Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Evian Masters Pairings

With a field this exclusive at the Evian Masters, there really is no significant difference between the prime-time and other pairings in terms of talent or chances of victory, but the tournament organizers still clustered former champions and current money-list leaders in the late morning.

Start Time: 10:59 AM
Juli Inkster
Wendy Doolan
Laura Davies

Start Time: 11:10 AM
Annika Sorenstam
Helen Alfredsson
Catrin Nilsmark

Start Time: 11:21 AM
Natalie Gulbis
Lorena Ochoa
Gwladys Nocera

Start Time: 11:32 AM
Paula Creamer
Karrie Webb
Rachel Hetherington

The defending champion gets the honor of playing with the LPGA's and LET's money list leaders, while the Hall of Famer winners are spread around with others. Simply brilliant pairings.

But then this tournament is full of them. As there's something to be said about every one, let me make a couple of remarks upon their patterns and limit my comments to my favorite 5.

The tournament organizers do a great job of mixing up the pairings, putting a golfer from North America, from Europe, and from Asia as often as possible together in the same group. And even when they pair golfers from the same region, as often as not there is a significant national or ethnic difference between them. So, for instance, Cristie Kerr, Maria Hjorth, and Young Kim go off at 7:55 am, Jane Park, Sophie Gustafson, and Nicole Castrale at 8:17 am, Ashleigh Simon, Julieta Granada, and Eun-Hee Ji at 8:28 am, Louise Friberg, Brittany Lincicome, and Seon Hwa Lee at 8:54 am, and Lindsey Wright, Amy Yang, and Angela Stanford at 9:27 am.

Yet the organizers are not afraid to break with this general principle when a juicy pairing is too good to pass up. Sarah Lee, Hee Young Park, and Mi Hyun Kim are paired together at 9:05 am, Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda get to merge their respective media followings (and Morgan Pressel gets to enjoy the hoopla) at 10:48 am, Ya Ni Tseng and Teresa Lu get to play togeher (with Karin Icher) at 12:05 pm, and LET and ex-LET stars Giulia Sergas, Becky Brewerton, and Linda Wessberg are together in the final pairing at 12:27 pm.

At the same time, it seems like some opportunities for even more compelling pairings were lost. I would have loved to have seen former rookies of the year like Seon Hwa Lee and Angela Park play together, as well as people very close to each other in career winnings like Maria Hjorth and Sophie Gustafson or Cristie Kerr and Mi Hyun Kim or Jeong Jang and Hee-Won Han. An all-star new moms pairing of Karen Stupples, Catriona Matthew, and Hee-Won Han would also have been super-cool. Or how about Se Ri Pak and the 2 recent winners who were inspired by her, Inbee Park and Ji Young Oh? Finally, pairing people close to each other near the top of their respective money lists would have been a nice touch--for instance, putting Ji-Yai Shin with Suzann Pettersen and Amy Yang would have softened the blow of excluding the KLPGA money list leader from the prime-time pairings.

That said, most of the pairings are things of beauty. Here are my 5 favorites:

1. No surprise after a certain Saturday in Pittsford that my #1 would be Ai-chan, Momo-chan, and Morgan!

2. For historical significance, the Swedish superstars--Annika, Helen, and Catrin--can't be beat.

3. It would be a cool over/under to bet on how many total strokes Ochoa beats Gulbis and Nocera by. Betting's legal in Europe, right? Shall we say 8?

4. Is there a changing-of-the-guard feeling to the Creamer/Webb/Hetherington pairing, or is that just my imagination?

5. Pat Hurst, Hee-Won Han, and Song-Hee Kim: Don't ask me why, but I have a feeling they may have the lowest total score of any threesome out there.

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