Monday, March 17, 2008

MasterCard Classic Sunday: Friberg Sets Tournament Record on Way to Win

Well, I speculated that a young gun would surprise this week and said it would take a course record to catch second-round leader Ji Young Oh and her closest competitor Ya Ni Tseng, but I got just about everything else wrong about the final round of the MasterCard Classic. Hound Dog is too nice to point out that he got most of his predictions right in his fantastic final-round summary, mostly because he's keeping the focus where it ought to be: on rookie Louise Friberg's conquest of Bosque Real, a come-from-behind victory as impressive as Tiger's win at Bay Hill and Yuri Fudoh's at the JLPGA's Accordia Golf Ladies this week.

When Friberg's bogey-free run of 6 birdies and an eagle ended on the 16th hole, dropping her back to -6 for the tournament, I thought to myself that it would be too bad if a breaking the tournament record wouldn't be enough to get her the win. In fact, I was worried she would be pressing on the final two holes and make a bogey or worse to lose the record and the tournament. This was before Ji Young Oh's bogey on 14 that dropped her out of the tie for the lead for good--at that point, Oh had tripled her bogey production over the previous 36 holes, but was moving onto her last 7 holes, where she had made 6 of her 10 birdies in the tournament. So I figured she'd make a run at getting back to par, that Ya Ni Tseng--who at that point was only +1 on her round and also tied for the lead--would follow her, and that no one else who had been brought back into contention by the two leaders would be able to keep up with them. Well, Hound Dog has already given the play-by-play for the three of them, so go back and read his recap if you haven't already. He also covers how Jill McGill and Na Yeon Choi failed to break the -5 barrier, as well as how Pat Hurst and Jane Park (who had been playing the final 3 holes as well as anyone but couldn't get more than 1 birdie on them with the tournament on the line) couldn't get past the -4 barrer.

What he doesn't cover, however, is how people who finished even further down the leaderboard squandered their chances to make Friberg's record-breaking round moot. Take Jee Young Lee, for instance. You wouldn't think that someone who went 76-69-78 (+7, T50) had given herself a chance to get into contention on the final 9, right? Well, after 4 consecutive birdies, Jee Young was at -2 with 12 holes to play. But two triples--a 7 on the 10th and an 8 on the 18th--lead to a final-9 45 instead of what she was no doubt dreaming of, her first win as an LPGA member. Lorena Ochoa (-2, T8) didn't get to where Jee Young was after the 6th hole until she was standing on the 16th tee, but even though she kept her round bogey-free, she couldn't put any pressure on Friberg down the stretch, either. Kim Hall (-1, T10) was in the same position as Ochoa on the 15th tee, but could only manage 1 bogey in her stretch run. Jeong Jang (E, T13) was at -1 with 8 holes to play, but the only move she made was backward. Meanwhile, Amy Yang (E, T13), who was -3 standing on the 5th tee, stumbled with bogeys on the 6th and 8th, but after a birdie on 15 also had a chance for a magical finish (which she promptly squandered with a double on the 17th). And Eva Dahllof (-3, T5) was -6 through 4 and -5 through 8, but after doubling the 9th she finished with 9 straight pars and never challenged for the lead again.

Which goes to show how impressive Friberg's final round was--and how much had to go right for it to propel her to victory. The Class of 2008 has now beaten the Class of 2007 to the winner's circle. The last time a rookie did something as impressive was in Seon Hwa Lee's final round at the ShopRite Classic: she fired off a 63 to outpace an impressive field playing well on a much easier course. Whereas Lee went on to walk away with the Class of 2006's Rookie of the Year title, this year's ROY race looks like it will outlast the Presidential primary season. As the tournament notes and interviews page, well, notes, Friberg leads with 209 points, followed by Tseng with 161 and Choi with 125. Former leader Momoko Ueda, who played last week but not this week in Japan, is now in 4th with 95 points. Unfortunately, Tseng revealed in interviews that she's dealing with a sore wrist, so we may be seeing her take some time off after the Kraft Nabisco in 3 weeks.

You can watch second-round highlights over at ESPN Deportes. It's certainly more entertaining than the AP story, although with their focus on Latin American players and coverage of only the final two holes, they missed the best fireworks of the round. Still, realizing that Ji Young Oh's English is better than my high-school era Spanish, which has stayed with me much better than I would have guessed, made it all worthwhile!

[Update 3/21/08: Beth Ann Baldry has a nice profile of Friberg at Golfweek. And Hound Dog and Mulligan Stu teach English-speakers how to say her last name!]

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