Just like I hoped for, it's Ai Miyazato vs. Seon Hwa Lee in the finals of the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship! Due to some technical difficulties at the site, I've spent the last half hour checking out the tournament blog and Alex Myers's Match Madness to catch up on what I've been missing.
Ai-chan walked into the finals despite playing her worst round of the tournament, thanks to a Maria Hjorth meltdown in their semifinal match. Seon Hwa had a bit more of a struggle in her semifinal match with Mi Hyun Kim. After both players began with some shaky golf, they were all square through 8, but Seon Hwa took control of the match between the 9th and 12th holes, thanks to two birdies and a pair of bogeys by Kim. Although she bogeyed 13 and 16 to allow her 3-up lead to dwindle to a single hole, Seon Hwa closed the match out in style with a birdie on 18. As Kim was playing the steadiest of anyone in the tournament this week, it's a bit surprising to me that she was so shaky against Seon Hwa, but that's match play for you. And that's the effects of playing your second 36-hole day in a row. This format is definitely biased toward the young. It's as much a mental and emotional as a physical challenge to win this thing.
And it showed at the start of the final match. Despite bogeying three of her first four holes, Ai-chan was only two down to Seon Hwa. After the rough start, both players stabilized their games over the next few holes, matching each other par for par and birdie for birdie (on the 6th and 9th). A bogey by Seon Hwa on 11 opened the door for Ai-chan to get back to 1 down for the first time since the 3rd hole, but she returned the favor with a bogey on the 12th. After winning the 14th with a birdie, however, Ai-chan was back to 1 down with 4 holes to play. Meanwhile, Maria Hjorth was throwing a birdie barrage at Mi Hyun Kim on the back 9 to cut Kim's 3-up lead to 1 up going into the 18th holes. CBS must be pleased--or as pleased as they could be with the tournament living up to its global billing in parochial America.
[Update 1 (6:19 am): Mi Hyun Kim birdied 18 (her sixth of the day) to secure a 2-up victory over Maria Hjorth (who also made 5 birdies in her final round). Bet you they were wondering where those birdies were in their semifinal matches! Meanwhile, Seon Hwa makes a 10-footer for birdie on 15 to go back to 2 up on Ai-chan. With two par 5s in the last 3 holes, if Ai-chan can extend the match to 18 this will be a great finish.
On a side note, it's details like the length of Seon Hwa's birdie putt that have been missing for the most part from both Myers's live blogging and the HSBC tournament blog. For those of us who are forced to follow this thing on-line, we would appreciate it if those live-blogging it would tell us where the shots are going. They're acting more like tv color commentators than radio play-by-players, so to speak.]
[Update 2 (6:23 am): Ah, that's more like it. The HSBC tournament blog reported that Seon Hwa sank an 8-footer for birdie on the par-5 16th hole, forcing Ai-chan to make her 5-footer to keep the match going. And she did! But she has to win the par-3 17th to stay alive. She has birdied it before this week--can she do it again?]
[Update 3 (6:29 am): Just went back and checked Ai-chan's earlier matches and it turns out she hasn't birdied 17 before. Must have been thinking of someone else! No tme to check now--both players hit great approach shots on 17, with Ai-chan putting her's inside Lee's.]
[Update 4 (6:45 am): Seon Hwa made her birdie to close out the match with a 2-up victory! Congratulations to the Class of 2006's Rookie of the Year, who not only wins for the second time on the LPGA and vaults into the top 5 on the money list this year thanks to her $500K winner's check, but who also found her game on the final day of the tournament after struggling all week, beating perhaps her biggest rival on the tour in a head-to-head showdown. Ai-chan can't feel too bad, though, as she hit pressure shots and made pressure putts down the stretch, vaults into the top 10 on the LPGA money list, and passes the $1M mark in career winnings with her $300K second-place check. With all eyes on them, they played some great golf from the 5th hole on and hopefully brought some new fans to the LPGA.]
[Update 5 (7:18 am): SI.com lead with a USA Today AP story on the HSBC, quite a bit better than yesterday's. Same story at CBSSportsLine. Ai-chan was the first golf story on Japanese tv, but it was short again and the visuals were unimpressive/ By contrast, Ryo Ishikawa's return to Japan was covered in more detail and they showed clips from a Q&A with him at the airport. What gives?]