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 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!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wegmans LPGA Championship Sunday: Inbee Park Defeats Brittany Lincicome with Clutch Up-and-Down on 1st Playoff Hole

The narrative all week here at the Wegmans LPGA Championship has been that Monroe Golf Club is a bombers' paradise, but in the end the final edition of the tournament in Rochester became a pitch-and-putt contest between defending champion Inbee Park, who made 2 clutch 10 footers in her last 2 holes to get to -11, and Brittany Lincicome, who 3-putted from about 25 feet on the 72nd hole to fall back to that same number and open the door to the former world #1.

They played the 18th again on the first playoff hole, and even though Lincicome outdrove Park by over 50 yards, both players went over the green with their approaches.  Lincicome ended up not far from where she left her 25-footer 6 feet short, while Park had gunned for the pin and rolled to the back-right rough right behind it.  Lincicome hit a good chip, but it released to about 9 feet, while Park cozied hers up within 3 feet.  The previous night, Lincicome had admitted that the key place her nerves show up is on the greens, while Park has been talking down her putting this year but even before she switched putters last week was still among the top 3 in the world on the greens this year on the LPGA.  Long story short:  Lincicome missed.  Park made.  Park defended her title.

More to come!

[Update 1 (7:52 pm):  I spent most of the day following Mina Harigae (16th-18th holes), Jennifer Song (6th-12th), Danielle Kang (10th-18th), and Tiffany Joh and Jane Park (12th-end, back and forth between their 2 groups).  But I did get back to the 17th green in time to see Lydia Ko fail to get up-and-down from the neck on the 17th and watch Inbee pour in her birdie attempt.  I was just to Inbee's right for her drive on 18 and the intensity on her face as she transitioned to her downswing was something to behold.  I couldn't get close to the green, but I saw her par save disappear and heard the crowd's roar an instant later.  I tried to get back to the 18th tee in time to see the 2 players tee off right from near the tee area, but was blocked by the ropes for the short way and had to go the long way around.  Made it within 100 yards of the tee on the right side of the fairway, but by that time Lincicome was ready to drive.]

[Update 2 (7:58 pm):  Brittany came into the interview room while I was typing update #1.  I got to ask her about her thought process after her bogey on the par-5 12th and she gave a fantastic answer.  I hope she continues to play well because she's one of the best interviews on the LPGA.  Totally honest and very thoughtful.]

[Update 3 (8:08 pm):  Last night here in the media room, Pettersen was totally confident and talking about trying to go low on Sunday, Lincicome was totally forthright about how she deals with her emotions and nerves, and Park seemed to be relishing the underdog role, feeding into the narrative that Monroe GC gives long hitters an advantage.  But Sundays in a major are different.  It's a lot harder to swing freely when the tournament is on the line and the further you hit it the further your misses go, too.  In addition, the pressure on and around the greens ratchets up, particularly on Donald Ross greens.  Cases in point:  Pettersen's 41 and Piller's 42 on the front.  It doesn't look from their scorecards that they missed a whole lot of fairways, but they made 7 bogeys and 2 doubles together in the 1st 8 holes.  (Congrats to Gerina, btw, on her husband's win!)  But let's face it, everybody struggled down the stretch.  Azahara Munoz, a straight shooter, got it to -9 and made a fantastic par save on 14 after having to take an unplayable, but finished double-par-bogey.  Lydia Ko, a precision player, got it to -10, but finished with 2 bogeys in a row.  In the end, the player who played the best all week and particularly down the stretch was your winner.]

[Update 4 (8:14 pm):  Shoutout to world #1 Stacy Lewis, who had the low round of the day, a 5-birdie 68, to vault into a tie for 6th with Pettersen, Shanshan Feng, Mirim Lee, and Julieta Granada.  Oh, and add Anna Nordqvist to the list of players who fought their way up the leaderboard only to falter down the stretch.  She was -8 with 4 to play and bogeyed 16 and 17.]

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NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies Sunday: Bo-Mee Lee Defeats Shiho Oyama and Erika Kikuchi in Playoff for 8th JLPGA Victory and 3rd of 2014

Bo-Mee Lee collected her 8th career JLPGA victory today at the NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies, but it didn't come easily.  Sun-Ju Ahn, the only player ahead of her of the money list, made an early charge from well back in the pack.  Her 6 birdies in her last 14 holes made her the leader in the clubhouse at -11.  Lee, meanwhile, started her final round with a bogey and 8-straight pars to fall back to -10.  That opened the door for Erika Kikuchi, playing several groups ahead of her, to make up all 4 strokes she started the day behind Lee--and more--with her opening 32 to move to -11.  And Kikuchi was just trying to keep pace with Saiki Fujita, whose bogey-free 32 on the front from the group ahead of her got her to -11 1 hole earlier than her.  Yumiko Yoshida didn't light it up on the front, but she also made the turn at -10.  And out of the blue, 20-year-old rookie Nana Yamashiro, whose best previous finish was a T5 at the Yonex Ladies, kept within striking distance of playing partner Kikuchi and her co-leaders with a 2-birdie 35 that brought her to -9.  But Lee's biggest threat seemed to be coming from her playing partner Shiho Oyama, who opened with a bogey-free 33 of her own to take the lead at -12.

So the tournament came down to the final 9 with a host of players fighting for the win.  Yoshida was the 1st to blink with a bogey on the 378-yard par-4 10th, which Lee then proceeded to birdie.  Fujita was the next to drop off the map with 2 bogeys in her 1st 5 holes.  But then Kikuchi made a move with birdies on the par-5 13th and par-4 14th to move to -13.  Yamashiro birdied the 13th but couldn't keep pace with her playing partner, falling 3 shots behind with 4 holes to play.  Yoshida joined Yamashiro at -10 with a birdie of her own on the 13th, but neither player could male a big move the rest of the way.  And when Lee and Oyama got to 13, their birdies there moved them to -12 and -13, respectively.  They weren't quite lighting up the back like Erina Hara (5 birdies in a 6-hole stretch to fly to -10) or Da Ye Na (birdie-eagle-par-birdie-par finish to end her week at -10), but when Lee birdied the 364-yard par-4 15th, we had 3 players at -13.  Kikuchi, having closed out her round with 4-straight pars, displaced Ahn as leader in the clubhouse, and when Oyama finished with 5-straight pars and Lee with 3, while Yamashiro could manage only 1 more birdie to join Ahn at -11, we had ourselves a 3-way playoff to determine the 2014 champion.  It was over almost before it started, as Kikuchi was in trouble off the tee and Oyama couldn't get her approach close, but Lee stuck her approach to about 14 feet and sank the birdie putt for the win.

That win was not only Lee's 3rd of 2014, but it also leapfrogged her past Ahn on the JLPGA money list!

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥95.13M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥89.58M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥69.48M
4. Miki Sakai ¥59.54M
5. Ji-Yai Shin ¥55.53M
6. Erina Hara ¥46.36M
7. Teresa Lu ¥42.97M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥39.42M
9. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥37.84M
10. Esther Lee ¥35.68M
11. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥33.92M
12. Lala Anai ¥32.58M
13. Ritsuko Ryu ¥31.85M
14. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
15. Rikako Morita ¥31.29M
16. Shiho Oyama ¥28.50M
17. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M
18. Phoebe Yao ¥27.36M
19. Na-Ri Lee ¥26.70M
20. Mayu Hattori ¥25.27M
21. Hikari Fujita ¥24.90M
22. Saiki Fujita ¥24.60M
23. Kaori Ohe ¥21.45M
24. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.42M
25. Yukari Baba ¥20.74M
26. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥20.52M
27. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
28. Megumi Kido ¥19.77M
29. Asako Fujimoto ¥19.63M
30. Mami Fukuda ¥19.38M
31. Junko Omote ¥19.35M
32. Momoko Ueda ¥19.23M
33. Yumiko Yoshida ¥19.02M
34. Mamiko Higa ¥18.59M
35. Erika Kikuchi ¥18.33M
36. Rumi Yoshiba ¥17.82M
37. Soo-Yun Kang ¥17.57M
38. Akane Iijima ¥17.06M
39. Natsuka Hori ¥16.38M
40. Kotono Kozuma ¥15.62M
41. Miki Saiki ¥15.59M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥15.41M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Megumi Shimokawa ¥13.50M
45. Yukari Nishiyama ¥12.55M

Next up on the JLPGA is the CAT Ladies, which Sun-Ju Ahn won last year.  I don't have time to scan the field list right now, as I have to head out to Pittsford for the final round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wegmans LPGA Championship Saturday: Who Will Make a Move as the Rains Move in on Pittsford?

I'm watching Golf Channel after walking 27 holes with Chie Arimura, Ayako Uehara, and Harukyo Nomura earlier today at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  (I got off the course just before rain arrived here at Monroe Golf Club.)  My goal today was to follow Japanese golfers I haven't gotten to know as well as Ai Miyazato and Mika Miyazato; tomorrow, I want to follow Asian American golfers who are having great weeks like Tiffany Joh (-4), Jane Park (-4 through 12), Danielle Kang (-1), and Jennifer Song (E).

But it's time now to focus on the top of the leaderboard.  Brittany Lincicome continues to play great golf this week, with birdies on 7, 9, and 12 to offset bogeys on 5 and 10.  At -10, she leads Suzann Pettersen (-4 through 14 holes today) and Inbee Park (-2 through 12) by 2 shots.  Julieta Granada is working on a 32-hole bogey-free streak and is only 3 off Lincicome's pace.  Gerina Piller takes a 22-hole bogey-free run into the 18th hole and is tied with the fighting Lees, Meena and Mirim, at -6.  And Anna Nordqvist's 69 has brought her to -5, tied right now with a struggling Lexi Thompson and a stuck-in-neutral-while-riding-a-roller-coaster Lydia Ko.

On to the not-quite-live blogging!

[Update 1 (5:49 pm):  Meena Lee just birdied the par-5 14th to move to -7.]

[Update 2 (5:51 pm):  Inbee jetted a birdie attempt well past the hole on 13 but I guess she saved par.  Lexi went for 14 in 2 after a great drive but yanked it left into deep rough.  Pettersen made her 4th birdie in her last 6 holes to move to -9.  She's tied for the lead now as Lincicome missed her par save on 13.]

[Update 3 (5:56 pm):  Lexi did birdie 14!  Piller made a great 8-footer on 18 to keep her bogey-free run alive!]

[Update 4 (5:59 pm):  Both Inbee and Brittany hit 14 in 2.  Lincicome was 1 yard shorter than Kirby, apparently.]

[Update 5 (6:00 pm):  Nice sand play from Pettersen as Golf Channel goes to commercial.]

[Update 6 (6:02 pm):  I hope Golf Channel shows Mirim Lee's birdie on 17!]

[Update 7 (6:04 pm):  Instead they show Brittany just miss an eagle on the low side and tap in for birdie to take the lead.  Pettersen made her sandie and Inbee her birdie.]

[Update 8 (6:07 pm):  Maybe I missed them showing Mirim's birdie on 17.  Because they just showed her par on 18 for a 69 that puts her at -7 through 54 holes.]

[Update 9 (6:10 pm):  In case anyone watching Golf Channel is wondering if Jane Park exists, she is still -5, playing with Lexi.]

[Update 10 (6:12 pm):  Weak approaches from Lincicome and Park on 15 from barely over 100 yards out.]

[Update 11 (6:13 pm):  Granada bogeyed 15 and 16 to end her bogey-free run at 32 holes and drop out of GC coverage.]

[Update 12 (6:15 pm):  After doubling 13, Shanshan Feng battled back with 2 birdies in her last 5 holes to shoot a 71 and return to -5.]

[Update 13 (6:16 pm):  Inbee made her 1st bogey of the day, catching the edge of the cup but on the low side.  She returns to -8.]

[Update 14 (6:18 pm):  BTW, Lexi bogeyed 15 to drop back to -5.]

[Update 15 (6:20 pm):  Best rounds of the day include a 67 by Carlota Ciganda and 68s by Caroline Masson and Ashleigh Simon.  And the latter 2 did it with a double and a bogey on 16, respectively.]

[Update 16 (6:21 pm):  Nice 6-birdie 69 by Jenny Shin, too!]

[Update 17 (6:22 pm):  Great birdie attempt from downtown Rochester by Jane Park hit the hole and spun out on 16.]

[Update 18 (6:23 pm):  Great birdie by Ko on 17!  Stuck it and made the 3-footer!  She's now -6.]

[Update 19 (6:25 pm):  Pettersen hits a great 7-iron or so in on 18 but it trickles into the gully away from the tucked pin.]

[Update 20 (6:26 pm):  Ciganda, by the way, has eagled 14 2 rounds in a row now!]

[Update 21 (6:28 pm):  This is the 3rd day in a row Lexi has made back-to-back bogeys in those last 4 holes on the back.  She's now only -4.]

[Update 22 (6:31 pm):  Pettersen's birdie putt on 18 died in the last 3 feet, so she has to settle for a 67 today, tied for low round of the day with Ciganda.]

[Update 23 (6:33 pm):  You almost never see Inbee hit a 10-foot putt so badly she walks after it before it reaches the hole, but that's what happened on 16.  Right after Lincicome made a great par save, that putt looked particularly ugly!]

[Update 24 (6:34 pm):  Ko's approach on 18 trickles into the same gulch that Pettersen and so many others ended up in.]

[Update 25 (6:35 pm):  Granada bogeys 18 for 3 in her last 4 holes.  Her 72 leaves her at -4.]

[Update 26 (6:38 pm):  Pettersen has made only 4 bogeys all week, only 2 in her last 37 holes, and none in her last 17.  She's averaging 279 yards off the tee, has hit over 75% of her fairways, and has hit 42 of 54 greens in regulation.  I'd say she's the favorite heading into Sunday, wouldn't you?]

[Update 27 (6:39 pm):  Ko couldn't make the tough birdie putt, so her 71 leaves her at -6 through 54 holes.]

[Update 28 (6:40 pm):  Ko will need to hit more greens Sunday to make a move on those ahead of her, though.]

[Update 29 (6:41 pm):  Lincicome just didn't give her birdie putt on 17 enough oomph!]

[Update 30 (6:43 pm):  Inbee birdies 18 to get back to -9.  Meena Lee parred 17 and 18 to right the ship and shoot a 71 that ties her with Ko at -6.]

[Update 31 (6:44 pm):  Suzann Pettersen is in the media center!]

[Update 32 (6:55 pm):  Great interview!  Be sure to go to LPGA.com soon to read it!]

[Update 33 (6:56 pm):  Just saw Inbee make a 10-foot par save on 18.  She's in at -9 with a 69.]

[Update 34 (7:00 pm):  Think Inbee will be the next interview....  To sum up Suzann's interview, she's brimming with confidence and believes she's playing the best golf in her career.  She's being very cautious with her workout schedule, doing only cardio to avoid reinjuring her back.  She's trying to find other ways to work out her golf frustrations.  (I can identify, having hurt my back last fall and still not being 100%.  And on the frustration front.)  I'm glad I picked her to be the #1 player in 2014--I think she's due for a big 2nd half of the season!]

[Update 35 (7:06 pm):  Inbee's in the interview room!]

[Update 36 (7:12 pm):  Inbee certainly buys into the bombers paradise narrative, although she doesn't sound intimidated by the advantage the longer hitters have on the par 5s.  She just said she has to putt really well to beat them!]

[Update 37 (7:13 pm):  Next in the chair is Brittany Lincicome!]

[Update 38 (7:22 pm):  Brittany was very forthright about her nerves coming into the afternoon and persisting into the back 9 today.  She hopes she's worked it out of her system.  It shows up for her on the greens; she called her lack of aggressiveness with her putter today "wimpy."  She doesn't plan to look at a leaderboard tomorrow.  She just wants to make as many birdies as possible.  She still sings together with her caddy on the course.]

Wegmans LPGA Championship Special Report: On Chie Arimura, Ayako Uehara, and Harukyo Nomura

As I mentioned in my Friday Wegmans LPGA Championship post, I followed Chie Arimura for 9 holes yesterday and planned to follow her for 6 holes and Ayako Uehara for 6 holes today (after following Lizette Salas for the 1st 6 holes of the day).  Instead, I decided for follow Arimura for the front 9, Uehara for the back 9, and Harukyo Nomura for the back 9 (it just turned out that she was making the turn as Uehara and Katy Harris were finishing their rounds).  So with rain approaching Rochester and Golf Channel coverage in the media center, I decided to write this special report up while the leaders are out on the course.  If it clears up in time for me to follow Jane Park and Lexi Thompson for the back 9, I will!

Let me start with brief bios of each player.  Arimura is clearly the most accomplished of the bunch, having won on the JLPGA 13 times and getting her 1st major title in 2012 at the Konica Minolta Cup.  She finished 3rd on the JLPGA money list 3 times between 2009 and 2012 (and 6th the other time), but has struggled on the LPGA with consistency, although she does have 3 career top 10s so far.  Uehara doesn't have quite the resume of Arimura despite having joined the JLPGA back in 2003.  Although she has only 3 career victories there, she finished in the top 26 on the tour's money list for 6-straight seasons before she decided to try to qualify for the LPGA in 2012 Q-School--where she finished 1 shot behind Moriya Jutanugarn and Rebecca Lee-Bentham and 4 shots ahead of Arimura.  And even though she has only 1 LPGA top 10, she's missed the cut only 5 times in her 33 starts as an LPGA member.  Nomura, meanwhile, won on the JLPGA as a non-member in 2011 (the same year she debuted on the LPGA) and finished 29th on the 2013 JLPGA money list but was 1 of 2 golfers in a 4-way playoff at 2013 Q-School to make it onto the LPGA with full status, so she has decided to make it her home tour again this year after not exactly setting it on fire in 2011 or 2012.  2014 has been much better to her, however, as she's just outside the top 30 on the money list, 20th in driving distance, and 3rd in putts per green in regulation.  As a result, she's #12 on my list of the 22 best female golfers in the world under age 22.

Next I'll make some general observations about their games, based on what I saw yesterday and today.

Arimura is a very efficient player in every aspect of her game, from the way she moves around the course to her pre-shot routine to her swing to her putting stroke.  She's short but powerfully built, and she takes advantage of her strength and flexibility with a wide stance that you'd think would make it hard for her to make a complete turn, but she does so with ease.  Picture a wider triangle formed by her legs and a narrower inverted triangle formed by her shoulders and arms that she maintains pretty much throughout her swing.  When I watched her play, she went into lockdown mode after a crazy double on the par-3 13th put her right on the cut line.  And she executed it beautifully, hitting fairway after fairway and green after green.  Her putting was very conservative both days I watched her.  I think she got a 1st putt past the hole maybe twice.  I don't know if she was respecting the speed of the greens too much or if it was a conscious strategy to make her pars as stress-free as possible, but either way she never took a real run at a birdie putt in the 18 holes I watched.  Where she was aggressive with was her chipping and pitching, which didn't always serve her well.  At the same time, she seemed to have the most creativity with her approach shots of all the players I've followed this week.  She and her caddy have definitely done their homework, as she used the contours and backstops to her advantage several times.  That helps explains why she's hit 38 greens to Nomura's 36 and Uehara's 30 thus far today.

Uehara is a much more aggressive and high-energy player.  She walks as fast as anyone I've ever followed on either tour, swinging her arms in textbook fashion as she zooms along.  Her swing's tempo is faster than Arimura's, too; in fact, she takes such a big cut at the ball that her right knee is in danger of buckling outwards when her hands reach their apex.  If Arimura has more of an Ai Miyazato-type swing, then Uehara's is closer to Sakura Yokomine's (although she doesn't go nearly as far past parallel as Sakura does!).  And yet she's not nearly as long as Arimura off the tee (once again, the holes they measure understate the difference in driving distance, both this week and for the season; Arimura was more like 10 yards longer off the tee than her, not the 3.3 their stats say).  As a result, she was often hitting fairway woods when Arimura was hitting hybrids.  On the other hand, she's a much more aggressive putter than Arimura, which sometimes got her in trouble on Monroe Golf Club's slick greens.

Nomura is a totally different type of golfer than Arimura and Uehara, who are both definitely precision players (Uehara was #11 in driving accuracy coming into this week), hitting 88% of their fairways off the tee thus far this week.  Even though Nomura's even smaller than they are, she has a much more powerful game.  She's got the potential to be a straight-up bomber like Ya Ni Tseng was back when she was dominating women's golf.  In fact, you might call her "Mini-Ya Ni" if you watched her play!  She doesn't rely for her power as much on upper-body rotation as on upper-body strength.  She has a very armsy backswing, but once she bends her knees to start her downswing and pushes her body up as she hits the ball, her club falls right in the slot and the ball just explodes off the club.  The move depends on timing, so she's not as consistently excellent a ball-striker as Arimura in particular.  But she hit the longest drive I saw on the par-5 14th all 3 days of walking the course I've done so far (although not the longest of the day:  a spotter told me Jennifer Kirby hit it to 153 yards away from the 1st group this morning, while Nomura was about 175).  Her weakness today, however, was short putts.  She could have gone really low today if she had been better from 4 feet and in.  I saw her miss 3 short ones in her 1st 7 holes on the back, including a 3-foot downhill eagle attempt on 14 after a fantastic approach.  So even though she birdied 3 of the 4 par 5s today, she had to settle for a 72.

I watched Arimura make 14-straight pars (and 17 in the 18 holes I saw overall!).  The most memorable came yesterday on the par-4 11th, where she had the 3rd-longest drive of any I saw on that hole.  Instead of trying to fly it to the front-middle of the green and hope it released to the pin at the base of a bump in the back-middle-right, she hit a low punch that landed short-left of the green and ran right up to the bump, which she tried to use as a backstop.  The ball fell to the right instead of coming straight back to the hole, but it was still a neat try that left her about 18 feet for birdie.  She did something similar today on the par-4 7th, landing her shot left of the front-left pin and using the contour to release the ball back toward the center of the green, about 20 feet past pin-high but exactly on line and with a relatively flat look for birdie.  Her best birdie chance that I saw, however, came on the par-5 3rd, where she hit a fantastic sand wedge from the front-right bunker to recover from a rare imperfect hybrid when she tried to hit the green in 2.  But from 4 feet to the right of the tucked front-left pin, she hit a dead pull that didn't even come close to touching the hole.  Obviously she is capable of making birdies--she made 3 in a row to close out her 1st round, 2 in a row at the start of Friday's round, and what must have been a fine walkoff birdie on 18 to salvage a 73 today.  But what she really was when I was watching was a par-making machine.

That's why the 13th yesterday stands out so much.  I can't remember if she was in the back trap or the rough just short of it, but when she came out of it her ball came perilously close to rolling all the way off the green and down a hill that was sending even well-struck shots back 50 yards short of the green.  Then she did something I never saw again:  she rammed her par attempt from 40 feet away.  Fortunately, she hit the hole so solidly it bounced in the air and only rolled 3 feet away (instead of the 10 or more it was clearly slated to!).  Unfortunately, she missed that comebacker and went from E to +2 in a single hole.  She needed to stay there to make the cut, something that neither Ai nor Mika Miyazato were able to do over their last 5 holes.  And she did it by playing textbook golf, fairway to green to tap-in.  The only putt in that stretch I really saw her try to make sure she got to the hole was on 17, when she finally took a run at a birdie.  But when you're giving yourself putts of 4 inches or less for par, that's the way you cruise to making the cut.  Pretty impressive when you consider that she was playing with a club pro and with Reilley Rankin, who was scrambling heroically all the way home.

The 13th was also memorable for Uehara and Nomura today.  Uehara had made her 3rd bogey in her previous 6 holes on the 10th, but righted the ship with pars on 11 and 12. When her fairway wood landed on the front-right of the 13th, it looked like she was in good position to make her 3rd-straight par.  But then the ball started trickling slowly back toward the edge of the green.  By the time it got there, it had enough speed to roll out all the way down the hill to about 50 yards short of the green and 50 feet lower than the pin.  From there, she hit a good pitch to the back-right corner of the green, about 20 feet from the back-middle pin.  And she rammed it home for par!  Nomura missed her approach short-right and it ended up in one of those really deep bunkers that look like a challenge just to clear the lip.  And when she barely did so, the ball trickled down the hill about 25 feet left and short of the cup.  Then she, too, rammed it home for par!  So even though she missed a 4-footer to save par on 11, a 3-foot eagle putt on 14, and a 7-foot birdie putt on 15--missing the chance to go 4-under in that 5-hole stretch--she also avoided a bogey or worse on 13.  So I'd say she's about even.  Uehara, by contrast, was deadly from short range--and good for her she was, because she wasn't afraid of getting the ball past the cup.  She got her speed down on her last 2 holes, however, making a great 50-foot lag on 17 to 2 feet and getting her speed near-perfect on 18 from 25 feet down and through the gully.

Overall, I don't see any reason why these golfers shouldn't continue to be LPGA regulars for years to come.  They certainly have the games to compete with the best in the world!  Let's see what they can do Sunday.