Monday, June 9, 2008

LPGA Championship Sunday: Tseng Does It!

I must be the last person in the world to find out that Taiwanese rookie sensation Ya Ni Tseng beat Maria Hjorth on the 4th playoff hole to win the LPGA Championship. So I'll leave the final-round recap stuff to Hound Dog,, and Doug Ferguson, and simply note that the Golf Channel beat Hound Dog to getting highlights online before moving on to the significance and consequences of Tseng's win.

First major by a Taiwanese golfer. Youngest player to win a LPGA Championship, beating out Sandra Post. First rookie to win a major since Se Ri Pak did it here 10 years ago. The new leader in the Rookie of the Year race. You can't say enough good things about Tseng. She got it done over the weekend, under brutally hot and rapidly changing course conditions. Her -11 total over the final 36 holes beat fellow double-digit-under-par contenders Lorena Ochoa by 10 shots, Annika Sorenstam and Laura Diaz by 6, and Maria Hjorth by 3.

Tseng was going to qualify for the ADT Championship one way or another; Hjorth's presence in the playoff also clinched her presence in the season-ending winner-takes-$1M shootout. So who else joins them? Here's my unofficial tally.

4 winners: Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam, Seon Hwa Lee, Ya Ni Tseng
11 points qualifiers: Paula Creamer, Jeong Jang, Song-Hee Kim, Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen, Na Yeon Choi, Maria Hjorth, Karen Stupples, Jee Young Lee, Inbee Park, Laura Diaz

The missed cuts this week by Sophie Gustafson and Christina Kim cost them big-time, as Hjorth and Diaz vaulted past them on the money list to knock them out of the last 2 spots. Bad Sundays by Angela Stanford (73, -5, T25), Brittany Lang (74, -6, T18), and Jane Park (74, -3, T34) kept them from passing Karen Stupples (71, +1, T58), Jee Young Lee (78, -6, T18), and Inbee Park (70, -1, T46), who were also vulnerable to being pushed out of the top 11. So these 5 near-miss players will have to regroup for the 2nd half of the season and qualify by winning a tournament with at least a $2M purse, finishing in the top of the second half of the season's money list, or being one of the 2 highest-ranked players on the pre-ADT money list who hasn't already qualified for the event.

Back to Tseng, she now has a legitimate chance to beat Paula Creamer (69, -7, T10) to the $1M mark in season earnings, just as she beat her to their 1st major. She and Louise Friberg now have posted 2 wins for the Class of 2008 while the Super Sophs are still looking for their 1st and the Junior Mints are comfortably ahead with 6 (3 by Seon Hwa Lee, 1 each by Morgan Pressel, Julieta Granada, and Meaghan Francella) and tied in majors.

The rivalries within each Young Gun class are also heating up. Among the rookies, KLPGA star Na Yeon Choi (71, -6, T18), JLPGA superstar Momoko Ueda (73, -5, T25), and LET transplant Louise Friberg (69, -3, T34) are looking to give Tseng a run for her money over the 2nd half of the season and LET sensation Amy Yang hopes to join the mix. Among the Super Sophs, Song-Hee Kim (MC), Inbee Park, Jane Park, and Eun-Hee Ji (70, -4, T29) are looking to supplant last year's big 2, Angela Park (78, +3, 70th) and In-Kyung Kim (MC), who have struggled this season, while Irene Cho (71, -8, T6) ended up having the best week of the bunch and Kristy McPherson one of the best Sunday rounds (68, -5, T25). And among the Junior Mints, Jee Young Lee squandered a fantastic opportunity to win this week, pass Morgan Pressel (68, -8, T6), and make up serious ground on Seon Hwa Lee (67, -7, T10) in their career race, while Brittany Lang and Ai Miyazato (MC) lead a long list of potential contenders.

2 Young Gun wins in a row add an interesting new storyline to the LPGA's 2008 season. Certainly Ochoa and Sorenstam are going to be tormented by their missed opportunities to put this tournament away and Paula Creamer continued to place well despite not playing all that well by her high standards. But what Tseng's big win shows above all is that the LPGA is much bigger than its current Big 3. Here's hoping the golfy media gets this soon.

[Update 1 (5:00 am): Nice job by Mulligan Stu--totally outdoes Daniel Wexler (although Wexler does get credit for noting the JLPGA winner).]

[Update 2 (6/10/08, 12:57 am): Hound Dog's epilogue and highlights are worth the wait! And hat tip to courtgolf for noting that Golfweek put a recent Beth Ann Baldry profile of Ya Ni Tseng up on their website.]

[Update 3 (1:47 am): Nice job by Brian Hewitt at the Golf Channel; much better than Michael Arkush at Yahoo! Sports at expressing measured disappointment in the Ochoa/Sorenstam clash being less than titanic on Sunday.]

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