Sunday, August 24, 2008

Safeway Classic Saturday: By the Numbers

There are 24 players who have strung together 2 rounds under par at Columbia Edgewater, but only 5 of them have broken 70 twice in the Safeway Classic, led by Helen Alfreddson, who shot her 2nd straight 67 but made her 1st and only bogey of the tournament on the par-5 7th to get to -10. The other 4 are Sophie Gustafson (-9), whose only 2 bogeys in the tournament came on the 16th and 17th holes to drop her from 1-up to 1-down to her counterywoman, Kelli Kuehne (-7), who's made plenty of mistakes this weekend but even more birdies, Paula Creamer (-7), whose 3rd bogey of the tournament came in the midst of a 5-birdie run in her last 12 holes, and Leta Lindley (-6), who's also only made 3 birdies all tournament.

If any of them can put together another sub-70 round Sunday, the tournament is likely to be theirs. 54 holes is a lot to play without coming closer to the tournament average in number of birdies per round, which has to be extraordinarily high this week. If none of them can overcome the law of averages, they'll get passed like, well, like Angela Park (-5), whose 66 yesterday is still has the low round at Columbia Edgewater of the week, but who dropped from 1st to T12 with her roller-coaster 73, which included 4 birdies, 3 bogeys, and a double bogey. Park's example looms before the 3 precision players and perhaps even more the 2 bombers among the top contenders. If even she can go from flawless to shaky, what of them?

So if these 5 can't warp probabilities in their favor, the winner will come from someone who's already played well this week but who gets a very hot hand tomorrow. That's potentially very good news for Karrie Webb, who's made a double bogey each round, including 1 on her final hole yesterday that dropped her to -5 for the tournament, and Lorena Ochoa, who bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes to stall out 5 back. Maybe even a bomber like Jee Young Lee (-6), who's only made 1 bogey and 1 double the entire tournament, could step up if the 2 ahead of her fall down. Or perhaps Na Yeon Choi (-4), who's made fewer mistakes than many of the leaders but has been held to only 6 birdies in her 2 rounds thus far, could figure out how to go low at Columbia Edgewater. We'll see how she responds to the uncharacteristic absence of Rookie of the Year race leader Ya Ni Tseng, who birdied 3 holes in a row late on the front but fell 1 shot below the cut line as she couldn't find another the rest of her round.

That's the beauty of 54-hole tournament golf: there are 11 players within 4 shots of the lead, 20 players within 5 shots, and 30 within 6 on a day the leaders have no margin for error. So while the odds of a back 9 free-for-all are much higher than the final 4 pulling away from the chase pack, literally anything can happen!

Let's take a quick look at a few other numbers.

Million-Dollar Club: Alfreddson and Choi are making strong bids to join it this week. Jeong Jang (-1), Suzann Pettersen (-2), and Eun-Hee Ji (-2) will need strong moves tomorrow to get significantly closer.

ADT Championship: With 11 qualifying spots left, only #1 Angela Park (-5), #2 Cristie Kerr (-6), and #3 Hee-Won Han (-4) are consolidating their claims. #4 Ji Young Oh, #5 In-Kyung Kim, and #16 Momoko Ueda didn't enter the field (Ueda is playing right now in Japan), #10 Jin Joo Hong didn't start the tournament, #7 Meena Lee withdrew after a 1st-round 78, and #6 Nicole Castrale, #8 Ai Miyazato, #9 Se Ri Pak, #12 Giulia Sergas, #14 Stacy Prammanasudh, #17 Shi Hyun Ahn, and #18 Christina Kim all missed the cut. So Sunday represents a great opportunity for #11 Jane Park (-1), #13 Sun Young Yoo (-1), #20 Morgan Pressel (E), and especially #15 rookie Hee Young Park (-5), #21 rookie Shanshan Feng (-4), and #19 Junior Mint Kristy McPherson (-4) to make up some serious ground on those ahead of them.

Asian Swing: The top 50 on the money list will be eligible for the LPGA's second season of limited-field events in Asia this fall. Making a bid to go travelling are #60 Shanshan Feng (-4), #58 Diana D'Alessio (-4), #54 Allison Fouch (-2), and #57 Pat Hurst (-1). If Feng can put her 3rd blistering Sunday of the season together, then, this will be a fantastic week for her. To get in the top 50 this season, you'l definitely have to make more than $300K, probably more than $350K, and maybe even more than $375K. The good news for those already above these marks is that there's a huge drop-off of over $100K between #53 Natalie Gulbis and Feng. The bad news is that with 4 full-field events to go, $100K is not that much money for someone with a hot hand.

Category 1: It's the priority status everyone wants--guaranteed access to just about any event on the 2009 schedule (barring majors and limited-field ones). #80 Marisa Baena didn't help her cause when she pulled a Michelle Wie and got DQed yesterday for failing to sign her scorecard. #81 Meredith Duncan bogeyed her last hole to fall back to E, but fortunately for her her 75 was just good enough to keep her playing later today. #82 Na On Min fired a bogey-free 68 to also make the cut on the number. #87 Dorothy Delasin birdied 2 of her last 3 holes to get to -3 (T31), while #88 Eva Dahloff made 4 birdies in an 11-hole stretch in the middle of her round to do the same. But none of them are in as good shape as #86 Kelli Kuehne, who has a legitimate chance to win this thing. Everyone is looking to break that magic $150K barrier, which still looks pretty safe to me. We'll see who gets there--and whether that's good enough--soon enough.

Category 11: Finishing between #81 and #100 on the money list is roughly the equivalent of making the top 20 at Q-School, so there's little incentive for players even at the bottom of that span to move up. But what a difference between #100 and #101 (Category 15)--less so in 2009, as only those who get battlefield promotions on the Futures Tour or who choose an unattractive 1-time career exemption, than afterwards, when those who didn't make the top 80 in the previous season but did make the top 40 2 seasons before fall down the priority totem pole from Category 1A to Category 12. #106 Julieta Granada (-3) can make a nice move this week if she plays as well Sunday as she did in her bogey-free 68 Saturday. #108 Charlotte Mayorkas (-1) and #109 Kim Hall (E) are also looking to move up the money list in a week in which many near them missed the cut. The magic number here may well be $100K, although it could go as high as $125K if a lot of people get hot at the end of the season.

There are always races within races as the number of full-field events dwindles. It'll be interesting to see who best handles the pressure tomorrow and the next 2 months.

[Update 1 (5:02 am): Go-Kimmie-Go from Seoul followed Eun-Hee Ji and shows how much of a difference putting makes on tour, while Verdant Garden followed Jimin Kang, Jee Young Lee, and Karrie Webb before switching to Hee Young Park, Song-Hee Kim, and Kelli Kuehne. Much better reading than the AP story from both.]

[Update 2 (10:43 am): For a concise yet comprehensive overview of where things stand after 36 holes, Hound Dog's 2nd-round recap can't be beat.]

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