A certain Dangeral Professor and I have been exchanging emails about the LPGA (it started over Melvin Tolson not being on the Academy of American Poets web site, honest, courtesy of one of the eagle-eyed readers of Slant Truth) and he was so bold as to predict that nobody will catch Ochoa and Davies this weekend. Here are some reasons he's going to be proven wrong:
1) The course is firm and hard today and scores are already high. People who were playing well at the start of the tournament are not anymore. Case in point: Meaghan Francella, who's been playing as well as anyone this year, just reeled off four quick bogeys on her front side. Sherri Turner, Karen Sjodin, and In-Kyung Kim are marching down the leader board. My friend Moira Dunn, who got it to -5 through 26 holes on Friday, proceeded to give every stroke back in her last ten that round, and it's taken her 10 holes today to get back under par. No such luck so far for Ai Miyazato, Stacy Prammanasudh, and Kyeong Bae among many others not taking advantage of the back 9 this morning and hovering around E or +1. Even Natalie Gulbis is off to a tough start today. So there are bogeys to be had out there today. Davies is a streaky player and Ochoa still has not figured out how to avoid the weekend collapses that plagued her early in her professional career (even last year at this event, her Saturday was ugly, if not as ugly as the Saturday two weekends ago). BTW, Ochoa just bogeyed the par-5 3rd--the same hole she doubled yesterday--to fall to -11 through 4.
2) There are birdies to be had for many. Shi Hyun Ahn is four-under through 13 today, tied with Birdie Kim, who's four-under through 9, and three other golfers who still have a legitimate shot at the win, all at -5 for the tournament. Sarah Lee, who's four-under through 8, joins Brittany Lincicome and Suzann Pettersen at -6. Se Ri Pak birdied two of her first three holes to join the front-runners, only one back of Mi Hyun Kim and Natalie Gulbis, four behind Ochoa, and six behind Davies. More than 3/4 of the people already under par in the tournament going into the weekend are under par today. It's true that there's a lot of pressure on those -4 or better to go low today and Ochoa and Davies can afford a mediocre round and still be in the mix, but knowing that makes it tougher on the two leaders to stay aggressive.
3) Sunday is predicted to be cooler, windier, and stormier all morning. Whoever adjusts best to the changing conditions, the stop-and-start golfing, and the new course after the front passes through will be the winner by the end of the day (the afternoon should clear up, so they should get the entire round in).
It's not that I'm rooting against the soon-to-be-world-#1 or the veteran who needs two more LPGA wins to qualify for its Hall of Fame. I'm just saying the old cliche, "there's a lot of golf still to be played," is as true as ever.
So we'll see who's right when I get up!
[Update: Well, this was worth getting up early for. Birdie Kim shot a 66 to get to -7 and in the thick of the race for third--it's been a long time since she's done anything good, so it'll be interesting to see how she handles the pressure and the conditions Sunday. Karrie Webb matched her for the low round of the day and at -4 has a realistic chance at a top 10 finish (not unlike Grace Park and Minea Blomqvist, whose 67s got them to -3). Brittany Lincicome shot her second 67 of the tournament to get to double digits under par, but still must be disappointed, as she bogeyed the par-5 17th when she had a real chance to post a 65 and put some pressure on Ochoa and Davies (both of whom had up-and-down rounds but ended up at -14, with a four-shot lead on their nearest competitors, thanks to their clutch birdies on 18). There were a bunch of 68s, led by Se Ri Pak, who ended the day in fifth place at -9. But Mi Hyun Kim (-6) dropped out of contention, Suzann Pettersen (-7) didn't play well enough to get into it, and Natalie Gulbis (-10) lost another stroke to Ochoa and Davies. I just don't see Nicole Castrale (-8), Sarah Lee (-6), or Hye Jung Choi (-6) doing well enough on Sunday to get into the mix--they're much more likely to get passed by Juli Inkster (-6), Shi Hyun Ahn (-5), Jee Young Lee (-5), and Carin Koch (-5).
So all in all, Floating Head Professor's pick is looking better than mine heading into Sunday. The weather remains the big x-factor, though. Depending on how much it rains and how cold and windy it gets, the course could become vulnerable to very low scores for those who hold on during the stormy weather and 20-30 mph winds expected for most of the morning. If it warms up quickly after the front passes through and the greens take enough water to get soft but the fairways remain hard, there's an outside chance a few people among the top 12 golfers at -6 and better could go really low, like, say, 62-65 low. But that's a really big if--much more likely is that people going off early will have a tough time scoring and the leaders' starts will be delayed, protecting them from the worst of the bad weather. Given Ochoa, Davies, and Lincicome's length off the tee, they stand to benefit the most from whatever conditions the weather and the course throw at the field (Pak and Gulbis have only average power). So if you're looking to disagree with Professor Berube's two-person-race pick, you'd be much better off saying it's a three- than a five-person one (but if you're truly insane, you might predict that Pettersen and Mi Hyun Kim are due for some Sunday magic).]
[Update 2: Eagle-eyed readers of this insignificant microbe of a blog will no doubt have noticed that my previous update spins away the fact that Ochoa and Davies extended their lead on the rest of the field between Friday and Saturday, because they will of course have already appreciated my point in doing so: with more people within striking range of them with 18 rather than 36 holes to go, the odds that both will bring their closest pursuers back into contention on the front nine on Sunday due to the difficulty of the weather and course conditions give my position against Berube's two-player-race scenario close to 50-50 odds. The fact that it's my only chance that Berube won't have been right plays absolutely no role in my calculated vagueness on what "odds" and "close to" means in the previous sentence. None at all.]