Friday, March 28, 2008

Safeway International Thursday: Stanford's 62 Sets Course Record

And I got to see it all on Golf Channel! Yup, drove onechan and imoto yesterday to my hometown to hang out with my folks for a couple of days toward the end of my spring break. What, delay the girls' bed-time to watch women's golf after dinner? How could I? Well, my parents have a picture of my little bro and me at ages 4 and 6 or something with Sally Little and Nancy Lopez at some LPGA event somewhere. Where do you think I get my sports fanaticism from, anyway?

So between the batting around plastic golf balls inside and out before dinner and getting to see the people whose maru and shikaku (circles and squares--that is, birdies and bogeys) we usually only track onine, onechan and imoto are huge LPGA fans now, too. Onechan's new favorite is Natalie Gulbis, thanks to the pink ribbon in her hair and the pink accents in her top, but she also stuck up in favor of Momoko Ueda's top--also pink, but ruffly--against the consensus in the room that it was responsible for her bad round. For whatever reason, she wasn't as impressed with Ai Miyazato's pink top--it was Gulbis who leaped to the top of her list of favorite players, passing Paula Creamer and Karrie Webb, while Ai-chan and Momo-chan lag behind. In fact, she had imoto playing Momo-chan, me playing Ai-chan, and my dad playing Moira Dunn while she played Natalie during the telecast. Two years ago I would have been hating that, but my opinion of Gulbis has gone way up since I realized what a fighter she is.

OK, getting back to the golf, what an amazing round by Angela Stanford yesterday, eh? Her interview on-line wasn't nearly as great as her post-round one on the Golf Channel, but it was clear from everything she said in both that this was a once-in-a-lifetime round for her. Not to say that she can't continue to go low and extend her lead on the field--the way things went today, she exemplified what Tiger was saying about how hard it is to win on tour: everyone's so good that you need some things to go your way that normally don't in order to come out on top. Well, when you look at her last two birdies, on 17 and 18--the first a long bomb she was shocked dropped and the second a result of some great bounces and rolls on a practically-skull-hooked 3-wood that got her on the par 5 in two--you start thinking that this just might be her week.

But, the Safeway International kicks off a run of 72-hole events, in which a first-round lead matters much less. But, her closest pursuer, only 3 shots back, is Lorena Ochoa, and she also was rolling in a bomb or two and making some breaks happen. (Her sand save for par on 17 was key and her fairway-wood approach on 18 also got a good bounce, so her final two holes were crucial vis a vis momentum, too.) But, Sherri Steinhauer made 8 birdies on her way to a 66, and once she's figured out a course, she doesn't usually back off. But, it looks like some Young Guns, led by Ya Ni Tseng and Jee Young Lee at 67, may be tuning in early into the Prospector course, which typically takes many repetitions to hone in on. But, 19 players broke 70 and 53 went under par, including many capable of going super-low themselves.

On the other hand, a lot of players never got anything going on a day ripe for scoring, some even had horrific rounds (a 75 for Momo-chan? a 78 for In-Kyung Kim??), and many who had some good things going on had disappointing finishes. Take Birdie Kim. Or wait, forget that one: thanks to a Golf Channel scoring error, I thought she had gotten to -6, but it turns out she only got to -4 before her final-hole bogey on the 9th dropped her to T11. (Paula Creamer and Jeong Jang had about the same story, just with birdie-only rounds broken up by late bogeys on the 7th and 4th, respectively.) Let's try again. How about Stacy Prammanasudh? She went out bogey-free on the back and carded a 32, but proceeded to have a birdie-free 38 on the front. (Hee-Won Han repeated the feat, going 33-37 to be stuck with Stacy at T20.) Or try Mi Hyun Kim: consecutive closing bogeys on the 8th and 9th turned what could have been a mid-60s round into a 71 (T33). And Laura Diaz had recovered from a double bogey on the 2nd to get to -2 with two holes to play, but promptly bogeyed the 17th and 18th to fall back to T54.

Although a lot of hot players left a lot of strokes out on the course, others started to get something going toward the ends of their rounds. Christina Kim went on a birdie barrage, making 5 birdies in her last 12 holes, to come back from an opening stretch in which she followed up an early birdie with bogeys on 3 of her next 4 holes. Annika Sorenstam was stuck in neutral for most of her round, but consecutive closing birdies on the 17th and 18th bode well for the living legend. Even Ai-chan, who had her putting problems on the front, closed with a gritty sand save for par on 17 and birdied 18 to fight back to E on a course that's given her fits in the past. When she gets her putter going, she's capable of going quite low, so watch out for her tomorrow.

Speaking of Ai-chan, it's annoying that the Golf Channel announcers have her pegged as a short hitter. Nothing about her averaging a respectable 253 yards off the tee in her rookie season. Nothing about her post-HSBC leg injury that led to swing glitches and confidence problems. Nothing about her switching to a 3-wood off the tee for a good part of the second half of last season as a result. Nothing about what she was using off the tee yesterday. Just the steady drumbeat of, "Oh, she's 30 yards behind Ochoa on this hole" and "It must feel terrible to be 55 yards behind Ochoa on that hole." All I'm saying is, you'd think people paid to talk in particular about the players in the prime-time pairings would, you know, do some actual research on those people. To be fair, Dottie Pepper mentioned that Ai-chan's dad is travelling with her for a time to help her keep working on her swing and ease the pressure of the Japanese media's high expectations. But even that factoid could have been much better contextualized.

Looking ahead to Friday's round, it's far too soon to call this tournament for Stanford, or even portray it as a three-player race. With Golf Channel coverage starting at 1 pm our time tomorrow, we should get to see quite a bit of the prime-time pairings on the front:

Start Time: 8:07 AM
Angela Stanford
Natalie Gulbis
Meena Lee

Start Time: 8:18 AM
Jimin Kang
Laura Diaz
Marcy Hart

Start Time: 8:29 AM
Nicole Castrale
Maria Hjorth
Se Ri Pak

Start Time: 8:40 AM
Momoko Ueda
Annika Sorenstam
Laura Davies

Start Time: 8:51 AM
Lorena Ochoa
Juli Inkster
Ai Miyazato

and the back:

Start Time: 8:07 AM
Christina Kim
Lorie Kane
Mi Hyun Kim

Start Time: 8:18 AM
Birdie Kim
Shi Hyun Ahn
Jeong Jang

Start Time: 8:51 AM
Stacy Prammanasudh
Jee Young Lee
Wendy Ward

And maybe even a little bit of some fascinating pairings in the afternoon, off #1

Start Time: 12:07 PM
Grace Park
Morgan Pressel
Paula Creamer

Start Time: 12:18 PM
Hee-Won Han
Cristie Kerr
Suzann Pettersen

and #10

Start Time: 11:56 AM
Young Kim
Seon Hwa Lee
Pat Hurst

In other words, I'm not complaining that tomorrow's weather forecast is bad at grandma and grandpa's place!

[Update: Hound Dog has the first-round overview, highlights, and Grace Park Watch.]


Hound Dog said...

Great recap and spot-on with the Miyazato observation. Glad to see you're getting GC access this week!

Hound Dog said...

I just finished my first batch of highlights using YouTube, and it was much quicker to download and process. Thanks for the tip!

The Constructivist said...

Thanks and you're welcome!