Thursday, August 21, 2008

Safeway Classic Preview/Predictions/Pairings

The LPGA takes a 2-week summer vacation after this week's Safeway Classic, but with the new criteria for membership now officially in place, even smaller tournaments like this one take on added significance, which may help explain why, as Hound Dog notes in his preview, the field is so strong for this 54-hole event. But then it has a prestigious list of past winners, from Kathy Whitworth, Amy Alcott, Nancy Lopez, Ayako Okamato, Betsy King, Patty Sheehan, and Dottie Pepper to Juli Inkster, Annika Sorenstam, Mi Hyun Kim, Hee-Won Han, and Lorena Ochoa. So Portland has always been a popular stop on tour.

If you're thinking of giving the Pakpicker a whirl this week, keep in mind that the greens should be holding nicely, the rough and trees penalizing errant drives severely, and the many tournament threads at Seoul giving the inside scoop regularly. I've really been enjoying the observations and photos (including a link to a separate photoblog) from those attending the event's last stand at Columbia Edgewater before it moves to Pumpkin Ridge.

Taking into account Golf Observer's historical results, then, here are my picks:

1. Creamer
2. Lee Seon Hwa
3. Ochoa
4. Han Hee-Won
5. Park Inbee
6. Choi Na Yeon
7. Jang Jeong
8. Tseng Ya Ni
9. Sorenstam
10. Pak Se Ri
11. Pressel
12. Miyazato Ai

Alts: Ji Eun-Hee, Yoo Sun Young, Kim Song-Hee

The pairings are worth attending to this week in particular, not just because of whom the organizers think are most likely to win, but also because of the races for the top 50 of the money list (who are eligible for the Asian Swing) and the top 80 (who will have the equivalent of fully exempt status next season).

The late-morning prime-time quadrant off the 1st tee is absolutely packed:

Start Time: 8:32 AM
Hee Young Park
Rachel Hetherington
Giulia Sergas

Start Time: 8:43 AM
Ai Miyazato
Candie Kung
Meaghan Francella

Start Time: 8:54 AM
Eun-Hee Ji
Jeong Jang
Katherine Hull

Start Time: 9:05 AM
Lorena Ochoa
Ya Ni Tseng
Natalie Gulbis

Start Time: 9:16 AM
Annika Sorenstam
Inbee Park
Paula Creamer

If Gulbis were playing just a little bit better a little more consistently, the penultimate pairing would be as power-packed as the last one. But I'm particularly interested in seeing how Jang handles her return to competitive golf and how Hull performs after her 1st career victory on tour (check out her thoughtful interview when you get a chance!). And of course I'm rooting for Ai-chan to get back on track after a disappointing missed cut last week.

Almost as impressive is the early-afternoon prime-time quadrant going off the 10th tee:

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Brittany Lang
Sung Ah Yim
Wendy Ward

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Na Yeon Choi
Christina Kim
Seon Hwa Lee

Start Time: 12:32 PM
Se Ri Pak
Sophie Gustafson
Stacy Prammanasudh

Start Time: 12:43 PM
Morgan Pressel
Karen Stupples
Karrie Webb

Start Time: 12:54 PM
Helen Alfredsson
Nicole Castrale
Suzann Pettersen

Except for the first group, everyone in this quadrant have been playing very well of late, even if the results haven't always been what they've wanted or expected. The Choi/Kim/Lee one is the one I'd follow, though.

Among those going off the back in the morning are a number of possible contenders:

Start Time: 8:32 AM
Song-Hee Kim
Jin Joo Hong
Catriona Matthew

Start Time: 8:43 AM
Lorie Kane
Brittany Lincicome
Angela Stanford

Start Time: 8:54 AM
Teresa Lu
Maria Hjorth
Young Kim

Start Time: 9:05 AM
Hee-Won Han
Laura Diaz
Michele Redman

Start Time: 9:16 AM
Liselotte Neumann
Sun Young Yoo
Silvia Cavalleri

If Kim, Lu, and Yoo have good driving weeks, expect them to be in the mix Sunday. Han and Diaz lead the phalanx of dangerous mid-career vets, any one of whom could win this thing.

Even some of those going off the front in the afternoon could win this week:

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Pat Hurst
Lindsey Wright
Meena Lee

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Leta Lindley
Cristie Kerr
Christa Johnson

Start Time: 12:32 PM
Julieta Granada
Louise Friberg
Minea Blomqvist

Start Time: 12:43 PM
Jee Young Lee
Brandie Burton
Hilary Lunke

Start Time: 12:54 PM
Jane Park
Angela Park
Grace Park

Even though Meena Lee is the kind of straight shooter that could excel this week and I'd love to see Jee Young Lee exceed my expectations, I'd definitely be following that Park trio.

Others who could well do very well this week include Shi Hyun Ahn (the 1st off the 10th tee), Katie Futcher (the next-to-last off the 1st tee), Jennifer Rosales (1:16 pm off #10), and even struggling NYer Danielle Downey (1:27 pm off #1). Speaking of NYers, Moira Dunn is going off #1 in a great pairing with Il Mi Chung and Allison Fouch at 7:37 am. She's coming off a great Canadian Women's Open (which vaulted her ahead of Ai Miyazato in Golfweek's Sagarin Performance Index) and I have high hopes for her to stay in the top 80 on the money list this season. It's not the end of the world if she doesn't, because basically the top 100 on the list get high priority when it comes to entering 2009 events (#80 on the money list becomes #81 on the priority list, right after the Q-School winner, #81 becomes #83, right after the Q-School runner-up, and so on down to #100, who becomes #101 after the 20th place Q-School finisher). But if Moira can reach that magic $150K mark sooner rather than later, I'll be breathing a lot easier.

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