Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Peaks and Valleys: Park, Ueda, Tseng, and Miyazato at the SBS Open

While the golfy media debate whether Angela Stanford won or Michelle Wie lost the SBS Open (a debate that never would be happening if, say, Lorena Ochoa had been the one making those 3 consecutive birdies on the back 9 to take control of the tournament), it's worth noting just how badly they both outplayed their peers over those 1st 54 holes of the season and how difficult the playing conditions were all week. Hound Dog has already pointed out that the field's scoring average was by far the highest in the event's history, but I think an even better measure can be found in the struggles of those in the final groups in the final round.

Wie's struggles over her final 8 holes are getting most of the attention, but it's worth recalling that when Stanford's bogey-free streak ended at 43 holes, she could easily have lost more than the 2 strokes to par that she did between the 8th and 10th holes. But what about the other players who got it to -5 or better at some point in the tournament?

Playing in the final group, Angela Park peaked at -7 after 5 holes to get within 2 shots of both leaders. The 3 bogeys she proceeded to make between the 6th and 10th holes were more than she had made the previous 41 holes and dropped her out of contention, 6 shots behind Wie at that point. When a bogey at 16 erased her birdie at 15, it was clear that -7 would remain her peak performance for the week.

Momoko Ueda had been -6 over her first 27 holes, but could only manage a 37 on the back side on Friday, thanks to a bogey on the tough 17th hole. Still, her birdie on the 1st hole on Saturday got her back to -6, where she stayed for the next 3 holes. Even though -6 turned out to be her peak, a birdie on the 9th helped her recover a bit from back-to-back bogeys on the 5th and 6th. 5 shots behind Wie as she made the turn, she needed a great back 9 but instead blew up to a 42. Momo-chan's justifiably angry at herself about that finish (which dropped her all the way to T20), but she has a lot of positives to take away from last week--and a lot still to work on. Even though she only hit about 57% of her fairways on the week, her lack of accuracy off the tee didn't hurt her greens in regulation rate, which was near 75%, or her average putts per green in regulation, where she ranked among the top 15 in the field. My guess is what happened on the back was that she started missing fairways, missing greens, and not getting up and down, but if anyone saw her round, let me know what actually happened. In any case, Momo-chan was in good company: fellow Super Soph Hee Young Park got it to -2 through 45 holes before finishing with a 43 on the back, while Stacy Lewis was -3 at the same point, but closed the tournament out with a 40. These are elite golfers who have won a lot of tournaments in Japan, Korea, and the U.S., respectively, but still have a lot to learn about contending on the LPGA.

Ya Ni Tseng's peak came earlier than anyone else's, thanks to her opening 66. But in her next 10 holes, she went +4 and never surpassed her 2nd peak of -4 through 34 holes. She'll be looking for more consistency in coming weeks and months, but it's easy to get on good and bad streaks in the wind, so I expect her to find it more easily relatively soon.

Like Ueda's, Ai Miyazato's peak came after 27 holes, when her 31 on the front on Friday lifted her all the way to -5. But she went +4 over the next 11 holes and stayed there for the next 6, until she got hot at the turn on Saturday (3 birdies between the 9th and 12th) and got back to -4. But like fellow Class of '06 comebacker Brittany Lang, who peaked at -4 over her first 40 holes, Ai-chan stumbled down the stretch, going +1 over her last 6 holes. Still, as I noted on Monday, all signs are pointing to a breakout season for the older Miyazato on the LPGA. She's averaging 4.14 birdies per round in competition this season and is in the top 12 or better in scoring average, putting average, and putts per green in regulation on the LPGA. Even better, she's hitting over 76% of her fairways and 70% of her greens in regulation, so it looks like her ballstriking is back, too.

Hopefully this little analysis puts Stanford's victory and Wie's near-miss in better perspective. I'll try to do something similar in future off-weeks--too bad there'll be so many of them!

[Update 1 (2/18/09, 4:21 pm): If you're not reading Ueda's blog regularly now that it's being translated into English, you're missing out. Check out her very direct assessment of the Friday winds and harsh assessment of her Thursday play at Oahu!]

[Update 2 (2/19/09, 4:35 pm): At least Jay Flemma is sometimes funny when portraying the Wie debate.]


Breezee said...

Excellent analysis.
Too bad that all people can see is a "choke" for Michelle.
I for one, thought it was an excellent show between Stanford and Wie. MW will win soon, I am sure and then there will be more fine golf

The Constructivist said...

Just because the two leaders made it look easy doesn't mean it was. I guess it's too much to hope for that people would just appreciate the good golf!

I've been thinking Miyazato's first LPGA win is coming "soon" for several years now, so it doesn't mean much that Wie's play this week impressed the heck out of me. She just needs to keep putting herself in contention and eventually she'll get that 1st W!

It's easy to forget that even Lorena had to learn to do that, even after doing all the right things in the right order. I think the competition on the LPGA has gotten so tough that's a Lopez-, Webb-, or Pak-like rookie year is next to impossible.