Monday, May 11, 2009

Michelob Ultra Open Sunday: Kerr Does What It Takes

After 3 days of fireworks, players went into lockdown mode on Sunday at the Michelob Ultra Open. The best scores of the day were turned in by Ji-Yai Shin (who made 5 birdies in a row as she made the turn, on the way to a 66), Katherine Hull (a solid 67), and Kyeong Bae (ditto), but they were all too far back for their virtuosity to make a difference. Among the leaders, Ai Miyazato turned in the most explosive round: after making 3 birdies and 4 bogeys on the front, she shot a bogey-free 31 on the back, including an eagle on the par-5 15th, for a 68 that got her to -8 for the tournament and into the top 10 for the 3rd time in 7 starts this season. But for the leaders and hopefuls, Sunday was a different story entirely.

Lorena Ochoa's 2nd-straight 74 was also her 2nd-consecutive 2-birdie performance; she stayed in the top 10, but just barely. Natalie Gulbis got it to -11 with a birdie on the 8th hole, but a 37 on the back allowed Angela Stanford to catch her at -9. Shiho Oyama got it to double digits under par with a fine 69 for her best performance of 2009. But these players were never a factor. Wendy Ward, for a time, was. With 3 birdies in her 1st holes, she was -13 for the tournament and making up ground on the leaders fast, closing to within 3 of Cristie Kerr, 2 of Lindsey Wright and In-Kyung Kim, and 1 of Song-Hee Kim (who herself started hot with 3 birdies in her 1st 4 holes before bogeying the 5th and 7th) as they made the turn. But a pair of bogeys on the 13th and 14th ended the resurgent veteran's title hopes.

The back was an equal-opportunity heartbreaker, though. After a birdie on the 10th catapulted Wright into a tie for the lead, she proceeded to bogey 3 of her last 6 holes. In-Kyung Kim was briefly tied for the lead when both Kerr and Wright bogeyed the par-3 13th, but she bogeyed the 14th and 16th herself to offset her birdie on the 15th and never challenged for the lead again. Song-Hee Kim, on the other hand, pulled herself into a tie for the lead with a birdie on the 14th and actually had the solo lead for a short time until Kerr matched her birdie on the 15th. But a double bogey on the 16th and a bogey on the 18th sunk her chances.

In the end, then, it was Kerr who was the toughest down the stretch, as she parred out to take a 2-shot victory, the 12th of her career and her 2nd at Kingsmill, and in the process leap to the top of the LPGA money list. She's now only 6 points behind Ochoa in the Player of the Year race and only 40ish points behind Paula Creamer (who finished 2nd in Japan on Sunday) in the race to lead the U.S. qualifiers for the Solheim Cup. Not a bad way of answering my question from the end of last month and breaking the Mostly Harmless jinx!

[Update 1 (9:07 am): Here's Hound Dog's final-round recap, from notes taken while staying with his dad at the hospital Sunday.]

[Update 2 (9:13 am): Here's Golf Girl's take on Kerr's going for the green in 2 on 15, the key turning point of the back 9.]

[Update 3 (11:39 am): Here's Hound Dog's epilogue. Personally, I would have put Suzann Pettersen as my big disappointment; even though she made the cut and Sun Young Yoo didn't, she was riding an even hotter streak coming into the Michelob Ultra.]

[Update 4 (4:28 pm): Nice post by Ryan Ballengee on Kerr's win extending her lead in the "most wins by an American on the LPGA in the 2000s."]

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