Saturday, June 13, 2009

LPGA Championship Saturday: It's Not Looking Good for the LPGA's Biggest Names

With play suspended at the LPGA Championship, it's a good time to take a moment and reflect on the performances of the LPGA's biggest names through 45 holes or so.

Lorena Ochoa? Closing with a pair of bogeys Thursday and bogeying 2 of her 1st 6 holes today is not the way to strike fear into her competition. With 6 holes to play, she's -3 and will need to get several more birdies to put some pressure on Anna Nordqvist, who's -10 after a bogey-free 34 on the front, not to mention Lindsey Wright (-9 with 8 to play), Na Yeon Choi (who's fallen back to -8 with 7 to play after shooting a bogey-free 32 on the front), and Kristy McPherson (who's birdied 3 in a row at the turn to get to -7, but failed to birdie the par-5 11th). Ochoa only has 1 more par 5 left to play, which she's birdied twice in a row already, so she'll need to improve on her 2 birdies on par 4 and 1 birdie on pars 3s this week if she wants to win this thing. She's hitting plenty of greens, so it's a question of accuracy and putting the rest of the way.

Paula Creamer? She's hitting an insane amount of fairways, but fewer greens than the record-setting pace she's set so far this season (70% and change rather than 80% and change). So it's no surprise that she's having trouble making birdies this week. Still, she's fought back to -1 and sits at T24 thus far, so yet another top 10 is well within her reach. And who knows? She's had several Sunday charges already this season, so why couldn't she make like Irene Cho (who shot a 65 despite bogeying the 18th hole) and go low tomorrow?

Cristie Kerr? She's playing like Ai Miyazato on the JLPGA this week: terrible 1st round, then 2 solid rounds but with too many mistakes to make a serious move up the leaderboard. With her distance (over 260 yards) and accuracy (hitting close to 70% of her greens in regulation), I would have expected her to be scoring much better, but one of the LPGA's best putters hasn't shone at Bulle Rock. With 91 putts through 54 holes, she's on pace to take a dozen more strokes on the greens than Nordqvist. So I guess it's no surprise, then, that she's T36 at E, tied with Natalie Gulbis, Brittany Lang, Eun-Hee Ji, and Mika Miyazato.

Suzann Pettersen? With her distance (she's averaging over 270 yards off the tee), I would have thought she'd have a huge advantage this week, but her scorecard is littered with bogeys (12 of 'em) and doubles (3 of 'em in her 1st 2 rounds alone). Nobody makes enough birdies to recover from that amount of mistakes, so it's no surprise she's trying to avoid DFL among those who made the cut. What is a surprise is that as steady and accurate a player as Seon Hwa Lee is down there with her.
Both are +5, trying to finish better tomorrow than Julieta Granada. Yikes!

Ya Ni Tseng? She finally played a good round of golf today, but a bogey-free 69 only gets her to -3, T16 right now. She'll need help from the leaders to have a realistic chance to defend her title. It's too bad, because she's actually striking the ball well this week (over 260 yards off the tee with better accuracy than usual for her, so she's hitting 76% of her greens in regulation), but she's making many fewer birdies than usual for her, too. Which means those twin pairs of consecutive bogeys over her 1st 2 rounds are looming larger than usual for her.

Ji-Yai Shin? She's recovered nicely from those 2 doubles in her 1st round, but at -5 with 6 to play is going to have to start hitting the ball a lot better to have a chance to win this thing. She's relied on a hot putter the last 2 weeks, but her GIR rate is actually lower than her fairways hit rate in those tournaments. Still, a hot finish can put her 2nd major victory well within reach.

[Update 1 (6:55 pm): Looking over the history of players' finishes at the LPGA Championship, I'm struck in retrospect by how badly Pettersen has played Bulle Rock, except for the year she won it. Ditto for Se Ri Pak. Stanford has never played the course all that great, either. The rest, though, have pretty good records at the course. When putting together my picks this week, I figured the good momentum of Pettersen and Pak would override their bad records. And I was hoping Stanford would come through for me. There's a lot of golf yet to be played, and anything can happen over the last 27 holes or so of a major, but so far it's looking like this is a week for the newest elite players on tour like Stanford and Hull, who were among the LPGA's hottest at the end of last season and start of this one, and Wright, Choi, and McPherson, who are overdue for a win. But wouldn't it be cool if new mom Hee-Won Han got her 7th career win and 1st major this week?]

[Update 2 (7:00 pm): Writing this in a rush, because we're taking onechan and imoto's oldest cousin to the JR Train Museum this morning, but didn't mean to leave Michelle Wie off the list of the LPGA's biggest names. She's +1 and T46, right with Hall of Famers Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb, but even a hole in one today hasn't helped her much this week. She's just not hitting that many greens or making that many putts and she squandered the momentum from her follow-up birdie with a birdie-less back. Just like Angela Park (who WDed), Jee Young Lee (who's playing even worse than Wie), and Brittany Lang (who's shot 3 straight 72s), this is not going to be their week to finally get that LPGA win (or member win, in Lee's case).]

[Update 3 (6/14/09, 7:45 am): They got a few more holes in before darkness fell at Bulle Rock. Nordqvist continued to hang tough. Despite a bogey on the par-5 11th, she birdied the par-5 15th to stay at -10. She has 3 left to play this morning. Wright had the lead for a few minutes when she birdied the 11th to get to -10, but a bogey on the 13th dropped her back to -9. She has 2 holes left to play. Choi once again suffered a bad stretch--bogeying the 11th and par-4 12th and failing to birdie the 15th, but she made a great birdie on the par-4 16th and is at -8 with 1 to play. Wait, she just bogeyed the 18th to fall back into a tie with Jin Young Pak, who birdied 3 of her last 6 holes yesterday evening. Shin would have joined them, but she, too, bogeyed the 18th. She's tied with Kristy McPherson, who shot her 3rd straight 70 thanks to a bogey on the par-3 17th. A final-hole bogey knocked Angela Stanford back to -5 and a tie with Stacy Lewis, who parred out. A bogey on the 13th knocked Ochoa back to -2 for the tournament. Won't be able to update how the final groups do this morning, as it's the girls' bedtime!]

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