Shinobu Moromizato at +2, Akiko Fukushima, Rui Kitada, Young Kim, Ritsuko Ryu, and Miki Sakai joining Narita at +3, Saiki Fujita, Na-Ri Lee, Akane Iijima, and Yukari Baba at +4, and Miki Saiki and Hyun-Ju Shin at +5, not only is tomorrow's cut line likely to be high, but Morita has built a pretty big cushion already on golfers who might have been expected to contend this week.  Add in the fact that Ji-Yai Shin and Bo-Bae Song withdrew during the 1st round--Shin with left shoulder pain after 6 holes and Song with poor health--and Morita can eliminate most of the field with another good round tomorrow.

If Morita does play well Saturday, she puts a lot of pressure on the top 3 players on the JLPGA money list, who were paired together today.  Lee eagled the 376-yard par-4 11th and parred in for her 70, but Sun-Ju Ahn and Misuzu Narita could manage only 72 and 76, respectively.  Ahn was -2 through 4 and Narita -2 through 6, but both had trouble the rest of the way, particularly Narita who doubled the 7th and bogeyed 3 of her last 6 holes, including both 17 and 18.  By the same token, then, it's just as easy for Morita to struggle tomorrow.  If so, players in the top 10 on the money list like Ayaka Watanabe, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, and Esther Lee, who all matched Ahn's opening 72, have a good opportunity to put some pressure on everyone ahead of them with good rounds tomorrow.

We'll just have to see who can handle the 6,701-yard Daihakone Country Club over the weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Canadian Pacific Women's Open Thursday: So Yeon Ryu's 63 and Na Yeon Choi's 64 Set Pace

The Robert Trent Jones London Hunt and Country Club was soft today and some of the best female golfers in the world took full advantage during the 1st round of the Canadian Pacific Women's Open.  Na Yeon Choi set the pace in the morning with a 64 that was sparked by 5 birdies in a row as she started the front (her back).  But So Yeon Ryu topped her in the afternoon with a bogey-free 63 that included an emphatic 30 on the back 9.

But, incredibly, these fantastic rounds failed to separate Ryu and Choi from a good portion of the field.  Anna Nordqvist's bogey-free 65, 66s by 2-time Wegmans LPGA Championship winner Inbee Park, Team Spain leader Azahara Munoz, 2-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion Danielle Kang, and rookie Xi Yu Lin, 67s by Laura Davies, Cristie Kerr, Caroline Masson, Lindsey Wright, Mi Hyang Lee, and Jennifer Kirby, and 68s by Brittany Lang, Belen Mozo, Julieta Granada, Harukyo Nomura, Pernilla Lindberg, and Marina Alex mean that there are actually 19 golfers within 5 shots of the lead.

And with the likes of Karrie Webb, Laura Diaz, Suzann Pettersen, Ya Ni Tseng, Mirim Lee, and Jane Park at -3, 2-time defending champion Lydia Ko, Ai Miyazato, Morgan Pressel, In-Kyung Kim, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Lizette Salas, and Jenny Shin at -2, and Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Hee Young Park, Charley Hull, and Stephanie Meadow at -1, we actually have 80 golfers under par after 18 holes.

Big names in danger of missing the cut, therefore, include Ariya Jutanugarn (79), Katherine Kirk (77), Gerina Piller (75), Moriya Jutanugarn (75), Mina Harigae (75), Shanshan Feng (74), Caroline Hedwall (74), Tiffany Joh (74), Moira Dunn (74), Beatriz Recari (73), Sandra Gal (73), Chella Choi (73), Eun-Hee Ji (73), Mika Miyazato (73), Angela Stanford (72), Amy Yang (72), Meena Lee (72), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (72), and Chie Arimura (72).

But given that any of these golfers are capable of knocking out a round in the mid-60s or even low 60s, I expect the leaderboard at the end of the day tomorrow to be quite different than it turned out to be today!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Picks for the Canadian Pacific Women's Open

Between the imminent start of the semester and the return to Western NY of my lovely ladies after nearly 2 months in Japan--not to mention needing to finish N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy and Guy Gavriel Kay's 2 amazing historical fantasy novels set in China (Under Heaven and River of Stars), as well as finish binge-watching Parks and Recreation before my students, colleagues, and family take up most of my time and attention--my post-Wegmans week has been packed already, so I'm rushing out my picks for the Canadian Pacific Women's Open tonight:

1. Ko
2. Park Inbee
3. Pettersen
4. Lewis, Stacy
5. Feng Shanshan
6. Kerr
7. Ryu
8. Thompson
9. Munoz
10. Nordqvist
11. Lincicome
12. Lee Mirim

Alts: Choi Chella; Stanford; Yang

So go with Tony Jesselli's this week rather than mine!  Would love to sneak up to London, Ontario, on Sunday, but going to have to get a lot done the next 3 days for that to happen....

Monday, August 18, 2014

What a Week!

Anyone following me on twitter knows that I happened to be at my favorite Korean restaurant in Western New York last night when the repeat winner of the Wegmans LPGA Championship happened to drop by.  Smooth as always in the presence of greatness, I stammered out a quiet "Congratulations, Inbee," as she walked by.  She took the time to thank me.  And that was that.

It's sad to think that nobody knows when the LPGA will return to Rochester.  I was so busy chasing golfers yesterday that the only player I got to interview was Mina Harigae, and then only for a couple of minutes after her most frustrating round of the week.  So to all the players I've followed, or interviewed, and sometimes even gotten to know a bit over the last several years in Pittsford--particularly Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Moira Dunn, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Tiffany Joh, Danielle Kang, Lizette Salas, Jane Park, Jennifer Song, Na Yeon Choi, In-Kyung Kim, Amy Yang, Momoko Ueda, Chie Arimura, Ayako Uehara, and Harukyo Nomura--thanks for everything you do!  And hope to see you competing in Rochester again soon!