Friday, February 29, 2008

HSBC Women's Champions Friday: Tiger Who? Ochoa Drops a 65 on the Field

Even while suffering her first bogey of the tournament (an 18-footer on the par-5 13th that saved her from an even worse fate), Lorena Ochoa is the proud owner of the two lowest rounds in the field at the HSBC Women's Champions event in Singapore. The 3 other players who have come within 1 stroke of her highest round, Thursday's 66, once--Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, and Ai Miyazato--trail her by 7, 7, and 10 shots, respectively. The 6 other players who have once come within 2 strokes of it--In-Kyung Kim, Linda Wessberg, Natalie Gulbis, Jee Young Lee, Rachel Hetherington, and Amy Hung--are 7, 8, 9, 9, 14, and 17 shots behind her, respectively. I could go on with the 5 other people who have broken 70 once--nobody except Ochoa has done it twice thus far--but I think you get my point.

Perhaps focusing on a handful of today's best rounds will make it a tiny bit clearer just how superlatively Ochoa is playing the Tanah Merah course. The first is, of course, Ochoa's itself. She found a way today to top yesterday's front-side 32 by 1 shot, which put her at -11 through 27 holes. In the meantime, nobody within shouting distance of her was making a charge. After the first three holes, to be sure, there were 10 golfers in the lead group within two shots of co-leaders Ochoa, Creamer, and Miyazato. But after Ochoa rattled off 5 birdies in her next 6 holes, Ai-chan was the closest one behind her, and she was 4 shots back after a fine 34. Creamer wouldn't even match Ai-chan's high-water mark of -7 through 29 holes (by which point she was 5 shots behind Ochoa) until her 33rd hole, but she promptly gave it back with a bogey on the short 16th. Ai-chan, meanwhile, was nose-diving, twice making consecutive bogeys as she closed out her round. In-Kyung Kim, thanks to an eagle-birdie run on the 9th and 10th, battled her way to -6 through her first 30 holes, but a triple-bogey 8 on the 13th--a hole she had birdied the day before--forced her into salvage mode, which, to her credit, she performed well, erasing the disaster with 3 birdies in her final 4 holes. And Annika closed out her round with 4 straight birdies to join Creamer and Kim at -6, passing Wessberg, Stacy Prammanasudh, Karrie Webb, and Gulbis, all of whom had spent the day dreaming of breaking the -5 barrier--not to mention a host of players who had dreamed of approaching it. By comparison, Ochoa broke the -5 barrier in 16 holes, the -6 barrier in 22 holes, and the -7 barrier in 23 holes, never to look back.

Is the tournament over? No. Golf being what it is, and the course being what it is, there's no guarantee Ochoa will stay in the zone over the next 36 holes. And she is being chased by a set of seasoned veterans (Sorenstam, Webb, Pat Hurst, Laura Diaz, and Maria Hjorth), rising mid-career stars (Creamer, Prammanasudh, Gulbis, Sarah Lee, Angela Stanford, Jimin Kang, Suzann Pettersen, Christina Kim, and Shi Hyun Ahn), and talented young guns (IK Kim, Wessberg, Jee Young Lee, Morgan Pressel, Ai-chan, Ji-Yai Shin, and Angela Park) who know how to be patient, take advantage of their own opportunities, and go on runs of their own. But as the stumbles of Kim, Creamer, and Miyazato today--not to mention others who flirted with going low early, like Wessberg and Prammanasudh, or who scored well but could have done better, like Gulbis, Stanford, Shin, and Hjorth--show, Ochoa's consistent excellence puts a pressure of its own on the players with the best chance of keeping pace with her.

Nobody needs that kind of extra pressure when the course itself is capable of beating up the best golfers in the world. Se Ri Pak bounced back from her opening 79 with a solid 71 today, pulling her 1 shot ahead of Cristie Kerr and 6 of Mi Hyun Kim. Pak now trails Juli Inkster, Seon Hwa Lee, Brittany Lincicome, Sherri Steinhauer, Momoko Ueda, and Jeong Jang by 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, and 5 shots, respectively, in the race to make the most out of a deeply disappointing tournament. For reference, Jang, the leader of this pack, is 14 shots behind Ochoa.

My sense is that the front 9 tomorrow will tell if the final 27 holes will be a competition or a victory lap. If Ochoa breaks 33 for the third consecutive time, forget it. But if she doesn't--and if a few people can go out in the low 30s--we might see a chase pack emerge from the field on moving day.

[Update: Nothing against Gillian Wong, but the AP story out of Singapore was just as boring today as it was yesterday. You're better off going to the HSBC site itself. The only interesting thing I found out from Wong was that Creamer's bogey on 16 involved a missed tap-in. As usual, the post-round wrap-up to read is from Hound Dog.]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

HSBC Women's Champions Thursday: Rust? What Rust? Ochoa Out in 32

Wow! World #1 Lorena Ochoa is making a statement early in the inaugural HSBC Women's Champions event in Singapore. Playing with Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, Ochoa shot a 32 on the front and has birdied 5 of her first 10 holes with no bogeys as I write this. Sorenstam and Webb are playing solidly--Annika has birdied the 9th and 10th to get under par for the first time in the tournament, while Karrie's birdied the 5th and is playing bogey-free golf--and even though they're 4 shots behind Lorena over the first 11 holes of the tournament, they know that a lot can happen in 61 holes, especially on a course with so much water in play, including 3 of their next 7. I'll report on the rest of the field in the next update, but for now it appears that Ochoa is aiming to do to the LPGA what Tiger is doing to the PGA. Stay tuned!

[Update 0 (8:30 am): As always, go to Hound Dog for the precise, concise overview. It will certainly help put what follows in context!]

[Update 1 (12:54 am): While I wouldn't exactly call it a surprise that Ochoa is off to such a hot start, it is worth mentioning that other people starting their LPGA seasons in Singapore are struggling. #6-ranked Mi Hyun Kim shot a 42 on the back 9, including two doubles and two bogeys, and #25-ranked Catriona Matthew has a back-to-back double bogey and eagle along with 3 bogeys as she heads into her last 6 holes on the front. On the other hand, #17-ranked Juli Inkster has two birdies and two bogeys over her first 12 holes, #18-ranked Sarah Lee is -2 through 16 after firing off 4 birdies between the 5th and 16th holes to offset bogeys on the 3rd and 4th, and #30-ranked Shi Hyun Ahn is at -1 after making her first bogey of the day on the 4th hole to follow up a flawless 34 on the back.

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that so many people who struggled in Hawaii are off to great starts on the Tanah Merah course. Linda Wessberg is the leader in the clubhouse at 68, with birdies on 2, 8, 9, 11, and 16 and only one bogey, on the par-5 5th. In-Kyung Kim, who was wildly uneven in Hawaii, following up a good tournament with a bad one, is playing bogey-free golf and is tied for second place at -4 with the 8th and 9th left to play. Jee Young Lee started slowly on the back with 2 bogeys in her first 7 holes against only one birdie, but has been on a tear after eagling the 18th hole, following it up with birdies on the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th to tie Wessberg and Kim for second place at -4, still one shot behind Ochoa. Ai Miyazato is -3 through 13 holes, having just dropped two consecutive birdies on the course following her first bogey of the tournament on the 10th hole.

Not all the surprises are positive, though. I'll survey some of the early disappointments from those who played well in Hawaii next update.]

[Update 2 (1:18 am): Cue the violin music. Lindsey Wright (4th on the money list) followed up a bogey-free 35 on the back with a bogey-double-par-bogey-bogey start to the front and sits at +4, right along with Momoko Ueda (9th on the money list), who made her first birdie of the tournament on the 5th hole, after following up a triple bogey on the 3rd with a bogey on the 4th. Angela Stanford, 13th on the money list, shot a roller-coaster 73, which is actually not that bad considering she bogeyed 4 of her first 7 holes starting with the 10th hole. Cristie Kerr, 14th on the money list, starting on the front with Suzann Pettersen and Natalie Gulbis, bogeyed her first 3 holes and 4 of her first 7; despite making two birdies on the front, she is +3 through 13. And it pains me to mention that Se Ri Pak, whose first round of the season was a 68 at the Fields, is playing like the Bizarro Ochoa, with 5 bogeys in her first (birdie-free) 10 holes, and at +6 through 12 holes is threatening to go higher than her second round of the season, the 77 that made her miss the cut in her first tournament of the year. On the bright side, there's no cut in Singapore.]

[Update 3 (1:33 am): The violin music was getting me down, so rather than continue to document the struggles of good players, let me offer an early assessment of my predictions:

1. Seon Hwa Lee: -1 through 12 (T15)
2. Paula Creamer: -4 through 14 (T2)
3. Lorena Ochoa: -5 through 15 (1st)
4. Annika Sorenstam: E through 15 (T21)
5. Ji-Yai Shin: E through 13 (T21)
6. Jeong Jang: +1 through 14 (T37)
7. Cristie Kerr: +3 through 14 (T54)
8. Suzann Pettersen: -1 through 14 (T15)
9. Angela Park: 70 (T8)
10. Momoko Ueda: +3 through 17 (T54)
11. Morgan Pressel: E through 12 (T21)
12. Angela Stanford: 73 (T37)

Alt 1. Karrie Webb: -1 through 15 (T15)
Alt 2. Laura Diaz: -2 through 15 (T8)
Alt 3. Stacy Prammanasudh: +1 through 12 (T37)

Good thing it's a 72-hole tournament!]

[Update 4 (1:36 am): With the final two water-laden holes left to play, Ai-chan is now tied for first with Ochoa and Creamer! She's already made more birdies this round than in the previous 4 rounds she played in Hawaii! Whoo-hoo!]

[Update 5 (1:46 am): I should mention that 3 of Ai-chan's birdies have come on holes that force approach shots over or between water: the island par-3 3rd (which got Momo-chan), the par-4 7th, and the par-5 15th. Same goes for co-leader Paula Creamer, who's added birdies on the 1st, 9th, and 14th to offset her one bogey on the long 6th hole. Oh, and Ikky and Jelly--that is, In-Kyung Kim and Jee Young Lee--matched Wessberg's 68. If Ashleigh Simon can birdie the 18th, she'll join them and bring the total to 7 golfers hanging within a shot of Ochoa. So maybe my Tiger comparison was premature. We'll see.]

[Update 6 (1:56 am): Nice finish for the Peach Girl (Momo-chan)! Ueda birdied 3 of her last 5 holes, including the 8th and 9th, to salvage a 74. Not the start she wanted, to be sure, but you've gotta figure that over the course of 72 holes, most everyone in the field will suffer a water-borne disaster or two. So she just has to keep doing her thing and hope to pass as many of the 48 players ahead of her at the moment that she can over the next 54 holes. Speaking of passing people, Ochoa just made her first birdie since the 10th, on the shortest par 4 on the course, the 16th. It'll be interesting to see how many people were able to drive the hole! So with Ashleigh Simon finishing at 69, that means there are 7 people within 3 shots of Ochoa. So maybe my doubting my Tiger comparison was premature. We'll see.]

[Update 7 (2:13 am): With only 19 people under par so far, it's worth noting how much volatility there can be within a single round on this course. Take Maria Hjorth's round, for instance. Out in 34 on the back, you'd figure she played steady golf, right? Wrong! She was -4 through her first 7 holes and doubled 18. Now she's E with 3 holes to play, thanks to a pair of bogeys on the front. Kyeong Bae rode a roller coaster, with 4 bogeys in her first 12 holes and 4 birdies in her last 10.

Of course, there are a lot of steady players out there. Laura Diaz had a bogey-free 70, thanks to consecutive birdies on the 5th and 6th. Karrie Webb is also at -2 through 17. Suzann Pettersen has 13 pars and 1 birdie to break from her Hawaii pattern of bad first rounds. And Ai-chan is the leader in the clubhouse at 67! Yeah!]

[Update 8 (2:42 am): Whoa, had to help onechan fall back asleep for a little while there. What have I missed? Ochoa finished with a bogey-free 66. Creamer matched Ai-chan's 67. Karrie Webb birdied 17 and 18 for a bogey-free 69. Meaghan Francella matched Annika's 71, a nice start for an ex-Super Soph who struggled as much as Ai-chan did in Hawaii. Speaking of '06ers, Morgan Pressel and Seon Hwa Lee are having quite a back-and-forth duel playing together today. Pressel has birdied 15 and 16 to get to -2 on the tournament, while Lee is one shot back after matching the first but not the second of her main rival's birdies. Their playing partner Stacy Prammanasudh is also making a bit of a move; thanks to 3 consecutive birdies on the 13th through 15th holes, she is tied with Pressel through 16. More soon!]

[Update 9 (2:54 am): Speaking of people making moves and looking to bounce back from disappointing Hawaii experiences, Pat Hurst birdied the 7th and 9th to close out her round in style; her 70 puts her T9 for now. And despite making her first bogey on her final hole, Suzann Pettersen has to be satisfied with a 72 that keeps her right in the thick of things, as opposed to her previous two opening rounds in Hawaii that put her behind the 8-ball. Same goes for Natalie Gulbis, who unlike Pettersen never got anything going in Hawaii at all; her 72 is not at all bad. Shi Hyun Ahn, on the other hand, must be disappointed with the same score, as she bogeyed 3 of her final 6 holes to close out her round on the front. With only two pairings still on the course, I'll save my summary for my next and final update.]

[Update 10 (3:40 am): All right, so with the first round complete, there are 32 players at par or better, 21 under par, and 8 under 70. Ochoa's 66 puts her 1 shot ahead of Miyazato and Creamer and 2 shots ahead of Wessberg, IK Kim, and JY Lee. With 17 players within 4 shots of Ochoa, however, the tournament is far from over. But Lorena did put some serious distance between herself and most of her chief rivals.

Looking over my predictions, I'm glad I kept my fandom in check (MH Kim and SR Pak barely broke 80 today, which would have offset Ai-chan's T2 start), I'm resisting the urge to second-guess my decision to "bench" my alternates, and I'm trying to hold back my annoyance at SH Lee's uncharacteristically weak finish (three bogeys in her final 6 holes, including both 17 and 18) on a course where she began her match-play dominance of the past two years. With 54 holes left to play on a course that's set up for dramatic swings, there's still plenty of time for my picks who started slowly to grind their way into the top 12.

1. Seon Hwa Lee: -1 through 12 (T15) 73 (T33)
2. Paula Creamer: -4 through 14 (T2) 67 (T2)
3. Lorena Ochoa: -5 through 15 (1st) 66 (1st)
4. Annika Sorenstam: E through 15 (T21) 71 (T19)
5. Ji-Yai Shin: E through 13 (T21) 73 (T33)
6. Jeong Jang: +1 through 14 (T37) 73 (T33)
7. Cristie Kerr: +3 through 14 (T54) 76 (T61)
8. Suzann Pettersen: -1 through 14 (T15) 72 (T22)
9. Angela Park: 70 (T8) (T9)
10. Momoko Ueda: +3 through 17 (T54) 74 (T47)
11. Morgan Pressel: E through 12 (T21) 70 (T9)
12. Angela Stanford: 73 (T37) (T33)

Alt 1. Karrie Webb: -1 through 15 (T15) 69 (T7)
Alt 2. Laura Diaz: -2 through 15 (T8) 70 (T9)
Alt 3. Stacy Prammanasudh: +1 through 12 (T37) 70 (T9)

I'll close by apologizing to Virada Nirapathpongporn, whose solid 72 shows she belongs in the field, after all. I still think the tournament organizers should have found a way to get Hee-Won Han in the field, but maybe it's the other sponsor invite, Siew-Ai Lim (81, 77th place out of 78 golfers), who should have been sacrificed to make it happen. I can understand why HSBC would want to honor Asian diversity instead of further swelling the ranks of Seoul Sisters in the field, but for a tournament of this kind I think they should aim at including the two people with the best chance to win who didn't qualify through normal means, regardless of nationality.]

[Update 11 (4:27 am): If I had known about yet another great feature of the HSBC web site--their Day One Live Updates--I would probably not have done all this. Oh well, live and learn!]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

HSBC Women's Champions Preview: The Showdown in Singapore

Before I get into the meat of this combined predictions/pairings post, let me begin by recommending that you check out the promotional material for this inaugural tournament aiming to bring together the best women golfers in the world. Most press releases are dry and fairly boring, but these are sometimes hilarious (like the one they quote-mined Christina Kim for) and sometimes moving (like the profile of Ji-Yai Shin)! And their course guide and player profiles are fantastic (holes 3, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15, 17, and 18 are all dramatic and the rest are pretty lengthy, so it's a real test). Apparently I'm not the first to come up with the Showdown in Singapore moniker--but wouldn't it be cool if they actually did steal borrow it from little ol' me? Oh, and be sure to check out Hound Dog's tournament preview--particularly if you want to play the PakPicker this week.

OK, onto the dry and boring stuff! Like how bad I was at predicting the Fields top 12 and what trepidation I have about trying at the HSBC Women's Champions this week! But heck, I have my current rankings and pre-season predictions to guide me, so how can I go wrong? Hah! Shall we count the ways?

1. Seon Hwa Lee
2. Paula Creamer
3. Lorena Ochoa
4. Annika Sorenstam
5. Ji-Yai Shin
6. Jeong Jang
7. Cristie Kerr
8. Suzann Pettersen
9. Angela Park
10. Momoko Ueda
11. Morgan Pressel
12. Angela Stanford

Alts: Karrie Webb, Laura Diaz, Stacy Prammanasudh

No time to explain my picks--I'm just hoping Se Ri, Mi Hyun, and Ai-chan prove me wrong--so let's jump into the Thursday pairings. What a prime time they've arranged!

Start Time: 10:20 AM
Lorena Ochoa
Annika Sorenstam
Karrie Webb

Start Time: 10:30 AM
Paula Creamer
Jeong Jang
Juli Inkster

Start Time: 10:40 AM
Natalie Gulbis
Cristie Kerr
Suzann Pettersen

Start Time: 10:50 AM
Ji-Yai Shin
Brittany Lincicome
Se Ri Pak

Start Time: 11:00 AM
Morgan Pressel
Seon Hwa Lee
Stacy Prammanasudh

Sure, Lincicome and Gulbis don't exactly belong there--I'd have chosen Mi Hyun Kim (11 am off #10) for the latter (just to pair her with Kerr as they race to the $8M mark in career winnings) and Momoko Ueda (10 am off #10) for the former (just to have a pan-Asian, pan-generational pairing)--but, then, neither do Inkster and Pak and I certainly wouldn't call for snubbing any Hall of Famer. I'm just thankful they didn't put Ai-chan (10:10 am off #1) in any of these groups. In fact, the tournament organizers showed such good judgment I really have little to criticize pairings-wise--the Diaz, Matthew, Hetherington one off #10 at 10:20, for instance, is a gem--so I'll just have to second Hound Dog's critique of their failure to invite Hee-Won Han to play and add another player who I think should have gotten an exemption: Candie Kung.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Best of the LPGA: February Edition

With the Showdown in Singapore right around the corner, it's time to roll out Mostly Harmless's first attempt in 2008 to combine the best systems for ranking the top LPGA golfers. By using the most recent results from the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the LPGA Official Money List, and Hound Dog's Top 30, I hope to identify the Best of the LPGA. A lot has changed since December, so hold onto your hats!

As before, one player is light-years ahead of the pack:

1. Lorena Ochoa: Across-the-board #1--by far--in 3 of the 4 systems (and would be near the top of the 2008 money list, no doubt, if she hadn't decided to sit out Hawaii). It will be interesting to see how she reacts to the pitter patter of feet (not yet a rumble) from those closest behind her.

Once again, only one player is ranked in the top 5 in each system. But this time it's an American.

2. Paula Creamer: #2 money ($212.4K), #5 RR (7.14), #3 GSPI (69.54), #3 HD. Her 5th career win at the Fields establishes her as Ochoa's top competitor--for now.

The top two European players are in the top 5 in 3 of the 4 ranking systems:

3. Annika Sorenstam: #1 money ($232.1K), #2 RR (8.24), #4 GSPI (69.55), #12 HD. Well, that was quick. Once Hound Dog updates his rankings to reflect her win at the SBS and second consecutive top 5 at the Fields, she'll be neck-and-neck with Creamer.
4. Suzann Pettersen: #19 money ($28.8K), #3 RR (7.71), #2 GSPI (69.42), #2 HD. Looking to avoid her Hawaiian first-round blues in Singapore.

There are now only two in the top 10 in 3 of the 4 systems:

5. Cristie Kerr: #14 money ($39.6K), #6 RR (6.12), #7 GSPI (70.50), #8 HD. Despite one bad round per tournament in Hawaii, passed Kim on the career money list. Can she beat her to the $8M mark?
6. Mi Hyun Kim: n.r. money (starts in Singapore), #10 RR (4.80), #5 GSPI (70.18), #4 HD. Due to off-season knee surgery, she may get off to a slow start in 2008. Or she might win in Singapore. She's that tough.

And there's an impressive trio in the top 10 in 2 of the 4 systems:

7. Jeong Jang: #3 money ($132.2K), #8 RR (5.00), #12 GSPI (70.73), #11 HD. Athough Paula Creamer blocked her from the winner's circle at the Fields, she has already established herself as one of Ochoa's leading challengers.
8. Momoko Ueda: #9 money ($51.4K), #12 RR (4.53), #6 GSPI (70.21), n.r. HD. She benefits from the GSPI not including KLPGA events in its system, but one bad hole (her last at the Fields) was the only thing between her and two straight top 10s in Hawaii, so she's handling the switch from the JLPGA to the LPGA very well, I'd say!
9. Angela Park: #9 money ($51.4K), #26 RR (3.47), #16 GSPI (70.79), #9 HD. If the 2007 Rookie of the Year figures out how to win on the LPGA in 2008, watch out! She could start by avoiding that one big round in an otherwise strong tournament, as she was unable to do in Hawaii....

With early-season volatility, there are a lot of golfers with a top 10 in one system; I'm ranking them by how well they do in the rest of them and excluding some whose only excellent stat is the brand-new money list.

10. Karrie Webb: n.r. money (starts in Singapore), #4 RR (7.62), #15 GSPI (70.79), #23 HD. With her win in Australia, she has to be one of the favorites in Singapore. But two wins there in 2007 didn't lead to a good LPGA season by her standards, so she remains a question mark for the season as a whole.
11. Seon Hwa Lee: #27 money ($22.3K), #20 RR (3.66), #11 GSPI (70.71), #6 HD. Given her international team-play dominance at the end of the 2007 season, she's off to a very disappointing start to 2008, results-wise, but her stats suggest there's no cause for alarm. Should pass Julieta Granada in career earnings this week in Singapore.
12. Morgan Pressel: #28 money ($19.4K), #11 RR (4.53), #20 GSPI (70.93), #5 HD. Despite a slow start to the season, her stats are looking just fine; with her low final round at the Fields, I see her on the upswing for Singapore and beyond.
13. Angela Stanford: #13 money ($45.5K), #32 RR (3.22), #10 GSPI (70.70), #16 HD. Movin' on up!
14. Stacy Prammanasudh: #40 money ($12.8K), #15 RR (4.13), #19 GSPI (70.89), #7 HD. Underwhelmed in Hawaii, but still among the top Americans.
15. Jee Young Lee: #69 money ($5K), #14 RR (4.21), #13 GSPI (70.74), #10 HD. Got off to a terrible start in Hawaii, particularly in light of how high she raised expectations with her dominating performances in the Kyoraku and Lexus Cups at the end of the 2007 season.
16. Laura Diaz: #5 money ($83.0K), #37 RR (2.88), #27 GSPI (71.17), #29 HD. Movin' on up!
17. Juli Inkster: n.r. money (starts in Singapore), #9 RR (4.91), #14 GSPI (70.78), #20 HD. A complete question mark for 2008! Which way will she move?
18. Sarah Lee: n.r. money (starts in Singapore), #40 RR (2.61), #7 GSPI (70.64), #24 HD. Another question mark for 2008! Can she build on her momentum from a surprisingly strong 2007?

Next we have a handful of golfers in the top 20 in 2 of the 4 systems:

19. Se Ri Pak: n.r. money (MC at Fields), #13 RR (4.50), #26 GSPI (71.11), #13 HD. 68-77 at the Fields may just be rust, but this Hall of Famer needs a quick turn-around in 2008 if she wants to be counted again among the game's top players.
20. Sherri Steinhauer: #45 money ($12.1K), #28 RR (3.40), #18 GSPI (70.87), #19 HD. Underwhelmed in Hawaii, but still a tough cookie!
21. Brittany Lincicome: #80 money ($3.3K), #16 RR (3.90), #30 GSPI (71.34), #17 HD. Relatively high GSPI ranking also indicates she's been sliding over the past year, despite her win in 2007, and her start in Hawaii does nothing to dispel this suspicion.

And there are many players with one top 20 and (except for Miyazato) otherwise strong stats:

22. Hee-Won Han: #11 money ($50.2K), #35 RR (2.98), n.r. GSPI (shy 3 events), #28 HD. This new mom will move up with a bullet once she gets enough events under her belt to qualify for the GSPI.
23. Maria Hjorth: #30 money ($17.7K), #27 RR (3.45), #23 GSPI (71.08), #15 HD. Off to a solid start in Hawaii, but needs more than that to continue moving up the rankings.
24. Nicole Castrale: #33 money ($16.2K), #29 RR (3.30), #22 GSPI (71.03), #14 HD. Can this young American show that her win and solid Solheim Cup performance in 2007 were no flukes?
25. Catriona Matthew: n.r. money (starts in Singapore), #24 RR (3.54), #17 GSPI (70.85), #26 HD. Can this new mom pick up where she left off last season?
26. Natalie Gulbis: #82 money ($3.2K), #23 RR (3.62), #36 GSPI (71.69), #18 HD. Looks like she's picking up from her disastrous Dubai rather than her otherwise fine play in the last months of the 2007 season so far in 2008.
27. Ai Miyazato: n.r. money (2 MC in Hawaii), #17 RR (3.72), #67 GSPI (72.68), n.r. HD. Right now the glacial pace of change on the RR is the only thing keeping her in these rankings. And I'm saying this of my favorite golfer on any tour!

Since it's early in the season, I'll include players who are consistently in the top 20s and 30s in the ranking systems...

28. Christina Kim: #21 money ($26.0K), #47 RR (2.27), #25 GSPI (71.10), #27 HD. Off to a decent start, which shows just how hard it is to stay, much less move up, in the top 30 on the LPGA.
29. Sophie Gustafson: #91 money ($2.5K), #31 RR (3.24), #24 GSPI (71.09), #25 HD. Disappointing Hawaii for this tough competitor.
30. Shi Hyun Ahn: n.r. money (starts in Singapore), #34 RR (2.98), #21 GSPI (71.03), #22 HD. Another question mark--how will she respond to the pressure of playing among the world's very best in Singapore?
31. Laura Davies: n.r. money (not starting in Singapore), #38 RR (2.83), #29 GSPI (71.22), #21 HD. Got an early season win early in Australia, so if she can maintain her momentum from it she may well qualify for the Hall of Fame this year. If not, it could be the beginning of the end of her career.

...and note that Pat Hurst, Eun-Hee Ji (once she gets enough events under her belt to be ranked in the GSPI), In-Kyung Kim, Young Kim, Candie Kung, Brittany Lang, Meena Lee, Karen Stupples, and Lindsey Wright are some of the top early-season threats to break into this ranking. We'll see in April!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Don't talk back to Darth Vader; he'll getcha

A young girl tells the Star Wars tale:

The Young Guns: Ranking the LPGA Class of 2006, February Edition

The Super Sophs are no more (being juniors now and all); long live the New Super Sophs! That's my motto in 2008, as I track the career achievements of the LPGA classes of 2006 and 2007. Why not the class of 2008? There's always a lot of attention to the Rookie of the Year race, so besides including some in my pre-season survey, I'm making them wait till the end of the season to join this ranking.

Here's my season schedule:

March: '07ers
April: both
May: '06ers
June: '07ers
July: '06ers (pre-British Open)
August: '07ers (post-Safeway)
September: both (post-Navistar)
October: '06ers (pre-Korea Championship)
November: '07ers (post-ADT)
December: all 3 Young Gun classes(post-Q School)

So let's get this started right with the former Super Sophs:

Simply the Best

1. Seon Hwa Lee: Given her international team-play dominance at the end of the 2007 season, she's off to a very disappointing start to 2008, results-wise, but her stats suggest there's no cause for alarm. Should pass Julieta Granada in career earnings this week in Singapore.
2. Morgan Pressel: Bad SBS, good Fields keep her solidly second in her class. Her stats are looking just fine and with her low final round at the Fields, I see her on the upswing for Singapore and beyond.
3. Jee Young Lee: Let's see, missing lots of fairways and greens and putting badly to top it off--yup, she's off to a shockingly bad start to 2008 after dominating performances in international team play at the end of 2007.

The Contenders

4. Ai Miyazato: Yikes! After a T14 at an LET event in Australia, she misses two straight cuts badly in Hawaii on the LPGA, posting the worst stats in her class in the process. Here's hoping she can turn it around in Singapore!
5. Julieta Granada: If she can improve her iron play, she has a chance to catch Ai-chan in the first half of the season. Missing the cut at the Fields does not bode well, though.
6. Brittany Lang: Leads the tour in eagles this year and already has notched a top 20; if she can get her putter going, she has a chance to leapfrog both Granada and Miyazato in 2008.
7. Meaghan Francella: Like Ai-chan, holds the distinction of missing the first two cuts of the 2008 season; unlike her, she's striking the ball decently and just seems to be having trouble making birdies and par saves.
8. Kyeong Bae: Trouble off the tee and less-than-stellar scrambling are holding back this former birdie machine. Like those ranked above her, will have a chance to turn things around in Singapore next week. But given that everyone except Sun Young Yoo in the next category will also be playing there, she can't afford an early-season slump.

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Linda Wessberg: Marked improvement in GIR rate and birdies per round hasn't yet translated to the results her earlier performance on tour would suggest, but if she can get her short game going remains a threat to excel on both the LPGA and LET in 2008.
10. Hye Jung H.J. Choi: With one barely made and one barely missed cut in Hawaii, the problem is her iron play and short game.
11. Karin Sjodin: Nothing seems to be really on yet in her game, but only has one bad round all season, so look for improvement from one of the longest hitters on tour.
12. Sun Young Yoo: Weak iron play and so-so short game are holding her back thus far this season.
13. Teresa Lu: From barely making the cut to getting a top 10 in Hawaii, she doesn't stand out statistically in any area, but somehow has gone under par on 4 of her 6 rounds thus far this year. A sleeper for Singapore? We'll have to see.
14. Minea Blomqvist: Thanks to a blistering final round in the Fields, off to the best start of all the former Super Sophs this season! With her top 5 finish, this barely non-exempt player should get into even more tournaments than she otherwise would have this year. If she continues to make the most of her birdie opportunities over the course of the season, she could contend for top Eur'06er by its end.

On the Bottom Looking Up

15. Katie Futcher: Needs to work on her iron play and short game if she wants to move up the rankings.
16. Kim Hall: Needs to work on her ballstriking if she wants to move up the rankings.
17. Danielle Downey: Final-round push at Q-School got her an exemption for 2008. Even with terrible ballstriking, she has already made one cut this season--which is more than Francella and Miyazato can say!

On the Outside Looking In

18. Virada Nirapathpongporn: She kicks off her LPGA season with a sponsor's exemption to the Showdown in Singapore.
19. Ashley Hoagland Johnston: Not yet played on the LPGA in 2008. Will move up once she takes advantage of her medical exemption and begins playing regularly again on tour.
20. Nina Reis: Not yet played on the LPGA in 2008. We'll have to see whether she plans to focus even more on the LET this season than in past ones.
21. Veronica Zorzi: Not yet played on the LPGA in 2008. We'll have to see whether she plans to focus even more on the LET this season than in past ones.
22. Louise Stahle: Not yet played on the LPGA in 2008. As the LET's Rookie of the Year last season, may well decide to stay there almost entirely this one.
23. Na Ri Kim: Not yet played on the LPGA in 2008. We'll have to see whether she plans to focus more on the KLPGA or Futures Tour this season than the LPGA.

For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the February ranking.

2008 LPGA Money List (rank), stroke average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I'm going to focus on four key indicators of how well someone played this season--how much money they made, how they scored, how many birdies they averaged per round, how many greens they hit in regulation on average per round, and how they rank in each category. (I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I won't include putts per green in regulation here.) Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future.

1. Minea Blomqvist, $49.1K (#12), 70.80 (#20), 4.00 (#30), 66.7% (#71)
2. Teresa Lu, $25.8K (#23), 71.83 (#45), 2.50 (#64), 69.4% (#52)
3. Seon Hwa Lee, $22.3K (#27), 71.00 (#23), 3.50 (#25), 72.2% (#25)
4. Morgan Pressel, $19.4K (#28), 71.17 (#24), 3.50 (#25), 74.1% (#17)
5. Brittany Lang, $17.5K (#31), 71.17 (#24), 2.50 (#64), 71.3% (#34)
6. Linda Wessberg, $9.7K (#53), 71.83 (#45), 3.67 (#18), 71.3% (#34)
7. Karin Sjodin, $7.1K (#55), 72.20 (#55), 4.00 (#30), 67.8% (#63)
8. Julieta Granada, $5.8K (#65), 72.20 (#55), 2.50 (#64), 66.7% (#71)
9. Jee Young Lee, $5.0K (#69), 73.00 (#78), 2.50 (#64), 63.9% (#87)
10. Kyeong Bae, $4.5K (#72), 73.00 (#78), 3.40 (#44), 67.8% (#63)
10. Katie Futcher, $4.5K (#72), 72.60 (#68), 2.50 (#64), 65.6% (#84)
10. Kim Hall, $4.5K (#72), 72.80 (#73), 2.40 (#86), 61.1% (#98)
13. Danielle Downey, $2.7K (#89), 73.60 (#96), 2.60 (#78), 61.1% (#98)
14. Sun Young Yoo, $2.2K (#94), 73.00 (#78), 3.20 (#50), 61.1% (#98)
15. H.J. Choi, $2.0K (#98), 73.60 (#96), 2.00 (#97), 70.0% (#49)
16. Meaghan Francella, $0K (n.r.), 74.50 (#110), 1.75 (#117), 70.8% (#44)
16. Ai Miyazato, $0K (n.r.), 76.00 (#127), 1.25 (#129), 55.6% (#122)

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events entered/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/cuts made (made cut rate): About the only thing these stats are useful for is comparing people who entered the LPGA in the same year (although if you count generations by 3 years, it can be interesting). Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately the '06ers have been at this for barely two-plus years, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to people who have not been exempt every year. What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now. I include these other ways of seeing how the '06ers finished relative to their competition in the tournaments they entered because they reveal a lot about how well someone is able to compete at every level, from just making cuts to grinding out top 20s and top 10s to contending for wins. So here's how they stand:

1. Julieta Granada, $2.05M (#78), 59/0/1/5/10/19/44 (.746)
2. Seon Hwa Lee, $2.04M (#79), 59/0/2/7/15/32/57 (.966)
3. Jee Young Lee, $1.55M (#101), 51/0/0/4/16/28/49 (.961)
4. Morgan Pressel, $1.46M (#109), 50/1/1/4/17/30/46 (.920)
5. Ai Miyazato, $1.32M (#119), 48/0/0/4/14/19/38 (.792)
6. Brittany Lang, $.90M (#178), 56/0/0/2/9/22/38 (.679)
7. Kyeong Bae, $.60M (#223), 54/0/0/2/6/10/38 (.704)
8. Meaghan Francella $.51M (#238), 31/0/1/1/4/8/19 (.613)
9. Sun Young Yoo, $.36M (#271), 52/0/0/0/2/8/36 (.692)
10. Karin Sjodin, $.33M (#288), 46/0/0/0/3/9/29 (.630)
11. H.J. Choi, $.31M (#298), 29/0/0/0/3/7/19 (.655)
12. Teresa Lu, $.28M (#312), 44/0/0/0/3/6/28 (.636)
13. Minea Blomqvist, $.21M (#348), 37/0/0/0/1/3/19 (.514)
14. Katie Futcher, $.21M (#352), 44/0/0/0/2/2/26 (.591)
15. Nina Reis, $.19M (#358), 45/0/0/0/2/3/26 (.578)
16. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.19M (#362), 40/0/0/0/1/4/20 (.500)
17. Linda Wessberg, $.17M (#372), 16/0/0/0/3/4/11 (.688)
18. Kim Hall, $.16M (#377), 35/0/0/0/1/2/14 (.400)
19. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#452), 16/0/0/0/0/1/13 (.813)
20. Na Ri Kim, $.05M (#504), 27/0/0/0/0/1/9 (.333)
21. Ashley Johnston, $.05M (#512), 13/0/0/0/0/0/6 (.462)
22. Louise Stahle, $.03M (#548), 19/0/0/0/0/0/8 (.421)
23. Danielle Downey, $.02M (#585), 14/0/0/0/0/0/3 (.214)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 2/25/08) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 2/24/08) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2007 season): This is a way of seeing how those Super Sophs who sometimes or regularly or always compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, LET, JLPGA, KLPGA, and Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. Morgan Pressel, 4.53 (#11), 70.93 (#20), 0
2. Jee Young Lee, 4.21 (#14), 70.74 (#13), 2
3. Ai Miyazato, 3.72 (#17), 72.68 (#67), 14
4. Seon Hwa Lee, 3.66 (#20), 70.71 (#11), 3
5. Julieta Granada, 2.29 (#46), 73.22 (#95), 0
6. Brittany Lang, 1.81 (#52), 72.91 (#76), 0
7. Meaghan Francella, 1.80 (#53), 72.82 (#72), 0
8. Linda Wessberg, 1.48 (#68), 72.43 (#56), 6
9. Kyeong Bae, 1.14 (#90), 72.67 (#66), 3
10. H.J. Choi, 1.09 (#95), 73.15 (#91), 1
11. Teresa Lu, .97 (#108), 73.34 (#104), 0
12. Karin Sjodin, .91 (#119), 73.13 (#87), 1
13. Minea Blomqvist, .85 (#127), 73.99 (#157), 5
14. Louise Stahle, .74 (#149), 73.19 (#92), 0
15. Veronica Zorzi, .73 (#152), 73.60 (#129), 2
16. Sun Young Yoo, .71 (#156), 72.76 (#71), 0
17. Kim Hall, .65 (#168), 74.36 (#185), 0
18. Nina Reis, .42 (#232), 74.37 (#186), 5
19. Virada Nirapathpongporn, .41 (#235), 74.46 (#192), 0
20. Katie Futcher, .38 (#243), 74.16 (#166), 0
21. Na Ri Kim, .16 (#371), 75.14 (#254), 0
22. Ashley Hoagland, .16 (#379), n.r., 0
23. Danielle Downey, .05 (#543), 75.33 (#271), 0

[Update 4/17/08: Apologies to Allison Fouch for not recognizing her as an exempt member of the Class of 2006--apparently, qualifying for the Futures Tour in 2006 and getting an exemption into the LPGA through her top 5 finish there in 2007 does not make her a 2008 rookie! I'll be sure to include her in the May ranking!]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fields Open Saturday: #5 and Counting; or, There's Something about Hawaii

When you break 70 in three consecutive rounds, tie the single-round course record, and break the tournament record, you would expect to win, right? On Saturday Jeong Jang missed a lot of opportunities to run away from the field early on, but when she birdied the par-5 14th and the par-4 15th, she gave herself a two-stroke lead on her nearest competitors and could almost taste her third career victory (although she claims she wasn't feeling that way at all in her post-round interview). But that's just when Paula Creamer, who had been stuck in neutral after birdieing two of her first three holes and reduced to watching Lindsey Wright and Annika Sorenstam bring themselves into contention, caught fire. As Hound Dog reports, Creamer birdied her last three holes (and 4 of her final 5) to take the Fields Open title away from Jang.

Creamer has now pulled almost even with Suzann Pettersen, Pat Hurst, and Betsy King in career wins during the Sorenstam Era (they each have 1 major); if her first major comes this season, she'll have put herself in Grace Park/Sherri Steinhauer territory or better, surpassing Hee-Won Han and Beth Daniel in the process. With 5 wins in just over 3 seasons, including two in her last 4 events and 2 out of 4 in Hawaii over the past two seasons, there's a reason I made her my pre-season #2 and suggested she could end the season with more wins than Sorenstam. We'll just have to wait and see, but I'm excited her first came so early, even if it was at JJ's expense.

Since Hound Dog has so graciously provided thoughtful reflections and exciting highlight reels for the Fields, I'll round out this post with a few comments on the Hawaii swing--and an eye out for the Showdown in Singapore.

Watch Out for Suzann Pettersen and Morgan Pressel
With Sorenstam and Creamer gutting out victories over tough competitors in Hawaii, it's easy to overlook two great players from 2007 who struggled to get out of the starting blocks this season. Suzann Pettersen and Morgan Pressel shot matching 66s on Saturday and passed a lot of people on the way to T15 finishes at the Fields, the former with an eagle and 5 birdies and the latter with 7 birdies. Pressel had really struggled during the second half of 2007 and was having her worst problems just when Pettersen caught fire after a mid-season slump and rattled off multiple victories. But then Pettersen suffered an injury during the Lexus Cup and raised doubts with her struggles in the first rounds at both Hawaii tournaments. If she can avoid this kind of sloppiness next week, she'll be a major factor in Singapore. Pressel, paired with rival '06er Seon Hwa Lee and Eur'06er Linda Wessberg Saturday, completely outplayed them, accomplishing what Lee was able to last week and getting a top 20 finish without ever really being at the top of her game. It may be too soon for Morgan to contend in Singapore, but she's going to be a force in the first half of the season.

Hee-Won Han Is Back and Angela Park Is for Real
Expect to see Hee-Won Han's name near the top of the leaderboard all year. She was one of the best in the world before her maternity leave and, with T12 and T7 finishes in Hawaii, is laying claim to that status already this year. Angela Park, like Pettersen (and, for that matter, Cristie Kerr and Kelli Kuehne), hasn't yet put together 3 good rounds in a row in 2008, but her closing 67 yesterday, like the previous Friday's 65, shows she still knows how to go on a birdie barrage. Although I made her a "great bet" in my Young Guns preview, I was a little worried about the dreaded sophomore jinx. Even without her trademark great first rounds from last season, however, and even with unusually high blip rounds and a controversial slow play penalty, she played and placed well in Hawaii. I expect her to contend in Singapore.

The New Super Sophs May Be as Good as Last Year's
Despite her meltdown over the first 12 holes on Saturday playing in the final group of an LPGA tournament for the first time, Song-Hee Kim showed some guts in finishing -2 over her final 6 holes, which may bode as well for her future on tour as Friday's course-record-tying 64. Similarly, Su A Kim, who came out of nowhere in Q-School to gain exempt status this season along with another previously-struggling rookie, Jane Park, had a disappointing finish to her tournament, but still tied ROY Angela Park. Speaking of the other Park, Jane missed the cut at the Fields after playing great at the SBS--just like fellow Super Soph In-Kyung Kim, who was the star of the international team in the Lexus Cup--but she has certainly served notice that she's going to take advantage of her exempt status this season. And this year's Super Sophs go much deeper than just these 5 players: Inbee Park and Eun-Hee Ji are getting their sophomore jinxes out of the way early, but Na On Min already has a top 20 to her name and Charlotte Mayorkas, Ji-Young Oh, and Sophie Giquel have already shown flashes of brilliance. I'm definitely looking forward to be doing my first New Super Soph ranking in about a month!

Speaking of the Class of '06...
Brittany Lang and Teresa Lu had good finishes at the SBS and Fields, respectively, Ai Miyazato and Julieta Granada continue to struggle mightily, Jee Young Lee and Meaghan Francella are off to bad starts, while Seon Hwa Lee and Morgan Pressel remain #1 and #2 in my rankings...which, by the way, I'll try to get to early this week.

The Rookie of the Year Race Is Wide Open
Momoko Ueda was on track for her second-straight top 10 finish, but her anti-Creamer performance on the last 3 holes--bogey-par-triple--dropped her all the way to T25, right alongside her so-far-leading-rival, Ya Ni Tseng. Louise Friberg's fantastic 65 (she was -7 through her first 11 holes and parred her way in from there) leapfrogged her ahead of Sandra Gal, who like Ueda had trouble closing out her round Saturday, in the ROY race. Right now, it's Ueda with 90 points, Tseng with 81, Friberg with 59, Gal with 30, and the non-exempt Na-Yeon Choi with 18. Don't feel too bad for Choi--she's playing in Singapore next week along with Ueda and Ashleigh Simon. The rest of the rookies have to wait till March to rejoin the race.

Career Money List Races
Speaking of races, check out how the career money list has changed since I last looked at it when you get a chance! Seon Hwa Lee is within $14K of Julieta Granada. Candie Kung has pulled within $30K of Gloria Park. Christina Kim and Stacy Prammanasudh remain neck-and-neck in their efforts to keep pace with Suzann Pettersen and not fall even further behind Paula Creamer--who has moved into the top 30 with her win this week--and Lorena Ochoa. Jeong Jang has extended her lead on Hee-Won Han and looks to be the first in their generation to pass Grace Park, perhaps even as soon as next week. Cristie Kerr and Mi Hyun Kim, now separated by less than $15K, are in a race to break the $8M mark and gaining on Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak. And Lorena Ochoa is looking to leave Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb in the dust as she's left everyone else in the Sorenstam Era and end 2008 #2 on the career money list.

Whither Lorena?
Speaking of Lorena, I'm with Mulligan Stu, hoping for an Ochoa win next week. But she certainly has her work cut out for her, with Ji-Yai Shin, Angela Stanford, Laura Diaz, and Lindsey Wright playing well heading into HSBC Women's Champions, not to mention the more prominent rivals I've profiled here. I wonder if she's regretting her decision to pass up the Hawaii swing? She certainly missed out on a lot of fun!

Make It Jero for 2008

The Full Metal Archivist is becoming quite the trendspotter these days. Meet Jero from Pittsburgh, enka singer extraordinaire:

His grandma's Japanese, as he reveals on this show:

[Update 2/25/08: Damn, Japan Probe beat me to Jero--twice! I'll fix the above links when I have time, but for now head over there for ones that actually work!]

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Constructivist Family Sing-along: My Grandfather's Clock

Actually never heard of this until the Full Metal Archivist got curious about the English lyrics to the song she was teaching onechan in Japanese. Thought I'd include some things I found along the way, just to show that I can at times be more than a one-note blogger during the golf season! (But how about that Paula Creamer making 4 birdies on her last 5 holes to overtake Jeong Jang at the Fields Open? Wow!)

First the Johnny Cash version:

Interesting how the grandfather basically calls for...robots near the 1876 song's end, eh?

Then some Vanilla Mood:

Next, the daikon slide whistle:

And finally, the MTV generation learns Japanese:

No, wait--let's not forget the NHK generation!

In Japan, the song is all about the loyalty of the clock (kinda like that song about the dog), whereas in America the same general idea gets expressed more negatively. Any historians have a bead on the cultural politics of the song as a post-slavery lament? Or have a sense of its transmission lines to Meiji Japan and just how and when it got transformed in translation?

Fields Open Friday, Part Two: No, No, Not Reverse! Drive!

In a 54-hole tournament like the Fields Open that ends on a Saturday for Asian tv audiences, Friday becomes moving day. And, man, did we see movement of all kinds in it. Which surprised me, because even with a windier afternoon and grainy greens, I never expected to see so many high scores from so many good players.

Many big names and up-and-coming players missed the cut, including real heartbreakers for Julieta Granada, H.J. Choi, Sun Young Yoo, Jane Park, and Hee Young Park, who like Lorie Kane ended up one shot shy; all-around shoddy play by Natalie Gulbis, Sophie Gustafson, In-Kyung Kim, Meaghan Francella, Sakura Yokomine, and Kyeong Bae; and serious disappointments for Grace Park, Inbee Park, and Ai Miyazato, who never gave themselves a chance. But the real shockers were the people who had good Thursdays and horrific Fridays:

Se Ri Pak 68-77
Na On Min 69-77
Akane Iijima 70-76
Soo Young Moon 70-76
Gloria Park 71-78
Meredith Duncan 72-76
Jin Joo Hong 72-77
Kate Golden 72-78
Pat Hurst 72-79
Nicole Perrot 72-79

This resort course must have more teeth than I thought. Or maybe it was just them. But some people have some serious work to do on their games before the huge showdown in Singapore at the HSBC Women's Champions next week! With the men's match play getting so much favorable coverage this year, I'm sad that HSBC decided to put its match play event on hiatus this year so as to focus on this new stroke-play tournament, but excited to see how Lorena Ochoa comes out of the gates in '08 and find out who can maintain their momentum from their time in Hawaii. Speaking of which, let's turn to the people on a roll at Ko Olina.

Movin' On Up
Jeong Jang had some short game lapses, but still posted a respectable 68 to stay in the lead at -12. Paula Creamer continues to be sick as a dog but played like a champion, keeping pace with the leader. Angela Stanford got off to a bad start but ran off 6 birdies between the 8th and 16th holes to remain within 4 of Jang. Kelli Kuehne eagled 18 to pull even with her. And Hiromi Mogi, Maria Hjorth, and Hee-Won Han exhibited three very different ways of again breaking 70, which was good enough for T9 and a chance to win if they can go out and break the course record on Saturday. But the real movers and shakers on Friday were:

Ji-Young Oh 75-69 (E overall, T113-->T63)
Sandra Gal 72-66 (-6, T62-->T13)
Cristie Kerr and Louise Friberg 73-68 (-3, T81-->T33)
Cindy Pasechnik, 74-69 (-1, T98-->T50)
Christina Kim 72-67 (-5, T62-->T20)
Minea Blomqvist 71-65 (-8, T46-->T5)
Candie Kung and Mikaela Parmlid 73-69 (-2, T81-->T41)
Laura Diaz 71-66 (-7, T46-->T9)
Karin Sjodin 72-68 (-4, T62-->T29)
Momoko Ueda 72-69 (-3, T62-->T33)
Annika Sorenstam 70-66 (-8, T31-->T5)
Rachel Hetherington and Nancy Scranton 71-68 (-5, T46-->T20)
Song-Hee Kim 69-64 (-11, T16-->2nd place)
Lindsey Wright 69-66 (-9, T16-->4th)

Here's hoping those stuck in neutral so far--like Eun-Hee Ji (-4, T29), Brittany Lincicome and Brittany Lang (-3, T33) Stacy Prammananasudh and Michelle Wie (-2, T41), Suzann Pettersen, Seon Hwa Lee, and Morgan Pressel (-1, T50), and Angela Park and Jee Young Lee (E, T63)--can get it in gear and make similar moves on Saturday. It's probably too much to hope for Moira Dunn, playing six groups behind the leaders, to put herself into contention. And I'd certainly like to see the class of '06 group going off the back at 9:40 am--SH Lee, Pressel, and Linda Wessberg--feed off each other's good play and make a big move. But what I really want to know is how loudly Sorenstam's footsteps in the next-to-last group will sound to SH Kim, Jang, and Creamer in the final group. If Annika makes an early charge, how will they respond? In the interviews, Jang recalled her mindset going into the British Open she ended up winning over Sorenstam:

Q. Leading as you go into the final round of the British, did you play aggressively or conservatively?

JEONG JANG: I keep thinking about it, you know, like this could be my first win, and I don't want to think about Annika because I think I play with Annika. I don't want to think about Annika; I don't want to think about any galleries.

This is the first round, and then like four shots is nothing and I was keep thinking myself, I want to focus on golf and myself, and it worked.

Q. Have you thought about what you're going to do tomorrow?

JEONG JANG: You know, a little different course than the British course because everybody can make a lot of birdie here. So I need to go for it more here because we need a lot of birdies.

I'd love to see JJ get her 3rd career win today. She's on pace to become the leading money-winner in her generation, but for whatever reason is well behind Grace Park and Hee-Won Han in career victories. But it would also be cool to see SH Kim, who dominated the Futures Tour in '06 but lost her LPGA card in her rookie year, do what Angela Park, In-Kyung Kim, and Jane Park have as yet been unable to do and notch the first victory for the class of '07. And it would be awesome to see a Creamer-Sorenstam duel down the stretch, too. But for the sake of morale at Seoul Sisters nation, I'll be rooting for JJ.

One thing you can count on: the winning score will be lower than -14, which was good enough for Meena Lee two years ago and Stacy P last year. With 8 people double digits under par when Lee won and 7 when Prammanasudh won, I'm looking for more than 10 people to match this feat in 2008. It would be nice if this didn't boil down to a 5-golfer race early on the back 9, but if the lead group plays well we won't have that free-for-all that Hound Dog was calling for....

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fields Open Friday: Now That's More Like It! Song-Hee Kim Posts 31 on Front

Song-Hee Kim is making a run at Jeong Jang at the Fields Open. Her bogey-free 31 on the front has helped her to a -6 start through her first 11 holes, bringing her to within two shots of the leader, who's just gone on a birdie run of her own. Let's see who else can keep pace with them today!

And Now for Something Completely Different: BerubeWatch Returns!

I don't have a tv that does anything more than play videotapes and DVDs these days, so I'm not getting my political humor fix from Stewart and Colbert (and haven't since we left for Japan in late summer of 2006). Sad, eh? Thankfully, Michael Berube has been picking up the slack over at Talking Points Memo. Now we know why he didn't jump all over my call for him to run as mayor of Blogoramaville last summer....

Fields Open Thursday, Part Two: 106 Touring Pros Couldn't Match Michelle Wie

Yeah, I just broke my moWietoWieam. For more on the Wie-breaks-70 feeding frenzy at the Fields Open, see Jaymes Song of the AP, Beth Ann Baldry of Golfweek, Ron Sirak of Golf World, Mulligan Stu of Waggle Room, Patricia Hannigan of Golf Girl's Diary, and the discussions at Seoul Sisters. For a broader overview of day one at the Fields, Hound Dog, as always, is the leader.

To put Wie's round in a little bit of perspective, there are 15 players at 68 or better, 30 players who broke 70 along with her, 45 at 70 or better, 61 under par, and 80 at 72 or better. So the course was playing fairly easy. Not for Sakura Yokomine (75), Ai Miyazato and In-Kyung Kim (74), and Cristie Kerr and Natalie Gulbis (73), all of whom will have their work cut out later today to make the cut, along with Suzann Pettersen, Jee Young Lee, Momoko Ueda, and the 16 other players at 72. They're definitely in a "go low or go home" situation. Hope it clarifies the mind.

Because, really, the Ko Olina course sounds like one of the easiest layouts on tour, even with some tricky afternoon wind. Not to take anything away from Jeong Jang's course-record-tying 64, Paula Creamer's 66, or Kelli Kuehne's and Angela Stanford's 67s, but where was everyone else? When the morning groups didn't post all that many fantastic scores--and even Annika Sorenstam, Stacy Prammanasudh, Seon Hwa Lee, Morgan Pressel, and Eun-Hee Ji failed to break 70 from their late-morning slots--you know that there are a lot of people kicking themselves for squandering opportunities. Nothing against my friend Moira Dunn, but if she can go out and shoot a 68 like Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak, new mom Hee-Won Han, and a gaggle of young guns and veterans (well, 8 of them), you know there had to be a whole lot of birdies out there.

So look for many people to tighten up their games later today and the scoring to be much lower. Unlike last week, the tournament organizers are keeping the Thursday pairings together, so the advantage shifts to the leaders in the prime-time morning groups off #1:

Start Time: 8:25 AM
Reilley Rankin
Angela Park
Jeong Jang

Start Time: 8:45 AM
In-Kyung Kim
Angela Stanford
Maria Hjorth

Start Time: 8:55 AM
Young Kim
Se Ri Pak
H.J. Choi

Jang has a real opportunity to distance herself from the field tomorrow with another round in the mid-60s. Still, on a course like this, you're never out of it until you miss the cut and one sub-68 performance in the first two days will likely get you within shouting distance of the leaders heading into Saturday--at which point anything can happen in the late afternoon winds. Friday will tell if Hound Dog's prediction of another final round free-for-all comes true. Here's hoping Jang makes people work to keep pace with her!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fields Open Thursday: Michelle Wie Is Leader in the Clubhouse (For Now)

See for yourself. If Liz Janangelo doesn't bogey the 9th, she'll surpass Wie's 69.

Who to Root for This Week?

Well, first and always Moira Dunn and Ai Miyazato and Seon Hwa Lee. They're the ones who can make my week miserable or joyous (or both). Then the players I really like and respect the most: Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak, Mi Hyun Kim (when she's in the field), Jeong Jang, Hee-Won Han, Lorena Ochoa, Stacy Prammanasudh, Paula Creamer, Jee Young Lee, Morgan Pressel, In-Kyung Kim, Angela Park, Jane Park, Momoko Ueda, Na-Yeon Choi, and Ya Ni Tseng (and Ji-Yai Shin once she comes over full-time from the KLPGA). Then New Yorkers like Laura Diaz, Meaghan Francella, and Danielle Downey.

Yeah, that's a lot. And actually I wish almost everyone on tour well, even ones I'm not personally all that high on. One nice effect of golf blogging is it's exposed me to a much wider range of players than I would otherwise have paid attention to. Oh, and it's given me a much better sense of the ups and downs in even the most successful careers. Which is to say I even hold out hope for Grace Park, Jennifer Rosales, and Michelle Wie, would love to see a Candie Kung comeback, and am an automatic fan of every mom on tour....

But you know what? This week I'm rooting for Sakura Yokomine to win so she can join Ai-chan and Momo-chan full-time on the LPGA. Check out Amaebirah's 2/20/08 posting here for a couple of clues why. Maybe it's the effect of watching all 12 episodes of Hottie Paradise (ok, For You in Full Bloom, actually) with the Full Metal Archivist this past month, but it just makes me happy to see Ai-chan smiling. Yeesh, that's sappy, even for me--but it's true! Fandom is weird.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fields Open Pairings

Wow! Off #10:

Start Time: 8:25 AM
Sakura Yokomine
Suzann Pettersen
Morgan Pressel

Start Time: 8:35 AM
Ai Miyazato
Stacy Prammanasudh
Annika Sorenstam

Start Time: 8:45 AM
Momoko Ueda
Paula Creamer
Natalie Gulbis

Take a look at the official tournament web site and take one guess why the top 3 Japanese golfers got placed in the top 3 groups, while the top Korean golfers are less bunched and not getting the marquee partners:

Start Time: 8:35 AM (#1)
Gloria Park
Lorie Kane
Hee-Won Han

Start Time: 9:05 AM (#1)
Eun-Hee Ji
Seon Hwa Lee
Sophie Gustafson

Start Time: 12:05 PM (#10)
Reilley Rankin
Angela Park
Jeong Jang

Start Time: 12:15 PM (#10)
Sung Ah Yim
Brittany Lang
Jee Young Lee

Start Time: 12:25 PM (#1)
Meaghan Francella
Meena Lee
Christina Kim

Start Time: 12:25 PM (#10)
In-Kyung Kim
Angela Stanford
Maria Hjorth

Start Time: 12:35 PM (#10)
Young Kim
Se Ri Pak
H.J. Choi

I would have liked to see the Lexus Cup team of Se Ri Pak and In-Kyung Kim be reunited, for instance, joined by either Seon Hwa or Jee Young Lee, and given the first afternoon time on the front, followed by Cristie Kerr with Jeong Jang and Angela Park, and Pat Hurst with the other '06 Fighting Lee and Eun-Hee Ji. Get some star power on the other side of the bracket and give people with roughly similar chances of winning as those in the three prime-time morning groups a chance to face roughly similar weather conditions to each other (if not to the late morning people).

But to be fair, the less-well-known Japanese golfers get the early morning and late afternoon times, just like Michelle Wie, Jane Park, Hee Young Park, Song-Hee Kim, Jennifer Rosales, Shanshan Feng, Charlotte Mayorkas, Carolina Llano, New Yorkers Moira Dunn and Danielle Downey, and a panoply of Euro-youth and Am-vets. And I'm sure Japanese TV audiences want to see their top young golfers paired with the best-known and most photogenic American and European stars. I'll be glad, though, when we move away from Hawaii and the politics of a Korean-corporation-sponsored event preceding a Japanese-corporation-sponsored one....

[Update: Here's Hound Dog's tournament preview. For more on Wie's start, see Mulligan Stu at Waggle Room.]

Congratulations, 15,000th Visitor!

You win, uh, hmmm...shall we say, an original signed picture by onechan?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fields Open Predictions

Man, not only did I not beat Hound Dog in last week's season-opening PakPicker competition, I didn't even make the top 10. Well, no other option than to try, try again! And, yes, given my work schedule M-W, I will be doing this weekly...and hopefully not weakly. Here's the Fields Open site, in case you want to join in yourself. It's never too late!

1. Annika Sorenstam: How do you bet against a resurgent legend?
2. Se Ri Pak: Looking to start 2008 with a bang. Don't put it past her.
3. Angela Park: Last week's slow-play penalty as she entered the final 9 in contention gives her extra motivation this week on a course on which she established herself as the ROY favorite last year.
4. Seon Hwa Lee: Lost in a playoff here her rookie year; knows how to stay under par and go low on this course; comeback from shaky start last week gives me confidence she's going to bring her A-game this week.
5. Cristie Kerr: Knows how to stay under par and go low on this course; late fade last week gives her extra motivation this one.
6. Paula Creamer: Like SH Lee, battled back from slow start last week; unlike Lee, looking to put together 3 good rounds on this course for the first time.
7. Morgan Pressel: Knows how to stay under par and go low on this course; more consistent here than either Prammanasudh or JY Lee, but like them, her results last week make me nervous.
8. Stacy Prammanasudh: Will the defending champion successfully defend her title? I say no, but she will improve on last week's finish.
9. Jee Young Lee: MC in '06, then almost won--which JY Lee will show up?
10. In-Kyung Kim: I predict she'll be the most-improved of the class of '07 (yes, even more so than Jane Park) and am kicking myself for not putting her in my list last week!
11. Hee-Won Han: I have faith that this new mom will return to and surpass her '06 form, starting this week. But, given others' records here, not enough to rank her higher, apparently.
12. Jeong Jang: Started slow last year but came on strong in the second half of the season; I think she has the momentum to finally break through at this tournament. But then again I thought the same thing last week.

Alts: Momoko Ueda, Ai Miyazato, Sakura Yokomine: I'll go all-Japan in honor of the sponsor! I hope this tournament marks the start of Ai-chan's comeback!

Monday, February 18, 2008

After Glow

Since I'm not a big hoops, hockey, or golf fan (although I do enjoy bringing the hate to a few of the male golfers who've pissed me off in the past by spewing some arrogant bullshit...and I won't mention any names like Singh, Lefty, or Montgomery), sports-wise all I can really do these days is bask in the after glow of the Giants beat-down of the hated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl a few weeks back. Mmmm...good times.

This time of year is my Sports Black Hole. Baseball season is weeks and weeks away. I appreciate basketball and do cheer heartily for my local team (Go Warriors!) and my school team (Go Bears!), but basketball really kind of stresses me out, so it's not good for my escapist diversion needs like football is. I cheer for the local hockey team (Sharks), but hockey is best live, and going to a game is not a financial reality.

Being a sports fan, one of my most-utilized escapist diversions is sports talk radio--flawed and oft-maddening as it may be, what with the endless parade of white male hosts bringing a near-uniform perspective. But for me, sports talk radio is really the pits this time of year. I guess the best I can hope for is that the Bill Belichick "Spygate" scandal has "legs." I could be nicely entertained listening to that drama for a while.

Anyway, in case you missed it, here's big-time Giants fan Carl giving his post-Super Bowl joy-rant. Good stuff!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

SBS Open Saturday: #70; or, She's Baaaa-aack

Hound Dog summed up the last day of the SBS Open so well (a paraphrase of his synopsis might read, "Annika Sorenstam's second birdie in a row, a 25-foot putt on 17, clinched her 70th career LPGA victory, as challenger after challenger just couldn't push herself past the -8 barrier") that I have little to add to his account. With my parents in town I thought the girls and their grandparents would be able to curl up on their hotel beds watching the Golf Channel while I live-blogged the back 9 via my dad's laptop's wireless connection. But the lack of a certain cable network on the hotel's recently-scaled-back TV options torpedoed that scenario. So instead of offering my own overview of SBS Saturday--Mulligan Stu's will do you just fine, and even the AP story is better than usual (probably because they yanked Doug Ferguson off the LPGA beat and replaced him with Jaymes Song)--I'll ramble on a bit about what Annika's first win on the LPGA since the fall of 2006 means.

Let's start with Annika's interview. Putting aside her struggle with verb tense in an obviously prepared opening statement (hey, the Koreans aren't the only ones on tour for whom English is not a mother tongue!), let's focus on the implications of what she said: "I could not have asked for a better start. We all have talked so much about '07. I think it's time to talk about '08. My clubs do the talking this particular week.... It's very gratifying to see that the preparation I've done paid off and now I really want to put '07 behind and say, 'Hey, I'm a contender,' and I intend to be that all year." Translation: ready or not, Lorena, here I come!

If that weren't clear enough, check out this artless dodge to the obvious follow-up question (with a noun-pronoun agreement problem of its own):

Q. What kind of statement do you think this makes? With Lorena playing so well last year and you were injured last year, what kind of statement do you think this victory sends to them?

ANNIKA SORENSTAM: You tell me. I don't know how you feel about it. But I feel great. I'm excited to be back. I got a win here. I think that's going to be easier the rest of the year for me. Again, knowing that I'm swinging better again and knowing that the desire is there.

Those are two key components to play well. Last year the desire wasn't there and my swing was definitely not there. Now it is. Like I said, those are two important components you need to play well and to be the top player out here.

Contrast Annika's tone here with the graciousness, politeness, and tentativeness of her interviews in 2007, even before she understood the extent and severity of her neck and back injuries that interrupted it. If she's talking this tough after a very very very close win, imagine where her confidence will be when she finally runs away with one this year.

More on that prediction in a bit, but for now let's turn to Laura Diaz's interview. Diaz, who was tied at -8 with Sorenstam through 6, only to double 7 and struggle to get back to -8 over the next 11 holes, focused on her family and playing partner for most of the interview, even when asked directly about Annika:

Q. Is it different chasing Annika as opposed to chasing Jane [Park] or anybody else?

LAURA DIAZ: Personally, I have a hard enough time keeping up with myself. So I'm not out there chasing anybody. Chasing down the birdies, that's about it. We had a ton of great play this week. Annika played incredible. And Jane, I played with her today.

She's just a wonderful young lady and really we enjoyed ourselves out there together and that's really nice. This is a challenging life we lead in the fact that you are competing against other players, but it's nice when you don't feel like that's what's going on. You feel like you're competing with a golf course. That's how Jane and I played today, I think.

So my answer would be no, because I'm not chasing Annika or chasing any other players, just battling it in my head more than anything.

All of which is no doubt true, but check out the final exchange:

Q. Are you happy right now with the results? Do you feel good finishing second?

LAURA DIAZ: Yes, I feel great. But my goal is to get in the (LPGA Tour and World Golf) Halls of Fame. I need wins to get there. Seconds, unfortunately, don't put you there in that spot. I'll keep working, and I'm confident that it's around the corner.

Good for this two-time LPGA winner to be aiming high--only 4 people in the Pak generation are higher than her on the career money list, but everyone near her except Kelli Kuehne has won more often than the 4-time-Solheim Cupper. Yet as she noted while commenting on the success of her former mentee, Russy Gulyanamitta, whom she tied for second, along with Jane Park, with her 18-hole birdie, "I think that our Tour is extremely deep with talent. And I think you're going to see a lot of that this year." Reading between the lines, you can't help but feel that Diaz knows full well just how hard it's going to be to rack up wins in a season in which Ochoa and Annika are duking it out week in and week out and any dozen or three in the field can hang right there with them any given week.

That's right: a dozen or three. Who would have predicted struggling mid-career pros like Gulyanamitta, Kuehne, or Erica Blasberg would finish in the top 12 this week, much less at various times been right in the mix? How many others from their generation might step up next week, or the week after, or...? Who would have thought rookies like Momoko Ueda and Ya Ni Tseng and Super Sophs like Angela Park, In-Kyung Kim, and Jane Park would come out of the gates quite so fast? (Well, everyone who finished ahead of me in this week's PakPicker, that's who, for starters!) How many other of their classmates will join them this season? Just look at the names of those who had to settle for top 20s: Paula Creamer, Hee-Won Han, Seon-Hwa Lee, Angela Stanford, Suzann Pettersen, Jeong Jang. Consider those who would kill to have done even that well: Candie Kung, Meena Lee, Sherri Steinhauer, and Pat Hurst at T25, Young Kim, Stacy Prammanasudh, and Na Yeon Choi at T32, Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis, and Hee Young Park at T51, and Christina Kim and Jee Young Lee at T68. Note the track record and potential of those who missed the cut completely whom I didn't even mention yesterday: Inbee Park, Karin Sjodin, and Brittany Lincicome, to name a few people I expect to contend often this year. And remember that Mi Hyun Kim, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster, Catriona Matthew, and Shi Hyun Ahn are saving the start of their LPGA season till Singapore--and Laura Davies will be waiting even longer. And maybe, just maybe, non-member Michelle Wie--who joins Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak in the Fields field next week--will be inspired by fellow teen non-member Ji-Yai Shin's success this week. I'll stop here: that's more than 3 dozen, without even trying hard.

So what should we take from this week?

Conclusion #1: Yes, Annika is back. Like Lorena last year, she'll measure her disappointing tournaments not by failing to make the top 10 but by failing to be in contention on the final 9 holes. And, like Lorena last year, she will run away with at least one tournament before 2008 is over.

Conclusion #2: With a player of Annika's talent, experience, mental toughness, and stature so regularly being in the mix down the stretch this year, this will be a multiple-win season for her.

Conclusion #3: Unlike my response to Karrie Webb's win in Australia, I don't think the prospect of a multiple-win season for Sorenstam affects the prospects for my pre-season prediction all that much. Creamer and Seon Hwa Lee didn't have particularly stellar tournaments this week but still made decent money (for the LPGA, that is) and showed the kind of grit that made me put them ahead of Sorenstam in the first place; Jee Young Lee will be just fine; and Ochoa is #1 until Annika shows she can post more than a few wins this season.

Still, all this puts Annika's pre-tournament season's greetings blog post in perspective, eh? The odds that this season will be a "memorable" one, as she predicted there, have just gone all the way up to 100%.

[Update: Hound Dog offers his own reflections on Annika's win and a highlight reel.]

Saturday, February 16, 2008

SBS Open Friday: The Plot Thickens (When It Doesn't End)

Just look at that leaderboard and savor what the 2008 SBS Open is becoming! Consider what it takes to get near the top of it, how lucky the folks at +3 were to stay in it, and how up for grabs not just the title is, but also who will end up in the top 10 and top 20.

But first, let's have a moment of silence: for my friend Moira Dunn, who ended up missing the cut by one stroke, despite a final-hole birdie on the 9th yesterday; for Eun-Hee Ji, who was an excellent wind player in 2007 but whose final-hole double bogey on the 9th dropped her two shots below the cut line; for free-falling-Friday rookies Shanshan Feng, Carolina Llano, and Violeta Retamoza (welcome to the LPGA! please fasten your seatbelts!); and for Ai Miyazato, Jennifer Rosales, Grace Park, and Carin Koch, whose nightmares continue.

OK, as onechan would say, "too many shikaku [squares]! I want to see maru [circles]!" (She actually made me navigate away from the Northern Trust Open leaderboard, b/c seeing so much orange on the guys' scorecards disturbed her. Sorry, guys, but she thinks you're stinky!) So let's turn to the big movers up the leaderboard:

Angela Park, 75-65 (-4, T88-->T8)
Nancy Scranton, 75-68 (-1, T88-->T26)
Sophie Gustafson and Kate Golden, 75-69 (E, T88-->T37)
Seon Hwa Lee and Monday qualifier Allison Hanna-Williams, 74-68 (-2, T65-->T17)
Suzann Pettersen and Maria Hjorth, 74-69 (-1, T65-->T26)
Na On Min, 73-67 (-4, T44-->T8)
Jeong Jang, 72-69 (-3, T35-->T15)
Momoko Ueda, 71-67 (-6, T23-->T3)
Young Kim and Jimin Kang, 73-70 (-1, T44-->T26)
Hee-Won Han and Pat Hurst, 72-70 (-2, T35-->T17)
Ji-Yai Shin and Russy Gulyanamitta, 71-69 (-4, T23-->T8)
Annika Sorenstam, 70-67 (-7, T10-->T1)
Laura Diaz and Jane Park, 70-68 (-6, T10-->T3)

Those are some fine moves by some big names (and I'm not even including the charges by so many, lead by Kyeong Bae, to make the cut). But let's also give credit where credit is due and celebrate the consistency of Erica Blasberg (69-68, -7, T1), Cristie Kerr (69-69, -6, T3), Lindsey Wright (69-70, -5, 7th), and In-Kyung Kim (70-70, -4, T8). And really, anyone among the 36 players under par can wake up with the dream of dropping a low-60s round on the field and putting pressure on the leaders. Realistically speaking, though, the winner is likely to come from the 14 people within 3 shots of Annika. Of course, if she picks up where she left off Friday (a tidy 31 on the back)--or even gets off the one-double bogey-per-round kick she's been on--this thing could be over fast.

Looking at the final round's pairings, this is going to be a Saturday to remember!

[Update: Check out Hound Dog's second-round overview and then watch the videos he posted from it, too. Thanks, HD!]