Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Best of the Young Guns: April 2008 Edition

It's inevitable that the majority of Lorena Ochoa's chief challengers will come from the generation of LPGA pros I've been calling the Young Guns. This season, I've gone out on a limb and predicted that we'll start seeing the best of them play a major role in the Player of the Year race. But who really are this generation's best players? It's too soon to start comparing this year's rookies with the Junior Mints and Super Sophs--although at this point in the season Na Yeon Choi and Ya Ni Tseng have been super-impressive, Louise Friberg and Momoko Ueda have shown they can contend (and, in the former's case, win), and Hee Young Park and Amy Yang have shown they can compete at a top level--but we're certainly far enough into the season to offer a provisional answer to the question with respect to the classes of 2006 and 2007.

Simply the Best

1. Seon Hwa Lee: It's not just that, among those in her generation, she has the most wins, winnings, top 3s, and top 20s, is second on the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index and in top 10s, and is third in the Rolex Rankings and in made-cut rate, it's also that she's dominated in match play since joining the LPGA, avoided big slumps, and generally been the model of quiet brilliance. It's a crime that she's only #9 in my latest Best of the LPGA ranking, but once she starts playing well by her standards, watch out. There's a reason I picked her as the third-most-likely golfer on tour to win Player of the Year in 2008.
2. Jee Young Lee: The top-ranked Young Gun in both the RR and GSPI (as well as our own Best of the LPGA ranking) always seems to be on the verge of breaking through for her first win as a LPGA member. Her game is certainly comparable to Lorena Ochoa's and Suzann Pettersen's. All she needs is more experience in the hunt.
3. Morgan Pressel: She's been struggling since late last summer, as the big gap between her RR and GSPI indicates (RR includes the last 104 weeks; GSPI only the last 52), but that first major in her generation and her lead in the top 10 race can't be ignored. Still, she's dropped to #15 in our latest Best of the LPGA ranking and could easily fall further--that's how close the #5 and the #35 players are on tour this season.
4. Angela Park: A precision player like Seon Hwa Lee and Pressel, she's been fiddling around with her swing this season, but seems to have started to figure things out. Although she's still been making cuts at a fantastic rate, she took a long hiatus between being in contention in Hawaii in February and getting back in the top 10 mode in Florida last week. As a result, she's dropped to #19 in our latest Best of the LPGA ranking. But she's still on a pace to pass Pressel by September when I do this ranking next.

The Contenders

5. Ai Miyazato: Went through a horrific sophomore jinx after a nagging injury incurred during her runner-up finish to Seon Hwa Lee at the HSBC match play event last summer lead to technical difficulties in her swing and confidence issues, but seems to have played her way through it despite a terrible Hawaii swing. Her average rounds are merely mediocre now and she's shown flashes of good golf again, but she's still in danger of getting passed by a bevy of hot Super Sophs.
6. Eun-Hee Ji: Has shown the ability to contend from the get-go in her LPGA career, from qualifying for the tour as a non-exempt player while spending most of her time on the KLPGA last season to her most recent top 10 at the Stanford International. Whether she can sustain this pace playing full-time on tour remains to be seen, but one thing is clear from her T4 at the Safeway International--she gets up for big events. She's already #24 in our latest MH Best of the LPGA ranking. How high can she go?
7. Brittany Lang: She's played her way through the worst slump of her career a little sooner than Miyazato has (although to be fair to Ai-chan Brittany's sophomore jinx hit her earlier, too) and is back to making top 20s at the 4th-best rate of her generation. Is her T6 at the Safeway International a sign of things to come? It had better be, because the Super Sophs are coming!
8. Inbee Park: She's leapfrogged to 3rd in her class after a hot April (probably spurred on by my putting her 5th in her class last month). Even though inconsistency kept her out of contention at the Stanford International, she's got a great shot to be her generation's 8th player to cross the $1M mark in career earnings.
9. In-Kyung Kim: She's fallen further behind one Park, been passed by another, and is in danger of getting overtaken by a third. In fact, she's going to have to tap into that off-season match-play brilliance or she'll no longer even be the top Kim in her class next month! At least she stopped the MC bleeding at the Stanford International last week. We'll have to wait till the Michelob Ultra to see if that's the start of better things to come for one of my favorite players.
10. Jane Park: Like Miyazato and Lang, I cut her from our latest MH Best of the LPGA when it became clear including them would open the door for it to become a top 50 rather than a top 30-ish ranking. I had a great feast-or-famine metaphor in my blurb for her there, but I can't remember it now. The basic point was that, like those ranked ahead of her in her class, she could easily have been the first to get that first win. And she still could be.
11. Julieta Granada: Still in the midst of an extended sophomore jinx. But at least Judy Rankin thinks she has a more "modern" swing than Morgan Pressel.
12. Kyeong Bae: Beginning to return to her birdie machine ways after a terrible start to the season, but has been passed left and right.
13. Meaghan Francella: Like Miyazato, suffered a mid-season injury in 2007, but her slump is getting worse and worse as her junior year goes on. Fortunately for her, her win over Annika Sorenstam early last season carries with it an exemption through 2010.

Quantum Leap Candidates

14. Teresa Lu: Has picked up her game in 2008, perhaps in response to her fellow Taiwanese Young Gun Ya Ni Tseng's fantastic rookie season. Whatever the reason, she's been playing the best golf of her LPGA career.
15. Minea Blomqvist: Another feast-or-famine type player who's been feasting pretty well this season. Somehow has become the top Euro in her class.
16. Na On Min: The Na Yeon Choi of her class, she earned her card last season playing in relatively few events as a non-exempt player, but has promptly begun a sophomore slump this one.
17. Song-Hee Kim: Finally realizing the promise she showed on the Futures Tour. Only rookie Louise Friberg has made more money than her in their generation thus far this season.
18. Sun Young Yoo: I had her pegged as a kind of Nina Reis figure--make a lot of cuts, never get into the top 50--but in recent weeks she's figured out how to go low and has gotten a top 10 and some top 20s as a result.
19. Linda Wessberg: Off to a disappointing start as a full-time player on the LPGA, which is a cautionary tale for Super Sophs Eun-Hee Ji, Jane Park, Na On Min, and Song-Hee Kim, all of whom also have limited experience playing a full LPGA schedule.
20. H.J. Choi: In the midst of a shocking slump. Despite winning on the KLPGA late last season, little has gone right for her since.
21. Ji Young Oh: Got hot early this season but has since cooled off.
22. Karin Sjodin: Like Choi, slumping this season, but at least her stats are fairly solid. Has the power to keep pace with Jee Young Lee, but hasn't shown much ability to harness it in 2008.
23. Charlotte Mayorkas: Hasn't yet hit her stride this season--playing more like Nina Reis than Sun Young Yoo, so to speak.
24. Jin Joo Hong: Ditto, except has made fewer cuts.

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

2008 LPGA Money List (rank), stroke average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on four key indicators of how well someone is playing this season--how much money they've made, how they've scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, and how many greens they've hit in regulation on average per round, plus 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--well, except that for the umpteenth time's stats page is glitch-ridden, so I'm using last week's stats for everyone not ranked in the top 15 in these categories (except winnings, which have been updated for everyone).

1. Song-Hee Kim, $240.2K (#9), 71.22 (#12), 3.72 (#33), 69.2% (#35)
2. Teresa Lu, $235.5K (#11), 72.28 (#43), 2.76 (#27), 66.0% (#66)
3. Seon Hwa Lee, $234.5K (#12), 71.26 (#13), 2.96 (#30), 70.5% (#22)
4. Minea Blomqvist, $223.3K (#14), 71.92 (#31), 3.50 (#13), 65.7% (#68)
5. Jee Young Lee, $220.0K (#15), 72.00 (#35), 3.24 (#10), 66.7% (#58)
6. Inbee Park, $219.4K (#16), 71.50 (#16), 3.50 (#6), 62.5% (#97)
7. Jane Park, $191.6K (#21), 71.69 (#21), 3.12 (#76), 73.5% (#5)
8. Angela Park, $157.3K (#28), 72.59 (#55), 3.23 (#23), 66.4% (#63)
9. Eun-Hee Ji, $145.9K (#29), 72.05 (#38), 3.00 (#37), 68.7% (#37)
10. Brittany Lang, $138.7K (#31), 71.88 (#30), 2.84 (#23), 71.3% (#19)
11. Sun Young Yoo, $112.7K (#34), 71.75 (#23), 3.95 (#17), 62.8% (#96)
12. Ji Young Oh, $105.5K (#36), 72.24 (#21), 3.08 (#18), 64.2% (#85)
13. Morgan Pressel, $96.3K (#39), 71.80 (#26), 3.40 (#30), 67.0% (#56)
14. In-Kyung Kim, $83.8K (#40), 72.94 (#70), 3.06 (#81), 61.1% (#107)
15. Ai Miyazato, $67.5K (#51), 72.90 (#67), 2.50 (#76), 64.2% (#84)
16. Charlotte Mayorkas, $47.2K (#69), 72.77 (#59), 2.73 (#43), 61.9% (#104)
17. Na On Min, $40.6K (#78), 73.35 (#97), 2.75 (#60), 64.5% (#82)
18. Karin Sjodin, $40.4K (#7), 72.59 (#54), 3.47 (#48), 65.0% (#79)
19. Jin Joo Hong, $37.0K (#83), 73.35 (#98), 2.35 (#98), 59.0% (#122)
20. Julieta Granada, $28.9K (#101), 74.19 (#125), 1.81 (#100), 61.1% (#107)
21. Linda Wessberg, $27.9K (#103), 72.72 (#58), 3.11 (#57), 69.8% (#26)
22. Kyeong Bae, $27.2K (#107), 73.84 (#114), 2.84 (#63), 61.9% (#104)
23. H.J. Choi, $23.3K (#113), 74.14 (#121), 2.14 (#90), 61.1% (#107)
24. Meaghan Francella, $19.2K (#122), 74.81 (#136), 2.06 (#116), 63.3% (#90)

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 Junior Mints and Super Sophs haven't been at this all too long, 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 Young Guns 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. Seon Hwa Lee, $2.25M (#74), 65/0/2/7/17/36/62 (.954)
2. Julieta Granada, $2.07M (#79), 65/0/1/5/10/19/48 (.738)
3. Jee Young Lee, $1.76M (#95), 57/0/0/5/17/30/55 (.965)
4. Morgan Pressel, $1.53M (#104), 55/1/1/4/18/31/49 (.891)
5. Ai Miyazato, $1.39M (#116), 53/0/0/4/14/20/43 (.811)
6. Angela Park, $1.13M (#140), 34/0/0/4/10/14/33 (.971)
7. Brittany Lang, $1.03M (#157), 62/0/0/2/10/24/44 (.710)
8. Kyeong Bae, $.62M (#220), 60/0/0/2/6/10/44 (.733)
9. Inbee Park, $.60M (#226), 34/0/0/2/5/9/23 (.676)
10. In-Kyung Kim, $.54M (#236), 32/0/0/1/6/9/25 (.781)
11. Meaghan Francella $.53M (#238), 36/0/1/1/4/8/21 (.583)
12. Teresa Lu, $.49M (#250), 50/0/0/1/4/8/34 (.680)
13. Sun Young Yoo, $.48M (#254), 57/0/0/0/3/11/41 (.719)
14. Eun-Hee Ji, $.40M (#270), 12/0/0/1/4/5/9 (.750)
15. Minea Blomqvist, $.39M (#272), 42/0/0/1/3/5/24 (.571)
16. Karin Sjodin, $.36M (#282), 51/0/0/0/3/9/31 (.608)
17. Na On Min, $.35M (#286), 27/0/0/1/2/5/17 (.630)
18. H.J. Choi, $.33M (#294), 35/0/0/0/3/7/22 (.629)
19. Song-Hee Kim $.32M (#298), 25/0/0/1/2/3/14 (.560)
20. Jane Park, $.26M (#326), 18/0/0/2/2/5/13 (.722)
21. Ji Young Oh, $.25M (#327), 30/0/0/0/2/3/18 (.600)
22. Charlotte Mayorkas, $.20M (#363), 29/0/0/0/0/3/21 (.724)
23. Jin Joo Hong, $.20M (#365), 28/0/0/0/1/5/16 (.571)
24. Linda Wessberg, $.19M (#370), 21/0/0/0/3/4/14 (.667)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 4/28/08) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 4/27/08) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2007 season): This is a way of seeing how those Junior Mints and Super Sophs who sometimes or regularly or often 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. Jee Young Lee, 4.55 (#8), 70.51 (#10), 2
2. Morgan Pressel, 4.10 (#13), 71.19 (#27), 0
3. Seon Hwa Lee, 3.75 (#18), 70.58 (#12), 3
4. Angela Park, 3.38 (#22), 70.83 (#17); 0
5. Ai Miyazato, 3.32 (#23), 72.73 (#77), 14
6. Eun-Hee Ji, 3.23 (#26), 70.87 (#19); 4
7. In-Kyung Kim, 2.41 (#42), 72.06 (#49); 0
8. Inbee Park, 2.09 (#50), 72.18 (#52); 0
9. Brittany Lang, 1.93 (#53), 72.37 (#64), 0
10. Julieta Granada, 1.89 (#54), 73.67 (#142), 0
11. Meaghan Francella, 1.66 (#60), 73.64 (#139), 0
12. Na On Min, 1.64 (#62), 73.51 (#128); 0
13. Minea Blomqvist, 1.52 (#66), 73.39 (#113), 5
14. Teresa Lu, 1.52 (#67), 72.99 (#86), 0
15. Jane Park, 1.43 (#70), 72.29 (#58); 0
16. Jin Joo Hong, 1.42 (#71), 73.03 (#88); 2
17. Linda Wessberg, 1.27 (#83), 72.49 (#71), 6
18. Ji Young Oh, 1.08 (#97); 72.82 (#80); 0
19. Song-Hee Kim, 1.06 (#100), 72.86 (#95); 0
20. H.J. Choi, 1.02 (#106), 73.65 (#140), 1
21. Kyeong Bae, .96 (#110), 73.07 (#91), 3
22. Karin Sjodin, .89 (#116), 73.39 (#114), 1
23. Sun Young Yoo, .89 (#119), 72.19 (#53), 0
24. Charlotte Mayorkas, .75 (#137), 72.36 (#62); 0

So there you have it. I'll be checking back in on these rankings on the following schedule:

February: Junior Mints
March: Super Sophs
May: Junior Mints
June: Super Sophs
July: Junior Mints (pre-British Open)
August: Super Sophs (post-Safeway)
September: both (post-Navistar)
October: Junior Mints (pre-Korea Championship)
November: Super Sophs (post-ADT)
December: all the Young Guns (post-Q School)

SemGroup Championship Preview/Predictions/Pairings

The SemGroup Championship is fast approaching, so be sure to check out Hound Dog's tournament preview, the history of finishes for those in this year's field, the Cedar Ridge course map, and, for the truly LPGA-obsessed, my final-round not-quite-live-blogging post from last May.

The biggest question, as Hound Dog reminds us, is whether Lorena Ochoa can tie Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam by winning her 5th straight start. Cedar Ridge reminds me of the Showdown in Singapore's course--long with lots of water--which definitely favors someone like Ochoa who drives the ball so well, but in fact she has not yet been able to get a victory on it. Still, having 4 shots at it rather than the usual 3 means that whoever challenges her is going to have to be on top of their physical and mental game. At the same time, everyone will have more time to recover from the occasional bad hole--particularly people who can make a lot of birdies but who have been prone to big numbers like Jee Young Lee, Maria Hjorth, Christina Kim, and Minea Blomqvist. So whom to pick in this week's exercise in futility?

1. Ochoa
2. Lee Jee Young
3. Creamer
4. Hjorth
5. Kerr
6. Stupples
7. Kim Mi Hyun
8. Kung
9. Lu
10. Lee Seon Hwa
11. Ueda
12. Park Hee Young

Alts: Kim Young, Kim Christina, Blomqvist

I know, I know: 3 Junior Mints, 2 rookies, and no Super Sophs, with lots of vets I'm not sure I can count on. But that's what parity outside the top 4 in the LPGA means week in and week out.

Rather than worry about the cracks in my 100-Yen Nishijin Mostly Harmless Crystal Ball, I'd prefer to celebrate some great first-round pairings for my two favorites:

Start Time: 8:32 AM (#1)
Ai Miyazato
Teresa Lu
Maria Hjorth

Start Time: 8:32 AM (#10)
Lorie Kane
Angela Stanford
Moira Dunn

And of course prime time off the back in the early afternoon rocks:

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Morgan Pressel
Stacy Prammanasudh
Nicole Castrale

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Lorena Ochoa
Mi Hyun Kim
Paula Creamer

Start Time: 12:32 PM
Juli Inkster
Natalie Gulbis
Carin Koch

Start Time: 12:43 PM
Karen Stupples
Cristie Kerr
Louise Friberg

Start Time: 12:54 PM
Momoko Ueda
Sherri Steinhauer
Jee Young Lee

Not to mention Grace Park/Young Kim (9:16 am), Jane Park/Sun Young Yoo (12:10 pm), Minea Blomqvist/Hee Young Park (12:43 pm), and Eun-Hee Ji/Laura Diaz (12:54 pm) off #1 and Vicky Hurst/Kelli Kuehne (8:21 am), Seon Hwa Lee/Julieta Granada (8:54 am), Jeong Jang/Ji Young Oh (9:05 am), Laura Davies/Christina Kim (9:16 am), and Sandra Gal/Ashleigh Simon (1:49 pm) off #10.

I can't close this post without thanking bangkokbobby at Seoul Sisters for posting this clip of Mi Hyun Kim explaining her donation of almost half last year's winner's check to tornado victims in Kansas:

[Update: How about that? This was MH's 600th post!]

Congratulations, 20,000th Visitor

You googlebot, you!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Split Season for the LPGA

With the announcement today of a new event in China scheduled for the open week in October, it's become even clearer that the LPGA brass is envisioning a split season in 2008. With only 4 events scheduled in August and September, there's a little bit of a late-summer vacation for the LPGA's top players before the Pacific Rim run-up--from Hawaii to China to Korea to Japan to Mexico--to the ADT Championship. So there's an extra incentive to get into, say, the top 50 by mid-September--you get to play in limited-field, cut-less events in what is essentially an extended playoff series and thereby pad your winnings for the year and maybe even make a move up the world (and Mostly Harmless) rankings.

Although maybe I'm too hasty to call it a split season--it's more like a 3-part season. Perhaps the spotty winter and spring schedule is by design, allowing the top players a little extra time to rest and recover from an intense October and November. It'll be interesting to see how the Thailand and HSBC World Match Play events--on hiatus this season--fit into the segmented 2009 season. Stay tuned!

The Best of the LPGA: April 2008 Edition

With the LPGA schedule in full swing and the SemGroup Championship coming up, it's time to return to Mostly Harmless's bimonthly attempt 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 February, so hold onto your hats!

Well, one thing hasn't changed--rather, it's been confirmed:

1. Lorena Ochoa: #1 money ($1.44M), #1 RR (19.22), #1 GSPI (67.83), #1 HD. Hall of Fame in 2012? Check. Senorita Slam? All she needs is a hot June. Grand Slam? Not out of the question. Surpassing the LPGA single-season victory record of 13 wins? Why not?

But don't count out her closest competitors just yet. The ranking systems are pretty clear on who they are and how far behind Ochoa they are, but no one can stay in the zone forever while her closest competition struggles to find it.

2. Annika Sorenstam: #2 money ($914.3K), #2 RR (10.49), #3 GSPI (69.41), #4 HD. Would be celebrated for having a Player of the Year-caliber start to her season were it not for Ochoa's sublimity. Having rebounded from her only finish outside the top 10 this season at the Ginn Open with a playoff win over Paula Creamer at the Stanford International, she's established herself as the best and the most consistent of Ochoa's challengers. We'll have to wait to see how close Annika can come to Lorena in head-to-head competition until the Michelob Ultra, though.
3. Paula Creamer: #3 money ($558.2K), #4 RR (7.47), #2 GSPI (69.38), #3 HD. She's been struggling with some swing changes this spring as well as a recent hip injury, but still outplayed Sorenstam until the final holes of the Stanford International. For the best player in her year and second-best in her generation, though, she has an inexplicable lack of confidence. But I expect Karrie Webb would understand how she feels.
4. Suzann Pettersen: #5 money ($390.3K), #3 RR (8.35), #4 GSPI (69.52), #2 HD. After going -11 on the weekend at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, she has raised expectations for a return to her 2007 form, but a lack of consistency still dogs her, as she couldn't keep pace with the lead pack at the Ginn Open or the Stanford International Pro-Am.

Surprisingly, there are only 2 players in the top 10 in 3 of the 4 systems, which helps account for the extent of Ochoa's dominance in 2008:

5. Jeong Jang: #8 money ($241.3K), #9 RR (4.47), #15 GSPI (70.77), #5 HD. Inexplicable late-Friday collapse at the Stanford International lead to her first missed cut since the Women's British Open last August, but even though she hasn't contended since Paula Creamer chased her down in Hawaii, she's still been among the very best and most consistent of the LPGA's elite since last June.
6. Jee Young Lee: #15 money ($220.0K), #8 RR (4.55), #10 GSPI (70.51), #8 HD. Despite a terrible start to her season, got into contention at the Safeway International and since then has played brilliantly quite often but also has struggled with consistency.

The main body of the lead pack can be found in the top 10 in 2 of the 4 systems and/or in the top 20 in all:

7. Karrie Webb: #10 money ($238.0K), #5 RR (6.66), #13 GSPI (70.60), #17 HD. Awesome talent and incredible inconsistency make her very difficult to rank. If she hadn't leapfrogged into third at the Stanford International with a tournament-record 64, she wouldn't be in--or even that close to--my top 10.
8. Cristie Kerr: #30 money ($143.3K), #6 RR (5.48), #8 GSPI (70.15), #12 HD. Ditto, except it was a T6 at the Stanford International.
9. Seon Hwa Lee: #12 money ($234.5K), #18 RR (3.75), #12 GSPI (70.58), #6 HD. An inconsistent early season by her standards (3 top 20s along with a missed cut and a T47) came to an end when she got briefly into contention at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and followed it up with a top 10 at the Stanford International.
10. Mi Hyun Kim: #44 money ($81.2K), #11 RR (4.80), #9 GSPI (70.32), #9 HD. Top 10 at the Kraft raised hopes she was all the way back from her off-season knee surgery, but followed it up with a MC at the Ginn Open and a T24 at the Stanford International. Still, don't count out the defending SemGroup champion just yet--she's got the eye of the tiger in every photograph I've seen of her this year.
11. Angela Stanford: #18 money ($218.5K), #20 RR (3.52), #14 GSPI (70.68), #11 HD. Continues her ascent to the stratosphere of women's professional golf. Will she feel the pull of gravity or achieve escape velocity?
12. Ya Ni Tseng: #4 money ($445.3K), #36 RR (2.83), #5 GSPI (70.04), #22 HD. The second-ranked rookie in the ROY race is first in her class in the POY race. Go figure!

Even with early-season volatility, there are only a few golfers with a top 10 in 1 system and otherwise consistent stats.

13. Momoko Ueda: #25 money ($157.2K), #10 RR (4.39), #11 GSPI (70.51), #20 HD. Playing in the final Sunday pairing with Annika Sorenstam for the second time this season helped her claw her way back into contention in the Rookie of the Year race. Although she benefits from the GSPI not including KLPGA events in its system, I still think she's the real deal.
14. Hee-Won Han: #17 money ($219.0K), #29 RR (3.13), #7 GSPI (70.08), #15 HD. Coming off maternity leave and shooting up the rankings, but will need to get more top 10s to keep movin' on up.
15. Morgan Pressel: #39 money ($96.3K), #13 RR (4.10), #27 GSPI (71.19), #7 HD. Like Creamer, working on some swing changes, but unlike her she missed the cut rather than a win by a single stroke at the Stanford International.
16. Stacy Prammanasudh: #24 money ($161.1K), #15 RR (3.88), #31 GSPI (71.39), #10 HD. 2 top 10s in a sea of mediocrity thus far is not what I expected from one of the best Americans on tour.
17. Lindsey Wright: #6 money ($244.4K), #40 RR (2.48), #38 GSPI (71.67), #29 HD. The highest-ranked player of those with hot hands in the early season (including Louise Friberg, Song-Hee Kim, Teresa Lu, Minea Blomqvist, and Karen Stupples), she has kicked her game up two notches this season and seems likely to continue her big move up the rankings. She's shown she can go low and come back from bad rounds--the only question remaining is whether she can attain the kind of consistency needed to pass those ahead of her.

There are only a couple of golfers with top 20s in 2 of the 4 systems who are playing at all well this season.

18. Maria Hjorth: #22 money ($191.5K), #16 RR (3.87), #25 GSPI (71.13), #13 HD. The only thing holding her back is inconsistency--not from finish to finish or even round to round, but hole to hole!
19. Angela Park: #28 money ($157.3K), #22 RR (3.38), #17 GSPI (70.83), #14 HD. The Stanford International marked her first top 10 of the season since a slow-play penalty knocked her out of contention in Hawaii. Maybe she's started focusing on her overall ballstriking rather than the quest for more distance that is the White Whale (and sometimes Albatross) of so many of the precision players this season.
20. Natalie Gulbis: #41 money ($87.9K), #21 RR (3.45), #20 GSPI (70.95), #19 HD. Moved up only because those immediately ahead of her have played so badly thus far this season.
21. Juli Inkster: #47 money ($69.8K), #14 RR (4.07), #18 GSPI (70.86), #26 HD. Showed some signs of life at the Safeway and Stanford, but on the verge of getting passed by a bevy of Young Guns this season.
22. Se Ri Pak: #80 money ($40.0K), #12 RR (4.17), #35 GSPI (71.49), #13 HD. Is it time for this Hall of Famer's loyal fans to push the panic button? Is her terrible play so far this season (except for a top 10 at the Kraft) due to a nagging shoulder injury? Or is she just off?

Which means that the large group with one top 20 and otherwise strong stats are poised to pass them:

23. Laura Diaz: #13 money ($227.9K), #35 RR (2.94), #36 GSPI (71.56), #23 HD. Missed two cuts recently after a fantastic start to the season, but seems to have gotten back on track with a solid finish at the Stanford International.
24. Eun-Hee Ji: #29 money ($145.9K), #26 RR (3.23), #19 GSPI (70.87), n.r. HD. It's hard to tell if she benefits or not from the GSPI excluding KLPGA results (my guess is no), but in any case, she's movin' on up!
25. Christina Kim: #32 money ($128.7K), #47 RR (2.37), #22 GSPI (71.05), #16 HD. Same as Diaz, except for only missing 1 cut and not playing well at the Stanford International (thanks to that rassin'-frassin' 18th hole!).
26. Na Yeon Choi: #19 money ($203.3K), #44 RR (2.41), #26 GSPI (71.14), n.r. HD. The leader in the Rookie of the Year race despite being non-exempt in 2008. But why didn't she get an early-season promotion into the Michelob Ultra?
27. Young Kim: #20 money ($195.3K), #51 RR (2.00), #34 GSPI (71.48), n.r. HD. Movin' on up!
28. Inbee Park: #16 money ($219.4K), #50 RR (2.09), #52 GSPI (72.18), n.r. HD. Movin' on up (coincidentally, ever since I proclaimed that she had been passed by a couple of classmates who have much fewer events under their belts!).

Since it's still early in the season, I'll include players who are consistently in the top 20s and 30s in the ranking systems (allowing for 1 blip only--sorry, Ai-chan!).

29. Karen Stupples: #23 money ($183.7K), #52 RR (2.00), #21 GSPI (70.96), #25 HD. This returning mom is one of the hottest players on tour; until her recent stumble at the Stanford International, she had finished no worse than 16th.
30. Nicole Castrale: #49 money ($69.5K), #32 RR (2.99), #28 GSPI (71.28), #24 HD. Struggling just a little bit less than other highly-touted young Americans and veteran international players.
31. Candie Kung: #26 money ($153.0K), #69 RR (1.45), #32 GSPI (71.45), n.r. HD. An early candidate for Comeback Player of the Year (or at least potential runner-up to Sorenstam), she's broken into the rankings before Carin Koch or Grace Park, other resurgent veterans.
32. Sophie Gustafson: #62 money ($55.1K), #34 RR (2.97), #24 GSPI (71.13), n.r. HD. Showed signs of life at the Safeway International and Corona Championship, but also has missed 2 cuts already this season.
33. Catriona Matthew: #75 money ($43.9K), #24 RR (3.31), #33 GSPI (71.46), n.r. HD. Last ranking, I asked "Can this new mom pick up where she left off last season?" So far the answer is "no." Don't know if it's injuries or the demands of a toddler as opposed to a baby, but her game has fallen off sharply from last season's triumphant return to the tour.

This list was threatening to turn into a top 50--that's how close the next 20 or so players are to the rising Stupples and Kung and falling Castrale, Gustafson, and Matthew--so it'll be interesting to see in June who among them has moved up and who in this list has fallen out. And even more interesting to see how much the lead pack can close the gap on Ochoa! No one can stay in the zone forever....

Monday, April 28, 2008

Stanford International Sunday: #71 before #6

Paula Creamer was one of only two players in the field to break 70 all 3 days on the tough Soffer Course, but she could neither get into double digits under par nor close the door on living legend Annika Sorenstam down the stretch at the Stanford International Pro-Am and paid the price in the playoff. Check out Hound Dog's patented final round play-by-play, which is much more informative and interesting than either's final round notes or Tim Reynolds's AP story for how close Young Kim and Karrie Webb came to the win. (And I say that in full appreciation of Reynolds's mentioning Moira Dunn's Christina Kim-like big numbers on Sunday!)

That other person who scored in the 60s all three times she played the Soffer Course? Seon Hwa Lee, who coulda been a contendah (just like I had predicted) if only she hadn't given away so many shots on the softer Miller Course Thursday. But if we're going to talk "if only"s, I'll be here all night. Better to celebrate the incandescent rounds of the day: Webb's tournament-record 64, Lindsey Wright's 66, Jane Park, Mollie Fankhauser, and Erica Blasberg's 67s, Hee Young Park, Eun-Hee Ji, Sun Young Yoo, Suzann Pettersen, and Jin Joo Hong's 68s, and Creamer, Kim, Lee, Angela Park, Meena Lee, Laura Diaz, Alena Sharp, and Karen Stupples's 69s (with apologies to those who shot 70s--would have been good enough to be named any other day). My only question for those who watched the coverage: was it that the pin placements were less tucked, the greens more watered, the wind less gusty, or people finally figuring out the greens that accounts for the spate of good scoring in the final round?

Mulligan Stu takes the first shot at putting this week in perspective. Me, I'm off to crunch some numbers: got some new rankings to crank out before the month is done. Congratulations to Annika on her 71st career victory, which establishes her as the clear #2 to Lorena Ochoa in 2008. Now that she's finally feeling it with her distance control, the rest of the season should be quite interesting. She's going to take a week off (skipping the SemGroup Championship) to hone her game and come back ready to put up a real fight against Ochoa and the all-star field at the Michelob Ultra Open. Following her schedule will be Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen, Hee-Won Han, Lindsey Wright, Ya Ni Tseng, In-Kyung Kim, and Shi Hyun Ahn--it'll be interesting to see whether those who rest or those who keep playing 3 (or more) weeks in a row will do better in this next "winner event" ($2M+ purse and automatic bid to the season-ending ADT Championship). While I'm away, feel free to speculate on why Se Ri Pak's name doesn't show up in the field lists of either of the next two events, why non-exempt rookie sensation Na-Yeon Choi didn't get an early-season promotion into the Michelob Ultra, and what kind of game Michelle Wie will bring to it.

[Update (1:12 pm): Daniel Wexler and Ryan Ballengee follow in Mulligan Stu's footsteps. And Hound Dog has highlights--and answers some of my questions.]

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fujisankei Ladies Classic Sunday: It's a Free-for-All!

The leaderboard has tightened up at the Fujisankei Ladies Classic. Second-round leader Erina Hara is playing more like she did Thursday (73) than Friday (64), which has opened the door for the rest of the lead pack, and Ayako Uehara, Yukari Baba, and Miki Saiki have waltzed right in to tie her for the lead at -6. Hot on their heels are the surprises of the tournament, Nobuko Kizawa and Keiko Sasaki at -4, followed by Michiko Hattori, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Sakura Yokomine, and Shiho Ohyama at -3 (although Jeon and Yokomine were even closer until they bogeyed the 12th and 13th, respectively). It's even too soon to count out Bo-Bae Song at -2. Unfortunately, Shinobu Moromizato has WDed, so she can't join in the fun. Back after the JLPGA lifts their web blackout.

[Update (5:00 am): It's Ayako Uehara for the win! Her closing 66 made up a 5-shot deficit on Hara, who finished alone in 2nd at -7, exactly where she started the day. Uehara pulled away from the lead pack with 3 consecutive birdies on the 14th through 16th holes. Even though she bogeyed the 17th while Hara and Saiki birdied it, leaving her with a 1-shot lead on the former and a 2-shot lead on the latter, she maintained it as they all finished with pars on the 18th. Here are the final results:

1st/-8 Ayako Uehara (70-72-66)
2nd/-7 Erina Hara (73-64-72)
3rd/-6 Miki Saiki (69-71-70)
4th/-5 Yukari Baba (69-72-70)
5th/-4 Michiko Hattori (70-73-67)
T6/-3 Yuka Shiroto (71-72-70), Akane Iijima (71-70-72), Keiko Sasaki (72-67-74)
T9/-2 Hiromi Mogi (71-74-69), Mi-Jeong Jeon (73-71-70), Sakura Yokomine (69-74-71), Yuko Mitsuko (69-74-71), Nobuko Kizawa (71-71-72), Shiho Ohyama (69-72-73)

T15/-1 Bo-Bae Song (75-69-71)
T19/+1 Eun-A Lim (73-73-71), Kaori Higo (74-72-71)
T27/+2 Yun-Jye Wei (74-74-70), Midori Yoneyama (74-72-72)
T43/+5 Namika Omata (72-76-73), Mayu Hattori (71-75-75)
T48/+7 Yui Kawahara (73-74-76)
WD Shinobu Moromizato

With her win, Uehara jumps from the #10 into the #1 spot on the JLPGA money list, followed by Song, Hiroko Yamaguchi, Baba, Yokomine, Hyun-Ju Shin, Miho Koga, Saiki, Ji-Hee Lee, and Yuri Fudoh.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stanford International Saturday: Elevator Going Up! (And Down)

A moment of silence for those who shot themselves out of contention on moving day at the Stanford International Pro-Am.

Christina Kim: -1 for the tournament with 10 holes to play; ended up with an 80 to drop to +9 (T69).

Kyeong Bae: started off with two straight doubles and things went downhill from there; ended up with a 78 to drop to +7 (T52).

Juli Inkster: like Kim, with only half as bad a finish; her 76 dropped her to +5 (T38).

Lindsey Wright: nothing spectacular, just your typical birdie-free, 4-bogey day; her 75 dropped her to +4 (T34).

Angela Stanford: ditto, except for it being a 5-bogey day; her 76 dropped her to +3 (T26).

Grace Park: her roller-coaster round--offsetting trios of birdies and bogeys, with a double bogey on top--was not what she needed (or her fans wanted); her 73 dropped her to +2 (T19).

These rounds were all the more unfortunate in that today presented the best conditions for scoring of the week: with 3 67s, 3 68s, 11 69s, and 8 70s today, about a third of the field went under par. Even better for those who like competition, what threatened to be a two-player showdown is now at least down to a final 5 and possibly more. With third-round leader Young Kim rebounding off the -9 barrier after a birdie on her first hole was erased by 3 bogeys over the rest of her round and Annika Sorenstam playing solid rather than spectacular golf on her way to a 70, the door was open for Paula Creamer, Momoko Ueda, and Cristie Kerr to advance up the leaderboard with scintillating 67s--Creamer in bogey-free fashion, Ueda with a birdie barrage (she had 7 on the day!), and Kerr with a little help from an eagle on the par-5 14th.

So, heading into the final round Annika has a 1-shot lead on Creamer, 2 shots on Ueda and Kim, and 3 shots on Kerr. And in the somewhat unlikely event that everyone in the lead pack has trouble on Sunday, Dorothy Delasin is only 2 shots behind Kerr, Seon Hwa Lee, Angela Park, and Ji Young Oh are 1 behind her, and Karrie Webb and Mi Hyun Kim are lurking at E (along with hot hand Teresa Lu and huh? factor Leta Lindley). It'll be interesting to see how the tournament organizers set up the course on Sunday with the amateurs gone: will it be tougher than ever or will they reward the pros for all their patience this week? My guess is the former, which might seem to play into Annika's hands, but Creamer, Ueda, Kerr, and Lee all have a chance to be the only player(s) to break 70 all three rounds they played on the Soffer Course. If Annika doesn't post a round in the 60s tomorrow, I predict one of them either joins her with 1 win on the season or beats her to her 2nd.

[Update (8:28 am): Damn! Hound Dog beat me to the recap by 16 minutes. How does he do that?]

Stanford International Friday: Kim and Sorenstam Break from the Lead Pack

It was another day of thrills and spills at the Stanford International Pro-Am. Thanks to fantastic 67s, Young Kim (-7) and Annika Sorenstam (-6) have opened up a big lead on their closest pursuers, Angela Stanford and Paula Creamer (-2).

Here were the scores of the day on the par-71 Soffer Course and the par-70 Miller Course:

67 Kim, Sorenstam (-4)
67 Jee Young Lee (-3)
68 Seon Hwa Lee (-3)
68 Guilia Sergas (-2)
69 Grace Park, Sun Young Yoo, Karrie Webb, Eun-Hee Ji, Karin Sjodin (-1)
70 Angela Stanford (-1)
70 Dorothy Delasin, Mikaela Parmlid, Erica Blasberg (E)

While the rounds of Kim, Sorenstam, and Seon Hwa Lee are looking quite impressive (particularly Kim's avoiding the pattern set by those who started off hot and finished not on the Soffer Course Thursday--under what look to be tougher conditions), the Miller Course continued to give up more low scores. If you compare the same player's results on each course, you'll see an overall pattern of lower scores on the Miller Course, which makes the disastrous rounds there of Shi Hyun Ahn (80 to miss the cut), Carolina Llano (80 to miss the cut), Laura Davies (78 to miss the cut), Beth Bader (78 to miss the cut), and Linda Wessberg (76 to fall to the middle of the pack) even more mystifying and disappointing--and the late collapses there of Kyeong Bae (who dropped from -3 in the tournament to E in her final 6 holes) and Maria Hjorth (whose 39 on the back dropped her from -2 to +2 in the tournament) even more costly.

The fact is, though, most of the people who played the Soffer Course well Thursday squandered opportunities on the Miller Course Friday. Creamer had to make a furious comeback on the final 6 holes and even that didn't make up for her horrific first 3. Meena Lee and Momoko Ueda needed birdies on the easy 18th to get back under par for the tournament (T5 at -1). Cristie Kerr and Christina Kim couldn't even manage that, as they were caught by Dorothy Delasin's eagle and Juli Inkster's and Grace Park's birdies (T7 at E). And nobody else playing that course with a shot at the top 10 heading into their round got there.

But if the leaders struggled on the Miller Course, they were beaten down by the Soffer Course. 74s by Birdie Kim and Ai Miyazato dropped them down to T32 at +3 for the tournament, but that's nothing compared to the misfortunes of Candie Kung (78, T48 at +5), Ya Ni Tseng (77, T37 at +4), Suzann Pettersen and Julieta Granada (76, T48 at +5). Let's not even get into the rounds of Morgan Pressel (74), Kelli Kuehne (75), and Jeong Jang (76), who missed the cut by 1 shot, much less Jennifer Rosales (79), Reilley Rankin (79), Janice Moodie (81), Meaghan Francella (82), and Na On Min (83).

So if the Soffer Course is showing its teeth, who has the best chance to chase down the leaders, now that the entire field is playing it on the weekend? Let's put it this way: there are 29 players as close to Creamer and Stanford at -2 as they are to Sorenstam at -6. So the odds are much greater that they'll get caught and passed than that they'll do the same to her. I'm not calling this one as a 2-player race just yet, but if they string together their third-straight rounds in the 60s, I will. In the interviews, Kim claims the Soffer Course is easier, while Sorenstam demurs, and while both are complimentary to their partners in the pro-am, neither seem to be paying much attention to their standing in it (Kim didn't even know it continues into Saturday's round!).

For some reason, they're going off almost entirely in threesomes on moving day--I assume the tournament organizers have set it up so there are no more than 4 players in a group, including amateur partners (and that the blank early times include pros who missed the individual cut but whose teams made it into the final day of the pro-am). Early on, some interesting head-to-head match-ups stand out:

Start Time: 8:30 AM
Suzann Pettersen
Candie Kung
Jin Joo Hong

Start Time: 8:40 AM
Karen Stupples
Stacy Prammanasudh
Julieta Granada

Start Time: 9:00 AM
Louise Friberg
Jane Park
Laura Diaz

and there are some excellent midway ones, as well:

Start Time: 10:15 AM
Angela Park
Maria Hjorth
Rachel Hetherington

Start Time: 10:25 AM
Ji Young Oh
Hee-Won Han
Teresa Lu

but the best are, as usual, saved for last:

Start Time: 10:55 AM
Karrie Webb
Sun Young Yoo
Inbee Park

Start Time: 11:05 AM
Cristie Kerr
Giulia Sergas
Seon Hwa Lee

Start Time: 11:15 AM
Lindsey Wright
Kyeong Bae

Start Time: 11:30 AM
Juli Inkster
Christina Kim
Mi Hyun Kim

Start Time: 11:40 AM
Momoko Ueda
Grace Park
Dorothy Delasin

Start Time: 11:50 AM
Angela Stanford
Paula Creamer
Meena Lee

Start Time: 12:00 PM
Young Kim
Annika Sorenstam

Hopefully the thrill-spill ratio will go back in the players' favor on moving day!

Fujisankei Ladies Classic Saturday: Erina Hara Makes Her Move

On a day when most of the first-round leaders struggled, Erina Hara fired a 64 and leapfrogged them all on moving day in the Fujisankei Ladies Classic. Here's the leaderboard:

1st/-7 Erina Hara (73-64)
2nd/-5 Keiko Sasaki (72-67)
3rd/-4 Miki Saiki (69-71)
T4/-3 Akane Iijima (71-70), Shiho Ohyama (69-72), Yukari Baba (69-72)
T7/-2 Nobuko Kizawa (71-71), Ayako Uehara (70-72)
T9/-1 Shinobu Moromizato (71-72), Yuka Shiroto (71-72), Sakura Yokomine (69-74), Ji-Woo Lee (69-74), Yuko Mitsuko (69-74)
T14/E Bo-Bae Song (75-69), Mi-Jeong Jeon (73-71)
T19/+1 Michiko Hattori (70-73), Hiromi Mogi (71-74), Kayo Yamada (68-78)
T31/+2 Kaori Higo (74-72), Midori Yoneyama (74-72), Eun-A Lim (73-73), Mayu Hattori (71-75)
T40/+3 Yui Kawahara (73-74)
T46/+4 Yun-Jye Wei (74-74), Namika Omata (72-76)
T54/+5 Mie Nakata (74-75)
T59/+6 Chie Arimura (74-76)

Anyone within 8 shots of the lead has a chance to replicate Hara's move on Sunday, particularly if Sasaki and Kizawa have as much trouble breathing the rarefied air at the top of the leaderboard as Yamada did Saturday. And even though Hara is accustomed to playing at that altitude, it's really difficult to post two low numbers in a row. So Saiki and Iijima may have the best chance of chasing Hara down, but anyone who can get to -5 or better could still win this thing.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Paging Steve Elling...Again

I have no problem with Steve Elling touting Lorena Ochoa's chances for a Grand Slam or encouraging her to play the PGA event in Mexico someday--heck, I even agree with his main points--but I do have a big problem when he and his critics share the same flawed assumption about the "depth of competition" on the LPGA. In Elling's case, it's the hint that Ochoa is going to find the ease of winning on the LPGA so boring that she'll need to provide herself with a new challenge that I find so infuriating. In Davis's case, it's the fact that he took the time to research Woods, Sorenstam, and Ochoa's records but left his closing jab--"the fact that two players have dominated the LPGA to such a degree almost concurrently says nearly as much about the lack of depth in the women's game as it does about their individual greatness"--unsupported and apparently unresearched. So let me spell this out simply for the golf journalists of the world.

It's because the quality of competition on the LPGA has gone up that Ochoa's run is so impressive. Not only is it going to get tougher for her dominance to continue in the coming years as more and more seasoned pros from other tours and competition-tested amateurs from around the world join the LPGA and as more Young Guns gain experience and confidence. But it's also that no single player can remain so in the zone over a long period of time that she can face down every single other player who happens to get in the zone for a week or 3. Remember, in the second-weakest field of the year, Ochoa had one terrible round and couldn't chase down the winner--a rookie, and not even the strongest in her class--in the 36 holes remaining to her. Sure, Ochoa can win with her B-game, but not at the rate she has been.

After the Stanford International is over, I'll address this issue in more depth with updated Best of the LPGA and Young Guns rankings. But one test of my hypothesis is to check in on Ochoa's week off and see just how much competition Annika Sorenstam gets this week....

[Update (4/26/08): Mulligan Stu has come up with an interesting twist on the Ochoa/Woods meme, but that Elling assumption trips him up, IMHO.]

Fujisankei Ladies Classic Friday: Big Names at the Top

The Fujisankei Ladies Classic kicked off this Friday and the top JLPGA players came with their game faces on. Defending champion Miki Saiki is joined by 2006 champion Shiho Ohyama, last week's winner Yukari Baba, and Sakura Yokomine near the top of the leaderboard, with plenty of talented players hanging right there with them. But the unheralded Kayo Yamada leads after the close of Friday's play, thanks to consecutive closing birdies.

1st/-4 Kayo Yamada (68)
T2/-3 Sakura Yokomine, Miki Saiki, Shiho Ohyama, Yuko Mitsuka, Yukari Baba, Ji-Woo Lee (69)
T8/-2 Ayako Uehara, Michiko Hattori (70)
T10/-1 Shinobu Moromizato, Hiromi Mogi, Akane Iijima, Mayu Hattori (71)
T21/E Namika Omata (72)
T28/+1 Mi-Jeong Jeon, Eun-A Lim, Erina Hara, Yui Kawahara (73)
T42/+2 Yun-Jye Wei, Kaori Higo, Midori Yoneyama, Chie Arimura, Mie Nakata (74)
T60/+3 Bo-Bae Song (75)

With Yuri Fudoh, Miho Koga, Akiko Fukushima, Na Zhang, Hiroko Yamaguchi, Hyun-Ju Shin, and Ji-Hee Lee sitting this one out, it's a prime opportunity for Yokomine, Saiki, and Ohyama to make a statement. We'll have to wait and see which one of them can do it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stanford International Thursday: The Softer Course?

A quick look this afternoon at the leaderboard for the Stanford International Pro-Am marked the Soffer Course as softer than the Miller Course in my mind. That surprised me a bit, as the information I could find about the two courses suggested the opposite, until I realized (thanks to Hound Dog) that I was getting hung up on score in relation to par (Soffer is a par 71, Miller a par 70) rather than raw score. So here's how I'd represent the leaders in the clubhouse thus far:

68 Momoko Ueda, Paula Creamer, Juli Inkster (-3)
68 Ya Ni Tseng, Candie Kung, Annika Sorenstam (-2)
69 Kyeong Bae, Meena Lee (-2)
69 Hee Young Park, Mi Hyun Kim, Angela Stanford, Janice Moodie (-1)
70 Shi Hyun Ahn (-1)
70 Ai Miyazato, Julieta Granada, Suzann Pettersen (E)

So I would argue that it's the Miller Course that's the softer course. Until, that is, Christina Kim, Linda Wessberg, and Carolina Llano post scores on the Soffer Course that mess with my hypothesis.

More soon, including details on why so many of the leaders have to be wondering about what could have been today.

[Update 1 (4/25/08, 2:24 am): Check Hound Dog's first-round recap and Mulligan Stu's reaction to the AP story. Here's how the leaderboard ended up (note that got Juli Inkster's score wrong at the time I posted this earlier):

67 Young Kim (-3)
68 Momoko Ueda, Paula Creamer (-3)
68 Ya Ni Tseng, Candie Kung, Annika Sorenstam (-2)
69 Carolina Llano, Kyeong Bae, Meena Lee, Cristie Kerr (-2)
69 Hee Young Park, Mollie Fankhauser, Mi Hyun Kim, Angela Stanford, Janice Moodie, Leta Lindley (-1)
70 Shi Hyun Ahn, Christina Kim, Maria Hjorth, Juli Inkster (-1)
70 Ai Miyazato, Julieta Granada, Birdie Kim, Lindsey Wright, Suzann Pettersen, Rachel Hetherington (E)

So, no one on the at-first-glance easier Soffer Course shot a 67, and the Miller course gave up 1 more 68, 2 more 69s, and 2 more 70s than it. Which is the softer course, after all? If Annika thought conditions were "silly tough" yesterday playing the Miller, I wonder what she'll say about today's round?]

[Update 2 (2:45 am): Now onto the disaster reel. Let's start with Christina Kim, who was on her way to being the only player on the Soffer course Thursday to match Young Kim's 67. She finished with an 8 on the par-5 18th to fall 3 shots off the pace. What a way to almost negate a 5-birdie-barrage in her first 8 holes! But many people who started hot on the Soffer Course also finished with a whimper or an explosion. Kyeong Bae was -5 through her first 10 holes there but only managed a 69. Linda Wessberg was -4 through 12 but only shot a 71. Cristie Kerr was -4 through 11 and had to come back with back-to-back closing birdies to avoid Wessberg's fate. Juli Inkster was -3 through 10 and ended up with a 70. Maria Hjorth had yet another roller coaster round Thursday--after battling back to -3 through 16, she finished with consecutive bogeys for her 70.

And that's just the people who played the Soffer Course well. Look at its bigger numbers, mostly by people who were playing very well coming into this week (putting aside that 5 of the 8 people who failed to break 80 played it--call it the Mostly Harmless mercy rule):

76 Jee Young Lee, Jin Joo Hong (+5)
75 Louise Friberg, Karine Icher, Amy Hung, Becky Morgan, Laura Davies (+4)
74 Jane Park, Eun-Hee Ji (+3)
73 Allison Fouch, Sun Young Yoo, Laura Diaz, Karrie Webb, Pat Hurst (+2)

Softer course? I don't think so.]

[Update 3 (3:15 am): It's not that the Miller Course had no teeth--just fewer:

75 Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis (+5)
74 Seon Hwa Lee, Catriona Matthew, Kelli Kuehne (+4)
73 Meaghan Francella, Na On Min, Jeong Jang (+3)
72 Teresa Lu, Karen Stupples, Moira Dunn (+2)

On the one hand, it's better for these players that their bad rounds are lower than their peers' who started on the Soffer Course. But unless they can take advantage of its first 12 holes or so, it's going to be harder for them to make the cut, much less get back into contention. Where the trouble seemed to be on the Miller Course was its middle holes--plenty of people finished strong to salvage otherwise weak rounds there. This was just not the norm at the Soffer Course, although a few people were able to do it. It'll be interesting to see if these patterns hold up later today.]

[Update 4 (3:30 am): With the two lowest pro-am scores coming on the Soffer Course, of course it is possible to go low there if you can avoid a late collapse. Anyway, here ae the two best interview moments. The first is when James Caan is asked to describe Christina Kim's final hole:

JAMES CAAN: She'll knock me out. I ain't telling. First, I started out by hitting a ball out of bounds off 18. So I know we were 7 under and then...

CHRISTINA KIM: ...weren't.

JAMES CAAN: And then she hit one off the cart--her she second shot was an incredible shot off the cart path standing above it.

CHRISTINA KIM: And then I hit six more. Not quite so incredible.

JAMES CAAN: Then she had a lie like this. Just one of those things.

CHRISTINA KIM: Excuses, excuses.

JAMES CAAN: Excuses? You didn't miss a ball all day, which made me miss everything. (Laughter.)

CHRISTINA KIM: No, I hit my drive went left and I had to hit a shot off a cart path into a sidehill slope. From there, hit into the water; from there, hit into the bunker; from there, two putted. Sucked.

And Paula Creamer and James Blake bring the comedy:

Q. Did you ever find yourself over a shot where you were sympathetic for your amateur partner having to hit a shot into that pin?

PAULA CREAMER: There was a couple. A couple of the Par 3s are difficult pin placements definitely. Whenever we have big left to right winds I get a little nervous for him, that's for sure. He likes to hit the banana off the tee.

JAMES BLAKE: I don't like to. (Laughter.)

PAULA CREAMER: So when we're on those kind of holes I'm thinking, All right James. (Laughter) Aim it far enough left.

No, there was, it was difficult out there. Obviously. I shot 3 under and I played a solid round of golf. So that's normally the middle of the pack kind of thing.

Q. For either of you, the fact that you did shoot 3 under and you're one shot off the pace, how much do you think chemistry maybe played a part in that in being able to have some laughs and stay loose under all these conditions?

PAULA CREAMER: It helped me a lot. I made two bogeys out there, and immediately after those two bogeys James came over to me. Normally, that's not happening out there. It's just me by myself thinking. And it helped. It really did for me.

JAMES BLAKE: If I could take any sort of credit for the fact that she's as good as she is I would be happy to take it. But I don't think I could with a clear conscience take credit for her shooting 68.

Read the whole thing. Christina Kim agrees with me the Miller Course is the softer one, BTW.]

[Update 5 (5:05 am): Bill Jempty got a press pass via Newsweek and here's his first post. Nice focus on Tseng, Ueda, and Kung and front 9 report on Christina Kim and Cristie Kerr's rounds, Bill!]

Stanford International Pro-Am Preview/Predictions/Pairings

Between Hound Dog's preview of the Stanford International Pro-Am and's pre-tournament interviews, it's easy to see how this tournament could result in a very different kind of leaderboard than we've been seeing all year. And I'm not talking about Lorena Ochoa taking a well-deserved (not to mention much-appreciated by her peers) week off. Simply put, being one of the best drivers on tour won't count as much on a short course where the fairways get narrower the further you hit the ball and where the greens are very very tricky. So I'll be looking for the precision and the feel players to stand out this week.

Hoping the Pakpickers don't mind a late entry this week from someone who finally got a little lucky last week:

1. Lee Seon Hwa
2. Jang Jeong
3. Tseng Ya Ni
4. Pettersen
5. Han Hee-Won
6. Stupples
7. Park Inbee
8. Sorenstam
9. Wright
10. Miyazato
11. Park Jane
12. Pressel

Alts: Creamer, Kerr, Kung Candie

As for the pairings, let's check out the Soffer Course first:

Start Time: 9:20 AM
Hee-Won Han
Meena Lee

Start Time: 9:30 AM
Momoko Ueda
Pat Hurst

Start Time: 9:50 AM
Lorie Kane
Grace Park

Start Time: 10:10 AM
Laura Davies
Meg Mallon

Start Time: 10:20 AM
Karrie Webb
Brandie Burton

Start Time: 10:30 AM
Paula Creamer
Juli Inkster

Start Time: 10:40 AM
Christina Kim
Cristie Kerr

Start Time: 11:00 AM
Nancy Lopez
Laura Diaz

And on the Miller Course the pairings that stand out to me are:

Start Time: 8:00 AM
Candie Kung
Kelli Kuehne

Start Time: 8:50 AM
Jeong Jang
Angela Stanford

Start Time: 9:00 AM
Julieta Granada
Seon Hwa Lee

Start Time: 9:20 AM
Stacy Prammanasudh
Ya Ni Tseng

Start Time: 9:30 AM
Nicole Castrale
Suzann Pettersen

Start Time: 9:40 AM
Morgan Pressel
Mi Hyun Kim

Start Time: 9:50 AM
Natalie Gulbis
Annika Sorenstam

Start Time: 10:20 AM
Inbee Park
Karen Stupples

Start Time: 11:00 AM
Young Kim
Lindsey Wright

Start Time: 11:30 AM
Angela Park
Moira Dunn

Should be interesting to see the interactions between the pros and amateurs for those who have the time and tv to do it!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Infomercial for the New World Order

Don't worry! Be happy! Get civilized! Free introductory starter package. Financing available from selected customers.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jero in Fukuoka

The Mostly Harmless Jero Watch continues. This weekend he performed at various places in Fukuoka, including a pro basketball game and at a shopping area we've been to many times:

That's the mall in Kashii at which we almost lost onechan!

Life Card Ladies Golf Tournament Sunday: It's Yukari Baba for the Win

The top 3 players in the Life Card Ladies JLPGA event this week were closely bunched as they made the turn. Midori Yoneyama had recovered from her late-Saturday struggles and had 4 birdies and only 1 bogey through her first 11 holes to get to get to -7 for the tournament. First-round leader Shinobu Moromizato also had come strong out of the gates, reaching -6 through the 11th hole thanks to 4 birdies and no bogeys. But second-round leader Yukari Baba, despite a bogey on the second hole that had offset her opening birdie, had gotten to -7 herself with a birdie on the 10th. Moromizato was the first to fall off the pace with a bogey on the 12th that produced a 2-shot swing with Baba, who birdied the hole to open up a 1-shot lead on Yoneyama. But it was the 13th hole that was the decisive one. The 3-shot swing produced by a Baba hole-in-one and a Yoneyama bogey made the last 5 holes a formality. The only drama was whether Baba would remain in double digits under par. Here's the top 10:

#1/-9 Yukari Baba (70-69-68) ¥10,800,000

T2/-6 Shinobu Moromizato (68-74-68), Midori Yoneyama (69-71-70) ¥4,740,000

#4/-3 Yuko Mitsuka (69-73-71) ¥3,600,000

T5/E So-Hee Kim (74-73-69), Ai Ogawa (76-70-70), Ji-Hee Lee (74-70-72) ¥2,500,000
T8/+1 Ayako Uehara (73-71-73), Miho Koga (74-69-74) ¥1,650,000

T10/+2 Bo-Bae Song (76-71-71), Izumi Narita (74-73-71), Mi-Jeong Jeon (74-72-72), Chie Arimura (73-73-72), Akane Iijima (72-72-74) ¥1,051,200

Other notables include:

T15/+3 Miki Saiki, Yuri Fudoh, Erina Hara
T26/+5 Sakura Yokomine
T35/+7 Hyun-Ju Shin
T41/+9 Akiko Fukushima, Hiroko Yamaguchi

With her win, Baba jumped to #5 on the JLPGA money list, behind Yamaguchi, Song, Shin, and Yokomine. Rounding out the top 10 are Koga, Lee, Fudoh, Moromizato, and Uehara. Momoko Ueda is now down to #31 on the list, about ¥18M behind the leaders, but it's looking more and more like she's committed to the Rookie of the Year race on the LPGA in 2008.

Ginn Open Saturday: Shootout at the Orlando Corral

Hound Dog has the Ginn Open's third-round recap and highlights covered, Mulligan Stu has Ya Ni Tseng's name up in lights over at Waggle Room, the Seoul Sisters discussion board has forums on Ji-Yai Shin's win over some KLPGA Young Guns and an ongoing photoessay reminding CBS that there are South Koreans in the field, and provides the Ochoa and Tseng interviews. So what's left for me to do? What's to look for today besides the world #1 and the rookie in a shootout at the Orlando Corral? Let's count....

10) Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda playing together for what I believe is the first time as members on the LPGA--maybe soon it'll be in the late rather than early morning.

9) Cristie Kerr at T19 hoping to make just over $10K this week and beat Mi Hyun Kim (who missed the cut) to the $8M mark in career winnings.

8) Hall of Famers and Solheim Cup rivals Annika Sorenstam and Juli Inkster in unfamiliar territory, going off #10 together at 7:10 am.

7) Whether Carin Koch or Candie Kung will end Sunday's round as the top comeback player in the field. (And whether Grace Park or Rachel Hetherington can catch them.)

6) Whether Inbee Park (-7) or Song-Hee Kim (-6) will be the top Super Soph finisher and whether Teresa Lu (-11) or Minea Blomqvist (-8) will be the top Junior Mint finisher this week.

5) How low a score someone going out early can post: can anyone break Tseng's course record 64 or surpass Ochoa's moving day 65?

4) The race to get double digits under par for the 9 players at -5 or better with the best chance to get there: how many people will finish the tournament -10 or better? (I predict 7 but I'm hoping for double digits.)

3) The race for the top 10: right now, there are 35 players within 5 shots of Hee-Won Han, Song-Hee Kim, Lindsey Wright, and Karen Stupples T9 at -6. (Yes, Annika still has a chance to keep her top 10 streak going.)

2) The race for 3rd place between Lu, Koch, and Suzann Pettersen.

1) How low the winning score will go (my prediction is that it again will be -20 or better) and whether Tseng will be able to hang with Ochoa or be left in the dust (I predict she hangs with her).

Special bonus spotlight:

0) How well Moira Dunn can play this Sunday! (OK, that should be #11, but fandom has its biases.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Life Card Ladies Golf Tournament Saturday: Shuffling the Deck

Yukari Baba's 32 on the back 9, capped by an eagle on the 18th, vaulted her into first place in the Life Card Ladies JLPGA event today. At -5 thanks to her 69, she took advantage of late-round stumbles by Midori Yoneyama (71, -4, 2nd place) and Yuko Mitsuka (73, -2, T3), along with early-round struggles by first-round leader Shinobu Moromizato (74, -2, T3), to open up the slimmest of leads heading into the final round.

Miho Koga's 69 today pulled her into a tie for 5th at -1. She's still in the hunt--as are Ji-Hee Lee (70, E, T7), Ayako Uehara (71, E, T7), Akane Iijima (72, E, T7), and Yuri Fudoh and Erina Hara (71, +1, T11)--but like them she needs a magical Sunday to get into contention, provided the lead pack doesn't come back to the field.

Given the struggles of the rest of the big-time players on the JLPGA, however, such an outcome is entirely possible. Mi-Jeong Jeon and Chie Arimura lead that pack at +2 (T13), followed by Sakura Yokomine and Bo-Bae Song at +3 (T20), Hyun-Ju Shin and Kaori Higo at +4 (T29), Akiko Fukushima and Hiroko Yamaguchi at +5 (T37), Miki Saiki at +6 (T45), Shiho Ohyama at +8 (T64), and Na Zhang at +9 (T74).

Ginn Open Saturday: Moving Day Pairings Galore!

Wow, there are some amazing pairings later today in Orlando--and not just among the leaders. Perhaps the most exciting Seoul Sisters one comes early on the front:

Start Time: 7:35 AM
Seon Hwa Lee
Christina Kim
Jeong Jang

It just squeaks out Grace Park and Hee-Won Han going off the back together at 7:25 am, along with front-siders

Start Time: 8:05 AM
Song-Hee Kim
Jimin Kang
Momoko Ueda

Start Time: 8:15 AM
Candie Kung
Inbee Park
Na Yeon Choi

Start Time: 8:45 AM
Jee Young Lee
Eun-Hee Ji
Stacy Prammanasudh

and back-siders

Start Time: 8:45 AM
Ji Young Oh
Birdie Kim
Angela Park

. But unless someone throws down another course record, everyone in these and the other pairings will be playing for position. The real contenders are in the final two groups:

Start Time: 9:15 AM
Lorena Ochoa
Carin Koch
Teresa Lu

Start Time: 9:25 AM
Yani Tseng
Suzann Pettersen
Minea Blomqvist

It's rare to see Ochoa not in the final group on the weekend, isn't it? What are the odds she'll be in it after today's round is history?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ginn Open Friday: Ya Ni Tseng Shoots Course Record, Leads Ochoa by 3

With 12 birdies and an eagle sandwiched between a bogey on her first hole of the Ginn Open and her closing one today, Ya Ni Tseng fired a course-record 64 to get to -12, good enough for a 3-shot lead over Lorena Ochoa (67) and Minea Blomqvist (66). With the afternoon groups still on the course, Suzann Pettersen (-8 on the tournament with 8 holes left to play) and Carin Koch (-7 with 5 to play) stand the best chance of chasing down the Taiwanese rookie. Stay tuned!

[Update 1 (3:48 pm): Other low rounds today include a 67 from Candie Kung (-3, T16 thus far) and 68s by Angela Stanford (-6, T7) and Eun-Hee Ji (-4, T12). Other low rounds in process include Jee Young Lee's, Morgan Pressel's, and Michele Redman's -4 performances with a handful of holes remaining.]

[Update 2 (4/19/08, 12:32 am): As Hound Dog reports, Suzann Pettersen matched Blomqvist's 66 to pull within 2 shots of Tseng, and Koch matched Teresa Lu's 69 to put the two first-round leaders 4 shots back, T5. So there are 6 in the lead pack--and there could have been fewer if Tseng hadn't missed an easy birdie on 16 and bogeyed 18! People out of the pack will need to improve on Jee Young Lee's 66 and not fall back to earth like Morgan Pressel did (she ended with a 70) if they want to have a chance to be in contention Sunday. I can see Tseng, Blomqvist, Lu, and Koch failing to keep up the sub-70 pace on moving day, but not Ochoa and Pettersen. If that happens, anyone among the top 21 golfers within 5 shots of Ochoa still has a chance to contend--a slim one, but still a chance. Sure, someone who made the cut on the dot (+1) can pull a Pettersen and go double digits under par on the weekend, but the winning score is looking to be in the -14 to -18 range, if not lower, so we're talking back-to-back course records here. Not just more 68s like Becky Lucidi (E, T57), Mikaela Parmlid (-2, T30), and Inbee Park (-3, T22) made.]

[Update 3 (12:37 am): And here's some must-see tv courtesy of HD. If Tseng, Lu, and Tseng continue to impress, by the way, the Seoul Sister community may need to come up with a variation on Eric's "teen Taiwanese terror" sobriquet for the Taiwanese trio.]

[Update 4 (12:57 am): I like Hound Dog's "Junior Mints" suggestion for the Former Super Sophs that I think I'll start using it. Not least because they need a fresh start after Friday's round--besides Blomqvist's, JY Lee's, and Lu's fine rounds, the rest of the class lost ground on the lead pack: Brittany Lang and Allison Fouch got caught by Lee (-4, T13), tied with Eun-Hee Ji and 1 shot back of Super Soph Charlotte Mayorkas (-5, T10); Kyeong Bae got caught by Super Sophs Inbee Park and Song-Hee Kim and rookie Na Yeon Choi (-3, T22); Kristy McPherson got caught by Seon Hwa Lee and Pressel (-2, T30); Ai Miyazato got caught by Karin Sjodin (-1, T41); Julieta Granada kept pace with Super Soph Na On Min (E, T57); and H.J. Choi chased down Super Sophs Angela Park and Ji Young Oh to get to the right side of the cut line (+1, T68). That's 22 Young Guns still playing on the weekend, for those who weren't counting. Meaghan Francella, Kim Hall, and Linda Wessberg were the only ones you'd have expected to join Nina Reis in Cutsville. Unfortunately, NYer Danielle Downey's 69-82 start bought her some beach-side property there. But that's why God made exempt status--Francella, Wessberg, Hall, and Downey will be back. And only 5 of Junior Minds joined the 14-strong contingent on Young Gun Street.]

[Update 5 (1:03 am): Checking the Power Meter, Koch is the only precision player among those in the lead pack, although it should be noted that Pettersen and Ochoa dialed down the driving distance today and posted better numbers. For the record, Jeong Jang did the same but posted the exact same number as when she was bombing it Thursday, 71. If you're hitting a lot of short irons and wedges from the short grass, sure, power matters! But that's a big "if"!]

[Update 6 (1:20 am): Some nice tidbits in the interviews: Blomqvist and Pettersen are good on strategy, Tseng and Ochoa on the mental side, plus Blomqvist is assembling IKEA furniture in her new home just 5 minutes from the course (hey, there's a sponsorship opportunity--I can see the commercial: "Minea Blomqvist, you just faced down the world #1 to win your first tournament. What are you going to be doing tonight?" "Assembling my IKEA furniture, Verne!")

Life Card Ladies Golf Tournament Friday: Struggles at the Top

#8-ranked Shinobu Moromizato's 68 set the pace at the Life Card Ladies JLPGA event today, but just as big a story are the big-time struggles of the other top-ranked players on tour. Shiho Ohyama (78, T74), Hiroko Yamaguchi and Na Zhang (77, T52), Akiko Fukushima and Bo-Bae Song (76, T42), Sakura Yokomine (75, T36), and Yuri Fudoh, Mi-Jeong Jeon, and Miho Koga (74, T23) will have one eye on the cut line rather than the top of the leaderboard. Even Miki Saiki, Hyun-Ju Shin, and Akane Iijima are stranded 4 shots back of Moromizato, although there are only 4 players between them and the first-round leader, including #19 Yuko Mitsuka and #23 Midori Yoneyama at -3 and #22 Yukari Baba at -2.

Ginn Open Thursday: When Former Super Sophs Attack

Hound Dog already has the first-round recap for the Ginn Open covered with his usual aplomb [Update: and Say You SeRi is live-blogging Se Ri Pak's play over at Seoul Sisters], so I'm going to focus on a few stories that are likely to be under the media's radar coming out of Orlando Thursday.

Are the Former Super Sophs Back? I started getting serious about this LPGA blogging gig while focusing on Ai Miyazato and her cohorts in the rookie class of 2006. As I tracked their performance last year and over their brief careers--we're approaching the anniversary of my rudimentary first attempt--I became convinced that they were one of the deepest and most talented classes in LPGA history and would set the tone for their generation. So you can imagine my surprise at how slowly the cream of their class have started this season and how much they have been eclipsed out of the gates by resurgent New Super Soph and competitive rookie classes. Sure, Brittany Lang seemed to have gotten her game back after a horrible slump over the first two-thirds of her sophomore-jinxed 2007, Teresa Lu was playing surprisingly solid and sometimes spectacular golf, and Minea Blomqvist had a couple of great finishes, but where were the rest of them?

Waiting for the Ginn Open, apparently. Lu birdied 3 of her last 7 holes (on the front) to post a 67 and tie Carin Koch for the first-round lead. Futures Tour graduate Allison Fouch did the same on the back to join the big group T3 at 68. Kyeong Bae finally returned to her birdie machine ways, making 7 of them on her way to a 69, good enough for T10 with classmates Lang, Blomqvist, Sun Young Yoo (who dropped more birdie putts than fairways she hit off the tee), Danielle Downey (who also made 7 birdies and got 3 of them in her last 7 holes on the front), and Katie Futcher (who like Downey offset a double bogey with 7 birdies).

True, the big names couldn't quite get it in gear--Ai-chan (T22) was the best of the bunch with a 70 (despite 3 bogeys on the back to cancel out that side's birdies), while Karin Sjodin could only manage a 72 while Seon Hwa Lee did the same playing with Se Ri Pak (76), Morgan Pressel did the same playing with Annika Sorenstam (70), and Jee Young Lee ballooned to a 74 playing with Juli Inkster (69). And the agonies of Meaghan Francella (75, T111) and H.J. Choi (76, T122) continued, the fortunes of Kim Hall (76) fell, the shaky play of Linda Wessberg (78, T136) collapsed, and the good run of Nina Reis (80, T143), who got into the field thanks to a top 10 the week before in Mexico, came to an end.

But the 5 struggling to make the cut and 5 to get it in gear are overshadowed by the 8 juniors among the 21 players who shot sub-70 rounds yesterday. That's compared to 2 sophs (Charlotte Mayorkas, Kristy McPherson) and 1 frosh (Ya Ni Tseng) in the hunt. And Ai-chan is 1 shot ahead of soph Song-Hee Kim and frosh Momoko Ueda to round out the group of 14 Young Guns among the 45 players under par thus far.

How Much Does Power Matter? Picking up on a discussion from yesterday's post, consider that the leaderboard is a mix of power and precision players. Lu was blasting the ball 280 yards off the tee, outdriving co-leader Koch on average by almost 40 yards, but it was Koch who lead in greens in regulation, 15-14. Lorena Ochoa lead the bombers at T3 with a 283.5-yard driving average, followed by Tseng (283), Karrie Webb (274), Fouch (273.5), Suzann Pettersen (273), and Charlotte Mayorkas (267.5), but 230-yard pea shooter Mhairi McKay managed to keep pace with them somehow. The big group at T10 and T22 was almost split between bombers (6) and pea shooters (7), but 9 of them were actually in the mid-250-to-mid-260-yard middle range. At the bottom of the pack, among those who failed to break 75, there were certainly more precision players struggling (13) than mid-length players (10) and bombers (9), but someone like Birdie Kim, who drove the ball an astounding 285.5 yards and hit 13 greens Thursday, is a great example of how much accuracy with the irons and touch around and on the greens matters--she'll be fighting to pass as many of the 110 players ahead of her as she can and maybe make the cut.

To be sure, having more power helps you deal with the gusting winds and hard, fast, and undulating greens that characterize this tournament, but what a set-up like this really puts a premium on is judgment in the choice of club, kind of shot, and target, patience with bad bounces and missed putts due to less-than-smooth afternoon greens, solid ball-striking on approach shots in particular, and excellent scrambling and putting. If you don't believe me, read Suzann Pettersen's interview.

While it's striking that top-notch precision players like Pressel and Lee (E), Natalie Gulbis and Jane Park (+1), and Mi Hyun Kim and Angela Park (+2) had trouble scoring Thursday, even normally precise players with new-found distance like Jeong Jang (280 yards off the tee, but only -1) and Paula Creamer (263, but only E) didn't seem to benefit all that much from it. The bottom line is, it doesn't matter whether you birdie the 303-yard 7th hole with a sandie, as Ochoa did, or a sand wedge to 15 feet, as Koch did, so long as you get the ball in the hole quickly enough not to lose a shot to the rest of the field there.

The Big Mo. Looks like Lindsey Wright (69), Angela Stanford (70), and Karen Stupples (70) are continuing their fine play so far this season and that Koch, McPherson, and Lang are picking up where they left off last week. Laura Diaz (74), however, has some work to do today if she wants to avoid missing her second straight cut, Louise Friberg (77) is seriously struggling, and Maria Hjorth (77) probably should have gone for her third straight top 10 in Mexico--although Inbee Park (73) might disagree. Rookies Tseng and Choi are threatening to turn a formerly tight Rookie of the Year race into a face-off, although Momoko Ueda is lurking at -1 and Hee Young Park isn't out of the tournament at +1. And of course Ochoa (T3) and Sorenstam (T22) are, as always, in contention. Still, as everyone can point to shots they left out on the course, and as everyone is going to have to deal with very conditions tomorrow, it's too soon to tell who really has The Big Mo. It'll be interesting to see if a lead pack forms or if the field will remain bunched heading into the weekend.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Paging Steve Elling

Thanks for the speculations on an Ochoa Slam--or even a Grand Slam for her--in 2008. I appreciated the little gems you sprinkled through the piece, such as

True, the absurdity of again crawling this far out on a limb precisely three days after eating crow with regard to Woods' four-runner hopes is self-evident. But at the moment, as transcendent as Woods has been on the men's tour, Ochoa's play has been positively meteoric. The comparisons have been far more frequent as a result.

Frequent? Yes. Quite. Indubitably. To be sure. Although he's expressed doubt that it can be done, even Hound Dog has a poll looking for alternatives to the phrase "Ochoa Slam." So, yeah, join the club.

Membership has its privileges and all, but it also has its responsibilities. Like getting the depth question right:

Whereas Woods' major-championship objective was made more difficult because of the comparatively superior depth in men's golf, Ochoa has likewise ascended to the top so quickly, there's seemingly nothing in her way. She moved into the No. 1 position in the women's world rankings one year ago and last week qualified for induction for the World Golf Hall of Fame, at 26 the second-youngest player ever to do so on career points.

Ochoa's speed of qualification for the Hall evidence of the "comparatively superior depth in men's golf"? Watch it--you're entering Doug Ferguson territory here. And I don't mean that in a good way. In case you weren't paying attention back in January, let's take a look at some of the numbers you ignored. They clearly show that Ochoa's competition is closer to her than Tiger's.

The World Golf Rankings for the men and the Rolex Rankings for the women are quite similar ranking systems. Tiger (22.36) is lapping #2 Phil Mickelson (9.75) and #3 Ernie Els (6.36) is even further behind. Contrast that with the smaller lead Ochoa (18.53) has on #2 Annika Sorenstam (9.47), the only player on the LPGA to have as many top 10s as her this season. It's not just that there are 3 women with higher ratings than Els (Suzann Pettersen at 8.08, Paula Creamer at 7.08, and Karrie Webb at 6.64); it's that you have to go down to the 39th position on the Rolex Rankings to find someone further behind Ochoa than that 16-point lead Tiger has on Els. While a good number of these players compete almost completely on the KLPGA and JLPGA, the fact remains that Ochoa faces more competition on the LPGA than Tiger does on the PGA.

The Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index also supports my claim, although not as starkly. In the men's rankings, Tiger (66.44) has a huge lead on #2 Steve Stricker (68.70), and there are 17 guys within 3 points of him (several of whom split their time between the PGA and European Tour). In the women's rankings, Ochoa (67.87) has a large lead on #2 Creamer (69.29), and there are 16 gals within 3 points of her (2 of whom don't play regularly on the LPGA Tour). So the depth of competition is relatively similar, but Tiger's lead on his nearest competitors is much bigger. (Plus, if the GSPI included KLPGA events in its database, Ji-Yai Shin would most likely be the #2 golfer in their system, much closer to Ochoa than Creamer, and Sun Ju Ahn would likely be within 3 points of Ochoa.)

So, yes, Ochoa's margins of victory have been impressive, but some of her top competitors are rehabbing injuries (Annika Sorenstam, Mi Hyun Kim, Se Ri Pak), coming back from giving birth (Hee-Won Han, Karen Stupples, Catriona Matthew), just beginning to find their games again (Suzann Pettersen, Karrie Webb, Jee Young Lee, Seon Hwa Lee, Maria Hjorth, Inbee Park), slowing down after fast starts (Paula Creamer, Jeong Jang, Momoko Ueda, Angela Stanford, Laura Diaz, Jane Park, Christina Kim), or just plain struggling (Cristie Kerr, Angela Park, Morgan Pressel, Stacy Prammanasudh) while Ochoa has been in the zone. So please do your readers a favor and stop pretending it's going to be any easier for Ochoa to keep winning majors than for Tiger to start winning them again.

Finally, I think you both overestimate Ochoa's power advantage and misunderstand where her game has improved the most:

Ochoa is piling up wins and making jaws drop at a clip Sorenstam can appreciate. Ochoa tweaked her backswing in the offseason and changed to a different ball, picking up 5-7 more yards off the tee. She's No. 1 in driving distance at a hair under 280 yards, which means she can overwhelm courses like no other LPGA player. For perspective, that figure would rank around No. 100 on the PGA Tour in power.

There are 11 other players averaging over 270 yards off the tee on the LPGA including some of Ochoa's closest competitors: Pettersen (270.6), Jee Young Lee (272.8), Stupples (271.5), Hjorth (275.0), and Gustafson (277.4). Moreover, there are a lot of big hitters among the young guns who will provide her toughest competition over the next 4 seasons: in addition to Lee, rookies #10 Hee Young Park (271.2), #13 Ya Ni Tseng (268.2), #15 Na Yeon Choi (266.2), #18 Shanshan Feng (264.8), and #25 Momoko Ueda (262.9) stand out. But length off the tee is not destiny on the LPGA: the last three rookies of the year, Angela Park, Seon Hwa Lee, and Paula Creamer, can not be found in the top 80 in driving distance thus far this season. And Sorenstam's average driving distance is still far behind what it was before her neck and back injuries, but she's managed 5 consecutive top 10s. In fact, where Ochoa has been focusing the most in the early season is on her wedge game; she has made the most improvement from 100 yards and in. We'll just have to see how 2006 champion Mi Hyun Kim, who still holds the 72-hole tournament record at -12, does this week at the Ginn Open, along with all the other precision players in the field....

More in this vein at the end of the month, when I update my Best of the LPGA rankings and rank the Young Gun classes of 2006 and 2007 together for the first time. Until then, I appreciate the spotlight you're putting on the LPGA, but could do without your recycling of myths about Ochoa's competition and women's golf.

[Update 4/18/08: Beth Ann Baldry jumps on the Elling bandwagon in Golfweek, less annoyingly. But I'd love to see the golf writers focusing on the question of who has the best chance to end Ochoa's major winning streak. It's a great opportunity to educate the general public that knows little of women's golf beyond Ochoa, Sorenstam, and Wie.]

[Update 4/19/08: Jeff Rude proves he doesn't read this blog. Way to boil Elling's mistake down to its essence, Jeff. Keep up the good work! Seriously, when are golf writers going to realize that the rest of the LPGA doesn't have to be cast as chopped liver to build up Ochoa? Forget what I said yesterday about golf writers educating the golfing public--they need to start paying attention first.]