Monday, April 7, 2008

Kraft Nabisco Championship Sunday: It's History!

History did not repeat itself at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. In overcoming her recent history at Mission Hills--both the previous 3 rounds' and the previous 2 years' worth of it--world #1 Lorena Ochoa made history with a bogey-free 67 that brought her to -11 for the tournament and a 5-shot victory over Annika Sorenstam and Suzann Pettersen. As in her win at the Safeway International, the tournament was close until Ochoa found a gear nobody else had. This time, Hee-Won Han was -7 for the tournament after birdies on the 4th and 6th holes, only 1 shot behind Ochoa, who had birdied 1 and 2. But after Han bogeyed the 7th through 9th holes and Ochoa birdied the 8th through 10th holes (the last on a 40-foot bomb), the tournament was effectively over. For the story of how Ochoa refused to come back to the field over her final 8 holes, see Hound Dog's most excellent final-round recap and the Golf for Women Editors' Blog. What I'll focus on here are the implications of Ochoa's latest win--or, if you will, the ripples from her big splash.

This is going to be a year for the history books. Go read the post-round interviews with the top 3 finishers. Ochoa is joyous, while Sorenstam and Pettersen are full of respect for her but itching for the next chance to beat her. Consider, as well, the return of Maria Hjorth, Seon Hwa Lee, Mi Hyun Kim, and Se Ri Pak to the top 10, the flashes of brilliance shown by Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr this week, the continuing strong play of Angela Stanford, Jee Young Lee, and Inbee Park, and the fact that Natalie Gulbis, Paula Creamer, Candie Kung, Brittany Lang, Jeong Jang, Ai Miyazato, and Morgan Pressel are this close to playing their best golf again--and you can't help but draw the conclusion that Ochoa will face plenty of fantastic challengers during the run-up to the LPGA Championship. And yet, it still makes perfect sense for Mulligan Stu at Waggle Room, bangkokbobby at Seoul Sisters, and Doug Ferguson for AP to ask whether Lorena has a better chance at the Grand Slam than Tiger does. (My vote is yes.)

This may be the tightest Rookie of the Year race in recent memory. Although Louise Friberg missed the cut, Momoko Ueda struggled, and Hee Young Park and Russy Gulyanamitta still havesn't gotten their seasons going [thanks, Bill], the kids are all right. Na Yeon Choi got her 2nd top 10 in her last 3 events and Ya Ni Tseng continued to impress. Now let's see how the rookies handle the grind of week in and week out play.

Sneak peek at the Class of '09? JLPGA star Sakura Yokomine shot a 70 Sunday to squeak into the top 20, while KLPGA legend Ji-Yai Shin continued to disappoint and could only manage a T31. Duke junior Amanda Blumenhurst finished alone in 30th. Might we see all of them on the LPGA in 2009?

Victory lap for Ochoa at the Corona Championship or continuing struggles on her home turf? Silvia Cavalleri's final-round 66 spoiled Ochoa's title defense last year at Tres Marias--can a similar dark horse in this year's field step up and spoil her bid to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame in her native land? With more Young Guns than you can shake a stick at in the field--despite defections by the top 5 former Super Sophs and top 4 current ones--will Ochoa's chief challenge come from the youth? Can Inbee Park, Ji-Young Oh, Ya Ni Tseng, or Na Yeon Choi raise their games to the next level? Can Leah Wigger follow up her Futures Tour win this past weekend with a win in the big leagues? Or should we expect to see Hee-Won Han in the final group for the second week in a row?

Stay tuned!

[Update 1: Hound Dog's tournament epilogue rocks, not least for his calling out of Daniel Wexler and Geoff Shackelford. The latter has never shown much interest in the LPGA except to make Bivens and Wie jokes, so I've pretty much given up on him (although in fairness he's got a sweet gig for the Masters this week and was even mostly ignoring the Houston PGA event), but I do expect better of the former. At least move the LPGA to the top of your summaries in a major week, eh?]

[Update 2: Ryan Ballengee at GNN makes up for most of Wexler's and Shackelford's shortcomings (although he misses that the real turning point in the KNC came at the close of the front, not its opening). And Gayle Moss (Golfgal) writes a great tribute to Annika Sorenstam's guts (literally and figuratively) at Golf for Women.]


The Florida Masochist said...


Gulyanamitta is not a rookie. That according to the LPGA website


The Constructivist said...

Darn it, made that mistake again! I'll fix it on the post! Thanks, Bill.

DS said...

I worked the Nabisco Championship as an on-course spotter for ABC Sports for many years starting in the late nineties. I sure hope they have cleaned up that pond at 18 so the winners don't end up with some fatal disease. Man, I used to walk across that bridge at 18 to get into position to see the final putts and that water was gross!