Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kraft Nabisco Championship Thursday: Big Surprises in Round 1

When earlier this week I noted that Brittany Lincicome was on a 3-round par-or-better run and wondered whether this could mark "the start of a comeback," I was envisioning a finish somewhere in the top 50 this week for her at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Never in my wildest dreams did I entertain the glimmer of a wisp of a hope that this 2-time winner on the LPGA would open the tour's 1st major with 16 greens in regulation, 8 birdies, and a tournament-leading 66, her best score on tour since the opening round of the 2007 Evian Masters. (Let's just forget that she finished 74-82-74 that week).

But Lincicome wasn't the only pleasant surprise for fans of American golfers today, as Christina Kim came out of her early-season hibernation with a 5-birdie 69, but was surpassed by 2 shots by a pair of players looking to start new top 10 streaks after having long ones recently broken: Angela Stanford and Brittany Lang both eagled the par-5 18th to stay 1 behind Lincicome. Other Americans opening impressively included a sick Paula Creamer and a resurgent Moira Dunn (70), as well as Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie, Natalie Gulbis, Pat Hurst, Nicole Castrale, and Tiffany Joh (71).

That's not to say the international stars of the LPGA didn't throw a few surprises at the leaderboard today, as well. Junior Mint Ji Young Oh, playing with Lincicome, had a fantastic 67. Others making impressive bouncebacks from recent struggles included Katherine Hull, who shot a 69 despite triple bogeying the par-4 3rd hole in an otherwise bogey-free round, and Jee Young Lee who made walkoff eagles on each side on her way to the same score. Meanwhile, other players whose games have recently been on the upswing, from Kristy McPherson (68) to Lindsey Wright (70) to Se Ri Pak (71) to Inbee Park (71), played very good golf on a very difficult course. And as you'd expect, Ya Ni Tseng (69) made a ton of birdies despite hardly ever finding the fairway off the tee, Song-Hee Kim (69) scrambled her way around Mission Hills, while In-Kyung Kim (70), Sun Young Yoo (70), and Suzann Pettersen (71) did what they needed to to stay under par.

The JLPGA's finest acquitted themselves well today, from #1 Ji-Hee Lee (whose 69 was actually disappointing, as she had it to -5 with 6 holes left to play) to #8 Akiko Fukushima (70) to #3 Yuri Fudoh (71) to #2 Sakura Yokomine (whose walkoff birdie brought her back to 72 after she had suffered a 3-hole bogey train down the stretch).

Less fortunate were #4 Miho Koga (74) and #6 (and LPGA regular) Momoko Ueda (76). They'll be joined by KLPGA stars Ha Neul Kim (75) and Hee Kyung Seo (76) in trying to bounce back quickly. Among the LPGA's hottest players who underperformed today, Ji-Yai Shin is 6 behind Lincicome, Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb are 7 back, Angela Park and Seon Hwa Lee 8 back, and Eun-Hee Ji, Ai Miyazato, and Na Yeon Choi 9 back. That's a lot of ground to make up, but if anyone can do it over 54 holes, someone from this bunch surely can.

[Update 1 (11:36 pm): Nice to see Golfweek giving the full major treatment.]

[Update 2 (11:51 pm): Heee-ere's Golf Channel! Nice to see something more than the minute-and-a-half treatment from them.]

[Update 3 (4/3/09, 12:29 am): From Say_You_SeRi's on-course updates, it sure sounds like Pak could easily have gone low yesterday.]

[Update 4 (12:41 am): Golf Channel's Shag Bag blog is out in force at Mission Hills, too. Can Randall Mell outdo Beth Ann Baldry and Sean Martin at Golfweek's Tour Blog?]

[Update 5 (10:22 am): Nice job as usual from Hound Dog with his 1st-round recap, but he also did some great detective work in figuring out that Karen Stupples had to have an emergency appendectomy last week.]

[Update 6 (2:56 pm): Jay Busbee gives a quick and well-done overview of day 1.]

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