Friday, March 27, 2009

J Golf Phoenix International Thursday: Papago More Than Holds Its Own

Just a feeling from looking over the leaderboard after the 1st round of the J Golf Phoenix International, but I have to believe many pros are going to miss Superstition Mountain, particularly the ease with which low scores had a tendency to go zinging around it. Not to say that many won't go low the rest of the week, but when the low score is In-Kyung Kim's 68, only 5 other players broke 70, only 20 went under par, and only 67 broke 75, the best thing that can be said about Papago is that it seems to present a major-level test of your game, which makes it a great lead-in to the LPGA's 1st major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, next week. Of course, as points out, afternoon winds in the range of 25-30 mph, with gusts over 40 mph, had a lot to do with the high scoring, which explains why Cristie Kerr needed a couple of eagles just to break 70 and only 4 other players who went out in the afternoon pairings got and stayed under par.

Moreover, given the number of birdies and eagles scored on the 18th hole (which usually plays as the 9th for the general public) and forecasts for less wind, there's great opportunity for better scoring today and high drama down the stretch on Sunday. Plus, who doesn't love to see elevation-, wind-, and dryness-aided driving distances like Michelle Wie's 316.5 yards, Ya Ni Tseng's 309.5, Lorena Ochoa's 308, Vicky Hurst's 307.5, Se Ri Pak's 301.5, Carlota Ciganda's 300, Pat Hurst's 299.5, Shanshan Feng's 299, Brittany Lincicome's 297, and Sun Young Yoo's 294.5? (Never mind that many of them struggled mightily with seemingly every other part of their games yesterday.) Best of all, I love that the leaderboard is nevertheless dominated for the most part by precision players, short game specialists, and great putters. Ji-Yai Shin turned up her game as the wind began to blow harder, finishing birdie-birdie-eagle for her 69. Eun-Hee Ji was -4 and bogey-free through 12, but needed a final-hole birdie for her 69 after making back-to-back bogeys mid-way through the back. Inbee Park birdied 2 of her last 4 holes for her 1st sub-70 competitive round since November and only her 5th since she won the U.S. Women's Open (in final-round wind, you'll recall). In fact, the lone power player under 70, Suzann Pettersen, only hit 10 greens and scrambled her way around the course with only 26 putts. What makes the lst 2 so impressive is that they, like Kerr, did it in the afternoon's high winds.

Because the leaders didn't go low, anyone who kept it respectable yesterday is still very much in the game. Angela Park, Song-Hee Kim, and Karrie Webb are looking very dangerous after their 70s, Ai Miyazato had yet another round where she played better than she scored after making 33 putts on her way to a 71 (those 3 birdies in a row she made as she made the turn are encouraging!), and there's a logjam at 72 that includes Ochoa, Tseng, Pak, Laura Davies, Hee-Won Han, Jee Young Lee, Christina Kim, Amy Yang, Natalie Gulbis, and Candie Kung. Not at all out of it yet are Wie, Yoo, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lang, Stacy Prammanasudh, and Juli Inkster at 73, Na Yeon Choi, Jane Park, Morgan Pressel, Teresa Lu, and Helen Alfredsson at 74, and even Katherine Hull, Hee Young Park, and Sarah Lee at 75. Heck, I'm not putting a win out of reach for the Hurst twins (joke!) at 76, Mi Hyun Kim and Seon Hwa Lee at 78, or even Momoko Ueda and So Yeon Ryu at 79, provided they can bounce back in a big way in better conditions today and make the cut.

I'll leave you with Golf Channel highlights for now.

[Update 1 (2:18 am): OK, can I just say that after a decent preview--why not focus on Ochoa and Wie, after all?--I'm incredibly disappointed that GC never even showed or mentioned anyone else in their highlight reel? I know your new contract doesn't start until next year, guys, but please try just a little bit harder as the week goes on, ok?]

[Update 2 (2:36 am): Oh, and for anyone coming trying to figure out why Paula Creamer didn't start and Grace Park WDed, don't ask me. Bob Baum's AP story has nothing substantive on them, John Davis doesn't even mention them, and the Seoul crew has only found out about Park WDing to protect her back--oh, and the teeny tiny, almost insignificant, FANTASTIC news that Mi Hyun Kim is expecting!! On a related note, here's hoping that Momo-chan shows Annika's caddie what she's made of over the course of her tryout with him.]

[Update 3 (2:54 am): Don't get your hopes up when you see that Ryan Reiterman live-blogged round 1. It's just a list of Wie's hole-by-hole results, with no details of any kind. Have to suspect he wasn't there.]

[Update 4 (2:56 am): The LPGA Insider is pretty flat, as usual, but at least there's a there there.]

[Update 5 (7:33 am): Hound Dog points out that it was Kerr, Park, and Pettersen from the afternoon groups who broke 70. I added a sentence to the end of my 2nd paragraph above giving the latter 2 credit for doing this. Thanks, HD!]

[Update 6 (3/27/09, 11:46 pm): Nice to see the Golf Girl doing some LPGA blogging!]

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