Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lexus Cup Sunday: It All Comes Down to This

The singles matches for the final day of the Lexus Cup are amazing. I'll start with the preview and then cover the action. (As in my earlier Lexus Cup posts, the numbers in parentheses reflect the players' final positions in my Best of the LPGA rankings.)

Se Ri Pak (#44) vs. Annika Sorenstam (#3): The Hall of Famers go off 1st, the better to fulfill their captain duties the rest of the day, but, wow, what a way to kick Day 3 off with a bang!

Sarah Lee (n.r.) vs. Nicole Castrale (#38): On paper, it's advantage Team International for the 2nd straight match, but look for Pak's vice captain to dig deep.

Ya Ni Tseng (#4) vs. Suzann Pettersen (#5): May be the match of the day! Can Tseng bounce back from a tough day yesterday the way Pettersen did from an even tougher day Friday? Can Pettersen keep up the intensity from a Saturday that saw her carry Sorenstam for most of the day until the Team International captain chipped in for eagle on the 18th and the win? This one's a toss-up.

Inbee Park (#13) vs. Helen Alfredsson (#11): Another toss-up, as Park played well down the stretch in the losing effort against Sorenstam and Pettersen, while Alfredsson made solid contributions to her and Kerr's win over Pak and Seon Hwa Lee. Alfredsson is trying to avenge her team's Day 1 loss to a team that included Park.

Na Yeon Choi (#9) vs. Paula Creamer (#2): A reprise of half of Team Asia's upset win over Team International yesterday. Another toss-up, due to Creamer's recent health problems. Both players are trying to avoid a losing record this week.

Song-Hee Kim (#17) vs. Cristie Kerr (#6): Both players are looking to go undefeated this week, so let's call this one a toss-up, too.

Jeong Jang (#12) vs. Katherine Hull (#23): Ditto, although if I had to give an edge I'd give it to Jang, whose 2 victories came against tougher competition than Hull's.

Mayumi Shimomura (n.r.) vs. Natalie Gulbis (#46): Can Gulbis flash back to her heroics last season? Can Shimomura shake off her 2 losses, too? Call this one another toss-up!

Namika Omata (n.r.) vs. Christina Kim (#29): I guarantee you Kim will not lose 3 matches in a row this year.

Candie Kung (#19) vs. Nikki Campbell (n.r.): Another battle of the undefeateds, but this one is clearly advantage Team Asia.

Seon Hwa Lee (#8) vs. Angela Stanford (#7): This is the 2nd-best match of the day for me, with both players looking to avenge surprising losses--Lee her 1st in match-play since 2006 and Stanford 2 defeats by teams including Kung. Why shouldn't it all come down to this one, the way things have been going all week?

OK, you can follow the action here. Here's what stands out to me!

Pak/Sorenstam: Pak bogeyed 3 of her 1st 4 holes but battled back from her 3-down hole to get within 1 by the 8th when Annika made a rare bogey. But a Pak bogey on 12 dropped her to 2-down and even though she made 2 birdies in a row, Annika topped her with 3, so she's 3 down with 3 to go. Looks bad for Team Asia.

Lee/Castrale: Castrale won 2 with a birdie, 3 with a par, 7 with a par, and 10 with a birdie, but Lee has bounced back each time with a par on 4, a birdie on 6, a par on 9, and a birdie on 11, and they remain all square with 4 to play.

Tseng/Pettersen: Pettersen made back-to-back birdies on 3 and 4 but only went 1-up, as Tseng matched her 2nd one, but then Tseng turned the tables with consecutive birdies of her own on 6 and 7 before making another on the 11th to go 2-up before a bogey on the 12th allowed Pettersen to pull within 1. Tseng remains 1-up with 5 to go.

Park/Alfredsson: Alfredsson was -2 through 5 and had a chance to go 4-up through 6, but a bogey on the 6th let Park off the hook. They matched birdies on the 8th before an Alfredsson birdie on the 10th gave her that 4-up lead. But then Park won with a par, tied with a birdie, and won with a birdie on the next 3 holes, so has pulled within 2 with 5 to play.

Choi/Creamer: Creamer's definitely hurting, as she's +2 on the day and 2 down to Choi, who has won with birdies on 3 and 5 and a par on 11.

Kim/Kerr: Kerr has just jumped out to her 1st lead of the day with wins on the 10th (par) and 11th (birdie). Kim had been playing well, winning the 1st with a birdie and the 6th with a par, but has bogeyed the 1st 2 on the back.

Ji/Stupples: The opposite story here, as Stupples got out to a 1-up lead with back-to-back birdies on 3 and 4 but gave it back and more with bogeys on 7 and 10.

Jang/Hull: They matched birdies on 1 and pars for the next 7 holes until Hull jumped out to a 1-up lead with a birdie on the 9th.

Shimomura/Gulbis: They were all square for the 1st 6 holes until a Gulbis bogey and than a Shimomura birdie gave Team Asia a 2-up lead through 8.

Omata/Kim: Omata's made 7 straight pars and Kim sandwiched a birdie between 2 bogeys.

Kung/Campbell: Kung was 2-up through 6 thanks to a Campbell bogey on 2 and a double on 4, but she just gave 1 back with a bogey of her own on the 7th.

Lee/Stanford: Lee is -1 through 6 and 2 down, thanks to 3 early birdies by Stanford.

So far Team Asia is up in 6 matches, Team International in 5, and they're all square in 1. More soon!

[Update 1 (8:28 pm): As Annika and the AP report, Team International came from behind for the win. It took a 2-putt birdie for Christina Kim to live up to my prediction and halve her match for the winning half-point. What they don't go into the right detail on is how the other wins and halves came about for Team International.

A birdie on 17 was just enough for Sarah Lee to edge Castrale, so with Annika's win over Se Ri, the teams stood 7-7. Then, Tseng birdied 15 to go 2-up with 3 to go, but gave one back with a bogey on 16; it came down to 18, where a Pettersen eagle beat a Tseng birdie and got Team International a key half-point. Alfredsson then withstod a furious Park charge: even though Park birdied 4 holes in a row, Alfredsson birdied 3 of them, so when Park couldn't keep the birdie train going on 16, the match was over, 3 & 2. Choi handled an ailing Creamer easily, but Song-Hee Kim came back against Kerr, winning 4 of the last 7 holes with birdies, including a walk-off one for the win that gave Team Asia a 9.5-8.5 lead and her a 3-0 record this week. Things were looking good for Team Asia around that time--with Ji 2-up on Stupples with 5 to play, Shimomura 2-up on Gulbis through 10, Omata 1-up on Christina Kim through 11, and Kung 3-up on Campbell through 13, it looked like they could easily get the points needed to retain the cup. But of them, only Kung ended up getting her point--her 3rd of the week. A final-hole eagle pulled Stupples even with Ji, Gulbis won 2 holes with birdies and another 2 with pars for what ended up and easy win against Shimomura, Jeong Jang's comeback attempt against Hull fell just short (she was 3 down with 3 to go and only a Hull birdie on 18 to halve the hole preserved her 1-up win), and Angela Stanford dominated Seon Hwa Lee. Omata actually acquitted herself well--after falling 1-down to Kim after a she bogeyed the 12th and Kim birdied the 13th, she got it back to all-square with a birdie on 15. Each player finished par-par-birdie for the tie that gave the victory to Team International.

So without Pettersen's, Stupples's, and Hull's final-hole heroics, Kim wouldn't have had the chance to seal the win for Team International.]

[Update 2 (12/1/08, 2:52 am): Be sure to check out's notes and interviews. With Team Aussie 5-1-0 and Team Japan 1-4-1, I think it's time to revisit the timing of the event to allow the top players on the JLPGA to compete in this event. I can't help but wonder if the results would have been different had, say, Miho Koga and Yuri Fudoh been on the team! Or even people who were available, like Ai Miyazato and Shanshan Feng....]

Ricoh Cup Sunday: And Down the Stretch It's...

...not Bo-Bae Song who's leading the field in the final round of the final event of the JLPGA schedule, the final major of 2008, the Tour Championship Ricoh Cup. No, a double bogey on the easy par-5 11th hole just dropped Song to +2 through 11 holes today and -3 for the tournament, tied for 4th with Shinobu Moromizato (-3 through 14), Ji-Woo Lee (-3 through 13), Miho Koga (-1 through 13), and Akiko Fukushima (E through 13). Nor is it Momoko Ueda, who remains 1 shot behind Song thanks to a birdie-less 38 on the front. It's not Yuko Mitsuka, either, although she has pulled into 3rd at -4 thanks to a -2 start through the 13th. And it's not Yuri Fudoh, alone in 2nd at -5 after playing bogey-free -2 golf through her 1st 12 holes.

That leaves Mi-Jeong Jeon, who's -3 through her 1st 12 holes and -6 for the tournament, as the leader of the pack heading into the home stretch, which features 2 birdie holes in the part-5 13th and par-4 17th and a whole lot of trouble otherwise. Jeon parred her 1st 7 holes but got going with a birdie on the tough par-3 8th and followed it up with birdies on the next 2 par 5s, the 9th and 11th holes, to vault ahead of Fudoh and Mitsuka, who matched her bogey-free 34 on the front.

Will Jeon play the next few holes like Moromizato, who followed up birdies on 10 and 11 with birdies on 13 and 14? Or will she stumble like Sakura Yokomine, who fell back to E on the day and for the tournament with consecutive bogeys on the 13th and 14th? We'll just have to wait until the JLPGA lifts its online leaderboard freeze to find out!

[Update 1 (7:20 pm): Sorry for the delay. Had to get back from Grandma and Grandpa's house! You'll never believe who won this and how!

Jeon did play the 13th and 14 exactly like Moromizato. Her pair of birdies got her to -8. When Fudoh followed up a birdie on 13 with a bogey on 15, Jeon's lead seemed commanding--3 on Fudoh and 4 on Mitsuka and Fukushima. And then when Mitsuka also bogeyed 15 and Fukushima bogeyed 16--and Song bogeyed 15, as well, to drop to -2, Jeon's only threat seemed to be Fudoh. Even though Miho Koga had birdied 8, 13, and 14 to get to -4, it seemed too little, too late. But then Koga birdied 17 and 18, Fudoh birdied 17, and Jeon bogeyed 17. All of a sudden, she stood at -7, only 1 shot up on Fudoh and Koga. So of course Fudoh bogeyed 18 and Jeon doubled it to hand the victory to Koga! And of course I'm too late with this update to catch the Kyodo News feed with the details!]

[Update 2 (7:47 pm): Here are the complete results:

1st/-6 Koga (73-71-70-68)
T2/-5 Fudoh (72-73-68-70), Jeon (71-71-71-70)
T4/-3 Moromizato (72-70-74-69), Mitsuka (71-74-69-71), Fukushima (72-70-71-72)
T7/-2 Ji-Woo Lee (76-73-67-70), Ueda (74-69-69-74), Song (69-71-71-75)
10th/-1 Ji-Hee Lee (71-74-72-70)

T11/E Yukari Baba (72-75-73-68), Sakura Yokomine (73-75-68-72)
13th/+1 Saiki Fujita (77-73-70-69)
T14/+3 Eun-A Lim (74-74-71-72), Rui Kitada (74-73-72-72)
16th/+4 Ji-Yai Shin (71-75-72-74)
T17/+5 Midori Yoneyama (74-73-74-71), Erina Hara (72-75-73-72)
19th/+6 Hiromi Mogi (73-71-75-75)
T20/+7 Esther Lee (75-72-74-74), Akane Iijima (72-76-71-76)
T22/+8 Mayu Hattori (77-75-71-73), Chie Arimura (73-77-73-73), Maiko Wakabayashi (75-73-75-74)
25th/+10 Hiroko Yamaguchi (74-75-73-76)
26th/+11 Ayako Uehara (76-71-80-72)
27th/+13 Hyun-Ju Shin (76-77-73-75)

Wow, what a sad finish for the JLPGA's Korean contingent. Not only did both Jeon and Song blow great chances for the win, exhaustion clearly got the best of Ji-Yai Shin and injuries of Hyun-Ju Shin. But what a great win for Koga! Not only did she tie Yuri Fudoh for the most wins on tour in 2008, she passed both Yokomine and Ji-Hee Lee to win the money title, as well!]

[Update 3 (7:59 pm): Here's the final 2008 money list:

1. Miho Koga ¥120.85M
2. Ji-Hee Lee ¥119.65M
3. Sakura Yokomine ¥103.19M
4. Akiko Fukushima ¥96.50M
5. Yuri Fudoh ¥91.86M
6. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥90.85M
7. Yuko Mitsuka ¥83.56M
8. Shiho Oyama ¥75.04M
9. Eun-A Lim ¥73.41M
10. Erina Hara ¥65.87M
11. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥64.63M
12. Shinobu Moromizato ¥64.37M
13. Bo-Bae Song ¥63.47M
14. Ayako Uehara ¥63.31M
15. Mayu Hattori ¥58.72M
16. Esther Lee ¥54.94M
17. Momoko Ueda ¥54.62M
18. Hiromi Mogi ¥52.62M
19. Akane Iijima ¥51.40M
20. Miki Saiki ¥50.84M
21. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥50.06M
22. Ji-Woo Lee ¥47.63M
23. Chie Arimura ¥47.35M
24. Ji-Yai Shin ¥45.54M
25. Midori Yoneyama ¥45.29M
26. Yukari Baba ¥44.14M
27. Hiroko Yamaguchi ¥42.85M
28. Rui Kitada ¥36.34M
29. Saiki Fujita ¥31.72M
30. Yun-Jye Wei ¥29.63M
31. Mie Nakata ¥28.33M
32. Ai Miyazato ¥27.89M
33. Nikki Campbell ¥27.04M
34. Yuko Saitoh ¥25.87M
35. So-Hee Kim ¥24.89M

Good thing for Koga the 1st prize was 30 million yen and not 25 million as I thought!]

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lexus Cup Saturday: Best-Ball Battles

The 2nd day of the Lexus Cup ended much like the 1st--with Team Asia and Team International battling to another 3-3 draw. Both captains mixed up their foursomes teams from the previous day, with mixed results. Pak's strategy was to pair someone playing well with someone struggling, while Sorenstam's was to keep the victorious Aussie and American pairings from day 1 together but mix everyone else up. How did it turn out?

Eun-Hee Ji (#14) and Inbee Park (#13) vs. Suzann Pettersen (#5) and Annika Sorenstam (#3): This one was a cliffhanger, with every hole that changed hands decided by a birdie except the last, which Sorenstam eagled for the win. Team Asia was 2-up with 7 to play, but couldn't keep pace with Pettersen's 4-hole birdie train; and even when Ji's birdie on 14 and Park's on 16 each lifted them back to 1-up, Pettersen responded on 15 and 17 with her 7th and 8th birdies of the day. So it was fitting that Sorenstam would respond with an eagle on 18 that made both Ji and Park's birdies meaningless--and gave Team International a 4-3 lead.

Se Ri Pak (#44) and Seon Hwa Lee (#8) vs. Cristie Kerr (#6) and Helen Alfredsson (#11): Early stumbles by Team Asia helped Team International jump out to a 2-up lead on the front, but they birdied 3 of the 1st 4 holes on the back to even up the match. They were still tied with 4 holes to go, but Team International birdied all 4 to win 2-up. Match-play ace Lee failed to make a birdie in this stretch as Team International opened up a 5-3 lead.

Jeong Jang (#12) and Na Yeon Choi (#9) vs. Paula Creamer (#2) and Nicole Castrale (#38): Team Asia posted 3 birdies as they began the back to turn a 1-hole deficit into a 1-hole lead, but Creamer's birdie on the par-3 14th evened things up. They stayed that way until both Jang and Choi birdied the par-3 17th and neither Creamer nor Castrale could match them. The match ended with birdies all around as Team Asia gutted out a 1-up win and cut the Team International lead to 5-4.

Sarah Lee (n.r.) and Song-Hee Kim (#17) vs. Karen Stupples (#16) and Christina Kim (#29): Kim was the hero of this match, helping turn a 1-hole deficit after 2 to a 4-up lead after 7 when she matched Pettersen's 4-hole birdie train. Team International could never get closer than 2 holes down, and when Kim birdied 15 and Lee birdied 16, they sealed a 4 & 2 victory that brought Team Asia back to a 5-5 tie.

Candie Kung (#19) and Mayumi Shimomura (n.r.) vs. Natalie Gulbis (#46) and Angela Stanford (#7): This was essentially a Kung vs. Stanford showdown that Kung won handily with 5 birdies in 15 holes, leading Team Asia to a 6-5 lead.

Ya Ni Tseng (#4) and Namika Omata (n.r.) vs. Katherine Hull (#23) and Nikki Campbell (n.r.): Amazingly, Tseng and Hull contributed only 1 win each on the front as Omata and Campbell battled to a tie, which lasted until Campbell won the par-5 13th with a birdie and matched both of Tseng's birdies on the par-5 15th and 18th to seal the Team International win and even the competition at 6-6.

(Again, the numbers in parentheses reflect the players' final positions in my Best of the LPGA rankings.)

The individual matches should be awesome tomorrow!

[Update 1 (11/30/08, 12:54 am): Check out Mike McGee's report on Day 2 over at Annika's blog!]

[Update 2 (12/1/08, 2:44 am): And's notes and interviews.]

Ricoh Cup Saturday: Bo-Bae Song Hangs onto the Lead

2nd-round leader Bo-Bae Song fought back for her 2nd-straight 71 today in the JLPGA Tour Championship Ricoh Cup, but is hanging onto the lead by her fingernails, as Momoko Ueda fired her 2nd-straight 69. And right behind Ueda are the rest of the JLPGA's finest who took advantage of moving day:

1st/-5 Song (69-71-71)
2nd/-4 Ueda (74-69-69)
T3/-3 Yuri Fudoh (72-73-68), Akiko Fukushima (72-70-71), Mi-Jeong Jeon (71-71-71)
T6/-2 Yuko Mitsuka (71-74-69), Miho Koga (73-71-70)
T8/E Ji-Woo Lee (76-73-67), Sakura Yokomine (73-75-68), Shinobu Moromizato (72-70-74)

11th/+1 Ji-Hee Lee (71-74-72)
12th/+2 Ji-Yai Shin (71-75-72)
T13/+3 Eun-A Lim (74-74-71), Akane Iijima (72-76-71), Rui Kitada (74-73-72), Hiromi Mogi (73-71-75)
T17/+4 Saiki Fujita (77-73-70), Erina Hara (72-75-73), Yukari Baba (72-75-73)
T20/+5 Esther Lee (75-72-74), Midori Yoneyama (74-73-74)
T22/+6 Hiroko Yamaguchi (74-75-73), Maiko Wakabayashi (75-73-75)
T24/+7 Mayu Hattori (77-75-71), Chie Arimura (73-77-73)
26th/+10 Hyun-Ju Shin (76-77-73)
27th/+11 Ayako Uehara (76-71-80)

Ueda and Jeon outplayed Song on the long par 3s today--they both are -2 for the tournament on them, while Song dipped to E. What allowed Song to keep the lead was her performance on the short par 4s: she birdied 3 of the shortest 4 of them to make up for her uncharacteristic merely E performance on the par 5s.

Even though the last 6 holes remained tough--Fukushima was +2 on them after an eagle on the par-5 11th had lifted her briefly into a tie for the lead at -5--Mitsuka played them in -3 and Ji-Yai Shin, Yokomine, Fudoh, and Ueda played them in -2. As a result, we saw much lower scores on the back than in the 1st 2 rounds: Yokomine and Fudoh shot bogey-free 32s and Mitsuka and Shin bogey-free 33s. Of the players who made big moves on moving day, Ji-Woo Lee, who birdied 4 in a row on the front on her way to a 32, was the only one not to make a big move on the back.

For Song to hold on for a wire-to-wire win would be an amazing way to end her season. But if anyone from way back is able to make a charge on the front and Song is unable to respond between the 9th and 13th, this could be almost anyone's tournament for the taking over its last 5 holes. Half the field still has an outside chance of chasing Song down, while the 6 players 3 or fewer strokes down are well within striking range. Should be a compelling final round!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ricoh Cup Friday: Bo-Bae Song Maintains Her Lead

1st-round leader Bo-Bae Song could only manage a 71 today in the JLPGA Tour Championship Ricoh Cup, but it was good enough to preserve her 2-shot lead on Mi-Jeong Jeon. Even though Akiko Fukushima (70) and Shinobu Moromizato (70) both moved within 2 and Momoko Ueda (69) leaped to within 3 of her lead, some of Song's top competitors fell off the pace, from Ji-Yai Shin and Sakura Yokomine (both 75s) to Ji-Hee Lee and Yuko Mitsuka (both 74s).

1st/-4 Song (69-71)
T2/-2 Fukushima (72-70), Moromizato (72-70), Jeon (71-71)
5th/-1 Ueda (74-69)
T6/E Miho Koga (73-71), Hiromi Mogi (73-71)
T8/+1 Yuri Fudoh (72-73), Ji-Hee Lee (71-74), Mitsuka (71-74)

11th/+2 Ji-Yai Shin (71-75)
T12/+3 Ayako Uehara (76-71), Esther Lee (75-72), Midori Yoneyama (74-73), Rui Kitada (74-73), Erina Hara (72-75), Yukari Baba (72-75)
T18/+4 Maiko Wakabayashi (75-73), Eun-A Lim (74-74), Yokomine (73-75), Akane Iijima (72-76)
T22/+5 Ji-Woo Lee (76-73), Hiroko Yamaguchi (74-75)
T24/+6 Saiki Fujita (77-73), Chie Arimura (73-77)
26th/+8 Mayu Hattori (77-75)
27th/+9 Hyun-Ju Shin (76-77)

Looking at the hole-by-hole scores, a few things stand out. While the 317-yard 17th is a birdie hole, the 400-yard 18th is very tough: Mogi and Mitsuka both doubled it, while Ji-Woo Lee tripled it. You also see a lot of bogeys on the 14th-16th holes. So while the last 6 holes start off easy--the par-5 13th is a definite birdie hole, particularly if you've gotten some momentum from birdies on the 9th and 11th, both easy par 5s--they provide a great test to anyone in contention on Sunday.

Where Song has distinguished herself so far, however, has been on the long, tough par 3s--the 5th, 8th, and 16th holes--which she's played at -1 thus far. Jeon and Ueda are E on them, but everyone else near the top of the leaderboard is over par on them.

This course can get you in so many ways, though. Fudoh actually had something going after a bad start, but bogeyed 3 of her last 4 holes. Ji-Yai Shin, by contrast, was +4 through 11 on today's round and couldn't make up much ground in her last 8 holes. Yokomine bogeyed 4 of her last 7 holes. And Jeon rode the birdie-bogey roller coaster again today, making 6 of the former and 5 of the latter. The only players to handle the back--Moromizato and Hattori, who both shot 34s--couldn't even go that low on it.

Whoever wins this thing will really earn it. If Song can put together a strong moving day and keep the pedal to the metal on the 1st 13 holes Sunday, she should be able to play conservatively the rest of the way and let the closing holes be her best defense. But she could just as easily fall back toward E tomorrow and open up a Sunday free-for-all. We'll know soon enough!

Lexus Cup Friday: Alternate Shot Showdown

Check out the pre-tournament interviews and the pairings for the 1st round of the Lexus Cup. They're playing foursomes--alternate shot--today.

Here's how the teams stack up, with each player's latest Mostly Harmless ranking in parentheses after her name:

Song-Hee Kim (#17) and Inbee Park (#13) vs. Helen Alfredsson (#11) and Christina Kim (#29): Even though the average ranking for each team suggests a toss-up, with Park playing so horribly of late and Christina Kim a match-play ace, I have to give the advantage to Team International in this match. Neither Song-Hee Kim nor Park are all that accurate off the tee--the former is T59 at 70% and the latter is T85 at 67.6%--so even though Kim's iron play is fantastic (she's 5th on tour at 68.9%), she may find herself trying to hit greens from unfamiliar spots (Park, by contrast, is 109th on tour at 61.4%). While both Alfredsson and Kim are less accurate drivers than their competitors, they are both ranked in the top 30 in GIR and their extra length could give them an advantage on a course Annika Sorenstam has called long and wet. Team Asia has to hope Kim's approaches and Park's putting can save them.

Sarah Lee (n.r.) and Na Yeon Choi (#9) vs. Cristie Kerr (#6) and Karen Stupples (#16): Definite advantage to Team International here. Kerr and Stupples are both playing well in the 2nd half of the season, while Choi has been underperforming of late and Lee has dropped off the map. Lee is the only player in the field driving the ball less accurately than the inconsistent Se Ri Pak. Yikes!

Ya Ni Tseng (#4) and Seon Hwa Lee (#8) vs. Suzann Pettersen (#5) and Natalie Gulbis (#46): Definite advantage to Team Asia here, as Lee is 12-1-0 in match play since the 2006 HSBC and Gulbis hasn't played competitive golf in what seems like months. The only thing that can trip up Team Asia here is Tseng's Pak-like driving accuracy, but given that she'll be putting Lee a lot closer to the green than she's used to being, they should still get plenty of birdie opportunities. Tseng actually has a better GIR rate than Lee (#7 vs. #15) and must be putting the ball closer to the pin than her, too (T15 putts per GIR vs. T57), so Lee should be able to take advantage of where Tseng puts her and vice versa. The only hope for Team International is that Pettersen and Gulbis both play superlatively.

Se Ri Pak (#44) and Eun-Hee Ji (#14) vs. Paula Creamer (#2) and Nicole Castrale (#38): Definite advantage to Team International here, as Castrale is playing much better than her ranking while nobody knows which Pak will show up. Only chance for Team Asia is if the right Pak does--and if Creamer's intestinal woes prevent her from playing anywhere close to her potential.

Jeong Jang (#12) and Candie Kung (#19) vs. Angela Stanford (#7) and Annika Sorenstam (#3): I know, I know, on paper it's a definite win for Team International, but I'm calling this one a toss-up. I just think that Jang's and Kung's games mesh really well together and that they're experienced enough not to be intimidated by going up against Team International's strongest pairing.

Namika Omata (n.r.) and Mayumi Shimomura (n.r.) vs. Katherine Hull (#23) and Nikki Campbell (n.r.): Hull is one of the hottest players in the world right now and Campbell is #33 on the JLPGA money list, while Omata is #37 and Shimomura is #46, with scoring averages above 73, so definite advantage to Team Aussie over Team Japan here. But an upset could really spark Team Asia for Saturday's play.

We'll see how this shakes out shortly. Back soon!

[Update 1 (2:02 am): Don't bother with's livescoring link. Try this one from the Lexus Cup 2008 site.]

[Update 2 (2:10 am): Big upset for Park and Kim! And nice win by Jang and Kung. Tseng and Lee didn't dominate like I thought they would, but they still pulled out the win. Pak and Ji are taking Creamer and Castrale to the last hole--if they could halve, it would be a great 1st day for Team Asia!]

[Update 3 (11/30/08, 12:49 am): Here's Hound Dog's Day 1 recap.]

[Update 4 (12:52 am): And here are some links and photos from Annika Sorenstam.]

The Best of the LPGA: December 2008 Edition

This is it, my final Best of the LPGA ranking of 2008. As always, my system combines the most recent results from the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the LPGA Official Money List, and Hound Dog's Top 30.

Identifying the world #1 is still a no-brainer...but this may be the last time I'll be able to write that for a while.

1. Lorena Ochoa: #1 money ($2.76M), #1 RR (16.91), #1 GSPI (68.25), #1 HD. She won her 3rd straight Player of the Year award and Vare Trophy, closed the season with 7 wins, and was 1st in every major statistical category. But next year is going to be the biggest challenge of her career. Knowing her, I expect she'll be ready.

The lead chase pack is still closing on Ochoa and, if I were to count Ji-Yai Shin's non-member wins and winnings (she'd be my #3), still growing:

2. Paula Creamer: #2 money ($1.82M), #4 RR (8.50), #3 GSPI (69.16), #2 HD. She couldn't get that 5th win she was shooting for, but her literally gutsy performance at the ADT Championship shows why she's still Ochoa's closest competitor.
3. Annika Sorenstam: #4 money ($1.74M), #3 RR (9.67), #5 GSPI (69.39), #4 HD. I think she'll get worldwide win #90 in Dubai, but she'll have to settle for 72 on the LPGA.
4. Ya Ni Tseng: #3 money ($1.75M), #2 RR (9.77), #8 GSPI (69.83), #5 HD. The best rookie year since Creamer's in 2005 is good enough to keep her #4 in my book. But with Ji-Yai Shin taking Sorenstam's place in my pre-season predictions for 2009, the Rookie of the Year can't rest on her laurels! She could learn from Shin and Seon Hwa Lee about closing the deal when she's in contention.
5. Suzann Pettersen: #7 money ($1.18M), #5 RR (8.1), #4 GSPI (69.26), #7 HD. I didn't think she'd have such a good season as this one turned out to be. Imagine how great it would have been if she could have added an LPGA win to her 2 LET ones.
6. Cristie Kerr: #10 money ($1.11M), #7 RR (6.26), #6 GSPI (69.47), #6 HD. 5 straight million-dollar seasons are nothing to sneeze at, but she's definitely the #2 American. And unlike Creamer, I'm not sure she has what it takes to end Ochoa's reign.

Right behind the lead chase pack are a bunch of great players with at least 2 top 10s:

7. Angela Stanford: #9 money ($1.13M), #9 RR (5.53), #12 GSPI (70.26), #8 HD. What a great finish to her season! But does she have the staying power to remain a top 10 player, or will she go back to being a very good and very streaky golfer?
8. Seon Hwa Lee: #6 money ($1.19M), #11 RR (4.87), #15 GSPI (70.51), #9 HD. Had a great chance to pick up her 3rd win of the season at the ADT, but 1 swing on the 17th ruined her chances. Look for her to do better in 2009.
9. Na Yeon Choi: #11 money ($1.10M), #28 RR (3.53), #9 GSPI (69.92), #10 HD. Although she couldn't steal the ROY from Tseng despite having some great opportunities down the stretch, she joined her in breaking the million-dollar barrier in season winnings--the 1st time 2 rookies have ever done that. And to think she started the season non-exempt!
10. Karrie Webb: #18 money ($854.6K), #10 RR (5.28), #10 GSPI (70.05), #15 HD. Couldn't repeat at the ADT her come-from-behind victory over Ji-Yai Shin in their 1st event of the season in Australia, but gave it everything she had. When she's on, she's still one of the world's best.
11. Helen Alfredsson: #5 money ($1.43M), #8 RR (5.97), #54 GSPI (71.64), #14 HD. Her amazing year should earn her Comeback Player of the Year--if there's any justice in the world.

But the rest of the chase pack has fallen even further behind and can be found in the top 10 in only 1 of the 4 systems and/or in the top 20 in all:

12. Jeong Jang: #12 money ($1.08M), #13 RR (4.56), #7 GSPI (69.75), #12 HD. Can't rest that wrist just yet--the Lexus Cup and the Pinx Cup are calling.
13. Inbee Park: #8 money ($1.14M), #21 RR (3.82), #34 GSPI (71.09), #11 HD. Needs the winter break to refocus as much as for the rest, but she, too, will be doing the international team competition thing 1st.
14. Eun-Hee Ji: #15 money ($914.0K), #17 RR (4.28), #14 GSPI (70.43), #13 HD. Salvaged a disappointing end to the season with a good ADT Championship in which she was the last Super Soph standing.
15. Hee-Won Han: #19 money ($826.7K), #18 RR (4.15), #13 GSPI (70.34), #16 HD. She had a good season but not a great one, but when you consider that her infant son was separated from her for most of it, you'll understand what a sacrifice being the top mom on tour actually was. Look for an even better '09 from her.

Surprisingly, there are only 4 players with top 20s in at least 2 of the 4 systems.

16. Karen Stupples: #23 money ($726.4K), #20 RR (3.84), #11 GSPI (70.17), #19 HD. Made a great stretch run to attempt to take the top mom spot from Han, but came just short.
17. Song-Hee Kim: #14 money ($980.9K), #36 RR (2.90), #20 GSPI (70.64), #18 HD. Had the best stats of all the Super Sophs this season; only a disappointing hme stretch kept her from breaking the million-dollar barrier in '08.
18. Jee Young Lee: #21 money ($796.0K), #15 RR (4.38), #16 GSPI (70.52), #22 HD. Nice finish to a tough year bodes well for 2009, but, man, what a disappointing season overall.
19. Candie Kung: #16 money ($876.2K), #26 RR (3.60), #24 GSPI (70.78), #17 HD. It was great to see this former top 5 player come closer to realizing her potential this season. Would love to see her keep it up in '09.
20. Laura Diaz: #20 money ($809.5K), #23 RR (3.77), #17 GSPI (70.52), #24 HD. Hats off to the top NYer in the LPGA! Whenever you thought she couldn't sustain her great play, she'd come up with another good finish.

Which means there are a lot of players with 1 top 20 or at least 3 top 30s:

21. Angela Park: #17 money ($869.9K), #22 RR (3.81), #27 GSPI (70.90), #25 HD. The top-ranked Super Soph came so close to breaking through this year, but always fell back after each comeback. Wait till next year!
22. In-Kyung Kim: #22 money ($774.0K), #25 RR (3.61), #28 GSPI (70.90), #20 HD. Finally got back to where I thought she would have been all season--among the hottest golfers on the LPGA. Look out for her in '09.
23. Katherine Hull: #13 money ($1.05M), #30 RR (3.37), #35 GSPI (71.15), #21 HD. Another player who got super-hot during the 2nd half of the season, but is it just a nice run, or can she sustain her fantastic play and keep moving up the rankings?
24. Maria Hjorth: #31 money ($588.4K), #16 RR (4.34), #21 GSPI (70.69), #28 HD. We'll see how quickly she can regain her top 30 status when she returns to the LPGA as the newest mom on tour!
25. Morgan Pressel: #24 money ($711.3K), #19 RR (4.12), #48 GSPI (71.40), #27 HD. Not a bad year for someone reengineering her swing during it. She should be ready for '09.
26. Juli Inkster: #38 money ($441.5K), #24 RR (3.62), #18 GSPI (70.58), #32 HD. Will she play as limited a schedule in '09 as she did this season? It seemed to work for her this time around, but I'd love to see her around more next year.
27. Mi Hyun Kim: #40 money ($438.6K), #29 RR (3.48), #22 GSPI (70.74), #29 HD. We'll have to see how a wedding and a well-deserved rest in the off-season helps her recover from last off-season's knee surgery. I think she'll be back tougher than ever.
28. Momoko Ueda: #45 money ($413.6K), #14 RR (4.41), #26 GSPI (70.81), #35 HD. Going for her 3rd JLPGA win of '08 this week in their last major. If she even finishes well, she'll have made more money on a limited JLPGA schedule than on the LPGA this season. Wonder if she'll continue her globe-trotting in '09 or commit to a full LPGA schedule?
29. Christina Kim: #27 money ($678.6K), #38 RR (2.78), #30 GSPI (70.98), #26 HD. Nice job to make it to the ADT, even if she stumbled her way in, most likely due to her marathon schedule at the end of the season. No rest for the weary--she's playing in the Lexus Cup this week. And with Solheim Cup membership at stake next season, watch out for her in '09!
30. Ji Young Oh: #26 money ($680.2K), #55 RR (2.00), #29 GSPI (70.94), #23 HD. This Super Soph was the biggest surprise of '08 in her class. But I think she's for real.

A handful of players have 1 top 30 or at least 3 top 40s:

31. Brittany Lang: #30 money ($630.3K), #46 RR (2.54), #31 GSPI (70.99), #31 HD. Had one of the best end runs of the year, but it just wasn't enough to get her into the ADT. Look for her to get her 1st LPGA win in '09.
32. Sun Young Yoo: #25 money ($699.0K), #56 RR (1.99), #36 GSPI (71.15), #33 HD. Made it to the ADT despite sitting out the Mizuno. I think she's made a quantum leap and will be a top 30 threat for years to come.
33. Jane Park: #29 money ($631.4K), #47 RR (2.40), #32 GSPI (71.02), #34 HD. Still isn't close to realizing her potential, but she's getting closer.
34. Sophie Gustafson: #28 money ($646.3K), #33 RR (3.15), #55 GSPI (71.65), #37 HD. Not the same player after losing that huge lead on a fateful Sunday midway through the season, but still can bring it any given week.
35. Teresa Lu: #34 money ($507.6K), #62 RR (1.89), #37 GSPI (71.15), #40 HD. Another Junior Mint who seems to have made a quantum leap.
36. Stacy Prammanasudh: #37 money ($470.6K), #34 RR (2.94), #44 GSPI (71.30), #36 HD. Salvaged a respectable season, but didn't play close to her talent level in '08. With Solheim Cup membership at stake next season, look for her to come back strong.

There's a bigger group with at least 1 top 40 or at least 3 top 50s:

37. Meena Lee: #32 money ($553.1K), #58 RR (1.96), #42 GSPI (71.19), #38 HD. Made a nice little push at the end of the season.
38. Nicole Castrale: #33 money ($540.6K), #32 RR (3.19), #49 GSPI (71.47), #41 HD. I have to admit she's better than I thought. Let's see how she does at the Lexus Cup.
39. Lindsey Wright: #42 money ($424.9K), #51 RR (2.15), #33 GSPI (71.08), #39 HD. Tailed off in the 2nd half of the season, but still one of the best Aussies on tour.
40. Catriona Matthew: #41 money ($433.7K), #35 RR (2.91), #39 GSPI (71.21), #42 HD. This mom's relatively disappointing 2nd season back since giving birth does not bode well for other new moms.
41. Ai Miyazato: #46 money ($410.8K), #37 RR (2.88), #46 GSPI (71.33), #49 HD. She didn't get that win I was predicting for her in the 2nd half of the season, but she's fully recovered from last year's injury and should be moving up these rankings in '09.
42. Hee Young Park: #35 money ($474.4K), #57 RR (1.97), #47 GSPI (71.35), #43 HD. Pretty successful rookie season for a KLPGA star who's wanted to play in the States for some time. Look for her to be one of the top Super Sophs next season.
43. Leta Lindley: #39 money ($439.2K), #81 RR (1.39), #74 GSPI (72.01), #46 HD. Great comeback season for her. Hope she can keep it going in '09.
44. Se Ri Pak: #52 money ($366.1K), #31 RR (3.33), #93 GSPI (72.48), #63 HD. An inexplicably terrible season by her standards still saw her contend more than once. So don't count her out for '09.
45. Shanshan Feng: #36 money ($472.8K), #49 RR (2.18), #106 GSPI (72.69), #55 HD. A fantastic 2nd half of the season elevated her among the game's elite. Hope she can avoid a sophomore jinx in '09!
46. Natalie Gulbis: #56 money ($266.2K), #39 RR (2.75), #79 GSPI (72.12), #56 HD. MIA for most of the 2nd half of the season, she has to do something about her back if she wants a comeback in '09.

And here are the best of the rest:

47. Giulia Sergas: #43 money ($417.6K), #69 RR (1.63), #51 GSPI (71.54), #48 HD.
48. Kristy McPherson: #47 money ($407.2K), #73 RR (1.50), #63 GSPI (71.79), #45 HD.
49. Shi Hyun Ahn: #55 money ($303.1K), #43 RR (2.64), #64 GSPI (71.83), #47 HD.
50. Minea Blomqvist: #44 money ($417.0K), #67 RR (1.70), #62 GSPI (71.78), #51 HD.
51. Jimin Kang: #51 money ($373.4K), #80 RR (1.40), #53 GSPI (71.63), #50 HD.

[Update 1 (12/4/08, 3:44 pm): Hound Dog profiles his top 5, next 5, and 3rd 5.]

[Update 2 (12/6/08, 5:14 am): Here's HD's 4th 5 player profiles.]

[Update 3 (12/9/08, 6:31 pm): Here's HD's 5th 5.]

[Update 4 (12/11/08, 7:09 pm): Here's HD's 6th 5.]

[Update 5 (12/17/08, 2:27 pm): Here are the 1st 5 of the 15 from the rest of his top 70 that HD will profile.]

[Update 6 (12/18/08, 7:17 am): Here are the 2nd 5 of the last 15 HD will profile.]

[Update 7 (12/23/08, 12:02 am): Here's the last in HD's (planned) profile series--but I'm sure he'll take requests!]

[Update 8 (12/29/08, 10:07 am): Daniel Wexler takes a look at the top 15 in the year-end Rolex Rankings.]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ricoh Cup Thursday: Bo-Bae Song Takes the Lead

The JLPGA's Korean contingent acquitted themselves well in the 1st round of the JLPGA Tour Championship Ricoh Cup today. Young Gun Bo-Bae Song jumped out to a 2-shot lead over Ji-Yai Shin, Ji-Hee Lee, and Mi-Jeong Jeon, along with Yuko Mitsuka, by taking advantage of the par 5s and par 3s. But the elite field is bunched and nobody is out of it.

Here are the complete results:

1st/-3 Song (69)
T2/-1 Shin, Ji-Hee Lee, Jeon, Mitsuka (71)
T6/E Akiko Fukushima, Yuri Fudoh, Erina Hara, Shinobu Moromizato, Akane Iijima, Yukari Baba (72)

T12/+1 Sakura Yokomine, Miho Koga, Hiromi Mogi, Chie Arimura (73)
T16/+2 Momoko Ueda, Eun-A Lim, Hiroko Yamaguchi, Midori Yoneyama, Rui Kitada (74)
T21/+3 Maiko Wakabayashi, Esther Lee (75)
T23/+4 Ayako Uehara, Hyun-Ju Shin, Ji-Woo Lee (76)
T26/+5 Mayu Hattori, Saiki Fujita (77)

Mitsuka was +2 over her last 6 holes, while Shin, Lee, and Jeon played birdie-bogey ping-pong for most of the day. Fukushima went 33-39 and Fudoh matched her 4 birdie, 4 bogey total. Yokomine birdied her 1st 2 holes, but endured a bogey-bogey-double-par-bogey run on the front, while Ueda's 1st birdie of the day came on the 17th.

There are so many storylines to follow this week. Song torched the field in the very 1st event of the season, but hasn't won since. Ji-Hee Lee has won twice, owns the lowest scoring average among JLPGA regulars, and is looking to stay ahead of Yokomine and Koga in the race for the money title. Jeon has been slumping lately, but can break the 100-million-yen barrier in season winnings for the 3rd straight year with a win this week. Mitsuka, too, can break the 100-million-yen barrier with what would be her 2nd win of the season and 3rd of her career. Shin needs no introduction. Suffice to say that any money she earns this week only pads her world-leading winnings total for 2008. Fukushima, like Jeon, has been slumping in the last third of the season, but she, too, has a chance to break the 100-million-yen barrier, as does Fudoh, who's looking for her 5th win of 2008. A win by Koga gives her a chance to take the money title from Lee and would allow her to match Fudoh's JLPGA-leading total. Yokomine is looking for her 2nd straight win, which would turn a good season into a great one, particularly if it resulted in her finally winning a money title--she's finished 4-3-2 over the last 3 seasons.

With Shiho Oyama and Miki Saiki skipping this week to prepare themselves for LPGA Q-School, it turns out that Ai Miyazato ended her season less than 3 million yen shy of qualifying for the Ricoh Cup. Maybe this will convince Ai-chan to play a few more JLPGA events in 2009, particularly given all the gaps in the LPGA schedule.

But enough about next year. Can Song stay ahead of a star-studded field over the final 54 holes? Stay tuned!

The Best of the Young Guns: Top Super Sophs, November 2008 Edition

Eun-Hee Ji was the last Super Soph standing in the ADT Championship, validating my ranking her at the head of her class in September. But you can't keep a good Park down--even though she cooled off at the end of the season and is still searching for her 1st career win, she's still the Super Soph to beat.

So here's how I rank the LPGA Class of 2007 at the end of 2008. When comparing them to where the Class of 2006 stood at this time last year, it's impressive how they've spread the wins around and how closely their top 12s match up with what is still the strongest rookie class in the history of the LPGA, but unless the '07ers at the bottom of the pile do well in Q-School, it's clear the '06ers are a much deeper class. However, with the '07ers' top 7 so closely bunched, expect their rankings to be a bit more volatile in '09.

Simply the Best

1. Angela Park: I predict multiple wins in '09 for Angela. She's bound to break that million-dollar barrier in season winnings soon!
2. Eun-Hee Ji: Another season like this one and I'll put her back in the top spot, but Angela Park came on too strong in the 2nd half of the season to deny it to her this time.
3. In-Kyung Kim: Put on a fantastic run in the 2nd half of her season, from a 3rd at the U.S. Women's Open to a 9th at the Women's British Open to her 1st career win at the Long Drugs. So even though she didn't make it to the final round of the ADT Championship, I would say she had the best 2nd half of all the Super Sophs. And I expect 2009 to be even better.
4. Inbee Park: Had about as disappointing a 2nd half of 2008 as Ai Miyazato's was in 2007. Still, she's got a major under her belt and no injuries to deal with, so look for her to bounce back in '09.

The Contenders

5. Song-Hee Kim: Probably the best player in her class without a win, she had a close call at the Samsung and only a disappointing Asian Swing and early rounds of the ADT Championship stopped her from breaking the million-dollar barrier. She had the best stats in her class in '08, which is really saying something. Plus, she's the only one besides Angela Park to break the million-dollar barrier in career winnings without needing a win to do so. Once she gets that 1st win, watch out for her!
6. Jane Park: Just missed the ADT Championship this season, but I don't think that'll happen too often the rest of her career. If she hadn't slumped by her standards the 2nd half of the season, I'd call her the best in her class without a win. Watch for her to break through next season with her 1st win and to put herself in contention many times.
7. Ji Young Oh: No post-win let-down for this Super Soph! She played a lot after her win and played very well. Looks like she's for real.
8. Kristy McPherson: Good Southern Swing, bad Asian Swing for this up-and-coming Super Soph. Expect her to be making the Asian swing for many more years to come.

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Jin Joo Hong: T11 at the Mizuno Classic was a great way to end her 2008 season on the LPGA.
10. Na On Min: Phew--she kept her card for 2008! Must be glad to get that sophomore jinx out of the way.
11. Irene Cho: Made 4 of 5 cuts down the stretch when her card was on the line--and kept it with room to spare. A good sign for '09.
12. Charlotte Mayorkas: Made the top 100 but is heading to Q-School to improve her status even more. I think she's going to do it. By how much, I'm not so sure. It's the strongest Q-School field in recent memory--and maybe the best ever.

On the Bottom Looking Up

13. Sophie Giquel: Going back to Q-School. I'm not optimistic for her. But at least she made the top 120 on the money list, so she'll get into some LPGA events next season.
14. Paige Mackenzie: Ditto.
15. Becky Lucidi: The only one in this bunch not headed to Q-School. But at least she made the top 120 on the money list, so she, too, will get into a few LPGA events.

On the Outside Looking In

16. Seo-Jae Lee: Having fallen outside the top 120 on the money list, Q-School is her last stand. I'm not at all optimistic.
17. Su A Kim: Ditto.
18. Sarah Lynn Sargent: Ditto.
19. Cindy Pasechnik: Ditto.
20. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke: Ditto.

For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the November 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 played 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 (except for birdies, which ranks by total and not by average). I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I don't include putts per green in regulation here. Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future.

1. Inbee Park, $1.14M (#8), 71.78 (#26), 3.34 (#22), 61.4% (#109)
2. Song-Hee Kim, $980.9K (#14), 71.23 (#10), 3.48 (#29), 68.9% (#5)
3. Eun-Hee Ji, $914.0K (#15), 71.47 (#15), 3.24 (#18), 65.9% (#39)
4. Angela Park, $869.9K (#17), 71.99 (#37), 3.26 (#20), 64.9% (#58)
5. In-Kyung Kim, $774.0K (#22), 71.54 (#18), 3.54 (#13), 62.2% (#96)
6. Ji Young Oh, $680.2K (#25), 71.65 (#22), 3.29 (#12), 65.7% (#44)
7. Jane Park, $631.4K (#29), 71.83 (#31), 3.13 (#31), 66.9% (#24)
8. Kristy McPherson, $407.2K (#47), 71.86 (#34), 3.22 (#33), 65.9% (#40)
9. Jin Joo Hong, $339.5K (#53), 72.37 (#53), 2.84 (#76), 62.5% (#89)
10. Irene Cho, $176.8K (#71), 72.92 (#83), 3.11 (#73), 63.3% (#74)
11. Na On Min, $146.6K (#76), 73.19 (#101), 2.63 (#71), 61.7% (#105)
12. Charlotte Mayorkas, $107.6K (#97), 72.96 (#84), 2.67 (#84), 62.3% (#93)
13. Sophie Giquel, $85.1K (#112), 73.64 (#126), 2.56 (#110), 63.1% (#77)
14. Becky Lucidi, $83.8K (#113), 73.32 (#107), 2.89 (#108), 66.7% (#25)
15. Paige Mackenzie, $78.8K (#120), 73.11 (#97), 3.03 (#119), 61.3% (#104)
16. Seo-Jae Lee, $61.9K (#128), 73.47 (#116), 2.64 (#105), 54.7% (#157)
17. Su A Kim, $55.7K (#132), 73.80 (#132), 2.63 (#106), 57.6% (#145)
18. Cindy Pasechnik, $16.6K (#161), 74.71 (#151), 2.07 (#157), 54.8% (#156)
19. Sarah Lynn Sargent, $12.9K (#163), 74.28 (n.r.), ?, ?
20. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, $2.5K (#187), 76.84 (n.r.), ?, ?

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 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 both years. 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 Super Sophs 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 at the end of '08.

1. Angela Park, $1.85M (#96), 55/0/0/6/15/22/50 (.910)
2. Inbee Park, $1.52M (#111), 47/1/1/3/9/15/33 (.702)
3. In-Kyung Kim, $1.23M (#136), 51/0/1/3/12/20/43 (.843)
4. Eun-Hee Ji, $1.16M (#148), 32/0/1/4/10/13/27 (.844)
5. Song-Hee Kim $1.06M (#160), 51/0/0/4/9/17/37 (.725)
6. Ji Young Oh, $.83M (#201), 51/0/1/1/5/12/36 (.706)
7. Jane Park, $.70M (#221), 37/0/0/3/4/8/31 (.838)
8. Jin Joo Hong, $.50M (#258), 43/0/0/0/2/7/28 (.651)
9. Kristy McPherson, $.49M (#264), 42/0/0/0/6/9/30 (.714)
10. Na On Min, $.46M (#272), 45/0/0/1/2/5/28 (.622)
11. Charlotte Mayorkas, $.26M (#340), 43/0/0/0/0/4/30 (.698)
12. Irene Cho, $.24M (#353), 40/0/0/0/2/4/23 (.575)
13. Paige Mackenzie, $.13M (#425), 36/0/0/0/0/1/17 (.472)
14. Sophie Giquel, $.11M (#442), 26/0/0/0/0/0/14 (.538)
15. Becky Lucidi $.09M (#474), 22/0/0/0/0/2/8 (.364)
16. Su A Kim, $.07M (#490), 22/0/0/0/0/0/10 (.455)
17. Seo-Jae Lee, $.07M (#494), 21/0/0/0/0/0/9 (.429)
18. Sarah Lynn Sargent, $.05M (#532), 26/0/0/0/0/0/12 (.462)
19. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, $.02M (#594), 20/0/0/0/0/1/2 (.100)
20. Cindy Pasechnik, $.02M (#607), 19/0/0/0/0/0/5 (.263)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 11/24/08) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 11/23/08) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2007 season): This is a way of seeing how those Super Sophs who sometimes or regularly or 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. Eun-Hee Ji, 4.28 (#17), 70.43 (#14); 4
2. Inbee Park, 3.82 (#21), 71.09 (#34); 0
3. Angela Park, 3.81 (#22), 70.90 (#27); 0
4. In-Kyung Kim, 3.61 (#25), 70.90 (#28); 0
5. Song-Hee Kim, 2.90 (#36), 70.64 (#20); 0
6. Jane Park, 2.40 (#47), 71.02 (#32); 0
7. Ji Young Oh, 2.00 (#55); 70.94 (#29); 0
8. Kristy McPherson, 1.50 (#73), 71.79 (#63); 0
9. Jin Joo Hong, 1.31 (#86), 72.09 (#76); 2
10. Na On Min, 1.06 (#99), 73.14 (#129); 0
11. Irene Cho, .88 (#117), 72.58 (#101); 0
12. Charlotte Mayorkas, .74 (#131), 72.70 (#108); 0
13. Sophie Giquel, .55 (#170), 73.28 (#144); 1
14. Becky Lucidi, .39 (#222), 73.83 (#186); 0
15. Paige Mackenzie, .35 (#236), 73.45 (#157); 0
16. Su A Kim, .23 (#283), 73.87 (#190); 0
17. Seo-Jae Lee, .19 (#316), 73.88 (#192); 0
18. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, .04 (#514), 76.74 (#426); 0
19. Sarah Lynn Sargent, .04 (#533), 75.13 (#294); 0
20. Cindy Pasechnik, .01 (#678), 75.18 (#300); 0

So there you have it. One more of these things to go for '08:

February: Junior Mints
March: Super Sophs
April: both
May: Junior Mints
June: Super Sophs
July: Junior Mints
August: Super Sophs
September: both
October: Junior Mints
December: all the Young Guns (post-Q School)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lexus Cup 2008: Can Team Asia Defend Their Title?

The 2008 Lexus Cup is almost here. The field may well be the strongest in the history of the event. The only player besides Lorena Ochoa among the world's elite skipping this week is Ji-Yai Shin--and that's only because she's competing in the JLPGA's final major. (My suggestions from earlier this month to captain Se Ri Pak on whom to pick from Japan were so off because I didn't realize at the time that such a glaring schedule conflict was possible.) I wonder if Pak approached Ai Miyazato, who didn't qualify for the JLPGA's last event, or whether her availability came up too late for her to be considered. She really could have helped Team Asia defend its title--certainly more than Sarah Lee or Mayumi Shimomura. Fortunately, Team International captain Annika Sorenstam was as soft-hearted as Pak was when it came to rounding out her team: Natalie Gulbis has been MIA on the LPGA for the last few months, while Nicole Castrale has been playing well, but not as well as Morgan Pressel or Brittany Lang. Still, their sponsor's picks are actually pretty tough: Nikki Campbell is having a good season on the JLPGA, while Christina Kim thrives on team play. With Pak getting one of the sponsor's picks for Team Asia and Namika Omata the other, they will be short two of their stalwarts from last year, Jee Young Lee and In-Kyung Kim.

So on paper, it's Advantage: Team International. But Team Asia still has Seon Hwa Lee, who's 6-0-0 in Lexus Cup play and 12-1-0 in match play going all the way back to the 2006 HSBC match-play event. And they're playing in Singapore, where they'll have something of a home-field advantage. Factor in the pressure of playing for a "stepping away" Sorenstam on a more experienced but also older Team International, and I think you're going to see an upset victory for Team Asia. You heard it here first!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Congrats to Lorena Ochoa and Ya Ni Tseng

Despite their disappointing performances at the ADT Championship, Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winner Lorena Ochoa and Rookie of the Year Ya Ni Tseng had fantastic seasons. They ended up 2008 in the top 2 positions in the Rolex Rankings, ranked 1-2 in rounds in the 60s, 1-2 in birdie rate, 1-3 on the money list, 1-4 in scoring average, 1-T4 in rounds under par rate, 1-T6 in top 10 rate, 1-7 in greens in regulation rate, 1-8 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and T4-T15 in putts per green in regulation. You have to go back to 2005 to see a rookie put up stats that impressive--taking nothing away from the impressive rookie seasons of Seon Hwa Lee and Angela Park the last 2 years--so it's fitting that the only LPGA member I would rank higher than Ya Ni right now is the 2005 ROY, Paula Creamer.

Monday, November 24, 2008

ADT Championship Sunday: Shin Wins Again!

I actually got to see the putts on 17 and the entire 18th hole for Ji-Yai Shin and Karrie Webb yesterday in the ADT Championship--at the home of the 2nd set of friends onechan, imoto, and I visited while the Full Metal Archivist was finishing up a presentation for today--but having successfully avoided the temptation of the web before we headed out, there were a lot of gaps to fill from the last few minutes of the coverage. Why did Seon Hwa Lee look so disgusted after making that tough putt for bogey on 18? How did Angela Stanford blow up? Why was Eun-Hee Ji a non-factor at the end? And how did Suzann Pettersen and Jeong Jang score so badly?

Thanks to Hound Dog and Verdant Garden, I know more of the answers to these questions than I did from looking at the scorecards alone, but I'm still wondering how Seon Hwa could have hit such an awful shot on 17 when Ji Yai could stick hers there 4 times in a row. Time to check the Golf Channel highlights. Well, her swing didn't look any different--looks like she just overclubbed and hit it purer than she intended (or was it one of those pulls that goes a lot further than usual?). Too bad for Seon Hwa; great for Ji Yai! In only 10 events, she won enough as a non-member to have come in 3rd on the LPGA money list this season. Having won twice in Japan in 5 tries, that makes her 5 for 15 4 for 14 [sorry, forgot the Mizuno was a co-sponsored LPGA/JLPGA event] outside Korea in '08. Wonder what that ratio will be in '09? All I can say is, watch out, Lorena!

Fun to read the reactions over at Seoul, Waggle Room, and from Annika Sorenstam. I'll link to more here as the day goes on.

[Update 1 (11:11 am): Here's Hound Dog's epilogue.]

[Update 2 (11:18 am): Here's Beth Ann Baldry on Shin's win.]

[Update 3 (11:27 am): Here are's final-round notes and interviews.]

[Update 4 (11:39 am): Have to strongly disagree with Sal Johnson's criticism of the LPGA allowing a non-member to compete in the ADT and his feeling that Shin's win is bad for the LPGA. As I've said many times before, the LPGA should be applauded for trying to attract the best women golfers in the world to their tour and that great golf and great rivalries are what make a tour. With Shin, Tseng, and Creamer at the head of the line to challenge Ochoa for #1 in '09, the LPGA is in great shape, competition-wise, particularly when you consider they are going to have about 60 players who can win any given week after Q-School is done.]

[Update 5 (11:45 am): Steve Elling gets the story right, IMHO.]

[Update 6 (12:08 pm): Average Golfer notes Shin's win, but mistakenly implies her season is over: she still has the last major on the JLPGA to play, as well as the Korea vs. Japan showdown, the Pinx Cup, and may even play 1 more KLPGA event. For us golf bloggers, there's still the LPGA's Lexus Cup and Q-School, too.]

[Update 7 (11/25/08, 6:43 pm): Here's Daniel Wexler on Shin's early arrival!]

[Update 8 (11:33 pm): Here's Ron Sirak's big ADT recap story.]

[Update 9 (11/26/08, 12:18 am): Here's Karen Crouse in the New York Times on Shin's win.]

Final AnnikaWatch Update...of 2008, at Least

I'm not going to get all that emotional over the end to Annika Sorenstam's probably-not-all-that-final season on the LPGA Tour. First, her 2008 isn't over, as she still has a chance for at least 1 more LET win that would bring her world-wide total to an even 90 (to match her LPGA 72). Second, I don't think she's going to let the ADT be her last LPGA memory. And I don't think she'll be able to resist mixing it up with Lorena Ochoa, Ya Ni Tseng, Ji-Yai Shin, Paula Creamer, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Seon Hwa Lee, and the other top contenders for #1 in women's golf after a few years mixing business and parenting.

So I'll leave the tributes and reminiscences to the pros, and simply review her record when playing head-to-head against her peers this season on the LPGA.

In the end, only 9 players could avoid getting beaten by her:

Angela Stanford (1-0-2)
Mi Hyun Kim (1-0-1)
Maria Hjorth (1-0-1)
Se Ri Pak (1-0)
Catriona Matthew (1-0)
Linda Wessberg (1-0)
Amy Hung (1-0)
Shanshan Feng (1-0)
Angela Park (0-0-1)

But only 2 can really say they had a great record against her. Any doubts that Tseng should be considered Ochoa's chief rival for #1 in '09?

Ya Ni Tseng (6-1)
Lorena Ochoa (6-3-1)
Juli Inkster (2-1)
Lindsey Wright (2-1)
Karrie Webb (2-1-1)
Paula Creamer (3-2-1)

Only 6 players have even broken even with her:

Inbee Park (2-2)
Hee-Won Han (1-1)
Helen Alfredsson (1-1)
Jee Young Lee (1-1)
Minea Blomqvist (1-1)
Catrin Nilsmark (1-1)

But mostly playing against her has been an exercise in futility (more so for some than for others). Check out the names who have struggled to beat her even once! Is Annika in Suzann's head, or what?

Jeong Jang (2-3-1)
Morgan Pressel (2-3)
Laura Davies (1-2)
Laura Diaz (1-2)
Sun Young Yoo (1-2)
Momoko Ueda (1-4-1)
Cristie Kerr (1-4)
Suzann Pettersen (1-5)

At least 30 more people can say they got to play with Annika during her farewell tour.

Stacy Prammanasudh (0-1-1)
Lorie Kane (0-1)
Pat Hurst (0-1)
Sophie Gustafson (0-1)
Na Yeon Choi (0-1)
Katherine Hull (0-1)
In-Kyung Kim (0-1)
Jane Park (0-1)
Teresa Lu (0-1)
Ji Young Oh (0-1)
Kristy McPherson (0-1)
Young Kim (0-1)
Il Mi Chung (0-1)
Gloria Park (0-1)
Jin Joo Hong (0-1)
Nicole Castrale (0-1)
Meaghan Francella (0-1)
Reilley Rankin (0-1)
Alena Sharp (0-1)
Charlotte Mayorkas (0-1)
Erica Blasberg (0-1)
Marisa Baena (0-1)
A.J. Eathorne (0-1)
Michelle Ellis (0-1)
Diana D'Alessio (0-2-1)
Christina Kim (0-2)
Ai Miyazato (0-2)
Eva Dahllof (0-2)
Seon Hwa Lee (0-3)
Natalie Gulbis (0-4-1)

Annika's record this year on the LPGA against 59 of the best women golfers in the world was 83-46-13. 'Nuff said.

[Update 1 (11/26/08, 12:09 am): Check out the Celebrating 15 Years of Annika page for more on her career.]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

ADT Championship Sunday: As They Make the Turn....

Don't read this if you want to be surprised from the start of the 3 pm telecast of the ADT Championship's final round! None of the people I've called about watching have gotten back to me, so thought I'd blog the front 9 at least.

Right now the field remains fairly bunched, with each twosome playing roughly similar styles of golf, except for the lead pairing, where the only thing similar about them is that Seon Hwa Lee (E) and Suzann Pettersen (+3) have each made 2 birdies in their 1st 10 holes. The next pairing, Paula Creamer (+2) and Jeong Jang (+3) played birdie-less fronts, but Jang just birdied the 10th. Karrie Webb (-2) and Ji-Yai Shin (-1) are reprising their showdown in their 1st event of the season as they make the turn in their last LPGA appearance of '08. Meanwhile, Angela Stanford and Eun-Hee Ji have made 8 pars in a row as they approach the 9th green.

So far, nobody's doing what Lorena Ochoa did last year around this time--get off to such a hot start so early that she forced her competitors to take risks their games couldn't back up under that kind of pressure.

Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies Sunday: Yokomine Breaks Through

Sakura Yokomine's 1st win of 2008 came in convincing fashion today at the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies, as she birdied 7 of her 1st 10 holes and finished with a fantastic 66 that brought her to -11 and gave her a 4-shot victory over Midori Yoneyama and a 5-shot victory over Ai Miyazato. When you shoot a 33 on the front and lose 3 shots to the leader--as Yoneyama, Miyazato, and Miki Saiki did--you know you need a miracle on the back. But only Momoko Ueda could produce one--a pair of birdies at the turn and an eagle-birdie finish that gave her a 31 there and a 66 overall--which is why she was able to join Ji-Hee Lee, Yuko Mitsuka, and a bunch of others T4 at -5.

Here are the final results:

1st/-11 Yokomine (71-66)
2nd/-7 Yoneyama (71-70-68)
3rd/-6 Miyazato (73-69-68)
T4/-5 Ueda (74-71-66), Eun-A Lim (74-70-67), Ji-Hee Lee (72-70-69), Mitsuka (71-70-70), Michie Ohba (70-71-72), Junko Omote (69-72-72)
10th/-4 Kumiko Kaneda (70-70-72)

Another nice welcome to the JLPGA for Kaneda, eh? She was -2 through 13 and playing bogey-free golf--until she bogeyed 2 of the next 3 holes, that is, and got lapped by a million people. Wonder if she's going to try for the LET or JLPGA next year? She's gotta turn pro after so many great JLPGA starts this season, right? For that matter, I wonder why she didn't join fellow amateur superstar Mika Miyazato in going for LPGA Q-School? She just beat someone who should cruise through it in a couple of weeks (Saiki), and a whole host of big names, too, many of whom should also be thinking about giving the LPGA a try in 2010 (Bo-Bae Song, Erina Hara, Mayu Hattori, Maiko Wakabayashi, Ayako Uehara, Akane Iijima, Chie Arimura, Hiromi Mogi):

T11/-3 Saiki (72-70-71), Yun-Jye Wei (69-72-72)
T13/-2 Song (75-71-68), Tamie Durdin (72-72-70), Uehara (71-72-71), Iijima (69-72-73)
T18/-1 Yukari Baba (76-70-69)
T20/E Hara (74-72-70)
T24/+1 Esther Lee (70-72-75)
T28/+2 Akiko Fukushima (73-75-70), Wakabayashi (74-72-72)
T30/+3 Arimura (75-72-72), Sakurako Mori (72-75-72)
T34/+4 Yuki Sakurai (75-73-72)
T36/+5 Mogi (74-73-74), Ji-Woo Lee (74-73-74), Hattori (75-69-77)
T41/+6 Yuki Ichinose (70-72-80)
T44/+7 Mie Nakata (74-72-77)
T46/+9 Riko Higashio (75-72-78), Shinobu Moromizato (72-74-79)

With time, perhaps Esther Lee, Sakurai, and Mori should be added to that list.

Congratulations to Yokomine on her win, her breaking the 100-million-yen barrier, and her long-awaited move to #2 on the money list:

1. Ji-Hee Lee ¥117.86M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥101.70M
3. Miho Koga ¥95.85M
4. Akiko Fukushima ¥89.71M
5. Yuri Fudoh ¥79.61M
6. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥78.60M
7. Yuko Mitsuka ¥76.77M
8. Shiho Oyama ¥75.04M
9. Eun-A Lim ¥72.49M
10. Erina Hara ¥65.26M
11. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥64.20M
12. Ayako Uehara ¥62.89M
13. Bo-Bae Song ¥59.75M
14. Mayu Hattori ¥58.25M
15. Shinobu Moromizato ¥57.58M
16. Esther Lee ¥54.45M
17. Hiromi Mogi ¥52.11M
18. Momoko Ueda ¥50.90M
19. Akane Iijima ¥50.90M
20. Miki Saiki ¥50.84M
21. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥49.59M
22. Chie Arimura ¥46.88M
23. Ji-Yai Shin ¥44.80M
24. Midori Yoneyama ¥44.69M
25. Ji-Woo Lee ¥43.92M
26. Yukari Baba ¥42.65M
27. Hiroko Yamaguchi ¥42.40M
28. Rui Kitada ¥35.42M
29. Saiki Fujita ¥30.53M
30. Yun-Jye Wei ¥29.63M
31. Mie Nakata ¥28.33M
32. Ai Miyazato ¥27.89M
33. Nikki Campbell ¥27.04M
34. Yuko Saitoh ¥25.87M
35. So-Hee Kim ¥24.89M

That's 3 top 3s and 4 top 10s in 5 events for Ai-chan. Wouldn't it be cool if she won next week? Or if Momo-chan got win #3 on lucky JLPGA start #13? Wonder if Ji-Yai Shin will fly over for the last JLPGA major of the season....

[Update 1 (5:24 am): An eagle-eyed reader (who can read Japanese better than I can, apparently) notes that Ai-chan won't be playing in the year's last major, as she's neither won on the JLPGA nor finished in the top 20 on its money list. Too bad!]

Saturday, November 22, 2008

ADT Championship Saturday: And Then There Were 8

What can I say about the 3rd round of the ADT Championship that hasn't already been noted by, summarized by Average Golfer, or recapped by Hound Dog? Well, maybe a few things.

  • Who would have thought 2 of the hottest golfers left in the field, Katherine Hull and In-Kyung Kim, would all of a sudden blow up with 41s on the front?
  • Hats off to Suzann Pettersen and Ji-Yai Shin for stringing together birdies in bunches just when they needed them--Pettersen to make up for her early triple bogey (and then some), Shin at crunch time (on 3 of her last 4 holes).
  • Clutch birdie by Eun-Hee Ji to get back to E and into that playoff, eh? Did I tell you she reminded me of Seon Hwa Lee? It's no coincidence that they're the last Super Soph and Junior Mint standing in 2008, I don't think.
  • Watch out for Paula Creamer when she's sick and Seon Hwa Lee when she's playing for high stakes.

Here are the pairings for the final round. I love it that Seon Hwa chose to go off 1st with Pettersen. Jang's reason for choosing to play with Creamer was hilarious--she loves to play before big galleries! Webb ending up with Shin is priceless, as they've duelled more than once in Australia. And the Ji-Stanford pairing could have lots of drama tomorrow.

This is not to be missed! I just have to find out which friend will let me bring the girls over for 3 hours to watch it on their TV. Onechan will be rooting for Paula and Karrie; I'll be rooting for Seon Hwa and Eun-Hee. Hopefully one of us will come home happy....

[Update 1 (11/23/08, 2:27 am): Geoff Shackelford shows remarkable taste with his choice of title!]

Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies Saturday: Yokomine's (Next-to-) Last Stand

It's not like Sakura Yokomine has been having a terrible 2008: even though she hasn't won all season, she's 4th on the money list and has the 2nd-best scoring average and birdie rate of all the JLPGA regulars. But she has a chance to turn an ok season into a good one in a few hours, as she's leaped to the lead in the Daio Paper ElleAire Ladies event in Shikoku this week with a tournament-best 68. Still, at -5, she only has a 1-shot lead on amateur Kumiko Kaneda, who shot her 2nd straight 70, a 2-shot lead on Yuko Mitsuka, Akane Iijima, Midori Yoneyama, Yun-Jye Wei, and 2 others, and a 3-shot lead on Ai Miyazato, Ji-Hee Lee, Miki Saiki, Esther Lee, and 3 others.

Here are the top 10 and notables:

1st/-5 Yokomine (71-68)
2nd/-4 Kaneda (70-70)
T3/-3 Mitsuka (71-70), Yoneyama (71-70), Michie Ohba (70-71), Iijima (69-72), Wei (69-72), Junko Omote (69-72)
T9/-2 Miyazato (73-69), Ji-Hee Lee (72-70), Saiki (72-70), Mumi Ohkubo (72-70), Natsu Nagai (71-71), Esther Lee (70-72), Yuki Ichinose (70-72)

Yokomine is fortunate to have such a large lead on so many people playing well of late:

T16/-1 Ayako Uehara (71-72)
T21/E Mayu Hattori (75-69), Eun-A Lim (74-70), Tamie Durdin (72-72)
T25/+1 Momoko Ueda (74-71)
T28/+2 Yukari Baba (76-70), Bo-Bae Song (75-71), Erina Hara (74-72), Maiko Wakabayashi (74-72), Mie Nakata (74-72), Moromizato (72-74)
T35/+3 Chie Arimura (75-72), Riko Higashio (75-72), Hiromi Mogi (74-73), Ji-Woo Lee (74-73), Sakurako Mori (72-75)
T44/+4 Yuki Sakurai (75-73), Akiko Fukushima (73-75)

But at least they made the cut. Last week's winner and #2 on the money list missed the cut, as did the soon-to-be-formerly top-ranked player on the JLPGA:

T51/+5 Saiki Fujita (76-73), Miho Koga (75-74), Rui Kitada (75-74)
T70/+8 Mi-Jeong Jeon (75-77), Hiroko Yamaguchi (75-77), Ritsuko Ryu (75-77)
T90/+12 Kaori Higo (76-80)

Once again, Ai-chan is in the hunt for her 1st win anywhere since 2006. Can she chase down Yokomine, Kaneda, and Mitsuka, and outrace Ji-Hee Lee? Or will someone else step up to take Yokomine's 1st title of 2008 away from her?

Friday, November 21, 2008

ADT Championship Friday: Can't Watch...Must Watch...Can't...Must....

If the ADT Championship doesn't have the most compelling--and painful--format in golf, I don't want to know about the alternative. I can't imagine what it's like to play it. I'm not even watching it--just checking in on scorecards on it's all I can do to avoid covering my eyes and peeking through my fingers as the scores update. Thankfully, my lunch break is almost over! Hopefully the round itself will be over by the next time I can check in.

Of the 4 players tied for 16th right now at +1, Maria Hjorth had been at -3 for her round and the tournament as she headed to the 7th tee. She's now heading to the 10th, having dropped from contending for the 36-hole lead to hoping to make the 36-hole cut. Na Yeon Choi and Ji Young Oh just dropped back to join her with their doubles on the par-3 7th. Helen Alfredsson is playing comparatively steadily, with only 1 birdie and 1 bogey through 14 holes.

1 shot back is Candie Kung, who just shot her 2nd straight 38. 2 shots back is Lorena Ochoa, who just bogeyed the par-4 16th after making birdie on 2 of her previous 3 holes to come back from another weak start. Thanks to a shaky 39 on the front, Morgan Pressel is also 2 back. Then there's Annika, who's 3 back with 3 to go. And....

I can't go on. See you in a few hours!

[Update 1 (4:24 pm): I am so glad I missed what just took place. Song-Hee Kim? No million-dollar season for this Super Soph! Young major winners like Ya Ni Tseng and Morgan Pressel? Forget about it! Not even close. But not as bad as Ji Young Oh, who went from +1 on her day and -1 in the tournament to +15/+13 in the space of 12 holes. Maria Hjorth was "only" +8 over her final 12 holes--and only missed the cut by 2 shots. Candie Kung's double on 18 dropped her back to +5 with Hjorth, Ochoa, Sorenstam, Kerr, Diaz, and Han--and they all finished T18! But maybe the most painful finish belongs to Na Yeon Choi, who made three doubles on the day--and 2 in her last 6 holes--to drop from E to +4 and miss a playoff by 1 shot.

Even those who made the top 16 are likely to be scarred heading into tomorrow's round. Karrie Webb was +5 over her last 11 holes of birdie-less golf--and ended up in 16th place. Karen Stupples made 5 bogeys and a double, yet her 4th birdie of the day on the par-3 17th secured 15th place for her. Eun-Hee Ji got all the way to -6 for the tournament before finishing triple-bogey-triple on her final 3 holes--yet her 75 dropped her only to +1 and T10. Jee Young Lee's Friday was filled with as many thrills and spills as Thursday's, but a walk-off birdie finally brought her back to +1. Neither Ji-Yai Shin (75) nor In-Kyung Kim (73) had confidence-building back 9s, to say the least.

Probably the only players sad to see their scores erased will be Katherine Hull (a bogey-free 71 brought her to -5) and Angela Stanford (whose 67 pulled her to -4). Paula Creamer (-2) was +2 over the final 10 holes for the 2nd day in a row, while Christina Kim (-2) bogeyed 2 of her last 3 today and must be furiously trying to exorcise the memories of worse finishes last year. Jeong Jang (-1) went 32-38 today, while a walk-off bogey marred Angela Park's otherwise perfect performance (70, -1). Seon Hwa Lee shot 72-72, but was +3 over her final 11 holes today, while Suzann Pettersen was almost as steady (72-73), but also stumbled down the stretch with a birdie-less 38 on the back. Even Sun Young Yoo, one of the few players to fight her way into the top 16, shot a 37--and that was 4 shots better than last round. Well, it's time for everyone to clear the memory banks and scorecards--even though the latter is easier than the former--and start over tomorrow....

It's not just the qualification system for the ADT that's like NASCAR--it's the event itself. The crashes are as spectacular as the brilliance. And it seems to me they're getting worse from year to year. Is it just me?]

[Update 2 (4:34 pm): Here are some reactions from Hound Dog, Ryan Ballengee, and Jay Busbee.]

[Update 3 (11/23/08, 2:30 am) Here's Bill Jempty on the results and the controversy.]

[Update 4 (3:48 am): And here are Brent Kelley's, Ryan Ballengee's, and Geoff Shackelford's takes on the various Friday results. Once again the LPGA is taking heat from the golfy media--but not the LPGA bloggers--for doing the right thing (l'affaire Wie card, in particular). Plus they don't seem to be getting much credit for turning the wrong thing into a much better thing (seems like the English requirement is going to become something like a cultural immersion program, although we'll still have to see how close to the 2-way mentoring model I called for it turns out to be). Bob Smiley gets both the LPGA's PR problems and the golfy media's overreactions to them dead right!]

[Update 5 (4:24 am): Back to the golf, the LPGA Insider covers every painful shot of Annika's final LPGA round of 2008. Was her putter evil, or what?]

Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies Friday: The Horror, The Horror

Scoring is high in the 1st round of the JLPGA's penultimate event, the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies. As of this writing, only 12 players are under par. Ai Miyazato had been one of them until she double bogeyed the vicious par-3 16th to drop back to E. Now she's joined the 23 players at par or better. Scoring would be even higher were it not for the great number of birdie holes on the front 9. If you don't take advantage of #4 to #6 and the 9th hole, however, the back is full of trouble. #13 to #16 have caused all kinds of problems even for the leaders, while all too many players have failed to even break 40 on the back 9. Shinobu Moromizato's 72 is an extreme example of this overall trend. She made 6 birdies, 6 bogeys, and 6 pars today, but all her birdies occurred on the front and all her bogeys on the back. Yup, she went 30-42. Tomoko Kusakabe was the only player to buck this trend when she opened the back with a bogey-free 33, but she blew up to a 41 on the front. In fact, only 3 other players--Ji-Woo Lee, 18-year-old Sakurako Mori, and amateur Kumiko Kaneda--were able to shoot 34s on the back. And, of them, only Kaneda had even a decent front side. Which is why she sits 1 shot off the lead at -2.

Thus it should be no surprise that only 4 players have broken 70 so far today. Akane Iijima, Yun-Jye Wei, Junko Omote, and Mihoko Iseri will have their work cut out for them, however, as they could only manage 69s. Iijima had the most drama to her round--a par-birdie-double-birdie-birdie-birdie-bogey-par-birdie string on the front followed by 3 birdies in her 1st 5 holes and 2 bogeys in her last 3 holes on the back--but none of them played bogey-free golf. Hence, despite making a double bogey on each side, Yuko Mitsuka is right in the thick of the tournament, having posted a 71 thanks to 5 birdies and no bogeys in her other 16 holes.

More coming!

[Update 1 (4:30 am): Defending champion Momoko Ueda, by the way, made her 1st birdie of the day on the 16th hole (she's 1 of only 7 players to accomplish that feat so far today) to pull back to +2. That's a 3-shot swing on her playing partner Ai Miyazato, which again shows how fragile the leaders' position is on this course.]

[Update 2 (6:03 am): Play seems to have been suspended. Here are the results thus far:

T1/-3 Iijima, Wei, Omote, Iseri (69)
T5/-2 Esther Lee, Kaneda, Michie Ohba (70), Yuki Ichinose (through 16)
T9/-1 Mitsuka, Natsu Nagai (71), Sakura Yokomine (through 17), Ayako Uehara (through 15)

T13/E Moromizato, Tamie Durdin, Mori (72), Ji-Hee Lee (through 17), Miyazato (through 16), Midori Yoneyama (through 15)
T24/+1 Miki Saiki (through 17), Hiromi Mogi (through 15)
T34/+2 Erina Hara, Eun-A Lim, Maiko Wakabayashi, Ji-Woo Lee, Mie Nakata (74), Ueda (through 16), Akiko Fukushima (through 16), Rui Kitada (through 15)
T48/+3 Mi-Jeong Jeon, Bo-Bae Song, Chie Arimura, Hiroko Yamaguchi, Yuki Sakurai, Riko Higashio (75), Miho Koga (through 16), Mayu Hattori (through 16), Ritsuko Ryu (through 16), Saiki Fujita (through 15)
T70/+4 Yukari Baba, Kaori Higo (76)

With only 7 strokes separating the top of the leaderboard and bottom of the notables, anything can happen tomorrow, particularly if the weather remains dicey.]

[Update 3 (11/22/08, 6:40 pm): OK, they finished the 1st rund. Ichinose stayed at -2, Yokomine and Uehara at -1, Ji-Hee Lee at E, Ueda at +2, and Koga, Hattori, and Ryu at +3. But Yoneyama improved to -1, Saiki to E, and Fukushima to +1, while Miyazato fell back to +1, Mogi to +2, Kitada to +3, and Fujita to +4.]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

ADT Championship Thursday: The Race for the Top 16 Just Heated Up

The 1st round of the ADT Championship has set up a tense Friday, as Cristie Kerr blew up with a 78, Lorena Ochoa salvaged a disappointing 75, and Annika Sorenstam fought her way back to a tough-to-take 74. With 16 players at E or better, they have their work cut out for them tomorrow. Given the number of roller-coaster rounds, however, just about anything can happen tomorrow. Even Katherine Hull (68), Ji-Yai Shin (69), and In-Kyung Kim (69) are still in the danger zone.

Consider the following cases in point:

  • Ji Young Oh was -4 through 14 but limped home with bogeys on 16 and 17.
  • Christina Kim was -4 and bogey-free through 12 but gave it all back with bogeys on 4 of her next 5 holes before a birdie on 18 got her off a 3-hole bogey train and salvaged a 71.
  • Paula Creamer was -3 and bogey-free through 8 but ended up with a 71, thanks to a tough turn where she bogeyed the 9th and 11th.
  • Maria Hjorth was -2 through 15, but finished double-birdie-bogey for a 72.
  • Ya Ni Tseng eagled the 3rd, erased it with a pair of consecutive bogeys on the front, got to -2 through 12 after back-to-back birdies, and then went bogey-par-double-birdie before parring out her last 2 holes for a 72.
  • Candie Kung had a bogey-free 34 on the front and a birdie-less 38 on the back.
  • Seon Hwa Lee shot a 72 after a 34 on the front, thanks to a stretch on the back where she went bogey-bogey-par-birdie-double-birdie.
  • Jee Young Lee's 72 included a 4-hole bogey train to close out the front, a 3-hole birdie train in the middle of the back, and a bogey-birdie finish.

I'll stop there, and just suggest you take a peek at Helen Alfredsson's and Angela Stanford's scorecards--or Sun Young Yoo's, if you have the stomach for it.

All I can say is that it's fitting this tournament comes near Q-School, as the best women golfers in 2008 will face the closest kind of pressure to its tomorrow that they're likely to encounter the rest of their careers. I guarantee Annika isn't going out like that.

[Update 1 (5:18 pm): Wonder who the LPGA Insider will cover if I'm wrong.]

[Update 2 (7:37 pm): Here's Hound Dog's 1st-round overview, as well as Bill Jempty's great preview post.]

[Update 3 (8:02 pm): Here are the post-round notes and interviews.]

[Update 4 (11/21/08, 4:59 am): Average Golfer not only slickly summarizes the 1st-round results, but also points us toward Ji-Yai Shin's interview.]

[Update 5 (6:36 am): Verdant Garden's on-course reporting is not to be missed!]

[Update 6 (4:34 pm): Here's Bill Jempty's overview.]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Responding to the 2009 LPGA Schedule

The LPGA has released its 2009 schedule and Hound Dog, Brent Kelley, and Ryan Ballengee have already offered significant responses. All I can say is that February and March are as ugly as I predicted and there's little-to-no time to put together the Asian events I called for to fill those dead weeks, but at least April isn't as cruel as I had feared, thanks to the surprising survival of the Corona--particularly given the possibility of something cropping up for the last week as a result of the extra time to put it together. While I have a quibble with the Corona coming after the Ginn--why couldn't it follow the Kraft Nabisco, to cut down on travel costs for the players, and have the Ginn kick off the Eastern Swing?--the first half of the season isn't the disaster I feared. Now if the Tulsa event can somehow still be saved....

The Wegmans and Farr will certainly benefit, not just as tune-ups for the year's third--and some would say biggest--major, but also because there is a string of limited-field events in late July and August. The Safeway also benefits by being the real start to the LPGA's fall for the majority of players on tour and preceding the Canadian Open. But, man, is August thin for almost everyone, or what? Too bad HSBC won't go in for putting their Women's World Match Play Championship back on the schedule somewhere in there.

If the LPGA can get their early-season Asian-Pacific swing for '10 as settled as their late-season one seems to be, that may be the best way to ride out the economic storm. Let's wait and see how Q-School in December turns out before we assume things will be worse with Annika gone. If Michelle Wie, Stacy Lewis, Alison Walshe, Sun-Ju Ahn, Anna Nordqvist, Shiho Oyama, Miki Saiki, and Mika Miyazato join Ji-Yai Shin and Vicky Hurst (among others) in the Class of 2009--and '08ers like Amy Yang get full playing privileges on the LPGA next season--we may look back on that year as the real changing of the guard in the world of women's golf.

[Update 1 (11/20/08, 4:20 pm): Hound Dog puts the number of tournaments this year and next in historical perspective. For the near term, he's dead right: just look at what happened between 2001 and 2002: a drop of 5 tournaments and nearly $5M in total purses. The LPGA hasn't been over 35 events since then (and the numbers on the stats page for that period may even include team events like the Women's World Cup, the Three-Tour Challenge, and the Lexus Cup). But when you look at the "glory years" of 1977-2001, the LPGA was never under 35 events, usually at 37 or more, and for a few stretches at 40 or more. For the first half of the Annika Era (1994-2000, let's say), they broke the 40-event barrier 6 of 8 times. So when you see them in danger of breaking the 30-event barrier in 2010, that's definitely a cause for concern. Still, I'll reserve judgment until I see how the JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET schedules look for 2009.]

[Update 2 (5:15 pm): Here's Ryan Ballengee's response.]