OK, it's definitely better to be the 20th-place finisher in the LPGA's Q-School this week than to end up #21. The former gets Category 11 priority status, while the latter drops down to Category 16--right behind those who finished #101 to #125 on the LPGA money list and ahead of those who finished #6-#10 on the Futures Tour money list. That's a big difference, to be sure, but many who have been covering Q-School haven't been paying attention to what Hound Dog and I have noted about Category 11: it matters a great deal where you finish in the top 20 this week in Q-School. The medalist at Q-School ends up 39 spots higher on the priority list than the last player to get Category 11 status, because everyone except the player who finished #100 on the LPGA money list gets higher priority status than the #20 finisher.
Category 11 thus looks like this:
LPGA money list #81: Gloria Park
LPGA #82: Jennifer Rosales
LPGA #83: Meredith Duncan
LPGA #84: Jamie Hullett
LPGA #85: Mikaela Parmlid
LPGA #86: Dorothy Delasin
LPGA #87: Marisa Baena
LPGA #88: Meaghan Francella (except that her win in 2006 puts her in Category 6)
LPGA #89: Danielle Downey
LPGA #90: Kris Tamulis
and so on for the next 10 finishers in each list.
But here's the catch: between the top 80 in Category 1 and these 20 players, that's 100 people who will fill any full-field event they want to play. So if a large number of players in Categories 2 through 10 decide to play in a given event, there's a chance that some of the other 20 players in Category 11 could get bumped. (Except for #100 Granada, one of 7 players who finished in the top 40 on the 2007 money list that benefit from the 1-time Category 1a rule.) Looking over those intermediate categories, Hound Dog estimated in late August that there will be somewhere between 140-145 players in the first 11 priority status categories. So the closer you finish to the bottom of the top 20 in Q-School this week, the more you increase the odds that you could get bumped from a few full-field events (which range in size from 132 to 144, in my understanding). This is probably the only year this situation will arise, as those who finished in the top 40 in 2008 but who have a bad 2009 will only get Category 12 status for 2010.
The solution? Improve your standing on the priority status list by winning an LPGA event (which moves you into Category 5) or getting into the top 40 on the money list by the 7th, 14th, 21st, or 28th events (which moves you into Category 8).
But that's for the future. The bottom line this week is that while it's good to finish in the top 20, it's even better to finish in the top 15, top 10, or top 5. The higher you finish this week in the top 20, the more events you'll be likely to get into in 2009.
So it's absolutely crucial for those who got off to good starts on Wednesday to take advantage of their birdie opportunities today. Sure, hanging around par over the 1st 72 holes will get you into Sunday's 5th round, but if you really want to ensure you're going to play in every tournament you want to on the LPGA in 2009, you'll be trying to break 70 every day. Those who opened between 73 and 76 will first have to grind their way back to E before they can play more aggressively, but those who shot 77 or worse have forced themselves to go low at least once in the next 3 rounds to have a chance for the top 20.
Looking at the pairings for today, then, it's almost as if people in the same group will be playing different tournaments. In the 1st group on the Champions course, for instance, Miki Saiki (74) and Stephanie Otteson (75) are trying to grind it out--Saiki is -1 and Otteson is +3 through 11--while Taya Battistella (79) has to free-wheel it a bit and take more risks to get back in the game (unfortunately for her, she's +1 so far). Others on the Champions course can switch gears: Lisa Ferrero (-3 through 6) and Pornanong Phatlum (33 on the front) have fought back to E for the tournament, so now their mindset should be completely different, trying to go as low as possible in their remaining holes (and lo and behold, Ferrero birdied the 7th!). On the other hand, highly touted players like the LET's Melissa Reid (+3 through 8 on the back 9 of the Champions course and in last place at +10 for the tournament) and Martina Eberl (E through 2 holes on the back of the Champions course and +8 for the tournament), Curtis Cupper Alison Walshe (37 on the back of the Champions course to drop to +8 for the tournament), and the KLPGA's Sun-Ju Ahn (-1 through the 1st 4 holes on the back of the Champions course and +5 for the tournament) have given themselves a much bigger challenge. On the Legends course, LPGA rookies Chris Brady and Eunjung Yi are moving in opposite directions today: Brady is T5 at -4 for the tournament after going -4 on her 1st 8 holes, while Yi is T65 at +2 after going +4 over her 1st 10 holes.
One thing to watch over the next few rounds is to see how many players can break the -5 barrier and go lower. Right now only Amy Yang (-5 through 28 holes), Michelle Wie (-6 through 28 holes), Mika Miyazato (-6 through 22 holes), and Shiho Oyama (-10 through 29 holes) are there. Given the strength of the field and the fact that the best players will get an extra 18, I'd be very surprised if we didn't have 10 players at -5 or better by the end of this thing. It's those between -4 and +4 who will be experiencing the most volatility, because they have the most at stake and the most pressure to deal with.
[Update 1 (2:26 pm): How about that Michelle Wie? Pretty exciting 65 today to pull even with Shiho Oyama at -10. Others who took advantage of the Champions course include Anja Monke (66, -3 overall), Lisa Ferrero (ditto), Jessica Carafiello (69, -2), Pornanong Phatlum (69, E), Sun-Ju Ahn (67, +1), Taylor Leon (69, +3), and Briana Vega (69, +6), with many more to come soon. Breaking 70 on the tighter Legends course today were Kim Welch (68, -4 overall) and the trio of Louise Stahle, Sukjin Wuesthoff, and Brandi Jackson (all 69, -1), with maybe 1 or 2 more to come.]
[Update 2 (2:40 pm): Charlotte Mayorkas just posted a 67 at the Champions course to get to -2 for the tournament. If you have the time, check out Ryan Ballengee's live chat over at Waggle Room.]
[Update 3 (2:52 pm): How about that Stacy Lewis? Her 66 is the lowest score on the Legends course over the 1st 2 days and puts her within 1 of Oyama and Wie and 3 ahead of LPGA rookies Amy Yang and Mollie Fankhauser, who both shot 71s there.]
[Update 4 (2:57 pm): Another great round on the Legends course, this one from Angela Buzminski--a 68 that brings her back to +2. Janell Howland's 67 on the Champions course makes her the 6th player to break the -5 barrier for the tournament. Carri Wood's 68 there brings her to -2 overall. Oh man, LPGA rookie Violeta Retamoza is even last in Q-School. Ouch!]
[Update 5 (3:09 pm): More sub-70 rounds on the Champions course have come in: Sophie Giquel (68, -4), Paige Mackenzie (69, -3), Haeji Kang (69, E), Tania Elosegui (66, +1), and Martina Eberl (68, +4). Mika Miyazato hung in there on the Legends course for a 74 that dropped her to -4 overall, while the Futures Tour's Jeehae Lee did the same with a 73 that brought her within 1 of Miyazato.]
[Update 6 (3:36 pm): Add Lisa Strom (66, -5), Sarah Oh (69, +1), and Su A Kim (69, +4) to the list of those who tamed the Champions course. Jennifer Ackerson (69, +1) broke 70 on the Legends, which is even more impressive. So how does it look for my top 20 picks?
1. Shiho Oyama 64-70 (CL) yay!!!
2. Sun-Ju Ahn 78-68 (LC) now that's more like it!
3. Miki Saiki 74-72 (LC) moving in the right direction, at least
4. Anna Nordqvist 74-71 (LC) moving in the right direction, at least
5. Amy Yang 67-71 (CL) yay!
6. Michelle Wie 69-65 (LC) yay!!
7. Stacy Lewis 69-66 (CL) yay!!
8. Melissa Reid 79-74 (LC) uh-oh
9. Alison Walshe 79-72 (LC) uh-oh
10. Mika Miyazato 66-74 (CL) ok...better luck tomorrow!
11. Martina Eberl 80-68 (LC) can she go under par on the Legends?
12. Dewi Claire Schreefel 74-70 (LC) moving in the right direction, at least
13. Charlotte Mayorkas 75-67 (LC) now that's more like it!
14. Anna Rawson 71-71 (CL) solid start
15. Tania Elosegui 79-66 (LC) now that's more like it!
16. Onnarin Sattayabanphot 70-74 (CL) time to regroup!
17. Song Yi Choi 77-71 (LC) moving in the right direction, at least
18. Hannah Jun 74-70 (CL) has to take advantage of the Champions course tomorrow
19. Carolina Llano 70-70 (LC) very good start
20. Pornanong Phatlum 75-69 (LC) now that's more like it!
Wonder how Hound Dog's are doing? A quick glance suggests his commenters are doing better than either of us!]
[Update 7 (4:12 pm): Given that we already have 7 players at -5 or better and they'll be playing the Champions course on Sunday, I'll revise what I said above and say that I'll be very surprised if we don't have 20 players at -5 or better after 90 holes. That's more in line with my post-day 1 prediction that the top 20 cut line will come somewhere between -5 and -10.]
[Update 8 (4:24 pm): The differing fortunes of people very close to each other on the LET Order of Merit after 2 rounds is a bit shocking to me. I always thought #4 Amy Yang was much better than #3 Martina Eberl, but 6 shots better already? And is #13 Tania Elosegui really 8 shots better than #12 Melissa Reid? Is #15 Anja Monke really the #2 LET player in the field? To be fair, she's only 1-up on #66 Anna Rawson and #88 Ashleigh Simon, both of whom get a shot at the Champions course tomorrow while Monke plays the Legends.... But she's 3-up on #27 Louise Stahle (a former LET rookie of the year) playing on the same courses the same days.
Which raises another question: could the Futures Tour actually be a stronger tour than the LET?]
[Update 9 (4:32 pm): Here's LPGA.com's notes and interviews page.]
[Update 10 (7:43 pm): Here's Hound Dog's 2nd-round recap. Turns out he's right that Ahn had a 68--fixing update 6 now.]
[Update 11 (7:54 pm): And here's Average Golfer's take on the top 3.]
[Update 12 (8:08 pm): Baldry and Adelson and Sirak--oh my!]
[Update 13 (12/5/08, 5:08 am): Here are the Golf Channel highlights.]