Thursday, July 31, 2008

Women's British Open Thursday: London Calling

London's been calling to the world's best women golfers and they've responded with a hail of birdies and eagles in the 1st round of the Women's British Open. Momoko Ueda eagled the par-4 9th and par-5 10th holes to get to -7 through her 1st 11 holes and ended up with a 66. But Hall of Famer Juli Inkster matched her eagle on the 10th and made no bogeys in her tournament-leading 65. The best of the KLPGA, JLPGA, and LET came ready to play, as well. Ji-Yai Shin and Yuri Fudoh made 8 birdies each on their way to their matching 66s, while Johanna Head (66) and Rebecca Hudson (67) made 7 each.

Other players didn't respond to London's call as brilliantly or as consistently as the morning leaders. #3 on the JLPGA's money list Ji-Hee Lee was -4 through her 1st 3 holes, but a bogey and double bogey late in the front brought her down to a 33 and she could only manage 2 more birdies on the way to her 68. World #1 Lorena Ochoa was -5 through 14 but bogeyed 2 consecutive holes down Sunningdale's difficult stretch run and had to settle for a 69. After an eagle on the 10th, Evian Masters champion Helen Alfredsson was -6, but also ended up with a 69. Christina Kim was -3 through 3, Seon Hwa Lee was -3 through 4, and Cristie Kerr was -3 through 5, but they all finished with matching 71s. Grace Park was -3 through 10 but ended up with a 72. Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak was +4 over her final 4 holes to fall back to a 74.

Others made good comebacks to get where they finished. #4 on the LET order of merit Amy Yang was +3 through 8 but played her last 10 in -4 for a solid 71. Annika Sorenstam had an even worse start--+3 through 6--but fought back to E thanks to consecutive birdies on the par-5 14th and par-3 15th. U.S. Women's Open champion Inbee Park had perhaps the worst start of all the favorites, going +5 through 11, but an eagle on the 14th and a birdie on the 17th salvaged a 74 for her.

I'll report back after the afternoon pairings have gotten further into their rounds. There are a lot of good rounds in progress, but a lot can happen on the Old Course's final 4 holes.

[Update 1 (11:11 am): Check out Ryan Ballengee's mid-1st-round update. Some nice numbers from some top young guns have come in, but many of them could have been better. Super Soph Kristy McPherson bogeyed the 18th for a 67. Rookie of the Year race leader Na Yeon Choi bogeyed the 17th to fall back to a 69. 2004 Rookie of the Year Shi Hyun Ahn bogeyed the 17th to close with a 68. By contrast, Junior Mint Minea Blomqvist birdied the 18th and Super Soph Eun-Hee Ji held steady down the stretch for their matching 68s. And Super Soph Jane Park birdied the 16th and 18th for a 69, while Junior Mint Jee Young Lee birdied the 17th for a 71.]

[Update 2 (11:39 am): Some more evidence that the last 4 or 8 holes can ruin your round has come in: Candie Kung was -4 through 10 but finished with a 72. On the other hand, rookie Hee Young Park was -4 over her last 10 holes, including 3 straight birdies to close out the back after doubling the par-4 5th, to post a 69.]

[Update 3 (11:42 am): Wow! Coming off tonsillitis that forced a withdrawal from the Evian Masters, defending Sunningdale Open champion Karen Stupples fired a 32 on the back to end up with a fine 67!]

[Update 4 (11:48 am): Oh, man! Suzann Pettersen had been making a furious comeback from a 3rd-hole double bogey, getting to -5 with 2 holes to play, but she just tripled the 17th. Ouch!]

[Update 5 (12:09 pm): Last update for awhile. Ai Miyazato was -4 over her last 10 holes on the way to her 68. She was joined by Catriona Matthew, who was -3 after 2 holes, struggled a bit, then finished -3 over her last 10. Sakura Yokomine birdied her last 2 holes for a nice 71. Pettersen ended up with the coulda-would-shoulda 70 of the day. Paula Creamer could only manage a 72 after starting off -2 through 10. Some very good chances for very good rounds by Stacy Prammanasudh, Laura Diaz, Sherri Steinhauer, Ji Young Oh, and Bo-Bae Song, provided they can handle the closing holes. More later!]

[Update 6 (4:25 pm): The closing holes took their toll on most of the hottest golfers on the course when I left for a quick 18 of my own, but some finished strong. Among them were Oh (66 with a 31 on the back that included 5 birdies in her final 6 holes), Diaz (66, -5 over her last 10), Steinhauer (67, -2 over her last 5), Marianne Skarpnord (68, -1 over her final 5 holes), and Maria Hjorth (69 with a bogey-free 33 on the back). Hanging in there were Prammanasudh (who shot a 31 on the front but limped in with 2 birdies and 2 bogeys in her final 5 holes for a 67), Song (68, with a birdie and bogey over her closing 5 holes), and Natalie Gulbis (69 with a birdie and a bogey in her last 5). But the more common story was players' struggles on the last 8 holes. Jimin Kang, Reilley Rankin, and Felicity Johnson were -4 through 10 but could only manage matching 69s; Brittany Lang finished bogey-bogey for her 70, while Ya Ni Tseng doubled the par-4 16th for hers; Maria Jose Uribe was -3 through 10 but could only post 1 71, while H.J. Choi fell to 72 from the same low-water mark; Song-Hee Kim was +3 over her final 6 holes for her 73, while a double on the par-4 17th put Sun Young Yoo back with her at T80. And it got worse....

The bottom line is, nobody's going to break 70 all 4 rounds here. The players who take the most advantage of the 1st 10 holes and hang on the best over the last 8 will be in contention on Sunday. With 79 golfers at E or better, 65 under par, 37 under 70, and 12 under 68, we can expect to see another double-digits-under-par winning score. The only question that remains is how deep into double digits will the leaders need to go to separate themselves from the chase pack. If the weather toughens up, not that far under -10. But if it stays this relatively benign, between -15 and -20....]

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