Saturday, March 1, 2008

HSBC Women's Champions Saturday: The Field Celebrates Moving Backwards Day

Lorena Ochoa gave her opponents a small glimpse of hope by only starting the third round of the HSBC Women's Champions event in Singapore even par over her first 8 holes, but the only person near the top of the leaderboard who was poised to take advantage of this pause, Annika Sorenstam, who birdied two of her first three holes, was stalled at -2 through 8. When both players birdied the 9th, Ochoa's lead was still 5 shots, but it was the living legend who cracked, going double bogey-bogey on the next two holes to fall back to E through 11. Even though Annika righted her ship with 2 birdies in her final 7 holes, Ochoa proceeded to make 3 birdies in her next 4 holes and would have taken a 9-stroke lead into the final round had she not bogeyed the 17th. So even though Ochoa opened the door on the front and "only" recovered enough to shoot a 69--her 3rd consecutive sub-70 round on a course where no one else has more than 1--she extended her lead on all of her closest challengers to 8 shots over Sorenstam and Paula Creamer (whose round was sabotaged on each 9 by a late bogey), 9 over Karrie Webb (ditto), and 11 over Laura Diaz (who had a great round if you take away her early and final-hole bogeys).

And folks, these were the challengers who actually played well on Saturday. Read the Day 3 Live Updates and weep--in the wet conditions, there were a lot of short putts missed, even by the leaders. To give a sense of how badly almost everyone else played today, let's take a look at moving day's big movers and shakers.

Catriona Matthew 74-72-69 (T47-->T40-->T13)
Seon Hwa Lee 73-75-69 (T33-->T51-->T20)
Alena Sharp 75-74-69 (T56-->T59-->T23)

Maybe I should have called them the little movers. That's right--for the third round in a row, nobody was able to beat Ochoa. I guess this trio should get some credit for the tie. Scoring conditions were certainly tougher Saturday--nobody failed to break 80 Friday, but 5 failed Saturday as opposed to 4 Thursday. I'll only feature one of today's such victims in the hall of fear and trembling. What's most surprising about this list is how far these players didn't fall....

Ai Miyazato 67-74-77 (T2-->T10-->T23)
Linda Wessberg 68-71-81 (T4-->T5-->T36)
Jee Young Lee 68-72-75 (T4-->T8-->T13)
Angela Park 70-74-77 (T9-->T24-->T41)
Sarah Lee 70-71-76 (T9-->T10-->T20)
Natalie Gulbis 72-68-75 (T22-->T8-->T13)
Jimin Kang 73-69-76 (T33-->T16-->T23)

I'll stop here, as many players had just as bad or worse rounds, but never really have had a good one to fall from.

When there's no doubt as to the outcome at the very top of the leaderboard, you have to look at races within races to keep up your interest in Sunday's round.

Ochoa vs. Ochoa: can she break 70 all 4 rounds of the tournament?

Who will establish themselves as Ochoa's leading challenger in 2008, Creamer, Sorenstam, or Webb? Can any of them at least get the moral victory of making up ground on her tomorrow?

Can Jee Young Lee (-1) or Seon Hwa Lee (+1) chase down Morgan Pressel (-2) in the weekly jockeying to be the top junior on tour? Can Karin Sjodin (E) or Ai-chan (+2) make themselves into factors in this race, or will it be enough for them just to stay ahead of Wessberg (+4)?

Speaking of Pressel, she is in the thick of the race for 2nd-best American of the week, 3 shots behind Diaz, 2 behind Prammanasudh, tied with Pat Hurst and Angela Stanford, 1 ahead of Natalie Gulbis, 2 ahead of Reilley Rankin, and 3 ahead of Christina Kim. Look for the 10:10 trio of Stanford, Hurst, and Pressel to feed off each other's play and make an early charge tomorrow. It's not too early to think about the Solheim Cup!

Speaking of which, the race for 2nd-best European is also wide open. Can Matthew or Silvia Cavalleri at -1 stay ahead of Sjodin (1 back) and Suzann Pettersen, Maria Hjorth, and Mhairi McKay (2 back)? Look for that final trio in the 9:20 am pairing to make an early charge tomorrow!

Among those not eligible for the Solheim Cup, the race for top player is a little more in doubt. Can Webb stay ahead of Shin, whom she defeated in Australia earlier this year, or can Shin turn the tables and chase down Webb this time? Can Kim stay in the mix for top Asian golfer of the week? Can she make a 3rd eagle this week? Or will it be hard enough for her just to stay ahead of her top Super Soph pursuers this week, Inbee Park (E) and Eun-Hee Ji (+2)?

Speaking of the young guns, who will finish as the top rookie, Momoko Ueda or Na-Yeon Choi (both +3), now that Ashleigh Simon (+9) has imploded for two straight rounds?

Who will lose in the race to avoid being Hound Dog's Big Disappointment of the Week? Will Cristie Kerr (+10, T66) or Jeong Jang or Angela Park (both +5, T41) save Se Ri Pak (+6, T47) from consecutive (dis)honors? I think it's going to come down to Jang or Kerr in the end. Given her recent knee surgery, I don't think it would be fair for Mi Hyun Kim, who WDed today, to be considered in the running for this race.

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