Saturday, July 19, 2008

State Farm Classic Friday: Go Low and Go Home!

The cut at the Open Championship is +9 (149). The cut at the State Farm Classic is -3 (141). While there are 20 players within 5 shots of K.J. Choi's -1 lead, only 1 player, Greg Norman, is 1 back. Among the 4 players within 1 shot of Christina Kim's -13 lead is fellow 50-something Sherri Turner. 19 other players, many not yet born when Turner got her last win, are within 5 shots of Kim. Going back and forth between the 2 events is almost enough to give you whiplash. Fortunately, Hound Dog has the second round covered and the notes and interviews are excellent, so I can focus in on what I see as the most telling details from Springfield thus far this week in this belated post.

Let's start at the bottom. How hard must it be to shoot a 66 on Friday and not be playing Saturday? That's what Julieta Granada, still the #2 career money leader among the Junior Mints after a season and a half of golf hell, is dealing with right now. I feel bad for all the struggling young guns--from Kenyon to Yi, Simon to Janangelo, Downey to Cho, Fouch to Hage, Oh to Jeong--who played just fine and missed the cut. And I feel cheated that the 18th hole knocked Vicky Hurst out of the weekend. And I feel terrible for Pat Hurst, who's had great success in this tournament. But having one of the lowest rounds of the day not be good enough to get you into the weekend is simply horrible. I keep waiting for Granada to pull out of her downward spiral, so I'm hoping Friday is more of a sign of things to come for her than Thursday.

On the other hand, how cool is it for Paige Mackenzie and Na On Min to make the cut on the dot with mactching 67s? The 12 people who made the cut on the dot would have a lot to tell you about how tough a "weak" field can be.

Or just ask Ai Miyazato and Ashli Bunch. By "only" shooting 72s Friday, they dropped down the leaderboard from T10 to T38 and T17 to T51. Bunch got caught by a pair of struggling Junior Mints, Na Ri Kim and Virada Nirapathpongporn, who both shot fantastic 66s Friday. It was Wendy Ward and Mikaela Parmlid who did the same to Miyazato. (Moira Dunn's 68 did the trick, as well. Take that, GSPI!) I still think Ai-chan can win this thing, but she'll need to close better than Pettersen, Tseng, and Ji have done on the weekends this season to get her 1st LPGA victory this week.

Nice 66 by rookie Hee Young Park to jump to T28 at -6. This is exactly the kind of course that plays to her biggest weakness--the tendency to erase good rounds with a horrible meltdown--so this will be a quite significant weekend in her short career. Same goes for struggling Super Soph Charlotte Mayorkas, whose 67 Friday vaulted her to T21. She's been passed by many of her classmates this year, dropping from 8th to 12th in my ranking. It'll be interesting to see who among Sandra Gal, Anja Monke, Jin Joo Hong, and Mayorkas--all at -7--can put together the best weekend.

Very fine 66s by Jane Park, Beth Bader, Erica Blasberg, and Carri Wood to get into a tie for 14th and put themselves among the 20 players who can win this thing with only a reasonably good weekend (2 rounds under 70).

Great to see Stacy Prammanasudh going 69-66 thus far this week. Despite her struggles this season, she's still ranked 7th in U.S. Solheim Cup points. It's about time she and Christina Kim gave Suzann Pettersen a serious run for the #2 position in the class of 2003; I didn't put their race among the LPGA's top rivalries, but I should have. I'll go out on a limb and suggest that Prammanasudh has better odds of winning than anyone else T9 at -9, including Jee Young Lee, despite my having decided to leave her out of my Pakpicker picks just a few short days ago. In fact, I'll go further and argue that it may well come down to Prammanasudh and Kim in the end. Here's my thinking.

I can't see vets like Eva Dahloff, Wendy Doolan, and Sherri Turner being able to take the heat, literally and figuratively, over the weekend. Sure, Sherri Steinhauer outgunned Kim last year, but the course conditions then (hard and fast) favored her style of play and she had been injury-free and playing great that season (because this week was unlike that one in all respects, I can't say I'm all that surprised to see her missing the cut). These vets just haven't been having seasons like Steinhauer's in 2007.

Among the young guns, Kristy McPherson and Katie Futcher are close to being ready to contend, but I'd be shocked if they broke through before Lindsey Wright. Kyeong Bae is finally returning to her birdie machine ways of her 1st 2 seasons, but she's been making too many mistakes along the way--with 15 birdies, it's a crime she's only -9. And as Paula Creamer demonstrated last week, it's really hard to keep up a 7+ birdies per round pace over an entire 72-hole tournament. Fellow Junior Mint Sun Young Yoo has been enjoying the best season of her career, so she's a much more realistic contention candidate over the final 9 holes on Sunday, especially if she figures out how to score on the front. But if I don't see Jee Young Lee winning, I can't see Yoo doing it, either. Ji Young Oh has far too few top 10s (1) for someone who can break 70 as often as she does (she's T9 this season, with 17). Going back to the final round of the MasterCard Classic, let's just say she's no Ya Ni Tseng. So if Tseng could contend with a sore wrist then, win a major with a bad triceps, why do I think she and ROY rival Na Yeon Choi won't win this one, despite being only 1 and 3 behind Kim right now? Well, I certainly think they have better chances than Michelle Wie, who's scored as low as she has thanks in part to a hole-out for eagle each day on a par 4 (not that Mulligan Stu is wrong on the significance of her backing up a 67 with a 65--it's just that I can't see her outplaying all the other young guns over the final 36 holes, particularly such battle-tested rookies as Tseng and Choi). And I think they'll be in the mix on the back 9. But Kim loves this course and I don't think anyone but a player with her mix of youth and experience can chase her down on it. That's Prammanasudh--and nobody else in the top 20.

Let's put it this way. 13 of the top 20 have broken 70 both rounds (only 6 others have done so). I don't see more than 5 players in all doing it all 4 rounds. To beat them, anyone who only does it 3 times will have to break 65 at least once. Who has it in them to get at least into the -15 to -19 range this week? Certainly, the 8 players already double digits under par can do it. Jane Park, Angela Stanford, and Angela Park have shot 62s this season, so never count them out. H.J. Choi and Ai-chan may be due to go low, having turned around their seasons this summer. Same goes for Katherine Hull, Il Mi Chung, and Shanshan Feng, who have gone pretty low lately. As for everyone else, I'm prepared to be pleasantly surprised. Can't wait for moving day to get started!


Burks said...

What about Kris Tamulis? 67-69 -- doesn't that put her right in the hunt?

The Constructivist said...

Aargh! You caught me. I had nothin' on her. My bad!

The Constructivist said...

And don't ask about Carri Wood, either. At least don't ask me!