Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lorena Ochoa Invitational Saturday: Stanford Opens the Door

Like Shiho Oyama on the JLPGA, 2nd-round leader Angela Stanford squandered a great opportunity to run away from the field yesterday in the LPGA's penultimate tournament of 2008, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. On a day when leading challengers were dropping like flies--Ya Ni Tseng fired a 78, Meena Lee and Seon Hwa Lee 76s, Karen Stupples a 75--Stanford had to fight back for a 72 after starting with 2 bogeys in her 1st 5 holes. In so doing, she stayed just ahead of a new chase pack, lead by Annika Sorenstam (67) 1 shot back at -9, Katherine Hull (66) at -8, and Jee Young Lee (69) at -7. But, really, she's lucky to be ahead at all.

Sorenstam was -10 through 14 and on an incredible roll, with 5 birdies and an eagle to her name against only 1 bogey, but once again, the closing holes proved to be her undoing. Although she made 1 fewer bogey than Friday's 3 in her last 4 holes and 1 more birdie--her 2nd in 3 tries on the par-5 18th--her back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th were her 2nd in 3 tries on each hole. That's not the kind of recent history you want in your head as you're coming down the stretch Sunday, hopefully in contention. Hull's 66 was bogey-free, at least, but it also represented her cooling off after a sizzling 31 on the front put her right smack dab in the middle of contention. Meanwhile, Jee Young Lee has been kind of hanging around, not making nearly as many birdies on Lorena's home course as her length and career birdie rate would lead you to expect.

If Stanford and her chase pack should play indifferently or badly later today, a trio of young guns are poised to take advantage. Sun Young Yoo shot her 3rd straight 70 to get within 4 shots of the lead--thanks mostly to a hole in 1 on the 13th that offset several closing mistakes. Brittany Lang returned to her sub-70 ways in a 69 marred only by a bogey on the long par-3 17th that brought her within 5 of the lead. In-Kyung Kim got to -5 for the tournament on the 7th hole, but parred her way out for a 70 that kept her even with Lang.

And let's still not count out some big names--from Cristie Kerr (69, -4, T8) to Paula Creamer (69, -2, T13), from Jeong Jang (71, -4, T8) to Lorena Ochoa (70, -2, T13)--who could get right back in this thing with a perfect final round. And if we're giving the big names credit for being able to go below 65, why not young guns like Tseng (-2, T13), Na Yeon Choi (72, -1, T21), Eun-Hee Ji (72, -1, T21), and Seon Hwa Lee (E, 23rd)?

Whether or not this turns into the free-for-all I envisioned after the 1st round, there'll still be plenty of drama on Sunday. Meena Lee (76, -2, T13) and Nicole Castrale (72, -4, T8) have left the door open for struggling Sophie Gustafson (73, +2, T25) and sinking Christina Kim (77, +5, T35) in the race for the last 2 2nd-half spots for the ADT Championship next week. But if Brittany Lang were to win (or, for that matter, fellow Junior Mint Teresa Lu, who's T8 at -4), or if Sun Young Yoo finishes strongly, 2 of them could lose their spots: if Lang wins and Yoo wins enough to also pass Kim and Gustafson on the season money list, they'll take the wild-card spots away from them, but if Yoo passes either Lee or Castrale on the 2nd-half money list, either Kim or Gustafson will just squeak in with the last wild card, provided Lang doesn't win.

While I would love to see Annika make a statement on Sunday, I'm hoping that Jee Young Lee will get over her final-round mental block and play the way she's capable of while in contention. She's so overdue for her 1st LPGA win as an LPGA member!

[Update 1 (12:45 am): doesn't share my enthusiasm for Jee Young! That's ok!]

[Update 2 (12:50 am): Neither does Golf Channel. I'm used to that by now.]

[Update 3 (12:55 am): Nice job by Bobbio at Average Golfer.]

[Update 4 (2:05 am): Randall Mell offers up a fittingly South Florida-centric preview of the ADT Championship. And here are the final-round pairings. I should note that Jane Park still has a chance for a wild-card spot if she can outplay her playing partner Sophie Gustafson by enough and move high enough up the leaderboard for it to make enough of a dollar difference....]

[Update 5 (9:19 am): Here's Hound Dog's recap!]

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