Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wegmans LPGA Sunday: Ji Runs Down Pettersen, Gets 1st Super Soph Win

Eun-Hee Ji, the 6th-ranked player in her generation and 2nd in her rookie class of 2007 as of this April, made up a 3-shot deficit to Suzann Pettersen over the final 6 holes of the Wegmans LPGA today. Ji, who'd been struggling this season after earning her card by making almost $250K in just 4 LPGA events as a non-exempt rookie last season, had had only 2 top 10s in 12 events this season (compared to 2 out of 4 last one), missed 3 cuts, and been DQed once, but her 64-67 over the weekend brought her her 1st LPGA win and 5th career win.

Pettersen, by contrast, fell prey to the same disease that struck other top Europeans on the LPGA like Sophie Gustafson and Maria Hjorth when they had chances to put away victories here earlier this season. Unlike her runaway win in Europe over a hot Amy Yang, Pettersen left the door open down the stretch and Ji kicked it in. As Hound Dog shows and tells it, there were 2 2-shot swings in Ji's favor at crunch time. As a result, she missed her chance to get half the victories that Lorena Ochoa has since the previous year's Wegmans event.

If Pettersen had won, the story would have been the LPGA's Big 4 and their domination over the past year: Ochoa's 12 wins, Pettersen's 6, and Sorenstam and Creamer's 3, amounting to 24 out of 32 played. But with Seon Hwa Lee's 2 wins in that stretch, along with wins by Ji, Ya Ni Tseng, and Louise Friberg, the LPGA's young guns have as many wins as Pettersen--and, if their ability to get into contention the past 3 years is any indication, there are many more to come.

More later after I catch up on my viewing and reading.

[Update 1 (6/23/08, 4:12 am): Well, the cup is half full on Daniel Wexler's blurb; even Ben Dobbin does a better job for the AP.]

[Update 2 (9:12 am): Here's Hound Dog's tournament epilogue.]

[Update 3 (4:35 pm): Keith McShea of the Buffalo News gets in the act.]

[Update 4 (5:05 pm): A sign that things are starting to tighten up on the LPGA official money list: Ji's win only vaulted her to 10th place. The top 7, from Ochoa ($2.01M) to Pettersen ($.67M), have opened up a bit of a gap on the next tier, from #8 Song-Hee Kim ($518K) to #14 Christina Kim ($411K), and then the players are really bunched, with 13 players in the $300K range, 11 in the $200K range, and 29 in the $100K range. Ai Miyazato's 1st top 10 of the season got her to the upper reaches of that last tier (#45), while Moira Dunn moved up to #81, right behind Laura Davies, thanks to her T28 finish (-3) at the Wegmans. It's starting to get to the point where you need a win or top 3 to make a significant move up the money list and need to back it up with consistent top 10 and top 20 rates to keep from getting passed.

Another sign of the parity in women's golf outside the top 2 is how Eun-Hee Ji's win only moved her up to #16 in the Rolex Rankings. She's the last player averaging 4 or more points per event, while Ai-chan at #31 is the last averaging 3 or more points and Jane Park at #53 is the last averaging 2 or more points. To pass players like these and eventually displace people from the top 15, you'd need to either be dominant outside the LPGA (as Ji-Yai Shin [#9] is on the KLPGA over the past 2 seasons, Momoko Ueda [#14] was on the JLPGA last season, and as Sakura Yokomine [#18] has not quite achieved on the JLPGA this season), post multiple wins on the LPGA (as the top 4, Ochoa, Sorenstam, Pettersen, and Creamer, have, along with Seon Hwa Lee [#12] and Mi Hyun Kim [#17]), have won a recent major (as Tseng [#6], Kerr [#7], and Pressel [#13] have), or done well in many events with strong fields (as the rest of the top 20 have). Quite a tall order, but as Ji has shown, it can be done!]

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