Saturday, February 28, 2009

Honda LPGA Thailand Saturday: Creamer, Ochoa, Lang Head and Shoulders Above Field

Paula Creamer made the biggest move today in the Honda LPGA Thailand, a 6-birdie 67 that vaulted her 3 shots ahead of Brittany Lang (71) and Lorena Ochoa (68), 6 shots ahead of Karrie Webb (69), and 7 shots ahead of a trio at -4.

It was a day for streaks to come to an end. Lang's bogey-free streak ended at 39 holes; even though she eagled the very next hole, she could only manage 1 more birdie the rest of the day--and that was offset by another bogey. Ai Miyazato's streak of 11 straight rounds at par or better looked to be in great shape after she started with 2 birdies in her 1st 6 holes and stood at -5 for the tournament on the 9th tee, but she made 4 bogeys and no birdies over those closing 10 holes to drop into a tie for 16th. The two hottest players in the world of women's golf coming into this week, Angela Stanford and Katherine Hull, hit some speed bumps. Stanford's 73, which included her 3rd straight bogey on the par-3 12th, dropped her into a tie for 5th with Hee Young Park (69) and Mika Miyazato (72). (Miyazato isn't exactly jumping for joy, though, after getting to -7 at the turn and turning in a closing 39, while Park must be wondering how close to the lead she would be if she could have just had a mediocre 1st round.) Hull, meanwhile, has plenty of mightabeens of her own; even though her 72 was her best round of the tournament, she bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes, but that's nothing compared to the 10 she took on her last hole of her 2nd round. Without it, she'd be T22 at E; as it is, she's T45 at +6.

Stanford still has a great chance to post her 8th straight top 6 or better finish, while Lang is gunning for her 7th straight top 10 and 1st career LPGA win. Jee Young Lee, however, has her work cut out to match them, thanks to her 2nd collapse after a hot start. Although it wasn't as good as her 4 birdies over her 1st 5 holes to start the tournament, her 3 birdies in her 1st 6 holes had gotten her back to -2, but she failed to make a birdie over her final 12 holes and ended up right where she started the day, at +1 (T27). She'll need a real charge to get her 7th-straight top 10. Cristie Kerr has less ground to make up after falling back from a similarly hot start; she was -4 on the round and for the tournament standing on the 9th tee, but bogeyed 3 of her next 5 holes before stopping the bleeding with a birdie on the par-4 15th. At -2, she's already T12, with a great chance for her 11th top 10 in her last 19 starts.

Other golfers on the verge of playing very good golf will need to bounce back from today's struggles. Eun-Hee Ji's 75 and Ya Ni Tseng's 74 dropped them back to -1 with Ai Miyazato and allowed Ji-Yai Shin (71) and Na Yeon Choi (70) to catch them. Nicole Castrale (73), Natalie Gulbis (74), Candie Kung (74), and Kristy McPherson (76) all fell back to E, while Morgan Pressel's 76 dropped her back to -2, which allowed Louise Friberg to make up 8 shots on her (thanks in part to Friberg's 2nd-straight 33 on the front).

The Creamer-Ochoa showdown tomorrow will rightly get the most media attention, but I'll also be curious to see who at the bottom of the leaderboard but playing in the Showdown in Singapore next week will turn things around and build some momentum for the biggest event of the season before the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Can Angela Park follow up on today's 70 and Inbee Park and Song-Hee Kim on their 71s? Can Seon Hwa Lee bounce back from an uncharacteristic 77, Jane Park and Hee-Won Han from 76s, and Mi Hyun Kim and Shiho Oyama from 75s?

The final-round pairings are incredible, and not just in the Creamer-Ochoa and Lang-Webb final 4. Among Pettersen-Hull, Mi Hyun Kim-Seon Hwa Lee, Angela Park-Inbee Park, Tseng-Ji, Shin-Miyazato, Pressel-Choi, and Kerr-Stupples, I'd be hard-pressed to decide which twosome to follow. How about you?

[Update 1 (11:32 am): I have a feeling Jamie RS would be following 14-year-old amateur Moriya Jutanugarn!]

[Update 2 (4:21 pm): Hound Dog gives his usual great overview and points out that with leaders like these, Golf Channel would have been nabbing more good ratings, were their contract with the LPGA already in effect.]

[Update 3 (5:29 pm): Go to Seoul right now for yet another angle on the Hee Young Park story. She was hospitalized after her opening 79, either from bad water or dehydration (it's hard to tell), and only bounced back by going 11-under over her next 36 holes. And, yes, there are photographs of her in the hospital.]

[Update 4 (5:48 pm): Here are's notes and interviews. Never knew Lorena and Virada Nirapathpongporn were friends!]

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