Thursday, July 17, 2008

State Farm Classic Thursday: The Comeback Kids Lead the Way

I'm with Dave Kane and against Jim Benson when it comes to evaluating the significance of the relative thinness of the field at the State Farm Classic. Here's Kane:

Youth--and the Tour’s growing globalization--are embodied in the two players who are the Classic’s lone representatives in the current top 10 on the tour money list.

Taiwan’s 19-year-old Yani Tseng, winner of this year’s LPGA Championship, leads the Rookie of the Year race and is No. 6 in the money list with $876,759. And 21-year-old Na-Yeon Choi, who’s No. 10 on the money list and No. 2 in the rookie race, has six top-10 finishes this year.

The Classic field includes eight of the top 25 money winners, including No. 13 Jane Park (a Chicago native), No. 17 Jee Young Lee, No. 18 Christina Kim (last year’s Classic runner-up), No. 21 Hee-Won Han, No. 22 Angela Park and No. 25 Angela Stanford.

He goes on to talk about both Vicky Hurst and Michelle Wie, continuing the young guns theme. And he quotes tournament director Kate Peters:

“What people can expect to see when they come here is the future of the LPGA Tour. There’s great depth in the field, and they’re all coming here to win.”

Peters is right. And Christina Kim and Nancy Lopez, who are calling on the LPGA's top players to show some loyalty to the tour's oldest tournaments, are also right.

But consider the circumstances of some of the no-shows. Lorena Ochoa is in mourning. Paula Creamer played played the last 7 events in a row and 11 of the last 12. Annika Sorenstam is gearing up for her last major and the LET event she hosts right afterwards. Suzann Pettersen won on the LET last week and is resting this week, while Maria Hjorth has played both weeks on her original home tour. Karrie Webb is playing a limited schedule this season, so it's no surprise she's missing this week. Jeong Jang played 6 events in a row recently despite her long-standing wrist injury, so has been resting it last week and this one. Mi Hyun Kim's recovery from her off-season knee surgery has been rockier than expected. Seon Hwa Lee has won twice in her last 5 events over an 11-consecutive-tournament streak; I think a 2-week break is warranted for a player who's only missed 4 events all season. Inbee Park went home to Korea to celebrate her birthday and her U.S. Women's Open victory. Eun-Hee Ji also is visiting Korea. Song-Hee Kim played 8 events in a row before taking a break the last 2 weeks. Natalie Gulbis has missed the cut in 3 of her last 5 events, so needs some extra tuning-up before defending her Evian Masters title. Cristie Kerr is one of her best friends, so I'll bet she's going to Europe early with her to lend moral support. Morgan Pressel accepted an appearance fee to compete in ireland on the LET last week and is probably hanging with Gulbis and Kerr this one. Need I go on?

Enough about who's not in Springfield. There are already some interesting stories coming from the morning pairings. Amazingly, Michelle Wie is the biggest. She just eagled the par-4 15th to vault into the lead at -5 and has a chance to birdie every par 5 on Panther Creek if she can do it on the next hole. Super Soph rookie of the year Angela Park has birdied 4 of her 1st 7 holes to continue her own comeback from her pre-U.S. Women's Open doldrums and join 2-time winner Jennifer Rosales at -4. Rosales's 32 on the front is a big step toward a comeback of her own: both her wins came during a stretch between 2002 and 2005 when she was consistently in the top 30 on the money list and even broke into the top 10, but she's been struggling with injuries for the last 2-and-a-half seasons, missing a lot of cuts, and withdrawing from a bunch of tournaments.

More soon!

[Update 1 (12:33 pm): How about that Anja Monke? She hasn't cracked the top 25 or broken 71 in her 2 LPGA events (both in Mexico), but she just pulled even with Wie after making her 5th birdie of the day on the 15th. Wie failed to pull ahead on the par-5 16th.]

[Update 2 (12:36 pm): Great birdie-birdie finish by Rocco Mediate to become the 1st player in the Open Championship to break 70 at Royal Birkdale! I'm catching the action at CBS SportsLine.]

[Update 3 (12:45 pm): Monke did what Wie couldn't do, despite averaging only 216 yards off the tee today: birdied the par-5 16th. She's alone in 1st at -6. And Audra Burks and Young-A Yang, starting on the back, have played bogey-free golf to catch Wie at -5.]

[Update 4 (12:50 pm): Ai Miyazato, playing in the last morning group off the front, just made the turn at E. Ya Ni Tseng, her counterpart off the back, is also at E. Here's hoping those are their highest 9s of the tournament! We should start seeing scores from the afternoon pairings soon. Meanwhile, Ashli Bunch was briefly the leader in the clubhouse after a bogey-free 68.]

[Update 5 (12:55 pm): Monke is going bananas! Her 3rd straight birdie gets her to -7 with 1 hole to go. With Burks at -6, Wie's stint as leader in the clubhouse after her 67 will be as brief as Bunch's.]

[Update 6 (12:59 pm): On cue, Ai-chan birdied the 10th. She's the 39th player under par in the morning pairings. Expect another cut near or under par this year!]

[Update 7 (1:15 pm): Last update for a while. Last year's runner-up Christina Kim has gotten to -4 through 11. Na Yeon Choi, Stacy Premmanasudh, and Ji Young Oh have gotten to -3, joining Angela Park who's fallen off the leaders' pace. Choi, by the way, eagled the par-5 6th. And Tseng and Miyazato have made consecutive birdies on the 2 starting holes on each side they're on to get to -2 and pull even with Hee-Won Han, Jane Park, and H.J. Choi. Monke bogeyed the 18th to end up with a 66, tied with Burks for the lead. We'll see how many players can catch or surpass them when I get back!]

[Update 8 (4:30 pm): There is blood in the water and the LPGA's sharks are in a feeding frenzy this afternoon. It started with the prime-time morning groups and shows no signs of stopping. It's almost as if players looked at Wie's 67 and thought to themselves, "If she can do that today, then how low can I go?" Christina Kim's answer was 63, thanks to an eagle on the par-5 16th. Ya Ni Tseng's was 66, thanks to a 30 on the front (her 2nd 9), as was Ji Young Oh's, who finished with a 32 on the front. Ai Miyazato and Na Yeon Choi's was 67, the former thanks to a bogey-free 31 on the back and the latter despite bogeys on the 11th and 18th. A 31 on the back helped Jimin Kang give the same answer. And Kris Tamulis, playing with Choi, must have been copying off her, for she, too, shot a 67. Jennifer Rosales's answer ended up being a 68.

But not everyone finished strong. Angela Park shot a 40 on the back for her 72. Brittany Lang could only manage a 71. Jane Park, H.J. Choi, and Shanshan Feng stalled out at 70. Hee-Won Han, Pat Hurst, and Stacy Prammanasudh shot respectable 69s, but did nothing to write home about down the stretch.

In contrast, Sun Young Yoo got off to a blistering start, making 6 birdies and an eagle on the back for a 28, then following it up with a birdie on the 1st to get to -9 in her first 10 holes. Having just made a bogey on the 4th, she still has a chance fr a record-breaking finish in her final 5 holes. Kristy McPherson got in the act, making birdies on 6 of her 1st 11 holes. She's -6 with 6 to go. Jee Young Lee shot a 31 on the front but bogoeyed the 11th to drop back to -4. She just got passed by Marisa Baena who's birdied 5 of her 1st 10 holes, the last coming on the 1st.

And there's more! But with 76 players currently under par, there's too much to sort through now. So hold on for an update in a few hours when the final holes have been ripped apart, the water has cleared, and the sharks have left the course.]

[Update 9 (9:20 pm): Ah, Hound Dog has it covered!]

[Update 10 (11:50 pm): Remember how few people came close to Paula Creamer and Eun-Hee Ji last Thursday after their 60 and 65? Well, as opposed to 1 player within 5 of the leader then, we have 26. An astounding 44 people broke 70, 80 went under par, and 100 shot par or better. That's right: as many people broke 70 as went over par today. Now that's what taking advantage of prime scoring conditions is all about. Could the cut be as low as -2 this week? Wow!]


Hound Dog said...

Funny how the prevailing theme at both the men's and women's events this week is on the player(s) who didn't show up.

The bunching up of the LPGA schedule is directly responsible for the MIAs, and any writer (or fellow player) who suggests that the top players are "snubbing" or "disrespecting" tournaments by using this example is out of line. Christina Kim has played more than 95% of the events over the last three years and I applaud her for that, but a case can also be made that an extra week or two off might have helped her other performances along the way.

The Constructivist said...

You see that 63 she dropped on the field?!