Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mission Hills Thursday: Redemption Time?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's only the 3rd round of sectional qualifiers for the LPGA's Q-School in December. But after the 1st two rounds at Mission Hills, some compelling stories are emerging, particularly among those in the final pairings:

9:35 am
Stacy Lewis (The Woodlands, TX) 141
Briana Vega (Andover, MA) 140
Shiho Oyama (Japan) 140

9:45 am
Martina Eberl (Munich, Germany) 140
Caryn Wilson (Rancho Mirage, CA) 139
Miki Saiki (Hiroshima, Japan) 137

9:55 am
Anna Nordqvist [a] (Eskilstuna, Sweden) 137
Michelle Wie (Honolulu, HI) 135
Sun-Ju Ahn (Gyeonggi-do, South Korea) 132

Wie's and Lewis's recoveries from health problems have been plastered all over the headlines, but less-well-known are the struggles that Ahn has been having on the KLPGA and Saiki and Oyama on the JLPGA. Ahn, one of the KLPGA's Big 3 last season, only has 1 win there this season; she finds herself chasing young guns Hee Kyung Seo, Ha Neul Kim, He Yong Choi, and So Yeon Ryu, all of whom are just as close to catching Ji-Yai Shin as she is, if not closer. Saiki notched 6 top 5s in her 1st 11 JLPGA events this season after placing in the top 10 on their money list in her rookie season last year, but lately has been having trouble breaking 75 in Japan, missing 6 of her last 9 cuts and dropping to #20 on the money list, well behind such fellow young guns as Erina Hara, Yuko Mitsuka, Bo-Bae Song, and Chie Arimura. And Oyama was my pre-season pick to contend for #1 on the JLPGA with Momoko Ueda having left for the LPGA, but she's one of the few elite players on that tour still searching for a win this season and has dropped almost 20 spots in the Rolex Rankings since late March. The 2006 money-list leader has had plenty of good finishes, and she's got the 6th-best scoring average on tour this season, but if she wants to get her 5th top 10 finish on the money list in her last 6 seasons there, she'd better build some serious momentum here at Mission Hills so she can make a move from her current #13 position.

The top European professionals in the field are also on the comeback trail. Eberl left competitive golf for most of 2005 while suffering an eating disorder, but now sits #3 on the LET money list, having won twice already this season. Becky Brewerton (145, 8:35 am off the 1st tee), meanwhile, is looking for her 1st career top 10 finish on the LET money list this year, having been a regular in the top 20 in her 1st 4 seasons on tour. Melissa Reid (146, 8:05 am off the 1st tee, with Japan's amateur sensation Mika Miyazato) failed to qualify for membership in the LET in their Q-School last season, but she's gotten into enough events this year to rank 9th on their money list and lead the Rookie of the Year race. Arizona State's Nordqvist, the low amateur at the Women's British Open this year, is only dealing with the pressure of being tagged as Europe's Next Big Thing in women's golf.

So let's see how these players play today and tomorrow. And let's see who among the less-heralded players who made the cut can stay or move into the top 30 by Friday.

[Update 1 (9/19/08, 10:49 am): Sorry, folks, a combination of work crunch and family crisis will limit posting today, so here's Hound Dog's squib on the 3rd round!]

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