Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lexus Cup Sunday: It All Comes Down to This

The singles matches for the final day of the Lexus Cup are amazing. I'll start with the preview and then cover the action. (As in my earlier Lexus Cup posts, the numbers in parentheses reflect the players' final positions in my Best of the LPGA rankings.)

Se Ri Pak (#44) vs. Annika Sorenstam (#3): The Hall of Famers go off 1st, the better to fulfill their captain duties the rest of the day, but, wow, what a way to kick Day 3 off with a bang!

Sarah Lee (n.r.) vs. Nicole Castrale (#38): On paper, it's advantage Team International for the 2nd straight match, but look for Pak's vice captain to dig deep.

Ya Ni Tseng (#4) vs. Suzann Pettersen (#5): May be the match of the day! Can Tseng bounce back from a tough day yesterday the way Pettersen did from an even tougher day Friday? Can Pettersen keep up the intensity from a Saturday that saw her carry Sorenstam for most of the day until the Team International captain chipped in for eagle on the 18th and the win? This one's a toss-up.

Inbee Park (#13) vs. Helen Alfredsson (#11): Another toss-up, as Park played well down the stretch in the losing effort against Sorenstam and Pettersen, while Alfredsson made solid contributions to her and Kerr's win over Pak and Seon Hwa Lee. Alfredsson is trying to avenge her team's Day 1 loss to a team that included Park.

Na Yeon Choi (#9) vs. Paula Creamer (#2): A reprise of half of Team Asia's upset win over Team International yesterday. Another toss-up, due to Creamer's recent health problems. Both players are trying to avoid a losing record this week.

Song-Hee Kim (#17) vs. Cristie Kerr (#6): Both players are looking to go undefeated this week, so let's call this one a toss-up, too.

Jeong Jang (#12) vs. Katherine Hull (#23): Ditto, although if I had to give an edge I'd give it to Jang, whose 2 victories came against tougher competition than Hull's.

Mayumi Shimomura (n.r.) vs. Natalie Gulbis (#46): Can Gulbis flash back to her heroics last season? Can Shimomura shake off her 2 losses, too? Call this one another toss-up!

Namika Omata (n.r.) vs. Christina Kim (#29): I guarantee you Kim will not lose 3 matches in a row this year.

Candie Kung (#19) vs. Nikki Campbell (n.r.): Another battle of the undefeateds, but this one is clearly advantage Team Asia.

Seon Hwa Lee (#8) vs. Angela Stanford (#7): This is the 2nd-best match of the day for me, with both players looking to avenge surprising losses--Lee her 1st in match-play since 2006 and Stanford 2 defeats by teams including Kung. Why shouldn't it all come down to this one, the way things have been going all week?

OK, you can follow the action here. Here's what stands out to me!

Pak/Sorenstam: Pak bogeyed 3 of her 1st 4 holes but battled back from her 3-down hole to get within 1 by the 8th when Annika made a rare bogey. But a Pak bogey on 12 dropped her to 2-down and even though she made 2 birdies in a row, Annika topped her with 3, so she's 3 down with 3 to go. Looks bad for Team Asia.

Lee/Castrale: Castrale won 2 with a birdie, 3 with a par, 7 with a par, and 10 with a birdie, but Lee has bounced back each time with a par on 4, a birdie on 6, a par on 9, and a birdie on 11, and they remain all square with 4 to play.

Tseng/Pettersen: Pettersen made back-to-back birdies on 3 and 4 but only went 1-up, as Tseng matched her 2nd one, but then Tseng turned the tables with consecutive birdies of her own on 6 and 7 before making another on the 11th to go 2-up before a bogey on the 12th allowed Pettersen to pull within 1. Tseng remains 1-up with 5 to go.

Park/Alfredsson: Alfredsson was -2 through 5 and had a chance to go 4-up through 6, but a bogey on the 6th let Park off the hook. They matched birdies on the 8th before an Alfredsson birdie on the 10th gave her that 4-up lead. But then Park won with a par, tied with a birdie, and won with a birdie on the next 3 holes, so has pulled within 2 with 5 to play.

Choi/Creamer: Creamer's definitely hurting, as she's +2 on the day and 2 down to Choi, who has won with birdies on 3 and 5 and a par on 11.

Kim/Kerr: Kerr has just jumped out to her 1st lead of the day with wins on the 10th (par) and 11th (birdie). Kim had been playing well, winning the 1st with a birdie and the 6th with a par, but has bogeyed the 1st 2 on the back.

Ji/Stupples: The opposite story here, as Stupples got out to a 1-up lead with back-to-back birdies on 3 and 4 but gave it back and more with bogeys on 7 and 10.

Jang/Hull: They matched birdies on 1 and pars for the next 7 holes until Hull jumped out to a 1-up lead with a birdie on the 9th.

Shimomura/Gulbis: They were all square for the 1st 6 holes until a Gulbis bogey and than a Shimomura birdie gave Team Asia a 2-up lead through 8.

Omata/Kim: Omata's made 7 straight pars and Kim sandwiched a birdie between 2 bogeys.

Kung/Campbell: Kung was 2-up through 6 thanks to a Campbell bogey on 2 and a double on 4, but she just gave 1 back with a bogey of her own on the 7th.

Lee/Stanford: Lee is -1 through 6 and 2 down, thanks to 3 early birdies by Stanford.

So far Team Asia is up in 6 matches, Team International in 5, and they're all square in 1. More soon!

[Update 1 (8:28 pm): As Annika and the AP report, Team International came from behind for the win. It took a 2-putt birdie for Christina Kim to live up to my prediction and halve her match for the winning half-point. What they don't go into the right detail on is how the other wins and halves came about for Team International.

A birdie on 17 was just enough for Sarah Lee to edge Castrale, so with Annika's win over Se Ri, the teams stood 7-7. Then, Tseng birdied 15 to go 2-up with 3 to go, but gave one back with a bogey on 16; it came down to 18, where a Pettersen eagle beat a Tseng birdie and got Team International a key half-point. Alfredsson then withstod a furious Park charge: even though Park birdied 4 holes in a row, Alfredsson birdied 3 of them, so when Park couldn't keep the birdie train going on 16, the match was over, 3 & 2. Choi handled an ailing Creamer easily, but Song-Hee Kim came back against Kerr, winning 4 of the last 7 holes with birdies, including a walk-off one for the win that gave Team Asia a 9.5-8.5 lead and her a 3-0 record this week. Things were looking good for Team Asia around that time--with Ji 2-up on Stupples with 5 to play, Shimomura 2-up on Gulbis through 10, Omata 1-up on Christina Kim through 11, and Kung 3-up on Campbell through 13, it looked like they could easily get the points needed to retain the cup. But of them, only Kung ended up getting her point--her 3rd of the week. A final-hole eagle pulled Stupples even with Ji, Gulbis won 2 holes with birdies and another 2 with pars for what ended up and easy win against Shimomura, Jeong Jang's comeback attempt against Hull fell just short (she was 3 down with 3 to go and only a Hull birdie on 18 to halve the hole preserved her 1-up win), and Angela Stanford dominated Seon Hwa Lee. Omata actually acquitted herself well--after falling 1-down to Kim after a she bogeyed the 12th and Kim birdied the 13th, she got it back to all-square with a birdie on 15. Each player finished par-par-birdie for the tie that gave the victory to Team International.

So without Pettersen's, Stupples's, and Hull's final-hole heroics, Kim wouldn't have had the chance to seal the win for Team International.]

[Update 2 (12/1/08, 2:52 am): Be sure to check out's notes and interviews. With Team Aussie 5-1-0 and Team Japan 1-4-1, I think it's time to revisit the timing of the event to allow the top players on the JLPGA to compete in this event. I can't help but wonder if the results would have been different had, say, Miho Koga and Yuri Fudoh been on the team! Or even people who were available, like Ai Miyazato and Shanshan Feng....]

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