Monday, June 30, 2008

The Best of the LPGA: June 2008 Edition

I closed April's ranking of the Best of the LPGA with this comment on Lorena Ochoa's dominance: "No one can stay in the zone forever...." After the loss of her uncle and grandfather, I'm sorry to see her sublime play come to an end. But the 2nd half of the season becomes even more interesting, doesn't it, when anyone can win any given week?

Who has the best chance to make up the most ground on Ochoa this summer? Let's find out by combining the most recent results from the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the LPGA Official Money List, and Hound Dog's Top 30.

Despite her recent struggles, there's no question who's #1:

1. Lorena Ochoa: #1 money ($2.03M), #1 RR (19.46), #1 GSPI (68.00), #1 HD. She still leads in almost every single significant statistical category the LPGA keeps track of, but the gap between her and her closest competitors is closing. More important, her run of utter dominance is over. The LPGA's Young Guns are gaining in confidence; with each win by one of their peers, it makes the rest of them wonder why they haven't yet done it. Rookies Louise Friberg and Ya Ni Tseng and Junior Mint Seon Hwa Lee woke up Super Sophs Eun-Hee Ji and Inbee Park. Who will be next? With Ochoa not returning to competition for a few weeks, the possibilities are endless....

While it's clear who Ochoa's top competition on tour is and that this chase pack has been gaining on her, it's just as clear that they've been dealing with problems of their own, as symbolized by Suzann Pettersen's and Paula Creamer's inability to close the deal the past 2 weeks (and Jeong Jang's multiple near-misses this season), along with Annika Sorenstam's inability to build on her own dominating win back in mid-May. The only 1 moving up is a rookie--and Tseng's been playing hurt, just like Jang.

2. Annika Sorenstam: #2 money ($1.46M), #2 RR (11.39), #3 GSPI (69.24), #2 HD. If she was putting 1/10th as well as she was striking the ball, she'd have made up some serious ground on Ochoa. As it is, she's missed the top 10 in 4 of 5 tournaments since she ran away with the Michelob Ultra.
3. Paula Creamer: #3 money ($1.06M), #4 RR (8.08), #4 GSPI (69.41), #3 HD. With her final round blow-up at the U.S. Women's Open, she missed her chance to pass Sorenstam and get tha "best player without a major" label off her back at the ripe old age of 21. But she did get her 3rd straight top 10.
4. Ya Ni Tseng: #5 money ($876.8K), #6 RR (6.16), #5 GSPI (69.86), #5 HD. This is not a typo. I'm ranking Tseng ahead of Pettersen. Winning a major will do that for you. With tricep tendonitis, though, she's better think long and hard about getting some rest before the European swing.
5. Suzann Pettersen: #8 money ($729.5K), #3 RR (8.93), #2 GSPI (69.52), #4 HD. After blowing up in the first round of the Open, she outplayed just about everyone over her final 3 rounds. But that's been the story of her season--she's probably playing better than she was last year, but one big round has dashed her hopes for contention. And when she has been in the hunt, she hasn't closed the deal: 3 top 3s but 0 wins will not put her back in the top 4.
6. Jeong Jang: #6 money ($826.0K), #8 RR (5.10), #8 GSPI (70.17), #7 HD. With 5 top 3s this season and missed chances for multiple wins, Jang knows just how Pettersen is feeling. And with a bad wrist, she ought to be considering a short break before the European swing just as Tseng should be.

Surprisingly, there's only 1 player in the top 10 in 3 of the 4 systems:

7. Karrie Webb: #10 money ($524.6K), #5 RR (6.34), #12 GSPI (70.61), #8 HD. She has 3 top 3s but no other top 10s this season. I call it veteran-itis. Don't expect her to remain in the top 10 next ranking. There are too many hungry young guns behind her playing better and more consistent golf than she has been the past 2 years.

The rest of the lead pack has fallen back a bit and can be found in the top 10 in only 2 of the 4 systems (and/or in the top 20 in all):

8. Seon Hwa Lee: #7 money ($738.8K), #14 RR (4.47), #16 GSPI (70.72), #6 HD. Seemed to be coming out of a bad stretch in May but hasn't followed up on her amazing come-from-behind win in the Ginn Tribute.
9. Cristie Kerr: #20 money ($395.4K), #7 RR (5.32), #7 GSPI (70.08), #14 HD. Big disappointment over the weekend at the Open, but she does have 5 straight top 20s, so seems to be overcoming her early-spring inconsistency.
10. Maria Hjorth: #13 money ($457.0K), #10 RR (4.84), #13 GSPI (70.61), #10 HD. Lost to Tseng in a playoff at the LPGA Championship right after missing the cut at the Ginn Tribute. What more can I say to illustrate her inconsistency?
11. Jee Young Lee: #15 money ($436.6K), #13 RR (4.55), #15 GSPI (70.64), #9 HD. Inconsistency has been her demon this season, as well. She's either following up top 10s with a finish in the 50s or sandwiching a missed cut among top 20s. Like Pettersen, made a good comeback after a bad start to the Open, so maybe she's due for better things....

But there's a large group of golfers with a top 10 in 1 system or top 20s in 3 of the 4.

12. Inbee Park: #4 money ($1.01M), #12 RR (4.55), #33 GSPI (71.44), #26 HD. Ever since I proclaimed that she had been passed by a couple of classmates who have much fewer events under their belts, she's been playing great in 2008. And now she's the youngest winner of the U.S. Women's Open! I love it when a plan comes together....
13. Na Yeon Choi: #11 money ($508.1K), #39 RR (2.86), #9 GSPI (70.28), #11 HD. Her worst finish on the LPGA (T32) is still her 1st event of the year and she did well to get a top 20 at the Open after competing in Korea the week before. With Tseng's injury and Ueda's lost opportunity on Open Sunday, she may be the favorite for the rookie of the year, even though she's still 97 points behind.
14. Hee-Won Han: #21 money ($395.1K), #29 RR (3.22), #10 GSPI (70.54), #20 HD. The top new mom on tour hasn't played at all well since the Michelob Ultra, but despite her uncharacteristic inconsistency, she still has 2 top 10s in that stretch. Look for her to shake off her terrible Open quickly.
15. Song-Hee Kim: #9 money ($553.4K), #56 RR (2.00), #40 GSPI (71.74), #12 HD. Was one of the hottest players on tour in the spring, but has shown signs of her early-season shakiness since her 3rd-place finish at the Ginn Tribute.
16. Mi Hyun Kim: #30 money ($338.5K), #16 RR (4.18), #11 GSPI (70.60), #16 HD. Her T6 at the Open was the 3rd straight top 10 in a major for the player with my vote for the "best w/o a major" title. Unfortunately, she has a bad history at the British Open....
17. Christina Kim: #17 money ($421.7K), #35 RR (2.92), #14 GSPI (70.63), #15 HD. She's #3 in the Solheim Cup standings and #4 in top 10s this season, so why is she ranked so low? Say it with me: inconsistency!
18. Stacy Prammanasudh: #31 money ($330.0K), #19 RR (3.86), #19 GSPI (70.95), #17 HD. She was the 12th player to finish under par at the Open, but missed out on a top 10 last weekend. Still has a good chance to salvage a season that opened with such promise (a 5th-place finish at the HSBC Women's Champions) but has resulted in only 2 other top 10s.

There are only a few golfers with top 20s in 2 of the 4 systems.

19. Eun-Hee Ji: #12 money ($486.7K), #18 RR (3.94), #22 GSPI (70.98), n.r. HD. One hot weekend in Rochester does not a season make, but beating the LPGA's #5 golfer shows just how much potential this Super Soph has!
20. Sophie Gustafson: #27 money ($360.9K), #28 RR (3.28), #17 GSPI (70.84), #19 HD. Like Pettersen and Hjorth, suffering an all-too-common European disease of being unable to finish off tournaments, but look for her to shake off her Open MC quickly.
21. Momoko Ueda: #39 money ($280.9K), #11 RR (4.57), #18 GSPI (70.84), n.r. HD. Her recent win on the JLPGA and near-miss of a top 10 at the Open may be signs of better things to come for Japan's top golfer. But she's had chances to go on a tear earlier this season and failed to sustain the momentum of twice playing in the final pairing on a Sunday. Here's hoping she heats up as the summer does.

The large group with one top 20 and otherwise strong stats is full of players who were hot in the early spring but have since cooled off, but a few are coming on strong:

22. Laura Diaz: #16 money ($427.6K), #26 RR (3.940), #23 GSPI (71.02), #22 HD. Had some good finishes heading into the Open, but couldn't sustain her momentum.
23. Angela Stanford: #23 money ($373.4K), #23 RR (3.57), #24 GSPI (71.02), #18 HD. In a real tailspin since making Hound Dog's top 10 in May, but she's too good for it to last.
24. Karen Stupples: #19 money ($400.0K), #28 RR (2.86), #25 GSPI (71.03), #25 HD. Falling behind Han in the "best new mom" race.
25. Morgan Pressel: #22 money ($377.3K), #15 RR (4.37), #35 GSPI (71.55), #24 HD. 3 top 10s and nothing worse than a T25 in her last 5 starts after missing the cut 3 straight times suggests she's on her way back to the game's elite, but her weak weekend at the Wegmans shows how far she still has to go.
26. Angela Park: #28 money ($351.1K), #20 RR (3.78), #36 GSPI (71.57), n.r. HD. Her T3 at the Open is her best finish of the year and only her 3rd top 10 of the season. Hope it gives her just the confidence boost she needs.
27. Juli Inkster: #36 money ($288.0K), #17 RR (4.05), #21 GSPI (70.96), #25 HD. Missed the last 2 cuts in a row, but never count this Hall of Famer out!
28. Candie Kung: #29 money ($344.5K), #55 RR (2.01), #20 GSPI (70.96), n.r. HD. Has missed the cut twice since the last ranking, but also has had 2 top 10s, 2 top 20s, and 2 top 30s in that stretch. Good enough to move up a few spots.
29. Teresa Lu: #18 money ($415.6K), #57 RR (1.99), #47 GSPI (71.89), n.r. HD. Her top 10 at the Open was her 1st good finish in a major this year, showing she may be getting used to hanging with the game's elite.
30. Helen Alfredsson: #14 money ($450.8K), #43 RR (2.63), #80 GSPI (72.69), n.r. HD. Great Open, but don't expect to see her back here in August.

Here are the best of the rest!

30. Lindsey Wright: #34 money ($307.0K), #45 RR (2.50), #32 GSPI (71.44), #23 HD. Has cooled off a lot since the early spring, but not enough to drop her out of the ranking.
31. Brittany Lang: #24 money ($372.1K), #48 RR (2.22), #34 GSPI (71.48), #27 H.D. Having one of the best seasons of the Junior Mints, she's over her sophomore jinx and movin' on up.
32. Catriona Matthew: #40 money ($264.5K), #22 RR (3.59), #27 GSPI (71.18), n.r. HD. This new mom still hasn't found her stride in 2008 after a great comeback year in 2007, but a top 20 at the Open shows she has the talent to compete at the highest level.
33. Nicole Castrale: #41 money ($260.7K), #25 RR (3.43), #29 GSPI (71.26), n.r. HD. I was ready to write her off, but 3 top 10s in her last 4 events, including her last 2 majors, have her back on my radar.
34. Jane Park: #26 money ($367.2K), #54 RR (2.02), #49 GSPI (71.93), #29 H.D. The 5th Super Soph in this ranking, she's put herself in contention a few times already this season and is likely to do it several more times before the year is out.
35. Natalie Gulbis: #52 money ($154.4K), #31 RR (3.13), #31 GSPI (71.57), n.r. HD. Yup, despite her slump this season there's no one I'd rank ahead of her--using this system, at least.

There are a big group of players threatening to break into the top 35, among them Se Ri Pak, Sun Young Yoo, In-Kyung Kim, Ai Miyazato, Minea Blomqvist, Jimin Kang, Shi Hyun Ahn, Meena Lee, Ji Young Oh, Guilia Sergas, Leta Lindley, Brittany Lincicome, Laura Davies, Sherri Steinhauer, and Pat Hurst. We'll see where they stand in August!

Mostly Harmless Milestones

Amazing how time flies when you're having fun! Yesterday's post was our 700th and late that evening we got our 25,000th visit to the site. This is also our first month we broke 2500 visits and 4500 page views. I guess it helps having 2 LPGA majors in a month, eh?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

U.S. Women's Open Sunday: Will the Wind Blow the Low Scoring Away?

The first pairings are off at the U.S. Women's Open and already they're facing very different weather conditions than in the previous 3 rounds, with winds already at 11 mph. The Weather Channel is forecasting gusty NNW winds in the 20-30 mph range, with a high of 79 and a mix of sun and clouds. Now we'll see Interlachen with its teeth bared. Whoever adjusts best wins. Game on!

[Update 1 (6:02 pm): Well, well, well, I get the family in for free at a minor league baseball game in Buffalo early this afternoon, head home early after a rain delay sapped the girls' patience, and what do I find out upon my return? Thanks to the USGA blog, I was able to lend some details to the tale of the scorecards--early collapses by Lewis, Creamer, and Alfredsson, no big runs by anyone close to the lead pack, and only Inbee Park hanging tough on the front and building a commanding lead on the back. Here's what I wrote about Park earlier this week, in the wake of Eun-Hee Ji's win over her and Pettersen down the stretch at the Wegmans, on a Seoul Sisters discussion board:

Although I mainly focused on Ai Miyazato in my Saturday on-course report, I was impressed by Inbee's ballstriking, clutch putting, and course management (especially her attempted approach on the par-5 17th after pitching out from the trees on her 2nd)--particularly after a long rain delay.

This was Ji's weekend--and what a win it was!--but even though Park played more like Pettersen down the stretch, her 1st win is not so very far away. If she keeps up this pace, she could pass Angela Park on the career money list by the end of the season! (For that matter, so could Ji, with many fewer events under her belt)....

Next Super Sophs ranking is post-Open--should be very interesting....

Why oh why can't I take my own advice?]

[Update 2 (6/30/08, 9:57 am): Nice job by Jason Sobel in his Weekly 18. Much more interesting than Steve Elling bemoaning the All-American Sunday collapse.]

[Update 3 (8:04 pm): While I'm giving credit, Ron Sirak deserves quite a bit for putting Park's win in perspective.]

[Update 4 (/2/08, 2:09 am): Daniel Wexler asks an interesting question about what Park's win signifies.]

Promise Ladies Sunday: Can Arimura Hold Off Fudoh and Oyama?

2008 has not been kind to Yuri Fudoh and Shiho Oyama. Fudoh has played terribly since she won early in the season and still hasn't crossed the billion yen mark in career winnings. Even though Oyama's returned to form of late, she's had to endure 2 straight runner-ups. Chie Arimura is in a great position to keep them frustrated for another week. She hasn't made a bogey since the 14th hole of the 1st round and stands at -12 with 5 holes to play in the Promise Ladies. Despite her great play, Fudoh had caught her with 3 straight birdies to close out the front. But 2 2-shot swings later--an Arimura birdie and Fudoh bogey on the 10th and a Fudoh double bogey on the par-5 13th--and her lead was 4 on both Fudoh and Oyama, who hasn't made a birdie since landing 3 of them in her 1st 7 holes.

The only other players who could have been in the mix--Esther Lee and first-round leader Yuko Mitsuka--haven't kept pace with the top 3. Lee erased her 2 opening birdies with 3 bogeys in 4 holes at the turn; at E for the day, she's 5 back with 5 to play, alone in 4th place. Mitsuka's hot streak has definitely come to an end, as she's +2 on her round with 4 holes to play, thanks to a double bogey on each side that have helped offset her 4 birdies. At -5 (T8), she's been caught by the field. There are 15 players at -5 or better and another 5 only 1 shot back. The round of the day so far belongs to Yun-Jye Wei; her 67 has broken her streak of bad golf (3 missed cuts and no top 25s in her last 8 events) and vaulted her into the top 10, for now at least.

More after the JLPGA lifts their online blackout!

[Update 1 (8:18 am): Arimura did it! In fact, she pulled away for the win, continuing the JLPGA's streak of 1-time winners this season. Oyama got her 3rd straight runner-up finish, while Esther Lee got her 5th top 5 in her last 6 starts. Here's how they ended up:

1st/-14 Arimura (67-67-68)
2nd/-9 Oyama (70-69-68)
T3/-8 Lee (71-66-71), Fudoh (68-69-71)
5th/-7 Erina Hara (70-69-70)
T6/-6 Kaori Aoyama (70-72-68), Yasuko Satoh (73-68-69), Ji-Hee Lee (69-72-72), Mayumi Shimamura (69-72-69), Yuko Mitsuka (65-72-73)

T11/-5 Yun-Jye Wei (74-70-67), Akane Iijima (70-71-70)
T16/-4 Miho Koga (73-68-71), Maiko Wakabayashi (69-69-74)
T21/-3 Hiroko Yamaguchi (74-70-69), Shinobu Moromizato (69-70-74)
T23/-2 Eun-A Lim (73-72-69), Ayako Uehara (71-71-72), Yuki Ichinose (72-69-73)
T31/-1 Mayu Hattori (71-75-70)
T34/E Bo-Bae Song (72-73-71), Midori Yoneyama (71-72-73)
T40/+1 Ritsuko Ryu (69-76-72)
T44/+2 Hiromi Mogi (72-73-73)
T49/+3 Hyun-Ju Shin (72-73-74)
T51/+4 Kaori Higo (70-73-77)

And here's how the money list looks:

1. Akiko Fukushima ¥49.59M
2. Ji-Hee Lee ¥47.81M
3. Sakura Yokomine ¥44.17M
4. Miho Koga ¥42.31M
5. Eun-A Lim ¥40.29M
6. Bo-Bae Song ¥38.52M
7. Yukari Baba ¥34.97M
8. Ayako Uehara ¥32.74M
9. Miki Saiki ¥32.47M
10. Yuko Mitsuka ¥30.87M
11. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥30.75M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥29.71M
13. Hiroko Yamaguchi ¥27.79M
14. Chie Arimura ¥27.11M
15. Akane Iijima ¥24.63M

Hyun-Ju Shin just dropped out of the top 15 and Esther Lee is 1 good finish away from getting into it. Perhaps she's next in line to keep the 1-time winner sreak going? Fudoh is now less than 7 million yen shy of the 1 billion mark, but she's sitting next week at the Belluna Ladies Cup out, along with Miho Koga, Miki Saiki, Mi-Jeong Jeon, and Shiho Oyama. But the field is still strong. Sakura Yokomine returns from the U.S. Women's Open and Akiko Fukushima comes back from her week off, and with Arimura and Mitsuka in the field, there will be plenty of competition among those seeking their 1st and 2nd wins of 2008.]

Saturday, June 28, 2008

U.S. Women's Open Saturday: Who Will Move in the Right Direction on Moving Day?

Some fascinating pairings for moving day at the U.S. Women's Open. Of the 32 players who went under par Thursday, only 11 were able to repeat the feat Friday. Who among them will continue their under-par streaks?

Katherine Hull will have the 1st shot at this feat. She's been playing the par 3s badly (+4), but making up for it with fine play on the par 4s (-3) and solid play on the par 5s (-3). She's playing with In-Kyung Kim and Nicole Castrale in the 10:49 pairing, 2 players who have been making a bit of a comeback this week after fairly disappointing seasons to date. Hull bogeyed the par-5 2nd hole to drop to -1 for the tournament.

Mi Hyun Kim will have the next chance, going off at 11:00 am with Song-Hee Kim and Louise Friberg. She's been playing her usual precision game, making 3 birdies and only 1 bogey in 36 holes. If she gets her putter going, watch out! She birdied the 1st hole to get to -3.

Playing together with the next chance to stay under par each round will be 2 of Japan's best golfers, LPGA Junior Mint Ai Miyazato and rookie Momoko Ueda, in the 11:11 am pairing with first-round leader Ji Young Oh. Miyazato is not driving the ball particularly well, but is -3 on the par 4s and -2 on the par 5s, while +2 on the par 3s. Ueda, by contrast, is hitting her tee shots very well and playing the par 5s well (-4), while the par 3s (E) and pars 4s (+1) aren't hurting her. Both have been among the best putters in the field thus far.

Teresa Lu in the 11:22 am pairing with youngsters Stacy Lewis and Maria Jose Uribe has the next chance to keep her under-par streak going. Lu has been playing the par 3s very well (-2) and is holding steady on the par 5s (-2) and par 4s (E). If she starts driving better, watch out for her!

Cristie Kerr and Candie Kung in the 11:33 am pairing with Ji-Yai Shin are next off. Kerr has been taking advantage of the par 5s (-5), but has struggled on par 3s (+2) and held steady on the par 4s (-1). Kung's been striking the ball very well this week, playing the par 4s strongly (-3) while holding steady on the par 5s (-1) and par 3s (E).

Paula Creamer and Helen Alfredsson in the 11:44 am pairing with Jeong Jang have the next chance to remain under par each round. Creamer's been playing solidly all around, -3 in the par 5s, -1 in the par 4s, and E in the par 3s, while Alfredsson's been rocking the par 5s (-6) and playing the par 3s well (-1), but struggling in the par 4s (+2).

Inbee Park and Minea Blomqvist will have the last chance to keep the good times rolling, playing in the final group off the 1st tee with leader Angela Park. Inbee Park has been playing the par 3s great (-3), while hanging in on the par 5s (-2) and par 4s (E), while Blomqvist has played the par 5s well (-4) and hung on in the par 4s (-1) and par 3s (E), despite spraying her drives a bit compared to the other leaders.

If the trends continue, fewer than a handful of these players will be under par today. Odds are it'll be others taking advantage of Interlachen on moving day. It'll be interesting to see how many players can get under par for 2 of their first 3 rounds.

[Update 1 (6:59 pm): Then there were 4! Paula Creamer (69, -8), Helen Alfredsson (71, -7), Inbee Park (71, -7), and Mi Hyun Kim (70, -5) were the only ones among the 11 who had a chance to actually keep the under-par-each-round streak going. But they're not alone at the top of the leaderboard because a couple of young guns played their hearts out. Stacy Lewis shot a bogey-free 67 to jump all the way to -9, while In-Kyung Kim's 7-birdie 69 vaulted her to -6. Wow!]

[Update 2 (7:04 pm): By my count, there are only 8 players who have stayed at par or better in each of their 1st 3 rounds, and only 18 who have gone under par in 2 rounds thus far.]

[Update 3 (7:16 pm): Let's survey some classic Open moving day carnage. Nightmare Finish of the Day goes to Ji-Yai Shin, who was -2 for the tournament with 5 holes to play. She finished bogey-bogey-bogey-double-bogey for a 42 on the back, a 79 for the day, and +3 for the tournament (T36). Rachel Hetherington's damage came in the middle of her round, when she went bogey-par-bogey-bogey-double between the 8th and 12th holes (she also shot a 42 on the back, but her 78 dropped her to +5 overall [T50]). So did Louise Friberg's: she followed up her triple on the 316-yard 7th with a bogey on the 9th for a 41 on the front; her 79 sent her all the way back to +3 (T36). Candie Kung's troubles came at the start, when she got on a bogey train that started on the 3rd and ended on the 7th (she bogeyed the 9th for a 41, and didn't do much better on the back; her 79 dropped her all the way to +2 [T31]). Most disappointing 71 of the day goes to Sherri Steinhauer, who finished bogey-double after having a chance for the best round of the day; her finish dropped her from the top 20 to T31.]

[Update 4 (7:22 pm): But some people had good finishes: Maria Jose Uribe birdied the 18th to get back to -4 (T7); Momoko Ueda and Teresa Lu birdied it to hold steady at -3 (T9); Seon Hwa Lee and Na Yeon Choi birdied it to stay at and get to -1 (T16), respectively.]

[Update 5 (7:36 pm): The race for the win is narrowing down, with only 7 players within 5 shots of Lewis and only 10 within 5 shots of Creamer, while the top 6 have not yet gone over par. Most likely the winner will be the 1 or 2 of them who manage to extend their streak another day, unless someone goes nuts from back in the field.... They're going off in twosomes tomorrow, so the action should be fast and furious.]

[Update 6 (7:45 pm): Wow, a million great pairings, from Ji-Yai Shin and Karrie Webb at 9:10 am (repeating their playoff battle from the first tournament of the year in Australia), young gun major winners Morgan Pressel and Ya Ni Tseng at 10:10 am, Junior Mints Jee Young Lee and Ai Miyazato at 10:40 am, Super Sophs Song-Hee Kim and Ji Young Oh at 10:50 am, plus the last 9 pairings from 11:10 am to 12:30 pm, each of which have something remarkable about it.]

[Update 7 (6/29/08, 3:22 am): Brian Hewitt reports that the wind will be up today!]

[Update 8 (8:33 am): Hound Dog's 3rd-round recap is up, but don't expect highlights from him for awhile. Apparently, as penance for attending a tournament, he's hosting friends on Open weekend....]

Promise Ladies Saturday: Arimura Makes Her Move

Chie Arimura (-10) has jumped out to a 3-shot lead on first-round leader Yuko Mitsuka at the Promise Ladies JLPGA event, thanks to her own bogey-free 67 and Mitsuka's final-hole double bogey, which dropped her back to 72, the worst score of anyone in the top 10. Arimura has been playing solidly in recent weeks--5 top 20s in the last 6 events, including 2 top 10s, her only under-par finishes of the season--so the odds are against Mitsuka in her bid to become the JLPGA's first repeat winner of 2008. Even more formidable is the resurgence of slumping legend Yuri Fudoh, who eagled the par-4 3rd hole on her way to a 69 that also brought her to -7. And don't count out Esther Lee, who's been one of the hottest players on tour lately, with 3 top 5s in the last 4 events, and who shot the best round of the day Saturday, a bogey-free 66. She's also at -7, 3 shots behind Arimura.

Here's how the leaderboard stands heading into Sunday's decisive round:

1st/-10 Arimura (67-67)
T2/-7 Lee (71-66), Fudoh (68-69), Mitsuka (65-72)
T5/-6 Kuniko Maeda (71-67), Maiko Wakabayashi (69-69), Tomoko Kusakabe (68-70)
T8/-5 Shiho Oyama (70-69), Erina Hara (70-69), Shinobu Moromizato (69-70)

Maeda's 32 on the back, in which she made an eagle and 2 birdies, was tied for the lowest of the day on that side, while Wakabayashi had missed 7 of her last 10 cuts, the only bright spot in tht stretch being a single 2nd-place finish, and Kusakabe had missed 6 of her last 8 cuts heading into this tournament. So the odds are against them making a run at Arimura. So realistically there are 6 players in the field with a decent chance to take advantage if she opens the door at all. The rest of the JLPGA's best haven't shown the ability to really go low on this course thus far, althugh Iijima and Koga have shot the 2 lowest rounds of the season on tour, so I suppose you can't completely count them out:

T13/-3 Miho Koga (73-68), Yuki Ichinose (72-69), Akane Iijima (70-71), Ji-Hee Lee (69-72)
T22/-2 Ayako Uehara (71-71)
T28/-1 Kaori Higo (70-73), Midori Yoneyama (71-72)
T36/E Hiroko Yamaguchi (74-70), Yun-Jye Wei (74-70)
T43/+1 Eun-A Lim (73-72), Bo-Bae Song (72-73), Hyun-Ju Shin (72-73), Hiromi Mogi (72-73), Mayu Hattori (71-75), Ritsuko Ryu (69-76)

MC Yukari Baba (75-71), Miki Saiki (75-75), Michiko Hattori (77-74)

This is Saiki's 3rd missed cut in a row, a stretch in which she's broken 75 only once in 6 rounds.

But in the end we have several players going for their 1st win of 2008 while Yuko Mitsuka and Yuri Fudoh are racing to see who can be the 1st to get her 2nd.

Friday, June 27, 2008

U.S. Women's Open Friday: Still a Lot of Birdies on the Course!

If the play of the first few groups in the morning pairings at the U.S. Women's Open is any indication, Interlachen's birdie holes aren't yet playing any tougher than they were on Thursday. Super Soph Inbee Park became the 8th player in the field to eagle the 2nd, Junior Mints Seon Hwa Lee and Minea Blomqvist birdied their 1st 2 holes on the back, and living legend Annika Sorenstam birdied both opening par 5s on the front. But Pat Hurst and Song-Hee Kim have made an early bogey each, so it's not automatic for anyone out there. We'll see how many of the 32 players who started out the day under par remain there by its end!

[Update 1 (10:13 am): Lee is now -3 on the day and -1 for the tournament after her 1st 6 holes on the back. Karen Stupples has joined her thanks to birdies on the 13th and 15th. Also making an early move is Jane Park, who imitated Sorenstam's feat. But Ji-Yai Shin and Sakura Yokomine are moving in the wrong direction early in their rounds (Yokomine is now +3 on the short par-4 15th for the tournament). You can track the best (and worst) rounds of the day for yourself at the USGA leaderboard.]

[Update 2 (10:38 am): Oh no! Beth Ann Baldry reports that Ya Ni Tseng has a very bad right elbow:

Diagnosed with tricep tendonitis, Tseng’s doctor said he’d recommend a week off [if] it wasn’t the U.S. Women’s Open. The injury was an emotional blow to the Taiwanese power player who wants desperately to win rookie of the year honors.

Her arm started hurting in December at the final stage of LPGA Q-School. If Tseng promised to take it easy at the Open, she wouldn’t damage the elbow any further.

“I’ve been to the range twice this week,” said Tseng, who feels pain at impact. “A lot of time chipping and putting.

I feel terrible for Tseng.]

[Update 3 (1:45 pm): From a potential Rookie of the Year to the recent ones! Angela Park has been in limbo since her slow-play penalty while she was in contention in Hawaii seemed to send her into a tailspin, but although she's only hit 5 of 12 fairways thus far, she's hit all but 1 green and has made 5 birdies and an eagle in her 1st 15 holes. She briefly had the lead to herself at -7 but bogeyed the tough 6th hole to drop back into a tie with Ji Young Oh (who hasn't yet started her round today). Seon Hwa Lee bogeyed the 9th hole for the second day in a row, but her 70 still helped her leap into the top 25 at -1 for the tournament. Paula Creamer bogeyed both par 3s on the back but still managed a solid 72 to get to -4 (T6). With Tseng's injury, 2nd-place 2008 rookie Na Yeon Choi may have an advantage in the 2nd half of the season, and she's made 3 birdies in her 1st 4 holes on the back to get within 1 shot of even par.]

[Update 4 (1:51 pm): Junior Mint Minea Blomqvist was the first to break 70 today, though Jeong Jang was right on her heels. Meanwhile, Annika Sorenstam birdied the 18th for a 70 to join Lee at -1, as did Suzann Pettersen, who will need some help to make the cut from her +2 perch--either from the eventual 36 hole leader or from the rest of the field.]

[Update 5 (2:03 pm): How about that Inbee Park? After suffering a final-6-hole mini-collapse of her own last Sunday when she was in contention at the Wegmans, she fired a 69 today to join Blomqvist as leader in the clubhouse at -5. Fellow Super Soph Jane Park will need help from the leader or the field to make the cut; her 71 only brought her back to +3 for the tournament, T72 right now. Even though their classmate Song-Hee Kim ballooned to 76 today, at -2 she's still very much in contention--she may even be in the top 10 by the end of the day.]

[Update 6 (2:05 pm): Morgan Pressel shot a 39 on the back to drop to +2 for the tournament (T64 right now). She and Pettersen were at the top of the leaderboard last week at this point, but now they're just hoping to be playing on the weekend.]

[Update 7 (2:18 pm): Junior Mint Brittany Lang and JLPGA star Sakura Yokomine held it together on a tough day for both of them--their 75s keep them at E, in pretty good position heading into the weekend. With only 3 players from the morning pairings going under par both days (only Ji-Yai Shin, at -1 with the 8th and 9th left to play, can join this group), you just have to have a feeling many in the afternoon pairings will come back to them.]

[Update 8 (8:54 pm): Hound Dog summarizes where things were a few hours ago, but I've been doing daddy stuff and now it's time to put the girls to bed, so no more updates from here for awhile. Just a quick note to say how surprised I am at how tough the scoring has been in the afternoon--even tougher than I expected. I suspect the weather--and the weather delays--have something to do with that. But Cristie Kerr (-4 so far), Helen Alfredsson (-3), and Candie Kung (-3)have been handling the conditions just fine, as has Stacy Lewis (-2). But Ji-Yai Shin's late collapse (2 closing bogeys and 3 in her last 7 holes) to fall back to 74 for the day and -3 for the tournament has been the norm for the leaders heading out in the afternoon. More on that later!]

[Update 9 (6/28/08, 7:27 am): Most of the groups did get their Friday rounds in after seemingly unending weather delays. Cristie Kerr bogeyed her final hole, the 9th, but at -4 is in great position heading into the weekend. With the birdie-able 18th still to play, Ai Miyazato not only has the chance to become the 11th player to shoot consecutive under-par rounds and to join Kerr, Creamer, Jang, and Kung T5 at -4, but also to take a 1-shot lead on Momoko Ueda, who finished with back-to-back birdies for a fine 34 on the back--and a 2-shot lead on Rookie of the Year race leader Ya Ni Tseng. Ji-Young Oh and Louise Friberg have chances to salvage their Friday rounds with a start on the 18th today that could land them in the top 10, while Jee Young Lee has 3 holes on which to get back below par before starting her Saturday round. Plus there are a host of players looking to stay within 10 shots of the leader Angela Park, among them Maria Hjorth, Leta Lindley, and rookies Hee Young Park and Amy Yang.

Hound Dog's update is not to be missed--he mines Minea Blomqvist's interview for great material--and of curse his highlights rock! For more reading, check out the USGA news page and the usual suspects in our sidebar.]

[Update 10 (7:56 am): Ron Sirak's latest headline caught my attention because I thought he was going to talk about all the young players, from not-even rookies like Stacy Lewis to the rookies, Super Sophs, and Junior Mints at the top of the leaderboard, but instead he focused on Sorenstam and Creamer. I'm regretting not putting more young guns in my Pakpicker this week, particularly with Se Ri Pak missing the cut and Karrie Webb just barely squeaking in. Oh, and Moira Dunn missed it by 1 shot, darn it! Going +2 on the 10 par 5s she played was her downfall.... But she's in good company--Juli Inkster (81), Laura Davies (81), Natalie Gulbis (80), and Sophie Gustafson (77) are out, along with Michelle Wie and all but 7 of the amateurs.... The course isn't all that kind to veterans or newbies, apparently, despite the fine play of Alfredsson, Uribe, Lewis, and Ueda. But I could easily envision a 2nd- or 3rd-year player winning this!]

Promise Ladies Friday: Mitsuka Keeps the Pedal to the Metal

With Sakura Yokomine and Mi-Jeong Jeon joining Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda at the U.S. Women's Open this week, there's a great opportunity for the rest of the JLPGA's best at the Promise Ladies this week. And Yuko Mitsuka is picking up where she left off last week, shooting her 2nd straight bogey-free 65, thanks to a string of 4 birdies in her final 6 holes. Right behind her are Tamie Durdin and Iyoko Wada, the latter on the strength of a 30 when she birdied 5 of the final 6 holes on the back. Chie Arimura is alone in 4th, 2 shots behind Mitsuka, but would have been passed by Tomoko Kusakabe if she hadn't double bogeyed the 18th; as it is, Kusakabe is tied with none other than Yuri Fudoh, who shot a bogey-free 68. With some very good players at -3, Mitsuka will have to keep up her fantastic play over the weekend to become the first repeat winner on tour in 2008.

1st/-7 Mitsuka (65)
T2/-6 Durdin, Wada (66)
4th/-5 Arimura (67)
T5/-4 Fudoh, Kusakabe (68)
T7/-3 Shinobu Moromizato, Ji-Hee Lee, Ritsuko Ryu, Maiko Wakabayashi, and 4 others (69)

Plus there are many top players lurking:

T15/-2 Shiho Oyama, Akane Iijima, Erina Hara, Kaori Higo (70)
T25/-1 Ayako Uehara, Midori Yoneyama, Esther Lee, Mayu Hattori (71)
T35/E Bo-Bae Song, Hyun-Ju Shin, Hiromi Mogi, Yuki Ichinose (72)

But some will need to play well Saturday to make the cut, including 2 of the most talented players on tour:

T49/+1 Miho Koga, Eun-A Lim (73)
T65/+2 Hiroko Yamaguchi, Yun-Jye Wei (74)
T79/+3 Miki Saiki, Yukari Baba (75)
T96/+5 Michiko Hattori (77)

Saiki, in particular, has been playing terrible golf of late; she made 2 bogeys and a double over the last 5 holes on the back for a 40, 10 shots worse than Wada.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

U.S. Women's Open Thursday: And They're Off!

Since the USGA is live-blogging and the leaderboard seems bug-free, I'll just sit back and enjoy the action for awhile. Glad to see Momoko Ueda off to an early lead. Go, Momo-chan!

More later....

[Update 1 (3:49 pm): Definitely some surprises out there in the morning groups, both good and bad. Let's play "fortunately...unfortunately."

Fortunately, Ji Young Oh made 7 birdies, including her 5th par-4 birdie on the final hole, to post the low round of the day thus far, a 6-under-par 67. Unfortunately, Michelle Wie took a 9 on the same hole and accompanied it with 5 bogeys on her way to an 8-over-par 81, one of the worst rounds of the day.

Fortunately, Women's Amateur champion Maria Jose Uribe made 6 birdies on her way to a 69, tied with rookie MasterCard Classic champion Louise Friberg, who made 5. Unfortunately, Hall of Famers Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak couldn't find the fairway and ballooned to 75 and 76, respectively.

Fortunately, veterans Laura Davies and Helen Alfreddson built on their good rounds at the Wegmans LPGA, firing impressive 70s. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for fellow vets Liselotte Neumann and Jill McGill, who shot disappointing 78s.

Fortunately, Taiwan's finest, Ya Ni Tseng (71), Teresa Lu (71), and Candie Kung (72), got off to as fine starts as Japan's finest, Ai Miyazato (71) and Momoko Ueda (72). (We'll have to wait to see how Sakura Yokomine does this afternoon to see which country came out ahead today.) Unfortunately, both Tseng and Ueda made late double bogeys down the stretch and Lu did at the turn. [Update: It was a 71! Nice job.]

Fortunately, Mi Hyun Kim (72), Jee Young Lee (71), and In-Kyung Kim (71) played good golf this morning, despite the elder Kim's slow post-surgery knee recovery, Lee's missed cut last week, and the younger Kim's missed season so far this year. (Lee eagled the 2nd, by the way.) Unfortunately, troubles continued for the slumping Sarah Lee (78), the erratic Hee Young Park (76), and the hot but lately struggling Sun Young Yoo (76).

OK, that's enough for now. Time to watch me some Annika, Paula, and Suzann!]

[Update 2 (4:47 pm): More from the morning! Fortunately, new mom Catriona Matthew shot a bogey-free 70. Unfortunately, new mom Hee-Won Han bogeyed her last 3 holes to post a 74.

Fortunately, the big names at 73 (Lorena Ochoa, Christina Kim, Natalie Gulbis, Si Hyun Ahn, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Amy Yang, Stacy Lewis, and Allison Walshe) offset any bogeys they made with an equal number of birdies. Unfortunately, Maria Hjorth's bogeyless round included a triple-double stretch at the turn, but she managed to shoot a 76 nonetheless.]

[Update 3 (4:55 pm): Hound Dog's pumped up--he's posted a mid-round update! And Mulligan Stu has the low amateur watch going early. But how about that Song-Hee Kim? 5 birdies in her 1st 10 holes! Two Super Sophs who have done their share of contending this season at the top of the leaderboard today after Eun-Hee Ji showed her classmates how to win last week. Not half bad!]

[Update 4 (6/27/08, 5:50 am): Hound Dog's got the 1st round covered. For more must-click links, go to my tournament preview. And has loads of interviews.]

[Update 5 (7:08 am): Great turnaround by Pat Hurst today--she went -7 over final 14 holes and didn't make a bogey in that stretch on the way to her 67. Song-Hee Kim made 6 birdies in her 1st 13 holes and only her bogey on the tough 17th kept her from matching Hurst and Oh. Ji-Yai Shin birdied 3 in a row to start the back to help her to her 69; overall, she did a great job taking advantage of the par 5s. And speaking of great jobs, Louise Friberg had a bogey-free round going until the 9th, her final hole, which makes her 69 even more impressive. Paula Creamer (70), too, played fantastic golf and actually caught a bit of a bad break on her approach shot that got caught up in the fringe and failed to feed back down to the pin on the 9th; she also bogeyed the 18th, but my streaming video was jammed for that hole, so I have no idea how she and both Sorenstam and Pettersen butchered that hole so badly. Otherwise, it seemed she was making everything she looked at.

It wasn't all fun and games out there, though. Inbee Park bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes and only an improbable birdie on the long par-3 8th kept her at 71 (T21). Jeong Jang, who had been -2 for most of her round, doubled the 17th to fall back to E (T33). Angela Park, who got hot in the middle of her round with 4 birdies between the 9th and 13th, promptly gave 2 of them back on the next 2 holes to fall back to E, as well. Moira Dunn birdied 2 of her last 3 holes but it wasn't enough to offset a bogey on the 17th and a double on the 10th, so she had to settle for 74 (T48), as did Morgan Pressel (who made 17 pars and a bogey) and Karen Stupples (who could only manage 1 birdie). Seon Hwa Lee couldn't make a birdie after the 2nd hole and ballooned to a 75 (T66), but she did as well as Annika Sorenstam, who made 2 in her 1st 7 holes but made back-to-back bogeys on both the back and the front.

And it gets worse: Wegmans champion Eun-Hee Ji could only manage 1 birdie on her way to a 76 (T77), where she was joined by Angela Stanford, Na Yeon Choi, and Sun Ju Ahn; Suzann Pettersen's bad play over the final 6 holes at the Wegmans continued, as she not only bogeyed 3 of her last 4 holes but also made back-to-back bogeys as she closed out her 1st 9, the back, on the way to her 77 (T95); Jane Park made 6 bogeys and a double in her 78 (T110), while Lindsey Wright came back from a 9 on the par-5 3rd (which she followed up with 2 straight bogeys) to join her. I didn't expect anything good from Bettina Hauert, and she delivered with a 79 (T124), but I did expect better from the LET's leading money winner this season, Gwladys Nocera, who shot 81 (T146).

So with perfect conditions only 6 players broke 70, 32 went under par, and 47 were at par or better, but only 1, as far as I know, achieved a bogey-free round. 90 players, by contrast, shot 75 or worse. With only the top 60 and ties playing on the weekend, along with anyone else within 10 shots of the leader, I'm sure a lot of players are hoping the top 6 come back to the field in a big way later today. We'll see!]

[Update 6 (9:15 am): Hound Dog comes through with some great highlights.]

[Update 7 (2:02 pm): Give Brian Hewitt credit for nice transitions in his round 1 commentary!]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Globalization and Nationalism in Women's Professional Golf

There was a fascinating moment during Morgan Pressel's interview after her 2nd-round 65 at the Wegmans LPGA last Friday, which a recent Ron Sirak piece on the paucity of American winners during the Sorenstam Era and a local media video overview of the U.S. Women Open's Asian contingent just called to mind. Together, they raise issues for me about the relation between globalization and nationalism in women's golf.

About 13 and a half minutes into a Friday webcast, the producers aired a clip from a post-round press conference in which a reporter asked Pressel how she felt as one of the few Americans at the top of the leaderboard, particularly heading into the U.S. Women's Open. You know, the typical nationalist question:

Is there ever a feeling for you, as like, take back your tour? Because when we looked at the leaderboard we had only 2 Americans in the top 14 yesterday. Is there a feeling like sometimes you're a minority on your own golf tour?

Ironies abound in this question. In fact, Pressel is a minority on the LPGA. I don't know how many Jewish golfers there are on tour, but they certainly don't make up the majority. I realize the reporter was seeing her as 100% American, which of course she is, but you don't have to go all the way back to the beginning of the last century when so many Jewish immigrants were coming to America to find a time when my "of course" wouldn't have made much sense to anyone. As Werner Sollors reminds us in the 3rd chapter of Beyond Ethnicity, it was a Jewish immigrant, Israel Zangwill, who invented the "melting pot" in 1908, but as Matthew Frye Jacobson shows in the 5th and 8th chapters of Whiteness of a Different Color, it took until the 1940s for the concept to become popular and influential--and probably until the 1990s for it to become naturalized and taken-for-granted.

I don't know how aware Pressel was of these ironies and histories, but her answer is worth hearing as well as reading, for there are levels of nuance in her face and voice that the words alone don't capture:

Ummm [looking away from the reporter], I don't think about it like that. I mean, that's, uh, one of the great things [looking back to him] about our tour is that there are, um, so many...these are the best players from all over the world. And, you know, I'm out here, and I just want to play well, and, um [smiling], all the other Americans [little laugh], especially the young Americans that are coming up around here, we all want to play well, definitely.

The reporter doesn't accept her textbook globalist/individualist-style answer:

But is there a feeling that you're sort of a little bit carrying the flag in a tournament like this when there's so many foreign players dominating the leaderboard?

Pressel sticks to her guns:

No, I mean, that's, you know, these are the best players in the world and, you know, we're happy to have them. It shows the strength of our tour as opposed to other places in the world, and we've just gotta--in order to be the best you've gotta beat the best, it doesn't matter where you come from.

Straight-up cosmopolitanism, it seems at first, definitely in line with the LPGA's push to be recognized as a world tour (and with the fact that more TV money comes from Korea and Japan than the U.S.). And yet, Pressel refers to the LPGA as "our tour," echoing the reporter's "your tour," and shifts from "we've just gotta" (as in, "we young Americans have to...") to the more distanced second person at the end of her answer, almost as if she was reminding herself to denationalize her answer. But the Americanness of her answer comes through in other ways--and I'm not just referring to her "um"s and "you know"s, nor her very American openness to international competition and friendliness toward her competitors from abroad. No, I'm talking about the Tiger Woods impression she seemed to be doing throughout her interviews that week. What happened to the bubbly, feisty, motormouth persona that drew so many to her when she first came to national prominence? Perhaps she's hoping that if she talks like Tiger she'll start playing like Tiger?

I'm also talking about that particularly American version of globalism, Pressel's closing "it doesn't matter where you come from." Contrast that with new mom Hee-Won Han, who travelled back to Korea in the off-week for an early celebration of her son's 1st birthday (his grandparents are raising him while he's an infant), just so she could prepare for the Open. On a different webcast, she just seemed saddened by well-intentioned questions about him and her family. Distance matters. And so does language and culture. Even Europeans fluent in English had a different take on globalization than Pressel, sometimes reminding their interviewer, "We have McDonald's, too," and at other times insisting you can eat healthier in America because American supermarkets offer more choices to consumers than European ones (just to pick out 2 moments from the webcasts that stick out to me). For them and for every Korean golfer who emphasizes hard work, individual effort, and making the most of opportunity, globalization can sound somewhat American. The ball may not know where the person hitting it comes from (to paraphrase one of the Korean golfers interviewed in the Open preview), but everyone else knows (at least roughly)....

The fact is, nationalism plays a huge role in women's golf. Would the Solheim and Kyoraku Cups even exist without it? Would the LPGA be promoting Pressel and Paula Creamer (and, until her slump, Brittany Lincicome) so hard and working so hard to get Michelle Wie to want to join the tour without it? Would there be 10 entrants from Sweden in the Open if not for Annika Sorenstam? 32 from South Korea if not for the Se Ri Pak effect? Would there be a weekly half-hour feature on Ai Miyazato in Japan if nationalism didn't matter? (To be sure, this hasn't yet translated into an Ai-chan effect on the LPGA, as only two Japanese golfers qualified for the Open besides Ai-chan, Momoko Ueda, and Sakura Yokomine, who got in through exemptions [the 3rd JLPGA exemption, by the way, went to a Korean, Mi-Jeong Jeon], but we may see a mini-wave soon.)

Still, it seems to me that Pressel's language and body language during the interview suggest a different kind of American nationalism, one that treats the older discourses of nationalism as a little awkward, embarrassing, even rude, while still feeling and acting entirely American. Pressel was so ready to move on to the next question and let her clubs do the talking. Winning your own national championship means even more when the best in the world want to do the same, Pressel seemed to be hinting. It's not a choice between nationalism or globalization any more--it's both/and.

There's more to be said about sports as a metaphor and model for all kinds of international competition, the way in which the metaphor of competition gets applied to the business world, and the way the business and sports worlds are so thoroughly intertwined, but for now let's just enjoy the golf and watch how it's framed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

U.S. Women's Open Preview/Predictions/Pairings

As Hound Dog has already offered his U.S. Women's Open preview, Mulligan Stu has posted the pairings, Golf Channel staff have annotated some of them, and the USGA has put together a great web site and fact sheet, the only thing left for me to do is offer my predictions in a more systematic way than usual.

For once, I find myself mostly in agreement with Ron Sirak on who is likely to contend this week, although I differ with him a bit on who has the best odds of winning. Wish he'd enter the Pakpicker at Seoul Sisters some time this season....

1. Lee Seon Hwa
2. Ochoa
3. Creamer
4. Jang Jeong
5. Kerr
6. Shin Ji-Yai
7. Sorenstam
8. Pettersen
9. Pak Se Ri
10. Han Hee-Won
11. Kim Mi Hyun
12. Webb

Alts: Miyazato Ai, Pressel, Tseng Ya Ni

But here's why this tournament is a complete toss-up: it's being played at Interlachen for the first time, with a significantly different set-up than in the 2002 Solheim Cup, which despite its length could actually favor precision players (if it doesn't get too wet) but is most vulnerable to a power player with accuracy; the world's best women players have shown a surprising vulnerability over the past month; there are any number of elite players who could challenge them if they can handle Open pressure; and the professional and amateur young guns in the field could just as easily step up or blow up this week.

Here's how I group the top contenders:

Struggling Superstars: Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, Se Ri Pak, Ji-Yai Shin, Sakura Yokomine, Sun-Ju Ahn.

I'll be discussing my picks individually in a little while, so will skip to Yokomine and Ahn, who haven't played to expectations on the JLPGA and KLPGA thus far in 2008. Yokomine has had a hard time closing the deal when she's been in contention this season, so even though she's #1 on my latest JLPGA ranking and #3 on their money list--plus she's had an extra week to practice and adjust to the time zone after skipping last week's JLPGA event--I just don't see her bringing her 'A' game this week. And that's what it's going to take to contend. Same goes for Ahn, who's 2nd in scoring but only 4th in winnings on the KLPGA this season, but most important, rather than challenging Ji-Yai Shin for the #1 spot in Shin's last year on tour before heading to the LPGA (or JLPGA?), Ahn has been outperformed by Ha-Neul Kim, So Yeon Ryu, and other KLPGA young guns. So these 2 are definite top 30 and maybe even top 20 candidates, but I'd be surprised to see them in the top 10.

Hot Hands: Cristie Kerr, Jeong Jang, Seon Hwa Lee, Morgan Pressel, Ai Miyazato, Eun-Hee Ji, Inbee Park, Amy Yang, Ya Ni Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Momoko Ueda, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Stacy Lewis, Amanda Blumenherst, Jennifer Song.

This list of players who have won recently (Lee, Tseng, and Ji on the LPGA, Yang on the LET, and Ueda and Jeon on the JLPGA, Lewis and Blumenherst on the NCAA) and/or repeatedly contended would be enhanced with names like Vicky Hurst (2-time Futures Tour winner) and Tiffany Joh (Women's Amateur Public Links champion), but they failed to qualify for the Open this year. The players on it are so impressive, however, that I wouldn't at all be surprised to see many of them in contention--but I would be shocked if more than a few of them ended up outside the top 20.

Incandescent but Inconsistent: Laura Davies, Karrie Webb, Maria Hjorth, Sophie Gustafson, Suzann Pettersen, Christina Kim, Jee Young Lee, Minea Blomqvist, Song-Hee Kim, Jane Park, Hee Young Park, Sandra Gal, Michelle Wie, Gwladys Nocera.

I picked 2 players from this list to make the top 12 this week, but how many and who will actually be there come Sunday? You could make a great argument for anyone on this list winning--or missing the cut--this week.

Lurking: Mi Hyun Kim, Hee-Won Han, Laura Diaz, Angela Stanford, Karen Stupples, Lindsey Wright, Catriona Matthew, Stacy Prammanasudh, Sun Young Yoo, Teresa Lu, Brittany Lang, Ji Young Oh.

They've all had good solid seasons--some exceeding expectations and some falling below them--but none have broken through quite yet.

Question Marks: Kimberly Kim, Mina Harigae, Allison Walshe, Tiffany Lua, Maria Jose Uribe, Alexis Thompson.

Making the cut would be a huge accomplishment for these celebrated amateurs, but it's the 10th anniversary of Se Ri Pak's showdown with Jenny Chuasiriporn, so who knows what they might do?

Slumping Stars: Juli Inkster, Sherri Steinhauer, Pat Hurst, Grace Park, Natalie Gulbis, Sarah Lee, Brittany Lincicome, Julieta Granada, Angela Park, In-Kyung Kim, Ashleigh Simon.

'Nuff said.

So here's the reasoning behind my picks, with historical help from and and statistical help from

1. Seon Hwa Lee (#6 winnings, #14 scoring average, #18 greens in regulation, 3.04 birdies per round): Although she had a hard time finishing off her 2 events in NY the past month, the #1 Junior Mint is still my pick to win this thing--she's got both the game and the mental toughness to do it, plus she's finished strong in the 2 big events in June after enduring a difficult May. Despite her struggles this season with her putter, her scoring average is the best in her career and she's been working hard on her 100 yards and in game, so I see a great second half of the season in store for the Stone Buddha, starting this week (I'm with Ashley Mayo at Golf for Women on this!).

2. Lorena Ochoa (#1 $$, #1 SA, #1 GIR, 4.67 BPR): It's hard not to pick Ochoa for the win, given her statistical dominance this season, but she hasn't been cruising around the course in the zone since the passing of her uncle and grandfather like she was when she was winning in dominating fashion. Even without her 'A' game, she's still been racking up top 10s, but the chase pack has been getting closer to her this past month than it's ever been in 2008 (which just supports Gene Wojciechowski's secondary point, even though it undermines his main one).

3. Paula Creamer (#3 $$, #5 SA, #4 GIR, 3.54 BPR): Although she's struggled by her standards since getting her 2nd win of the season in the SemGroup Championship early last month, she's still been collecting top 10s and top 20s at her impressive career rate, so I see her rising to the occasion and getting into contention in a serious way this week, despite her inability to crack the top 10 in 5 tries thus far.

4. Jeong Jang (#5 $$, #6 SA, #17 GIR, 3.35 BPR): She's been knocking on the door all season and could easily have 2 wins already in 2008 were it not for hot final rounds by Paula Creamer and Leta Lindley. I think she'll be in the mix on the final 9 holes of a tournament yet again.

5. Cristie Kerr (#25 $$, #12 SA, #16 GIR, 3.63 BPR): The defending champion has been playing very well of late, loves Donald Ross courses, and gets up for U.S. Opens. What's not to like? Inconsistency.

6. Ji-Yai Shin (#1 KLPGA $$; #1 KLPGA SA, 3.50 BPR): With 3 wins on the KLPGA and a win and a runner-up in her 2 JLPGA events, why do I suggest that Shin is struggling this season? Well, her scoring average is up, but the main reason is that she hasn't kept up her dominant ways from last season, not only the on the KLPGA but also in international play. Not only did she let Fukushima off the hook in her playoff loss and get outplayed by Karrie Webb at crunch time in the Australian Women's Open, but she also got left in the dust at the HSBC Women's Champions and underwhelmed at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Still, I'm picking her ahead of Annika Sorenstam, so she must be doing something right this season!

7. Annika Sorenstam (#2 $$, #2 SA, #2 GIR, 3.93 BPR): Even though she's struggled (by her legendary standards) since her runaway win at the Michelob Ultra, particularly with her putter, I would not at all be surprised for her 4th U.S. Open title to come this week at Interlachen. But my expectations for her are a little lower than usual after she almost missed the cut at Rochester.

8. Suzann Pettersen (#7 $$, #4 SA, #5 GIR, 3.93 BPR): Were it not for her struggles over the final 6 holes at the Wegmans on Sunday, she would be my favorite this week, as Interlachen's length and 5 par 5s favor her and the other bombers on tour, but she was the only one of them to successfully navigate her way around Locust Hill's Open-style high rough, tight fairways, and small greens. As it is, though, my usual question marks about her inconsistency have cropped up again.

9. Se Ri Pak (#69 $$, #56 SA, #35 GIR, 2.76 BPR): Her top 10s have come in big events this season and she's been playing much better since switching clubs, but the real reason I'm putting her in my top 10 has to do with a certain career anniversary. Here's hoping 2008's Open is as dramatic as 1998's!

10. Hee-Won Han (#16 $$, #10 SA, #11 GIR, 3.40 BPR): Her only 2 good finishes of late have come on the shorter and tighter New York courses, but a visit to Korea to see her 1-year-old son (who's being raised by his grandparents for now) seems to have done wonders for her game and she has the length to handle Interlachen.

11. Mi Hyun Kim (#34 $$, #32 SA, #100 GIR, 2.92 BPR): Slowly but surely coming back from her off-season knee injury, she'll need better weather to contend.

12. Karrie Webb (#9 $$, #9 SA, #19 GIR, 3.21 BPR): She's burned me just about every time I pick her, but I couldn't justify leaving her off my list for a major she's won twice.

Alt 1: Ai Miyazato (#45 SS, #52 SA, #56 GIR, 2.46 BPR): I think Ai-chan is back, but I couldn't justify putting her in the top 12 this week. But I do think she will be the low Japanese golfer in the field.

Alt 2: Morgan Pressel (#27 $$, #21 SA, #33 GIR, 3.22 BPR): If she had played better on the weekend in Rochester, I would have put her in the top 5, but as it is Interlachen's added length may be even more of a mental than a physical barrier for one of the LPGA's shortest hitters.

Alt 3: Ya Ni Tseng (#4 $$, #3 SA, #9 GIR, 3.80 BPR): She's got the game and the guts, but I just don't see her winning back-to-back majors, although I do see her racking up another top 20 and getting low rookie honors.

As usual, Golf for Women and Golf Channel are pulling out all the stops in their on-line coverage, so be sure to check them out!

[Update 1 (6/25/08, 4:44 am): Daniel Wexler lays out his odds.]

[Update 2 (5:05 am): Ryan Ballengee comments on the course set-up and marquee pairings.]

[Update 3 (5:20 am): Leave it to the local media to figure out that Christina Kim is not only a great interview, but a potential winner this week!]

[Update 4 (5:31 am): Jason Sobel suggests the Open will be the toughest major for Ochoa to win, makes his case in a discussion with Ron Sirak, Bob Harig, and John Antonini (they all agree), and picks Ji-Yai Shin while 2 of his cohorts who agreed with him go on to pick Ochoa anyway.]

[Update 5 (10:15 am): Hound Dog's latest total driving ranking is worth factoring into your equations!]

[Update 6 (12:54 pm): The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune is going all-out with their Open coverage.]

[Update 7 (1:10 pm): Beth Ann Baldry goes behind the scenes with Team Pettersen.]

[Update 8 (6/27/08, 1:15 pm): Gotta give Sal Johnson belated credit for a good stats-based preview.]

Monday, June 23, 2008

News Flash: Golfweek Ranks Miyazato Ahead of Dunn!

It only took a few weeks for Ai Miyazato to pass Moira Dunn in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Ai-chan's 1st top 10 of the season this past weekend vaults her into 90th place (72.82), while Moira's T28 dropped her to 93rd (72.84).

As Ai-chan's post-HSBC slump will start dropping out of the GSPI's 52-week window and she replaces those terrible finishes with (hopefully much) better ones, look for her to rise rather quickly in that system. There are definite signs that she's getting her game back beyond the fact that she was in contention for the first 50-some holes of the Wegmans LPGA: 5 of her 7 sub-70 rounds have come in her last 4 events, and in 2 of the last 3 she didn't post a round above par. Yes, she missed the cut at the LPGA Championship, but bounced back from a terrible 1st day and made a confidence-building run at the cut line to close out her 2nd round.

So look for a good summer for Ai-chan! And if Moira does what most New Yorkers do and plays better in the summer months, she should earn her 2009 card. While she won't regain her lead on Ai-chan in the GSPI, perhaps Moira (#156) can stay ahead of Michelle Wie (#187) in the Rolex Rankings!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wegmans LPGA Sunday: Ji Runs Down Pettersen, Gets 1st Super Soph Win

Eun-Hee Ji, the 6th-ranked player in her generation and 2nd in her rookie class of 2007 as of this April, made up a 3-shot deficit to Suzann Pettersen over the final 6 holes of the Wegmans LPGA today. Ji, who'd been struggling this season after earning her card by making almost $250K in just 4 LPGA events as a non-exempt rookie last season, had had only 2 top 10s in 12 events this season (compared to 2 out of 4 last one), missed 3 cuts, and been DQed once, but her 64-67 over the weekend brought her her 1st LPGA win and 5th career win.

Pettersen, by contrast, fell prey to the same disease that struck other top Europeans on the LPGA like Sophie Gustafson and Maria Hjorth when they had chances to put away victories here earlier this season. Unlike her runaway win in Europe over a hot Amy Yang, Pettersen left the door open down the stretch and Ji kicked it in. As Hound Dog shows and tells it, there were 2 2-shot swings in Ji's favor at crunch time. As a result, she missed her chance to get half the victories that Lorena Ochoa has since the previous year's Wegmans event.

If Pettersen had won, the story would have been the LPGA's Big 4 and their domination over the past year: Ochoa's 12 wins, Pettersen's 6, and Sorenstam and Creamer's 3, amounting to 24 out of 32 played. But with Seon Hwa Lee's 2 wins in that stretch, along with wins by Ji, Ya Ni Tseng, and Louise Friberg, the LPGA's young guns have as many wins as Pettersen--and, if their ability to get into contention the past 3 years is any indication, there are many more to come.

More later after I catch up on my viewing and reading.

[Update 1 (6/23/08, 4:12 am): Well, the cup is half full on Daniel Wexler's blurb; even Ben Dobbin does a better job for the AP.]

[Update 2 (9:12 am): Here's Hound Dog's tournament epilogue.]

[Update 3 (4:35 pm): Keith McShea of the Buffalo News gets in the act.]

[Update 4 (5:05 pm): A sign that things are starting to tighten up on the LPGA official money list: Ji's win only vaulted her to 10th place. The top 7, from Ochoa ($2.01M) to Pettersen ($.67M), have opened up a bit of a gap on the next tier, from #8 Song-Hee Kim ($518K) to #14 Christina Kim ($411K), and then the players are really bunched, with 13 players in the $300K range, 11 in the $200K range, and 29 in the $100K range. Ai Miyazato's 1st top 10 of the season got her to the upper reaches of that last tier (#45), while Moira Dunn moved up to #81, right behind Laura Davies, thanks to her T28 finish (-3) at the Wegmans. It's starting to get to the point where you need a win or top 3 to make a significant move up the money list and need to back it up with consistent top 10 and top 20 rates to keep from getting passed.

Another sign of the parity in women's golf outside the top 2 is how Eun-Hee Ji's win only moved her up to #16 in the Rolex Rankings. She's the last player averaging 4 or more points per event, while Ai-chan at #31 is the last averaging 3 or more points and Jane Park at #53 is the last averaging 2 or more points. To pass players like these and eventually displace people from the top 15, you'd need to either be dominant outside the LPGA (as Ji-Yai Shin [#9] is on the KLPGA over the past 2 seasons, Momoko Ueda [#14] was on the JLPGA last season, and as Sakura Yokomine [#18] has not quite achieved on the JLPGA this season), post multiple wins on the LPGA (as the top 4, Ochoa, Sorenstam, Pettersen, and Creamer, have, along with Seon Hwa Lee [#12] and Mi Hyun Kim [#17]), have won a recent major (as Tseng [#6], Kerr [#7], and Pressel [#13] have), or done well in many events with strong fields (as the rest of the top 20 have). Quite a tall order, but as Ji has shown, it can be done!]

Nichirei PGM Ladies Sunday: Mitsuka Routs the Field

The streak of 1-time winners on the JLPGA continued this week at the Nichirei PGM Ladies, as Yuko Mitsuka responded to Ji-Hee Lee's Friday 65 that had brought her within 3 shots of Mitsuka's lead with a flawless 65 of her own on Saturday. After her opening 32 demoralized her challengers, Mitsuka poured it on over the final 9 holes, while almost everyone at the top of the leaderboard stumbled badly. In fact, only 2 players in the entire field came within a stroke of her closing 33. Lee herself failed to break 40, yet only fell to T6. In the disarray, Shiho Oyama nabbed her 2nd-straight runner-up finish by holding steady with a 71.

1st/-16 Mitsuka (66-69-65)
2nd/-6 Oyama (71-68-71)
3rd/-5 Namika Omata (68-70-73)
T4/-4 Hiromi Mogi (72-71-69), Esther Lee (68-73-71)
T6/-3 Mi-Jeong Jeon (73-70-70), Mayu Hattori (72-71-70), Ji-Woo Lee (72-68-73), Ji-Hee Lee (73-65-75)
T10/-2 Shinobu Moromizato (69-74-71), Rui Kitada (74-70-70), Hiromu Takesue (72-71-71), Ritsuko Ryu (67-72-75)

T14/-1 Ayako Uehara (70-72-73)
T16/E Bo-Bae Song (74-68-74), Akane Iijima (72-69-75)
T19/+1 Chie Arimura (73-72), Yukari Baba (72-72-73), Akiko Fukushima (71-73-73), Erina Hara (73-69-75), Hyun-Ju Shin (69-72-76)
T27/+2 Hiroko Yamaguchi (70-75-73)
T38/+4 Eun-A Lim (73-68-79)
T53/+10 Yuki Ichinose (76-71-79)

With the win, Mitsuka jumped to #11 on the money list, prompting me to extend the usual top 10 overview to a top 15 to accommodate as many winners as possible.

1. Akiko Fukushima ¥49.59M
2. Ji-Hee Lee ¥45.41M
3. Sakura Yokomine ¥44.17M
4. Miho Koga ¥41.39M
5. Eun-A Lim ¥39.65M
6. Bo-Bae Song ¥38.04M
7. Yukari Baba ¥34.97M
8. Miki Saiki ¥32.47M
9. Ayako Uehara ¥32.10M
10. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥30.75M
11. Yuko Mitsuka ¥28.47M
12. Hiroko Yamaguchi ¥27.07M
13. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥23.97M
14. Akane Iijima ¥23.32M
15. Shiho Oyama ¥22.67M

Momoko Ueda is 18th thanks to her win last week in only her 2nd JLPGA event of the season; if Ji-Yai Shin's non-member win were counted toward the official money list and not just her runner-up, she would be #13 on the list. With parity the rule on the JLPGA, there is certainly an opportunity for these global stars to rise quickly should they choose to enter more events in Japan.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wegmans LPGA Saturday: The Constructivist Family Goes to Pittsford

Nice to see Seon Hwa Lee making an early move in the third round of the Wegmans LPGA. In a little over an hour, the Full Metal Archivist, onechan, imoto, and I will be leaving UB for Monroe Community College and the shuttle bus to Locust Hill (after a brief stop at Wegmans for lunch and tickets). If I had planned ahead with my uncle sooner, we could have used the 2 free tickets he gave away, but at least he and his daughter will be there, too. We'll probably get to the course too late to see Lee finish, but you never know.... The key thing is, we'll be there in time to catch the end of Ai-chan's round.

[Update 1 (11:21 am): Well, Maria Hjorth finally figured out how to finish a round at Locust Hill--her 66 shows that there are low scores to be had today. And how about that Hee-Won Han finally going low?

[Update 2 (11:38 am): Look who's making a move now--none other than 8A herself! And Mighty Mouse is off to an even hotter start, thanks to an eagle on #1! BTW, nice multimedia course guide from the Democrat and Chronicle. More after we get back from Pittsford!]

[Update 3 (6/22/08, 9:32 am): First, congratulations to Tiffany Joh for winning the Women's Amateur Public Links for the 2nd time in 3 years! Next, the golf at the Wegmans, which of course you mostly miss when you're at the course unless you're parked in front of a scoreboard. But first, shopping! We didn't have the opportunity to do more than buy tickets, diapers, and wipes at the Wegmans in north Buffalo before we had to hit the road, so the cupboards are rather bare this morning!]

[Update 4 (6/23/08, 1:54 am): OK, shopping done, friends entertained, and girls to bed. Back to golf. Still catching up on the webcasts and stories I missed since we left for Locust Hill yesterday afternoon. Hound Dog's highlights and recap are, as always, the place to start. Ben Dobbins does a better job with his moving day AP story, but he's no Sal Maiorana. Also making excellent contributions from the Democrat and Chronicle are Kevin Oklobzija on Eun-Hee Ji, Jim Mandelaro on Hee-Won Han, Jeff Diveronica on Ai Miyazato (although the pronunciation guide he offers to her name is f-ed up--it's mee-yah-zah-toe!), and Scott Pitoniak on Locust Hill's difficulty level.]

[Update 5 (2:14 am): OK, on to the course report. The day was perfect when we left Dunkirk for Buffalo at 8 am and was still fine when we left Buffalo for Pittsford at 1 pm. Although we caught up to a few drizzles as we approached exit 46, there was no rain when we boarded the shuttle bus, so it was a huge surprise to us as we arrived in the entry area/sponsors' tent to see spectators pouring back into it. It didn't take us long to realize, though, that there was a weather delay--the thunder we heard when we made our way outside the tent against the crowd current was another subtle hint. We hung out in the tunnel that connects the 17th green area with the 18th tee area for awhile, and then bounced back and forth between the sponsors' tent (which was shut down during the rain delay--we didn't get to eat that Turkey Hill ice cream until our 3rd try!) and the sports area (tried to give onechan a putting lesson but they were enforcing the 4-putt limit rather rigidly). We got teased by the weather at what turned out to be the halfway point of the delay and were waiting by the 17th green walk-off area (which gave a great view of the pin and fairway) for Shi Hyun Ahn to chip from the greenside rough when the players were called off the course again. But even that experience was enlightening--we realized that imoto couldn't be counted on to remain quiet and that even 40 yards from the green was far too close, so our original plan of camping out there was out. We decided we'd wait for the Natalie Gulbis-Ya Ni Tseng pairing to come through 17 and then follow Ai-chan and Inbee up to the 18th tee, where we'd wait for my uncle and niece, who were following Morgan Pressel in the final group.

As it turned out, they had left the course just as we arrived, so that aspect of the plan went out the window, but we were able--barely--to stick to the rest of it. The thing was, onechan was having a ball at the sports area and didn't want to leave when play resumed. We had to hold her back from doing the maze-obstacle-course inflatable thingie while it was still a drowning hazard, so we actually were bouncing around in the only roofed inflatable structure when the players and caddies were being carted out to the course on the path running parallel to us about 30 yards away. The Full Metal Archivist called out "Ai-chan!" to Ya Ni Tseng before I could stop her, which was not only embarrassing but also made us gun-shy when Ai-chan really went by--but onechan's echo of her mom's call was piercing enough that Ai-chan looked back and waved from 100 yards away! And then, after deciding to avoid the main porta-potties (kusai, kusai!), we were off to the 17th walk-off area, with imoto still refusing to go down for her usual afternoon nap....]

[Update 6 (2:51 am): Got to 17 in time to watch Tseng's explosion from the right-side bunker and both her and Gulbis's putts. Best innocent question of the day came from the FMA after watching Gulbis strut her stuff on the green: "Does she have a back problem?" Later, she did admit that Gulbis was very sexy--and, yes, she is much hotter in person. I'm still appalled that she's one of onechan's 2 favorite players--she may be #1 now after we missed meeting Paula Creamer--after all the pro-Asian indoctrination I've been attempting over the past year. But I did my part by giving Tseng a quick, "Let's go, Ya Ni!" as she walked by us. I was surprised that she looked surprised that someone recognized her, but then I was the only person who said anything to the LPGA Championship winner....

After forcing onechan to go with us around the back of the 17th green rather than head toward the tunnel to follow Gulbis, we made a beeline for the 14th tee, but shifted course when we realized Ai-chan's group had already finished the hole. We got to the 15th green literally just in time to see Ai-chan's approach shot on the par 3 land and back up a foot to come to rest about 15 feet below the pin. By the time she and Inbee got to the green, I was entertaining imoto by lotioning (thanks for those free samples, Aveeno!) and sunblocking her up, but my heart was in my throat as Ai-chan was lining up her putt, b/c imoto could have said or done anything in that stretch. But she stayed quiet and Ai-chan canned it to (as I found out later) make up for her bogey on the previous hole and get back to -10 for the tournament and -2 on the day. I hid imoto behind the grandstand while Park was lining up her tricky downhill par save--and breathed a sigh of relief when she made it.

Then the FMA loaded onechan back on her back and we got as far up the 16th fairway as we could to get as far away from the tee as we could while the players were hitting their drives. We were actually in perfect position to see Ai-chan's drive leak right and get into some tree trouble on the very short par 4 and Inbee's get past the crest of the hill in perfect position to go at the front right pin from the middle of the fairway. Ai-chan had a swing and an angle, but it looked to me like she took a really tentative pass at a punch-fade attempt to thread the needle, avoid the bunkers, and find the front of the green and instead ended up in the rough, short-sided but not having to carry the bunker on the right. She made a fantastic pitch and solid pressure putt to remain at -10 after Inbee nailed her short birdie putt to get to -11.

By that point, we were racing to the top of the hill on the 17th fairway and actually outdistancing those among Ai-chan's Japanese media contingent who had made the same choice as we did, so got to see Park's drive go into jail in the left rough/trees and Miyazato's stay on the left side of the fairway about 10 yards behind Park's. Then it was off to the races again to get as close to the green as we could before the players hit their second shots on the short par 5. If this sounds a little challenging, it was: the players were walking very fast and taking very little time over their shots. They had to wait less than a minute several times for the Christina Kim-Cristie Kerr pairing ahead of them, but overall the pace of play was much faster than I expected. Our sweating paid off, though, as we made it to a rules official's cart about 75 yards short of the green and she entertained onechan and imoto by taking them for a spin while the players were sizing up their shots: Inbee had punched out from the trees to about 100 yards away but was on the right side of the fairway, trying to figure out how to get close to a back right pin on a very banked area of the green and near a greenside bunker; Ai-chan had layed up to about 50 yards shy of the green in the right-center of the fairway, in a kind of low-lying area amid some undulations--she didn't have the perfect angle in, but the bunker affected her approach a little less than Park's. Inbee made a smart play and tried to spin a wedge back off the backboard up in the middle back of the green and let the slope take it back down toward the pin, but it landed soft and stuck instead. It looked to me like Ai-chan chunked her pitch a little--it may have been a little soggier there than she expected, or she may have decelerated just the slightest bit--but in any case she gave herself what looked to be a mid-length uphill-sidehill birdie chance, while Inbee had a tricky downhill-sidehiller from a little further away. Unfortunately, tearing imoto away from the golf cart had the expected effects, so I had to race to the golf cart servicing area far to the right of the green with imoto telling me "no, daddy!" louder and louder with each step, so I didn't see the players 2-putt and had to catch up to the FMA and onechan, who waited for me near the walk-off area.

Didn't see much of the 18th, either, as I had to keep imoto far away from the tee (she was fascinated by the tv camera post near the 10th green) and stay near the pond-side generators powering the 18th-fairway Champions Pavillion area to mask any sounds imoto might make and let onechan burn off some steam from having to stay quiet for so long, but I could tell from the crowd reactions that someone made a bogey. The FMA came back down the hill (she had followed Ai-chan up it to the green) to report that it was Ai-chan.

So all in all a disappointing finish for Ai-chan, as she struggled to par 2 birdie holes after making her birdie on the 15th and then failed to save par on the uphill 18th (much less make her 3rd straight birdie on that tough hole). But a very solid bogey-free 69 for Inbee. And neither imoto nor onechan had turned my worst fears into realities.]

[Update 7 (3:08 am): We hung out at the putting green for a little while and our patience paid off. We watched Ai-chan go around the clock, putting 4-to-6 10-to-12-footers from just about every hour's position to the same hole. What a slow, rhythmic stroke she has! She must have made about half of them and hit an edge at least 90% of the time, and her speed was almost always perfect. When I asked the FMA later what stood out to her about Ai-chan, what she focused on after her leanness and fitness was her rhythm. She was surprised to hear that Ai-chan had been talking about just that in her interviews the 1st 2 rounds. What I realized was that her emphasis even extended to the way she walked on the course, not just her rhythm on her full swings, pitches, and putts. She has a very long stride for such a short person, sets a brisk but effortless-looking pace, and kept to it on every hole. Even though she was struggling a bit while we watched her, she projects a lot of confidence and determination on the course.

Meanwhile, onechan and imoto were entertaining themselves on the hill between the putting green and the traditional calligraphy-quality hand-written scoreboard that you see at all the smaller tournaments, from USGA and state events on down. Imoto tried to go over, through, and around the little white picket fence (plastic) surrounding the scoreboard, so we must have been quite a sight, with me addressing the girls in Japanese when I wasn't watching Ai-chan putt and the FMA and I chasing imoto when she threatened to go around the back of the scoreboard area. At least we were to one American and one Japanese photographer, who couldn't get enough of the girls (although it would have been nice to ask us permission before taking pictures). We certainly got Morgan Pressel's attention--after she told Ai-chan a funny story on the putting green and before she started her own post-round routine, she called onechan over and gave her a golf ball. Turns out she had autographed it for her! So of course as Ai-chan was leaving I had to approach her with nothing but a program for her to sign, and she graciously did, even addressing it to onechan in hiragana. I remember asking onegai shimas (please) but can't for the life of me remember if I thanked her (I assume the arigatou gozaimasu would be so ingrained in me even after almost 10 months away from Fukuoka that I wouldn't necessarily recall saying it, but I could have been so star-struck and embarrassed at the possibility that the girls being there had disturbed Ai-chan's concentration that I might have forgotten to thank her).

So after that, dinner at the Alter Ego family home was a great way to relax--their 2-year-old girl and ours had a ball, so much so that imoto was asleep before we made it (after many wrong turns on my part) back to the Thruway, and onechan fell asleep a half-hour later after we had made it through the 2nd of 3 thunderstorms I had to deal with on the road back to Dunkirk.]

[Update 9 (3:47 am): All in all, the experience was a great one. Not as fun for me personally as seeing the PGA at Oak Hill had been, and I definitely had the feeling of a missed opportunity to see all of Ai-chan's final 5 holes, as the crowds had thinned out quite bit due to the rain delay, but as a first try for taking the girls to a tournament, this was about as much as we realistically could have done, particularly given that the nap-less imoto was a little crankier and whinier than usual. Maybe next year we could plan it a bit better, take advantage of my uncle's access to free tickets, and meet the grandparents out there, so that the FMA, onechan, and I can roam the course a bit more or at least have more back-up when it comes to entertaining imoto. But she'll be a lot easier to reason with by then, too, so it may not be as stomach-churning an experience as it was for me this year.

While I missed and the instant ability to track anything anytime, the scoreboards were well placed and other spectators were happy to share what they had seen, so you could definitely get your bearings quickly. Still, having some laptops set up for the truly web-obsessed could have been a good way to promote a bit more and give spectators a chance to read profiles of players they were not that familar with. (Rochester is a real golf town, but the people I talked to were not all that knowledgeable about the younger players on tour.) Also, there was nowhere I could see that people could go to watch the webcasts that were being and had been filmed on-site. Susan Hunt and Dennis Williams did a particularly good job Saturday, but you had to be off-site to appreciate it.

Those quibbles aside, this is a really well-run event. Even in the midst of a long rain delay, the volunteers were super-cool and the officials were firm but kind. I'm sure onechan will remember the ride in the cart with the rules official longer than getting that ball from Morgan Pressel and the bouncy inflatable thing longer than any shot of Ai-chan's. And the FMA came away from this a huge Ai-chan fan and much more appreciative of the athleticism and approachability of the LPGA players we saw. Plus she may try imitating Natalie Gulbis's posture for a few minutes a day. ;) ]