Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Picks for the Blue Bay LPGA

The Blue Bay LPGA starts in about 12 hours.  For the players in the field, it's a great opportunity to take advantage of the absence of the LPGAers in the running for best 2014 in the world of women's professional golf, Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park (who, BTW, are tied atop the Rolex Rankings), not to mention Suzann Pettersen (who's gotten a huge percentage of her career victory total on tour in Asia), So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, and others Tony Jesselli mentions in his tournament preview.  For me, it's one of my last chances to get back in contention in the race to win the season-long PakPicker!  So here goes:

1. Feng, Shanshan
2. Choi
3. Ko
4. Lincicome
5. Lee Mirim
6. Nordqvist
7. Munoz
8. Yang, Amy
9. Kerr
10. Wie
11. Thompson
12. Shin

Alts:  Park Hee Young; Hur; Ciganda

This is one of those weeks where a mercurial player like Caroline Hedwall or Laura Davies could get hot or a slumping player like Ya Ni Tseng or In-Kyung Kim could find her game, however.  With so many relatively untested Chinese pros and amateurs in the field, almost any regular LPGA member could step up and win this thing!  And who knows what role "home court advantage" will play for the top Chinese golfers?

[Update 1 (6:14 am):  Inbee Park's facing off against Hyo Joo Kim, Kyu Jung Baek, and the rest of the top KLPGA players in the last major of 2014 on that tour this week.  A good finish there could land her alone at #1 in the Rolex Rankings!]

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

22 Under 22: October 2014 Update

It's been awhile since I've updated my last ranking of the top 22 female professionals under 22 years of age--but they haven't stopped winning!  Leaving the list due to age are Ha Na Jang (6 KLPGA victories), Misuzu Narita (5 JLPGA victories, including 1 major), Natsuka Hori (2 JLPGA victories), Jenny Shin, Danielle Kang, and Rebecca Lee-Bentham.  They all turned 22 this year (Kang yesterday!).

In what follows, I note wins and majors on the top women's professional tours, along with Rolex Rankings and Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index ratings and ranks.

Simply the Best

1. Lydia Ko (4/24/97): 4 LPGA, 1 KLPGA, 1 LET; 9.75 RR [#3]; 69.27 GSPI [#5]
2. Lexi Thompson (2/10/95): 4 LPGA [1 major], 1 LET; 6.12 RR [#9]; 70.36 GSPI [#23]
3. Hyo Joo Kim (7/14/95): 1 LPGA/LET [major], 1 JLPGA, 6 KLPGA [2 majors]; 5.59 RR [#10]; 67.93 GSPI [n.r.]

The Next Best

4. Jessica Korda (2/27/93): 3 LPGA; 3.49 RR [#25]; 71.40 GSPI [#62]
5. Kyu Jung Baek (10/15/95): 1 LPGA, 4 KLPGA [1 major]; 4.50 RR [#13]; 70.69 GSPI [n.r.]
6. Sei Young Kim (1/21/93): 5 KLPGA [1 major]; 2.50 RR [#40]; 72.66 GSPI [n.r.]
7. In Gee Chun (8/10/94): 3 KLPGA [1 major]; 3.51 RR [#24]; 69.41 GSPI [n.r.]

Rising Stars

8. Charley Hull (3/20/96): 1 LET; 2.82 [#34]; 71.72 GSPI [#77]
9. Ariya Jutanugarn (11/23/95): 1 LET; 1.59 RR [#77]; 71.79 GSPI [#83]
10. Mamiko Higa (10/11/93): 2 JLPGA; 1.21 RR [#104]; 72.17 GSPI [#106]
11. Ai Suzuki (5/9/94): 1 JLPGA [major]; 1.10 RR [#113]; 72.11 GSPI [#111]
12. Harukyo Nomura (11/25/92): 1 JLPGA; 1.50 RR [#81]; 71.26 GSPI [#56]
13. Ayaka Watanabe (9/19/93): 1 JLPGA; 1.31 RR [#91]; 71.01 GSPI [#41]
14. Mi Hyang Lee (21): 1 LET; 1.66 RR [#72]; 71.16 GSPI [#50]
15. Phoebe Yao (12/15/92): 1 JLPGA; .95 RR [#131]; 71.50 GSPI [#67]

Quantum Leap Candidates

16. Minjee Lee (5/27/96): 1.61 RR [#76]; 70.00 GSPI [#15]
17. Jin Young Ko (7/7/95): 2.26 RR [#47]; 71.25 GSPI (n.r.)
18. Min Sun Kim (2/9/95): 1.69 RR [#69]; 72.10 GSPI (n.r.)
19. Moriya Jutanugarn (7/28/94): 1.11 RR [#111]; 72.44 GSPI [#118]
20. Su-Hyun Oh (5/23/96): .30 RR [#301]; 73.16 GSPI [n.r.]

Dark Horses

21. Hikari Fujita (9/26/94): .98 RR [#128]; 72.19 GSPI [#108]
22. Xiyu Lin (2/25/96): .95 RR [#134]; 72.47 GSPI [#121]

So who do you think should be on this list? What do you think of my ranking?  Anyone you'd expect to make it through LPGA Q-School's final stage I should be considering for when Harukyo Nomura, Jessica Korda, and Sei Young Kim graduate?

Monday, October 20, 2014

So Now Who Do You Think Has Had the Best 2014 in Women's Professional Golf? And Will?

So far, the title for best 2014 in women's golf is down to 8 golfers.  Each has at least 3 worldwide wins on major women's professional tours.  As impressive as Stacy Lewis has been, her difficulty in sealing the deal has opened the door to some golfers who have been racking up wins of late.  Still, Stacy's still my #1 candidate:
Of course, a lot can happen down the home stretch, with 6 JLPGA, 5 LPGA and 5 KLPGA, and 4 LET events left to go before the year is out.  Maybe someone will leave all these players in the dust if she really heats up as the temperatures continue to go down.

In a nutshell, the best of the best women golfers in the world have not yet begun to fight!  Who do you think will prevail in the end?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship Weekend: Newly 19-Year-Old Kyu Jung Baek Gives Herself Birthday Present with Playoff Win Over Brittany Lincicome and In Gee Chun

Kyu Jung Baek turned 19 on October 15th but could celebrate her birthday only with an opening 74 at the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship.  Yet with maturity beyond her years she figured out how to handle the winds and the Sky 72 Ocean course and her own balky back as she bounced back with rounds of 69, 68, and 67.  Her final-round back-9 31 included 5 birdies in a row and was so good that she even gave herself a chance to sink a curling downhill 6-footer on the par-5 18th for the win.  Even though she missed that putt, Baek succeeded in forcing her way into a playoff at -10 with Brittany Lincicome and 20-year-old In Gee Chun, who themselves closed with fantastic 66s to outdistance world #2 Inbee Park (68-67, -9), Michelle Wie (67-67, -8), Catriona Matthew (70-67, -8), Hyo Joo Kim (71-66, -7) and the rest of the 31 players within 5 shots of the lead with 18 holes left to play.  What's more, she learned from that miss and from Lincicome's birdie miss from a similar angle and distance on the 1st playoff hole.  Baek calmly sunk the downhill 5-footer to secure her 1st-ever LPGA victory and 4th KLPGA title of 2014.

I was able to cap off a great birthday by watching Baek catch fire on the back in the middle of the night.  In a week when heralded (and higher-ranked) under-22s struggled--Sei Young Kim hovered between 71 and 74 and finished T42 at +2, Ha Na Jang opened with an 80 and even 30-straight under-par rounds after it only got her back to T35 at +1, Lydia Ko could never get it going and finished T29 at -1, Minjee Lee was either awesome or awful (she sandwiched a 78 and a 74 between an opening 69 and a closing 64 to finish T24 at -3), and Kim needed that Sunday charge to finally get it out of neutral--Baek found her tempo and found the hole, making great chips, pitches, and sand saves when she needed to and taking advantage of almost every birdie opportunity she gave herself.  For the week, she took 15 putts fewer than Inbee Park, who has probably been the best putter in the world for at least the last 4 years.  Yes, Baek hit the fewest greens in regulation of anyone in the top 20 except Yoon Kyung Heo and Julieta Granada, but Heo had 120 putts and Granada 107 to Baek's 102.  It's that kind of putting that wins you tournaments on any tour.

Speaking of which, it'll be interesting to see if Baek decides to take up LPGA membership next year.  Will she make like Teresa Lu and decide to stay on her home tour for at least another year?  For that matter, which KLPGA stars will decide by November 18th to sign up for the final stage of LPGA Q-School?  Ha Na Jang has already expressed an interest in doing this....

Looking ahead to the inaugural Blue Bay LPGA event on Hainan Island, I'm hoping Michelle Wie will be able to play as planned.  As well as she scored on the weekend, I saw her shaking her right hand after many shots down the home stretch today.  Here's hoping she's healthy enough to keep teeing it up.  As excited as I am to watch LET winner this week Lee-Anne Pace tee it up against a bunch of Chinese up-and-comers (Xi Yu Lin, Jiayun Li, Yu Yang Zhang, Yuting Shi, Liqing Chen, star amateurs Jing Yan and Haruka Morita/Wanyao Lu, and new pros Simin Feng and Yu Liu) and veterans (Li-Ying Ye, Hongmei Yang, Hong Tian, and Panpan Yan) and LPGA stars (Lydia Ko, Shanshan Feng, Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Anna Nordqvist, Azahara Munoz, Brittany Lincicome, Caroline Hedwall, Mirim Lee, Amy Yang, Morgan Pressel, and Ya Ni Tseng, among others), a tournament without Wie just doesn't have as much buzz in the U.S. and world media.  Especially because Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, and Na Yeon Choi are taking the week off to prepare for the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship (where Ai Miyazato got a sponsor invite!), the Blue Bay needs all the help it can get.

Fujitsu Ladies Sunday: Sun-Ju Ahn Prevails Over Sakura Yokomine and Erika Kikuchi in Playoff

Sun-Ju Ahn got her 2nd JLPGA victory in a row, bringing her season total to 5 and career total to 18, by triumphing over Sakura Yokomine and Erika Kikuchi with a birdie on the 1st playoff hole that earned her the Fujitsu Ladies title.

The golfer I'm trying to get everyone to recognize as "Knockout" saved her best punch for last, but for a long time it looked like she had thrown away the tournament.  When Ahn made 3 bogeys in a 5-hole stretch midway through the front 9, she dropped to -9 and gave the lead to Kikuchi, who kept it even after bogeying the 193-yard par-3 8th to fall back to -10.  But after Ahn and Kikuchi both birdied the 533-yard par-5 10th, and Kikuchi bogeyed the 405-yard par-4 11th, they found themselves tied for the lead at -10.  Then, even as Ahn stalled, Kikuchi and Yokomine went on runs:  Kikuchi birdied 3 of her next 5 holes, while Yokomine got off her 15-hole par train (dating back to the end of yesterday's round) with birdies on 14, 15, and 16.  At that point, Kikuchi was -13, Yokomine was -12, and Ahn, who birdied the par-5 16th, as well, was -11.  But Kikuchi and Yokomine bogeyed 17 and Kikuchi, needing a par to win, bogeyed it.  We had a playoff, and the rest is history.

Even though it ended up being a 3-player race to the finish, a few other players had the chance to crash the party.  Asako Fujimoto got it to -9 with 12 holes to play, but was +2 and birdieless the rest of the way to settle for T5 at -7 with Rikako Morita and Soo-Yun Kang.  Onnarin Sattayabanphot was -9 with 8 to go, but bogeyed 11, 17, and 18 to fall to T8 at -6 with Megumi Kido.  Teresa Lu's bogey-free 69 earned her a solo 4th at -8, but as 2 of her birdies came in the last 3 holes, it really was too little, too late to put any pressure on Ahn, Yokomine, and Kikuchi.  The visiting Mika Miyazato (71, E) and Ai Miyazato (74, +2) were never factors.

Ahn's win made her the fastest player in JLPGA history to break the 600 million yen barrier, beating Yokomine's record by 48 starts.  It also extended her lead on the tour money list.

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥136.09M
2. Bo-Mee Lee ¥110.27M
3. Ji-Yai Shin ¥96.59M
4. Misuzu Narita ¥91.57M
5. Teresa Lu ¥84.34M
6. Miki Sakai ¥83.89M
7. Na-Ri Lee ¥69.39M
8. Erina Hara ¥59.05M
9. Esther Lee ¥55.06M
10. Ayaka Watanabe ¥53.76M
11. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥52.76M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥50.25M
13. Lala Anai ¥48.41M
14. Rikako Morita ¥46.17M
15. Ritsuko Ryu ¥43.86M
16. Ai Suzuki ¥43.35M
17. Ji-Hee Lee ¥41.13M
18. Momoko Ueda ¥39.55M
19. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥37.86M
20. Erika Kikuchi ¥34.97M
21. Sakura Yokomine ¥33.89M
22. Saiki Fujita ¥33.39M
23. Kaori Ohe ¥32.16M
24. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
25. Phoebe Yao ¥30.40M
26. Mami Fukuda ¥30.05M
27. Mayu Hattori ¥29.60M
28. Yumiko Yoshida ¥29.34M
29. Junko Omote ¥29.01M
30. Asako Fujimoto ¥26.85M
31. Hikari Fujita ¥26.71M
32. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥25.68M
33. Soo-Yun Kang ¥24.16M
34. Rumi Yoshiba ¥23.92M
35. Kotono Kozuma ¥23.63M
36. Megumi Kido ¥23.62M
37. Na-Ri Kim ¥22.53M
38. Yukari Baba ¥22.47M
39. Mamiko Higa ¥21.42M
40. Natsuka Hori ¥21.31M
41. Rui Kitada ¥20.94M
42. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
43. Akane Iijima ¥20.01M
44. Yukari Nishiyama ¥19.29M
45. Miki Saiki ¥18.22M
46. Megumi Shimokawa ¥17.82M
47. Eun-Bi Jang ¥17.47M
48. Da-Ye Na ¥17.36M
49. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥16.24M
50. Nana Yamashiro ¥15.97M

Next up on the JLPGA is the Nobuta Group Masters GC Ladies, which Sakura Yokomine won last year.  Bo-Mee Lee and Ji-Yai Shin return to a very different tour than the one they took a break from.  Let's see if they fare better against Ahn's knockout punches than the Miyazatos and everyone else did this week!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fujitsu Ladies Saturday: Sun-Ju Ahn Leads Erika Kikuchi by 1, Sakura Yokomine by 2

Sun-Ju Ahn continued her fine play at the Fujitsu Ladies on moving day with a 5-birdie 69, but another walkoff bogey dropped her back to -11, which opened the door for a persistent Erika Kikuchi, whose bogey-free 33 on the back pulled her within 1 stroke of the lead, and Sakura Yokomine, who's had a quiet 2014 but who fired a bogey-free 65 to move to -9.  With Onnarin Sattayabanphot eagling the par-5 10th to move to -8, Mami Fukuda birdieing 4 of her last 5 holes to get to -7, and Mihoko Iseri firing her 2nd-straight 69, there are a few players who can deny Ahn her 18th career JLPGA victory tomorrow.

But Teresa Lu and Phoebe Yao at -5, Miki Sakai and Soo-Yun Kang at -4, Misuzu Narita and Yumiko Yoshida at -3, Rikako Morita and Erina Hara at -2, Shiho Oyama and Ai Suzuki at -1, and Ai Miyazato and Ji-Hee Lee at E will need to play out of their heads tomorrow (and probably get a little help from the leaders) to pull into contention.  Defending champion Na-Ri Lee and Mika Miyazato were among those who made the cut by the skin of their teeth, while the likes of Miki Saiki, Yuko Mitsuka, Esther Lee, Natsuka Hori, Mayu Hattori, Mamiko Higa, Kumiko Kaneda, and Maiko Wakabayashi ended their weeks on frustrating notes.

I'm rooting for a final-round showdown between 2 former money-list title-holders tomorrow.  I'd love to see Ahn and Yokomine play like their capable of!

Friday, October 17, 2014

LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship Friday: Karine Icher Leads as Volatility Reigns

It appears that anything can happen at the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship!  Just take a look at a few of the scoring swings at just the halfway point of the tournament:

  • Amy Yang 69-79
  • In Gee Chun 76-67
  • Ha Na Jang 80-71
  • Minjee Lee 69-78
  • Mo Martin 78-69
  • Shanshan Feng 71-79
  • Haeji Kang 67-75
  • So Yeon Ryu 76-69
If it can happen to golfers of this caliber, it can happen to anyone!  So all credit to Karine Icher for starting 70-68 and taking a 1-shot lead on Beatriz Recari and Brittany Lincicome through 36 holes!  Well, I have a few minutes to enjoy the 3rd round coverage before I conk out--let's see if the leaders can sustain their great play and avoid the volatility that's affected some of the best in the world!

Fujitsu Ladies Friday: Sun-Ju Ahn Fires 64 to Take 1-Shot Lead on Erika Kikuchi

Even as many of the top Korean women golfers in the world have signed up for the LPGA-KLPGA dual-sponsored event this week in Korea (and attended or helped out with Inbee Park's wedding), Sun-Ju Ahn stayed on the JLPGA for the Fujitsu Ladies and rewarded herself with a 64 that even included a walkoff bogey.

She's not alone at the top of the leaderboard, but Knockout doesn't have much company there, either.  Erika Kikuchi birdied 5 holes in a row to start the tournament and had 8 through her 1st 13 holes, but she made 2 bogeys (and her 9th birdie of the day!) coming home and had to settle for a 65.  Onnarin Sattayabanphot fired a bogey-free 67 to keep the leaders within sight, Teresa Lu eagled the par-4 9th on her way to a 68, Rumi Yoshiba had a 6-birdie 68, and Phoebe Yao, Kaori Nakamura, and Mihoko Iseri stayed within 5 shots of Ahn.

In fact, the biggest other names in the field were pretty much left in the dust:

  • 70: Sakura Yokomine, Misuzu Narita, Erina Hara, Yumiko Yoshiba, Ayaka Watanabe
  • 71: Rikako Morita, Miki Sakai
  • 72: Ai Miyazato, Shiho Oyama, Mamiko Higa, Ai Suzuki
  • 73: Ji-Hee Lee
  • 74: Yuko Mitsuka
  • 75: Mika Miyazato, Miki Saiki, Natsuka Hori
Defending champion Na-Ri Lee had an unexpectedly tough day, opening with a birdieless 77.  Let's see if she can bounce back tomorrow and if anyone can make a move on Ahn!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship Thursday: Haeji Kang Leads; Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer Struggle

I mentioned the volatility in players' results at the LPGA LEB-HanaBank Championship yesterday, and that was certainly borne out today.  A lot of players came into the 1st round hot and came out more or less frozen:
  • Ha Na Jang 80
  • Ji-Yai Shin 77
  • So Yeon Ryu 76
  • In Gee Chun 76
  • Na Yeon Choi 75
  • Kyu Jung Baek 74
Others came in with big question marks, whether from injury or uneven play of late, and really struggled:
  • Paula Creamer 81
  • Mo Martin 78
  • Lexi Thompson 77
  • Michelle Wie 76
Other favorites hung around but didn't do anything all that special today:
  • 71:  Inbee Park, Shanshan Feng
  • 72:  Hyo Joo Kim, Azahara Munoz, Cristie Kerr, Mi Jung Hur
  • 73:  Lydia Ko, Anna Nordqvist, Brittany Lang, Pornanong Phatlum
I'd say the newlywed should feel pretty good about her round, but everyone else won't have quite her quota of happiness to cushion the pain of shots thrown away.

So who did play well to kick off the 1st-ever 4-round version of this tournament?
  • 67:  Haeji Kang
  • 69:  Amy Yang, Minjee Lee, Mirim Lee, Ilhee Lee, Catriona Matthew
  • 70:  Suzann Pettersen, Chella Choi, Beatriz Recari, Brittany Lincicome, Eun-Hee Ji, Sandra Gal, Hee Kyung Bae, Kim Kaufman
I didn't have time to watch the coverage last night and am way too tired after a full day of work and a drive to central NY (on the way to union thug business in Albany tomorrow and Saturday) to stay up for the round currently in progress.  But I'll try to do an earlier (and better) round 2 report tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Picks for the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship

I've really got to get it into gear with my PakPicking this fall, as I'm slipping down the rankings, but with work really heating up, I haven't had have time to research the tournaments on the fall Asian Swing to my satisfaction.  I guess it's a good thing that players have had such volatile results at the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship, then.  Better to just go with my gut!

1. Kim Hyo Joo
2. Choi Na Yeon
3. Shin Ji-Yai
4. Ryu So Yeon
5. Feng
6. Ko
7. Park Inbee
8. Phatlum
9. Pettersen
10. Lee Mirim
11. Lee Minjee
12. Yang, Amy

Alts: Choi Chella; Nordqvist; Kim Ha-Neul

Here are some KLPGA stats, btw!  For more, see my rundown of worldwide 2014 winners in women's major-tour professional golf--click on the winners' names for links to how they won and who almost beat 'em!

[Update 1 (7:40 am):  Word on Seoul Sisters is that Ha Na Jang intends to go to LPGA Q-School if she doesn't win this week.  I probably should have put her in my top 12, but that's life!]

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Farewell, Dai-chan: Daisuke Takahashi Retires from Competitive Figure Skating

The Constructivist household is in mourning for the retirement of Daisuke Takahashi from competitive figure skating.  Ever since we found out, I've been asking the Full Metal Archivist to write something celebrating his career, but she's still dealing with the shock of the news and is just too sad to put her feelings into words.  What she has told me has been poetic:  "he flirted with the music, seduced audiences, and challenged judges...he was a shaman on the ice."  So I'll just point you too her April 2010 "Luv Letter" for now.  More on his legacy later!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Sunday: Shanshan Feng Engineers 4-Shot Swing on Pornanong Phatlum for 4th Win of Her LPGA Career

Shanshan Feng birdied 4 holes in a row early on the back to tie Pornanong Phatlum at -16 late in the final round of the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, then eagled the par-5 16th even as Phatlum was double bogeying the par-3 15th after pulling her tee shot into the water over the narrow green.  That 4-shot swing proved to be too much for the Thai star to come back from, although she did birdie the 16th to finish in solo 2nd.

Feng's final-round 63 got her to -18 for the week, 3 shots ahead of Phatlum and 4 ahead of another 63 shooter, Pernilla Lindberg, who made 4 birdies in a row on both sides today to catch So Yeon Ryu and Chella Choi in a tie for 3rd.  The 2 Korean stars couldn't join Hyo Joo Kim and Sun-Ju Ahn in the winner's circle (the KLPGA major Kim won was her 4th KLPGA victory of the season, while Ahn's was #4 on the JLPGA in 2014) in part because of disasters late on moving day, but mostly because they couldn't keep pace with Feng's stretch run.  But they shouldn't feel too bad, as a host of golfers played well enough to win this week but couldn't do what it took to hoist the trophy at the end of the day.  At one point, last week's winner Mirim Lee looked like she would be the one to challenge Phatlum down the home stretch, but a bogey on 13 and a double on 15 dropped her out of contention.  Ilhee Lee had it going on, as well, but a double on 10 and a bogey on 13 were too much to overcome, even by an eagle on 16.  Na Yeon Choi made 6 birdies in a 9-hole stretch midway through her round, but it was too little, too late in the end.

Nobody could stop Feng from racking up her 4th LPGA title and 3rd to come at the end of a season (she got 2 in her last 4 starts last season).  It was just a phenomenal performance by a player who should be underrated no longer.  Let's see if she can keep it going next week in Korea.  And let's see if Inbee Park and her bridesmaids come out swinging after her wedding tomorrow!

Stanley Ladies Sunday: Sun-Ju Ahn Fires Bogey-Free 66 to Win for 4th Time in 2014 and 17th Time on JLPGA

Sun-Ju Ahn made up 7 shots on Ji-Hee Lee over the final 7 holes of the Stanley Ladies on her way to a bogey-free 66 and a 2-shot victory, her 4th of 2014 and 17th on the JLPGA.  It's the 2nd time this season Ahn fired a Sunday 66 to seal the deal and it's the 1st time this year she's led the tour money list.  Talk about living up to the "Knockout" moniker I bestowed on her in June!

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥121.69M
2. Bo-Mee Lee ¥110.27M
3. Ji-Yai Shin ¥96.59M
4. Misuzu Narita ¥90.84M
5. Miki Sakai ¥82.36M
6. Teresa Lu ¥79.54M
7. Na-Ri Lee ¥68.66M
8. Erina Hara ¥58.14M
9. Esther Lee ¥55.06M
10. Ayaka Watanabe ¥53.03M
11. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥50.56M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥49.34M
13. Lala Anai ¥47.50M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥43.13M
15. Rikako Morita ¥42.79M
16. Ai Suzuki ¥42.17M
17. Ji-Hee Lee ¥40.73M
18. Momoko Ueda ¥39.55M
19. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥37.86M
20. Saiki Fujita ¥33.39M
21. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
22. Kaori Ohe ¥30.99M
23. Mayu Hattori ¥29.60M
24. Phoebe Yao ¥28.80M
25. Erika Kikuchi ¥28.57M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥27.97M
27. Junko Omote ¥27.63M
28. Sakura Yokomine ¥27.49M
29. Mami Fukuda ¥26.66M
30. Asako Fujimoto ¥26.38M
31. Hikari Fujita ¥26.31M
32. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥24.95M
33. Rumi Yoshiba ¥23.38M
34. Kotono Kozuma ¥22.90M
35. Yukari Baba ¥22.47M
36. Na-Ri Kim ¥21.92M
37. Megumi Kido ¥21.42M
38. Mamiko Higa ¥21.42M
39. Natsuka Hori ¥21.31M
40. Soo-Yun Kang ¥20.77M
41. Rui Kitada ¥20.41M
42. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
43. Akane Iijima ¥20.01M
44. Yukari Nishiyama ¥18.76M
45. Miki Saiki ¥18.22M
46. Megumi Shimokawa ¥17.82M
47. Eun-Bi Jang ¥17.47M
48. Da-Ye Na ¥17.36M
49. Haruka Kudo ¥15.41M
50. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥15.33M

Next up is the Fujitsu Ladies, which Na-Ri Lee won last year when the final round was washed out.  As hot as Lee has been of late, Ahn will be the favorite coming into it, but she'll have to deal with both Ai and Mika Miyazato!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Saturday: Pornanong Phatlum Opens up 3-Shot Lead on Ayako Uehara

Pornanong Phatlum birdied 7 of her 1st 10 holes and hung on to post a 65 on moving day at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, which left her 3 shots ahead of Ayako Uehara, 4-up on Chella ChoiShanshan Feng, Lydia Ko, and So Yeon Ryu, and 5-up on Ariya Jutanugarn, Na Yeon Choi, and Ilhee Lee.  Despite going +1 over her last 8 holes, Phatlum got off easy compared to most of her nearest competitors.  Sure, Jutanugarn fired a 9-birdie 64, NYC closed with a bogey-free 32, and Uehara with a bogey-free 33, and Feng and Lee put together bogey-free rounds.  But Ko double bogeyed the par-5 12th, Ryu finished with a pair of doubles and was +5 over her final 6 holes, and Chella Choi took a quad on the par-4 14th.

At least they're in the hunt.  Suzann Pettersen (+1) and Lexi Thompson (E) have made 6 doubles between the 2 of them, Karrie Webb (-2) and Paula Creamer (-2) haven't been able to sustain any runs, and Anna Nordqvist (-4), Stacy Lewis (-5), and Azahara Munoz (-6) haven't been able to get it going, either.

So with the biggest names in the field practically holding the door open for Phatlum and Uehara, the 2-time LET winner and 3-time JLPGA winner both have great chances for their 1st-ever LPGA victories.  Let's see if either of them can bust through it tomorrow!

Stanley Ladies Saturday: Ji-Hee Lee Leads Misuzu Narita by 3, Sun-Ju Ahn by 4

Ji-Hee Lee followed up yesterday's bogey-free 65 at the Stanley Ladies with a bogey-free 31 today, then held on to post a 67 that left her at -12, 3 shots ahead of Misuzu Narita (who eagled the par-5 8th) and 4-up on Sun-Ju Ahn (who double bogeyed the par-4 17th).

Rikako Morita and Esther Lee kept pace with Lee today, but remain 6 shots behind her for the week, tied with money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee (68), Da Ye Na (69), and 1st-round co-leader Onnarin Sattayabanphot in 7th.  18-year-old amateur Akiho Sato also fired a 67 today, which moved her into a tie for 4th with Miki Sakai (68) and Erina Hara (70) at -7.  But it was 20-year-old Ai Suzuki who had the low round of the day, improving 10 shots on her opening 76 to move into the top 25, leapfrogging Mamiko Higa (E), Chie Arimura (-1), and Mayu Hattori (-1) and catching Ayaka Watanabe at -2.  With Momoko Ueda and Yumiko Yoshida at -5, Sakura Yokomine and Na-Ri Lee at -4, and Rui Kitada and Mami Fukuda at -3, there's a good mix of veterans and youngsters chasing Lee.  But Yukari Baba, Natsuka Hori, Kumiko Kaneda, Erika Kikuchi, and Yuko Mitsuka will not be among them, as they missed the cut.

Even though Lee has 17 career JLPGA victories, she hasn't finished inside the winner's circle since 2012.  Meanwhile, Narita and Ahn are looking for their 4th wins of 2014.  Should be a great finish tomorrow!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Stanley Ladies Friday: Ji-Hee Lee and Onnarin Sattayabanphot Lead with 65s

Ji-Hee Lee and Onnarin Sattayabanphot opened the Stanley Ladies with bogey-free 65s to take a 1-shot lead on Misuzu Narita and Shiho Toyonaga, a 2-shot lead on Erina Hara and Nobuko Kizawa, and a 3-shot lead on Sun-Ju Ahn, among others.  Momoko Ueda (69), Na-Ri Lee (69), Sakura Yokomine (70), Bo-Mee Lee (70), Yumiko Yoshida (70), and Ayaka Watanabe (70) aren't out of this thing quite yet, but they'll need to step on the gas to put pressure on Lee, who's won 17 times on the JLPGA in her illustrious career but is languishing at #20 on the money list thus far in 2014.  Even further off the pace are Chie Arimura, Rikako Morita, and Mamiko Higa at -1, Mayu Hattori at E, Natsuka Hori at +1, Kumiko Kaneda at +2, Yukari Baba at +3, and Ai Suzuki at +4.  There are already a lot of good numbers on the leaderboard for Saturday's round, so stay tuned for an update tomorrow morning!

Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Weekdays: So Yeon Ryu Races To Lead

Stacy Lewis's 65 was the low round of the day on Thursday at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, but she stalled Friday and a million players (it seemed) blew by her, led by Ayako Uehara's 63 and 64s by Lydia Ko and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.  But your leader at the halfway point is So Yeon Ryu, who went 66-65 to become the 1st player to get to double digits under par in the field.  Ryu has been so dialed in, each of her 4 bogeys came as quite a shock.  Let's see if she can handle the lead on the weekend better than Lewis did last week.

I was sick yesterday and catching up today, but I did get to see most of the tv coverage and really enjoyed seeing so many good rounds.  But it would have been nice to see more of Azahara Munoz's 65 or find out that Sandra Gal matched it and Paula Creamer was only 1 shot worse, tied with Chella Choi.  I'm excited to see a lot of Uehara today and will be rooting for Danielle Kang and Na Yeon Choi to get it going and Jenny Shin and Shanshan Feng to move into serious contention.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My Picks for the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia

Getting my picks for the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia event in under the wire!

1. Lewis, Stacy
2. Ryu
3. Pettersen
4. Nordqvist
5. Choi Na Yeon
6. Ko
7. Thompson
8. Hur
9. Lee Mirim
10. Munoz
11. Feng
12. Creamer

Alts:  Choi Chella; Webb; Yang

Monday, October 6, 2014

On NHK Coverage of the Japan Women's Open

Most JLPGA events are covered by Japanese cable channels, so despite having TV Japan through my own cable system, I almost never get to watch the top female golfers in Japan on tv.  But NHK, which supplies the feed for TV Japan, does cover the Japan Women's Open.  And the last 9 holes of the final round made it onto TV Japan.  So I got to see first-hand the differences between NHK and Golf Channel's approaches to covering women's golf.

Give the Audience What They Want.  In the U.S., Sunday coverage is all about the leaders and who's going to win.  On NHK, I didn't see the leader Teresa Lu until 13 minutes into the coverage, and then, only to see her make her 1st bogey of the day when she missed a 20-foot par attempt.  I did see a lot of Yun-Jye Wei, who became the co-leader upon Lu's miss, but that's mostly because she was playing with the media's new darling Ai Suzuki, who got the majority of coverage in the 1st 20 minutes, along with 17-year-old amateur Kana Nagai.  Apparently NHK's audience wants to see Suzuki sizing up putts and Nagai walking up fairways, running off greens, and taking her rain jacket on and off, because the cameras followed their every move.  We did get to see footage of Nagai's amazing eagle with a fairway wood on the 428-yard par-4, but instead of recapping their rounds and showing highlights that would help explain how they each got to -6, 2 shots off the lead after Lu's bogey, they relied on the announcers to set things up and instead focused on Suzuki's and Nagai's faces and reactions in the present.  Lu had made 6 birdies in her 1st 11 holes to jump out to the lead, but mostly what the camera showed was how tiny and high-energy Nagai is and how Suzuki was reacting to the pressure of trying to win her 2nd major in a row (pouting a little after knocking her 30-foot birdie try 10-feet past, flashing a nervous smile after her par save lipped out).  The NHK coverage certainly succeeded in establishing a quasi-intimacy with both young Japanese golfers, but to someone used to following the leaders on a Sunday, it was certainly strange that we saw only 2 shots from Lu and no tournament recap or highlights in the 1st 20 minutes!

What Have You Done for Me Lately?  The other thing I'm used to from American golf coverage is a focus on the stars of the LPGA.  How many times have we checked in on Paula Creamer over the years even when she's not in contention?  It's an understatement to note that Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson get plenty of tv time, too.  But for all that global golf fans criticize American tv for focusing so much on American stars, Golf Channel and the networks do a much better job of catching us up on all the stars of the LPGA than NHK on Japan Women's Open Sunday did for even established Japanese stars in the field.  The only player besides Suzuki and Nagai to even get mentioned was Mika Miyazato, and that was during an interview with Suzuki.  I can understand that Miyazato, Chie Arimura, Sakura Yokomine, Shiho Oyama, Rikako Morita, Misuzu Narita, and Momoko Ueda didn't have a chance to win, but not even to show a single shot from them in the 1st 20 minutes of coverage was frankly shocking to me.  Same goes for money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee, #2 Sun-Ju Ahn, and #3 Ji-Yai Shin.  Sure, they were well behind Lu and Wei, but they are the top 3 players on tour and both Shin and Ahn started the day with a great chance to pass Lee on the money list.  I mean, Mikan was playing with Lu and Ahn with Nagai, but we only saw Mikan's approach on 18 just past the hour mark (too bad she went on to 3-putt!) and mostly just caught glimpses of Ahn at the corners or edges of shots of Nagai or her shots until the 18th hole, when she stuck her approach to 12 feet and made the birdie to finish in solo 4th.

Game on!  Things got a little better after the 20-minute mark.  We saw Na-Ri Lee around 22 and a half minutes into the coverage, who had gotten to -6 thanks to back-to-back birdies to close out the front (which again they chose not to recap for us), leave a long birdie try on 12 well short and make the 6-foot par save right after Suzuki got up-and-down from a bad lie near the green and Wei failed to.  We saw Lu's approach to pin-high on the 365-yard par-4 15th right after she became the solo leader.  We saw the 2nd page of the leaderboard for the 1st time.  We saw Lee make a 30-footer on the par-3 13th to move to -7.  We saw Lu hit her birdie putt through the break.  We saw Wei struggle with the wet rough and Suzuki with the green-side bunker's wet sand as they both bogeyed the 11th.  We saw Lu land her approach on the par-5 16th a foot past the pin but bound 16 feet away.  We saw Nagai hit the middle of the green on the 15th and Lee barely avoid a green-side bunker on the 14th.  We saw Lu just miss the right-to-left sweeping birdie try.  And so on.  The NHK's coverage definitely found its rhythm in the next half-hour, although they still spent the most time on Suzuki's shots and gave the announcers plenty of time to talk about every aspect of her play.

Nice Tech!  I liked the bullseye with blue 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10-meter circles they'd superimpose around some of the pins on certain approach shots.  I also liked how they'd sometimes show a map of the hole to the left of the player about to hit their drives, or show the exact length of a putt by superimposing a line and the distance in meters on the green, or show arcs from the bullseye on sand shots so we could see how far the player was from the pin and how the terrain and the distance from the hole interacted.  It was informative without being distracting.

Down to the Wire!  Yes, they spent far too much time on Wei's bogey train on the back, but as it got down to the wire, Lu and Lee got a lot more coverage.  Lu made a great lag on the 406-yard 18th from maybe 60 feet to par out and finish her week at -8, just before Lee left a 8-foot downhill big breaker 10 inches short on the 16th to remain 1 back.  They spent a lot of time on the 17th tee as Lee chose a utility club, sized up her shot to the back-left pin, and pulled it into the front of the greenside left bunker--and focused on her face for almost the entire walk up the 180-yard par 3.  And they did a fantastic job on her shot from the sand and reaction to the ball going in the hole to tie her for the lead, showing it live and in slow motion twice.  Even as she pulled her drive on 18 into the left rough, they spent a lot of time on the green with Nagai (who just missed sinking a 50-footer for birdie and was beaming as she walked off the green) and Ahn (who had a great reaction to making her birdie try).  Lee could barely get her approach over the pond 50 yards short of the green and faced a tough uphill pitch from an uphill lie in deep rough.  When she failed to carry it to the top tier and the ball rolled backwards to about 40 feet from the pin, she needed a miracle to force a playoff, but her putt was off-line from the start.  She did well to save par from 6 feet and finish in solo 2nd.

After the End.  At that point, the last 2 pairings still on the course had virtually no chance to force a playoff.  How did NHK fill the rest of their air time?  With more Suzuki and Wei, of course!  But once they failed to get holes in 1 on 17, guaranteeing that Lu would win, the coverage pretty quickly shifted into an interview with Nagai, who had the best finish of any amateur in the history of the JWO.  They even showed her her eagle and got her reaction to it at the very end of the interview--very cute!  Before going back to Suzuki and Wei on the 17th green, they showed a list of low amateurs in the past 15 years or so and wondered aloud about who would make Team Japan in the 2016 Olympics.  They showed Lee leaving the course, Lu hanging around the scorer's tent, and Ji-Yai Shin and Ah-Reum Hwang putting out on 18.  After showing Wei's and Suzuki's approaches to 18, they finally went to the tapes, mentioning how Lu won the tournament with 3-straight birdies to start her round and showing how she sank 3 more in a 4-hole stretch as she made the turn, then focusing on key par putts down the stretch.  (Apparently Lu didn't want to be interviewed before the awards ceremony.)  So after Suzuki and Wei finished, it was back to Nagai's eagle and the 1st view of her birdie on 10, along with her best pars coming home, before showing the awards ceremony.  After answering the first couple of questions in simple Japanese, she went back and forth between English and Japanese the rest of the interview, but mostly in English.  After that, they moved so quickly into face time for their announcing crew and the closing montage that they barely had time to include defending champion Mika Miyazato congratulating new champion Teresa Lu from the awards ceremony in between.

And then, after 2 hours and 15 minutes of the most important women's golf tournament in Japan, a cute show on cats walking around in an Italian city began.  Only in Japan!