Thursday, February 28, 2008

HSBC Women's Champions Thursday: Rust? What Rust? Ochoa Out in 32

Wow! World #1 Lorena Ochoa is making a statement early in the inaugural HSBC Women's Champions event in Singapore. Playing with Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, Ochoa shot a 32 on the front and has birdied 5 of her first 10 holes with no bogeys as I write this. Sorenstam and Webb are playing solidly--Annika has birdied the 9th and 10th to get under par for the first time in the tournament, while Karrie's birdied the 5th and is playing bogey-free golf--and even though they're 4 shots behind Lorena over the first 11 holes of the tournament, they know that a lot can happen in 61 holes, especially on a course with so much water in play, including 3 of their next 7. I'll report on the rest of the field in the next update, but for now it appears that Ochoa is aiming to do to the LPGA what Tiger is doing to the PGA. Stay tuned!

[Update 0 (8:30 am): As always, go to Hound Dog for the precise, concise overview. It will certainly help put what follows in context!]

[Update 1 (12:54 am): While I wouldn't exactly call it a surprise that Ochoa is off to such a hot start, it is worth mentioning that other people starting their LPGA seasons in Singapore are struggling. #6-ranked Mi Hyun Kim shot a 42 on the back 9, including two doubles and two bogeys, and #25-ranked Catriona Matthew has a back-to-back double bogey and eagle along with 3 bogeys as she heads into her last 6 holes on the front. On the other hand, #17-ranked Juli Inkster has two birdies and two bogeys over her first 12 holes, #18-ranked Sarah Lee is -2 through 16 after firing off 4 birdies between the 5th and 16th holes to offset bogeys on the 3rd and 4th, and #30-ranked Shi Hyun Ahn is at -1 after making her first bogey of the day on the 4th hole to follow up a flawless 34 on the back.

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that so many people who struggled in Hawaii are off to great starts on the Tanah Merah course. Linda Wessberg is the leader in the clubhouse at 68, with birdies on 2, 8, 9, 11, and 16 and only one bogey, on the par-5 5th. In-Kyung Kim, who was wildly uneven in Hawaii, following up a good tournament with a bad one, is playing bogey-free golf and is tied for second place at -4 with the 8th and 9th left to play. Jee Young Lee started slowly on the back with 2 bogeys in her first 7 holes against only one birdie, but has been on a tear after eagling the 18th hole, following it up with birdies on the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th to tie Wessberg and Kim for second place at -4, still one shot behind Ochoa. Ai Miyazato is -3 through 13 holes, having just dropped two consecutive birdies on the course following her first bogey of the tournament on the 10th hole.

Not all the surprises are positive, though. I'll survey some of the early disappointments from those who played well in Hawaii next update.]

[Update 2 (1:18 am): Cue the violin music. Lindsey Wright (4th on the money list) followed up a bogey-free 35 on the back with a bogey-double-par-bogey-bogey start to the front and sits at +4, right along with Momoko Ueda (9th on the money list), who made her first birdie of the tournament on the 5th hole, after following up a triple bogey on the 3rd with a bogey on the 4th. Angela Stanford, 13th on the money list, shot a roller-coaster 73, which is actually not that bad considering she bogeyed 4 of her first 7 holes starting with the 10th hole. Cristie Kerr, 14th on the money list, starting on the front with Suzann Pettersen and Natalie Gulbis, bogeyed her first 3 holes and 4 of her first 7; despite making two birdies on the front, she is +3 through 13. And it pains me to mention that Se Ri Pak, whose first round of the season was a 68 at the Fields, is playing like the Bizarro Ochoa, with 5 bogeys in her first (birdie-free) 10 holes, and at +6 through 12 holes is threatening to go higher than her second round of the season, the 77 that made her miss the cut in her first tournament of the year. On the bright side, there's no cut in Singapore.]

[Update 3 (1:33 am): The violin music was getting me down, so rather than continue to document the struggles of good players, let me offer an early assessment of my predictions:

1. Seon Hwa Lee: -1 through 12 (T15)
2. Paula Creamer: -4 through 14 (T2)
3. Lorena Ochoa: -5 through 15 (1st)
4. Annika Sorenstam: E through 15 (T21)
5. Ji-Yai Shin: E through 13 (T21)
6. Jeong Jang: +1 through 14 (T37)
7. Cristie Kerr: +3 through 14 (T54)
8. Suzann Pettersen: -1 through 14 (T15)
9. Angela Park: 70 (T8)
10. Momoko Ueda: +3 through 17 (T54)
11. Morgan Pressel: E through 12 (T21)
12. Angela Stanford: 73 (T37)

Alt 1. Karrie Webb: -1 through 15 (T15)
Alt 2. Laura Diaz: -2 through 15 (T8)
Alt 3. Stacy Prammanasudh: +1 through 12 (T37)

Good thing it's a 72-hole tournament!]

[Update 4 (1:36 am): With the final two water-laden holes left to play, Ai-chan is now tied for first with Ochoa and Creamer! She's already made more birdies this round than in the previous 4 rounds she played in Hawaii! Whoo-hoo!]

[Update 5 (1:46 am): I should mention that 3 of Ai-chan's birdies have come on holes that force approach shots over or between water: the island par-3 3rd (which got Momo-chan), the par-4 7th, and the par-5 15th. Same goes for co-leader Paula Creamer, who's added birdies on the 1st, 9th, and 14th to offset her one bogey on the long 6th hole. Oh, and Ikky and Jelly--that is, In-Kyung Kim and Jee Young Lee--matched Wessberg's 68. If Ashleigh Simon can birdie the 18th, she'll join them and bring the total to 7 golfers hanging within a shot of Ochoa. So maybe my Tiger comparison was premature. We'll see.]

[Update 6 (1:56 am): Nice finish for the Peach Girl (Momo-chan)! Ueda birdied 3 of her last 5 holes, including the 8th and 9th, to salvage a 74. Not the start she wanted, to be sure, but you've gotta figure that over the course of 72 holes, most everyone in the field will suffer a water-borne disaster or two. So she just has to keep doing her thing and hope to pass as many of the 48 players ahead of her at the moment that she can over the next 54 holes. Speaking of passing people, Ochoa just made her first birdie since the 10th, on the shortest par 4 on the course, the 16th. It'll be interesting to see how many people were able to drive the hole! So with Ashleigh Simon finishing at 69, that means there are 7 people within 3 shots of Ochoa. So maybe my doubting my Tiger comparison was premature. We'll see.]

[Update 7 (2:13 am): With only 19 people under par so far, it's worth noting how much volatility there can be within a single round on this course. Take Maria Hjorth's round, for instance. Out in 34 on the back, you'd figure she played steady golf, right? Wrong! She was -4 through her first 7 holes and doubled 18. Now she's E with 3 holes to play, thanks to a pair of bogeys on the front. Kyeong Bae rode a roller coaster, with 4 bogeys in her first 12 holes and 4 birdies in her last 10.

Of course, there are a lot of steady players out there. Laura Diaz had a bogey-free 70, thanks to consecutive birdies on the 5th and 6th. Karrie Webb is also at -2 through 17. Suzann Pettersen has 13 pars and 1 birdie to break from her Hawaii pattern of bad first rounds. And Ai-chan is the leader in the clubhouse at 67! Yeah!]

[Update 8 (2:42 am): Whoa, had to help onechan fall back asleep for a little while there. What have I missed? Ochoa finished with a bogey-free 66. Creamer matched Ai-chan's 67. Karrie Webb birdied 17 and 18 for a bogey-free 69. Meaghan Francella matched Annika's 71, a nice start for an ex-Super Soph who struggled as much as Ai-chan did in Hawaii. Speaking of '06ers, Morgan Pressel and Seon Hwa Lee are having quite a back-and-forth duel playing together today. Pressel has birdied 15 and 16 to get to -2 on the tournament, while Lee is one shot back after matching the first but not the second of her main rival's birdies. Their playing partner Stacy Prammanasudh is also making a bit of a move; thanks to 3 consecutive birdies on the 13th through 15th holes, she is tied with Pressel through 16. More soon!]

[Update 9 (2:54 am): Speaking of people making moves and looking to bounce back from disappointing Hawaii experiences, Pat Hurst birdied the 7th and 9th to close out her round in style; her 70 puts her T9 for now. And despite making her first bogey on her final hole, Suzann Pettersen has to be satisfied with a 72 that keeps her right in the thick of things, as opposed to her previous two opening rounds in Hawaii that put her behind the 8-ball. Same goes for Natalie Gulbis, who unlike Pettersen never got anything going in Hawaii at all; her 72 is not at all bad. Shi Hyun Ahn, on the other hand, must be disappointed with the same score, as she bogeyed 3 of her final 6 holes to close out her round on the front. With only two pairings still on the course, I'll save my summary for my next and final update.]

[Update 10 (3:40 am): All right, so with the first round complete, there are 32 players at par or better, 21 under par, and 8 under 70. Ochoa's 66 puts her 1 shot ahead of Miyazato and Creamer and 2 shots ahead of Wessberg, IK Kim, and JY Lee. With 17 players within 4 shots of Ochoa, however, the tournament is far from over. But Lorena did put some serious distance between herself and most of her chief rivals.

Looking over my predictions, I'm glad I kept my fandom in check (MH Kim and SR Pak barely broke 80 today, which would have offset Ai-chan's T2 start), I'm resisting the urge to second-guess my decision to "bench" my alternates, and I'm trying to hold back my annoyance at SH Lee's uncharacteristically weak finish (three bogeys in her final 6 holes, including both 17 and 18) on a course where she began her match-play dominance of the past two years. With 54 holes left to play on a course that's set up for dramatic swings, there's still plenty of time for my picks who started slowly to grind their way into the top 12.

1. Seon Hwa Lee: -1 through 12 (T15) 73 (T33)
2. Paula Creamer: -4 through 14 (T2) 67 (T2)
3. Lorena Ochoa: -5 through 15 (1st) 66 (1st)
4. Annika Sorenstam: E through 15 (T21) 71 (T19)
5. Ji-Yai Shin: E through 13 (T21) 73 (T33)
6. Jeong Jang: +1 through 14 (T37) 73 (T33)
7. Cristie Kerr: +3 through 14 (T54) 76 (T61)
8. Suzann Pettersen: -1 through 14 (T15) 72 (T22)
9. Angela Park: 70 (T8) (T9)
10. Momoko Ueda: +3 through 17 (T54) 74 (T47)
11. Morgan Pressel: E through 12 (T21) 70 (T9)
12. Angela Stanford: 73 (T37) (T33)

Alt 1. Karrie Webb: -1 through 15 (T15) 69 (T7)
Alt 2. Laura Diaz: -2 through 15 (T8) 70 (T9)
Alt 3. Stacy Prammanasudh: +1 through 12 (T37) 70 (T9)

I'll close by apologizing to Virada Nirapathpongporn, whose solid 72 shows she belongs in the field, after all. I still think the tournament organizers should have found a way to get Hee-Won Han in the field, but maybe it's the other sponsor invite, Siew-Ai Lim (81, 77th place out of 78 golfers), who should have been sacrificed to make it happen. I can understand why HSBC would want to honor Asian diversity instead of further swelling the ranks of Seoul Sisters in the field, but for a tournament of this kind I think they should aim at including the two people with the best chance to win who didn't qualify through normal means, regardless of nationality.]

[Update 11 (4:27 am): If I had known about yet another great feature of the HSBC web site--their Day One Live Updates--I would probably not have done all this. Oh well, live and learn!]


Hound Dog said...

Re update 11: No semi-live blogging goes unappreciated, even if another site is also posting updates. Keep up the great overnight work!

BTW, congrats on your SB Nation exposure!

The Constructivist said...

Thanks, man! On my lit blog I just got "Around the Web"ed by Inside Higher Ed for the second time evah, which guarantees that I'll quintuple my normal visit rate there. The hits just keep on coming!

Here's how superstitious I am about last year's Mostly Harmless jinx rearing its ugly head again: I was seriously considering not mentioning Ai-chan until her round was over while I was doing this! Then I realized that I may as well never write a word about her ever again if I was going to take the jinx that seriously! Fandom is weird.

The Constructivist said...

That back-9 collapse by Ai-chan makes me wonder if I should have even mentioned the MH jinx in the above comment! ;)