The LPGA returns to the site of one of Lorena Ochoa's most impressive (or perhaps demoralizing) wins in 2007, the Sybase Classic. Last season's event was the first held at the Upper Montclair Country Club in the tournament's history and Sarah Lee looked like she owned the course for the first three rounds, but Lorena chased her down in the last one and won by 3 shots. This year, Lee isn't even in the field--and neither are Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, Jeong Jang, Mi Hyun Kim, or Se Ri Pak. But Lorena, who's won the past two years, is back to try to become the tournament's first-ever 3-time winner. And so is Annika Sorenstam, who won in Ochoa-like runaway fashion last week.
Will this year's edition end up being a 2-player race between the tour's statistical and wins leaders? Will the lead pack fill out with young talent, like rookies Na Yeon Choi, Ya Ni Tseng, Hee Young Park, Momoko Ueda, Sandra Gal, and Ashleigh Simon, Super Sophs Angela Park, In-Kyung Kim, Inbee Park, Song-Hee Kim, Jane Park, Ji Young Oh, and Na On Min, or Junior Mints Seon Hwa Lee, Jee Young Lee, Morgan Pressel, Ai Miyazato, Brittany Lang, Julieta Granada, Kyeong Bae, Meaghan Francella, Teresa Lu, Minea Blomqvist, Sun Young Yoo, and Allison Fouch? Or will more established stars like Karrie Webb, Cristie Kerr, Hee-Won Han, Christina Kim, Sophie Gustafson, Stacy Prammanasudh, Karen Stupples, Lindsey Wright, Carin Koch, Candie Kung, Catriona Matthew, Pat Hurst, Natalie Gulbis, Young Kim, Shi Hyun Ahn, Meena Lee, and Sherri Steinhauer step up into the spotlight?
That's 44 players (not all of whom have been playing all that well in 2008, however) who have to be pared down to my top 12 for this week's Pakpicker. So who's in and who's out?
Feel free to study the course map and hole-by-hole tour (looks like they start on the West course and finish on the South) when making your own picks! Look for the 4th through 6th holes to play tough and the watery par-5 11th, par-4 12th, and par-3 15th to lead to all kinds of numbers. The course has a good number of short, tight par 4s early and middle-late, then lengthens out in the final 3 holes on each side. In short, it seems to reward good ball-striking, whether you're a power or a precision player. Not that that makes picking the top 12 any easier. Nor does a look at the history of finishes help all that much, because they've only played the event on this course once before.
3. Han Hee-Won
4. Lee Jee Young
6. Tseng Ya Ni
7. Kim Christina
8. Park Inbee
12. Kim Song-Hee
Alts: Lee Seon Hwa, Gustafson, Kung Candie
In other words, who knows? Once you get outside the top 5 or 6, there are too many people too close to each other to have any confidence in your picks. At least if you're me!
[Update (9:52 am): Do yourself a favor and check out Hound Dog's preview!]