Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Corona Championship Preview/Predictions/Pairings

What a difference a year makes! This time last year, Lorena Ochoa beat down a brave charge by Inbee Park and ended up winning by double digits over Song-Hee Kim as she broke 70 4 times in a row at the Corona Championship, prompting the golfy media to begin wondering about an Ochoa Slam, not to mention the quality of competition on the LPGA. In retrospect, those were the good old days, when Ochoa's great play allowed even the laziest of golf journalists to pretend they were paying attention to the top women's tour in the world. Now, they're not even trying, even as the fantastic competition I was going on and on about this time last year is there for everyone to see.

Just take a look at the strength of this year's field. Michelle Wie is coming back from Korea and Ai Miyazato from Japan to join the rest of the Best of the LPGA (except Ji-Yai Shin, who's staying in Japan at least another week, as well as Angela Stanford, Eun-Hee Ji, Angela Park, Helen Alfredsson, Hee-Won Han, Sun Young Yoo, Lindsey Wright, and Hee Young Park, who have no such excuse). Hound Dog points out how much stronger the field is this season than last, noting that Maria Hjorth is making her return to the LPGA this week after giving birth earlier in the year.

Looking over the tournament history and 2007, 2006, and 2005 results, it's clear the winner's going to have to go low early and often. Here are my picks to do just that:

1. Ochoa
2. Kim Song-Hee
3. Tseng
4. Kerr
5. Webb
6. Pettersen
7. Lee Jee Young
8. Kim In-Kyung
9. Miyazato Ai
10. Lang
11. Creamer
12. Choi Na Yeon

Alts: McPherson, Hull, Pat Hurst

There are a lot of other young players I'm rooting for this week, besides Ai-chan and Inky. I'd love to see Senior Standouts Seon Hwa Lee and Morgan Pressel, along with Junior Mints Jane Park and Inbee Park and Super Sophs Shanshan Feng and Amy Yang, start playing better again. I'd love to see Futures Tour regulars Haeji Kang, Song-Yi Choi, and Angela Oh perform well in the big leagues.

But most of all, I'm curious to see how quickly the elite golfers playing Tres Marias for the 1st time figure out how to go low there. Looking at the pairings, they'll have to learn fast! Probably the most packed prime-time quadrant in terms of momentum and tournament experience goes off the back in the early afternoon:

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Alena Sharp
Karin Sjodin
Sarah Lee

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Morgan Pressel
Song-Hee Kim
Meaghan Francella

Start Time: 12:32 PM
Karrie Webb
Taylor Leon
Na On Min

Start Time: 12:43 PM
Michelle Wie
Ai Miyazato
Stacy Lewis

Start Time: 12:54 PM
Kristy McPherson
Brittany Lincicome
Katherine Hull

Pressel, McPherson, Min, Kim, and Francella have put in great finishes here, while Miyazato, Lincicome, Lee, and Sjodin have put in some good ones. But Tres Marias is brand-new territory for Webb, Wie, and Lewis, and Hull hasn't played well in 3 previous tries. Good mix of more and less experience in the late-morning front-side quadrant, as well:

Start Time: 8:36 AM
Marcy Hart
Laura Diaz
Seon Hwa Lee

Start Time: 8:47 AM
Inbee Park
Sandra Gal
Ya Ni Tseng

Start Time: 8:58 AM
Juli Inkster
Louise Friberg
Brittany Lang

Start Time: 9:09 AM
Pat Hurst
Na Yeon Choi
Stacy Prammanasudh

Start Time: 9:20 AM
Suzann Pettersen
Cristie Kerr
Shanshan Feng

Newbies Tseng, Kerr, Lee, and Friberg will be trying to keep pace with Pat Hurst, Na Yeon Choi, Prammanasudh, and Pettersen, who have the best record at Tres Marias in this bunch. Going off the 10th at the same time is a very different mix of golfers:

Start Time: 8:36 AM
Anja Monke
Heather Young
Irene Cho

Start Time: 8:47 AM
Jee Young Lee
Jane Park
Katie Futcher

Start Time: 8:58 AM
Louise Stahle
Jimin Kang
Hye Jung Choi

Start Time: 9:09 AM
Allison Fouch
Ji Young Oh
Kris Tamulis

Start Time: 9:20 AM
Lorena Ochoa
Paula Creamer
Silvia Cavalleri

That last pairing is one to watch--both Ochoa and Cavalleri have won the Corona, and Creamer has 1 top 3 here. Rounding out the last of the prime-time quadrants off the 1st tee are some lesser-known and veteran players, many of whom have a pretty decent history here:

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Johanna Mundy
Brandie Burton
Young Kim

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Janice Moodie
Teresa Lu
Vicky Hurst

Start Time: 12:32 PM
Michele Redman
Lorie Kane
Il Mi Chung

Start Time: 12:43 PM
Maria Hjorth
In-Kyung Kim
Moira Dunn

Start Time: 12:54 PM
Meena Lee
Nicole Castrale
Wendy Ward

Ward has 2 top 5s dating back to the 1st 2 Corona Championships, Lu has a top 10, and Dunn and Young Kim each have a top 20, while IK Kim and Vicky Hurst are playing Tres Marias for the 1st time.

If you're looking for a real dark horse, though, go with Julieta Granada (7:41 am off #1), who has 2 runner-ups here. Kyeong Bae (1:38 pm off #10) has also gone low at Tres Marias before. Something about this course seems to go well with the Senior Standouts. Hope history repeats itself for them--and that Jee Young Lee's momentum makes a new start for her here this week.

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