Saturday, August 25, 2007

Can Ji-Young Oh Succeed at the Safeway Where In-Kyung Kim Failed at the Wegmans?

Ji-Young Oh is an exempt rookie on the LPGA this year, but coming into the Safeway Classic she stood at #100 on the money list and #11 in the Rookie of the Year race, despite playing in 17 events--mostly because she's missed the cut in 11 of them. But now she has a chance not only to secure exempt status for the 2008 season but also to do what In-Kyung Kim wasn't able to do back in June at the Wegmans: stop Lorena Ochoa.

It's a tall order. Back then, Kim was trying to keep Ochoa from her 3rd win of the season. Now, Oh is trying to keep Ochoa from her 3rd win in a row. But if she can sustain her momentum for two more rounds, anything can happen. Oh's career-low 66 on Friday put her even with European Solheim Cupper Sophie Gustafson and 1 shot ahead of Ochoa in this 3-round tournament. On a day when 6 players broke 70, 25 went under par, and 16 failed to break 80, Oh put together 7 birdies in her first 15 holes, despite averaging only 227 yards off the tee. By contrast, Ochoa was averaging over 280 yards and made three improbable birdies on the last 5 holes of the back 9, despite problems with her approach shots.

Also chasing Oh are potential American Solheim Cuppers Angela Stanford (68), Christina Kim (69), Laura Diaz (71), and Brittany Lang (72), Super Sophs Kyeong Bae (70), Hye Jung Choi (71), and Katie Futcher (72), Seoul Sisters Sarah Lee (69), Joo Mi Kim (70), Il Mi Chung (72), Gloria Park (72), Mi Hyun Kim (71), and Se Ri Pak (72), not to mention Karrie Webb (70) and Natalie Gulbis (71). Some big names will have to go super-low on Saturday to have a chance on Sunday, including Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Jeong Jang, Angela Park, Shi Hyun Ahn, and Meena Lee (+1) and Ai Miyazato, Angela Park, Meaghan Francella, and Julieta Granada (+2). Others, such as Juli Inkster (+3), Laura Davies (+5), Pat Hurst (+5), Moira Dunn (+5), Michelle Wie (+7), and Grace Park (+8), will have to play well just to make the cut. Which is still a better situation to be in than Jee Young Lee, whose shoulder injury forced her to withdraw after playing 9 holes on Friday.

So there's a lot to watch on Saturday for those who get ESPN2. Something the cameras are unlikely to follow will be the mini-showdown between duelling Top Super Sophs Morgan Pressel and Seon Hwa Lee, whose matching 75s put them in the same group on Saturday. Even more unlikely to make it on television is the no-doubt double-or-nothing match between Rookie of the Year shoo-in Angela Park and amateur superstar (and blogger) Tiffany Joh late in the afternoon. But that's what they made for.