Friday, June 12, 2009

Suntory Ladies Open Thursday and Friday: Miyazato Fights Back to Make Cut, 6 Back of Logjam at -5

I never liked Ai Miyazato's decision to play in the Suntory Ladies Open this week, and after her opening-round birdie-less 75 that put her in a tie for 75th place, I was even less happy about it. But she stormed back today with 3 birdies and no bogeys in her last 13 holes to make the cut with a stroke to spare, climbing to 41st with the weekend still to be played, so at least she's given herself a chance to still win the tournament. In fact, she's only 6 out of the lead, which is shared by young guns Shinobu Moromizato and Na Zhang, rookie Rikako Morita, Aussie expat Nikki Campbell, and amateur Ha-Na Jang.

Here are the 1st- and 2nd-round results:

T1/-5 Na Zhang (70-69), Nikki Campbell (70-69), Shinobu Moromizato (69-70), Rikako Morita (69-70), Ha-Na Jang (68-71)
T6/-4 Saiki Fujita (73-67), Maiko Wakabayashi (72-68), Rui Kitada (72-68), Mika Takushima (71-69), Toshimi Kimura (69-71)

T11/-3 Chie Arimura (73-68), Hiromi Mogi (73-68)
T15/-2 Tamie Durdin (75-67), Li-Ying Ye (74-68), Sakura Yokomine (71-71)
T20/-1 Akane Iijima (74-69), Bo-Bae Song (74-69), Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-73), Yuki Ichinose (67-76)
T30/E Ji-Hee Lee (73-71), Akiko Fukushima (73-71), Mie Nakata (73-71), Kumiko Kaneda (73-71), Yuko Mitsuka (71-73), Ayako Uehara (69-75), Yukari Baba (68-76)
T41/+1 Ai Miyazato (75-70), Miho Koga (75-70), Eun-A Lim (75-70), Mayu Hattori (75-70), Mai Arai (73-72), Yuri Fudoh (72-73)
T49/+2 Ah-Reum Hwang (76-70), Yuki Sakurai (74-72), Hiroko Yamaguchi (74-72)

As you can see, the scoring has not only been high, but also uneven. Nobody's broken 70 twice, and most everyone in the top 30 either mounted a major bounceback or fell back sharply from a great 1st round. And Ai-chan was certainly not alone in storming back to make the cut. But everyone would be a few more back if Morita had not made an early double and 2 late bogeys.

Some very good golfers missed the cut:

T62/+3 Yun-Jye Wei (75-72), Hyun-Ju Shin (74-73), Erina Hara (72-75), Ji-Woo Lee (72-75)
T73/+4 Midori Yoneyama (75-73), Kaori Higo (73-75)
T87/+5 Da-Ye Na (73-76)
T97/+6 Sakurako Mori (78-72), Esther Lee (78-72)
T102/+7 Woo-Soon Ko (76-75)
T112/+9 Riko Higashio (79-74)

With more experience in 4-round tournaments than most of her competition, I'm hoping Ai-chan can make a big move on moving day. There have only been 4 67s shot all week thus far. If she can go lower than that tomorrow, she'll be right back in this thing. Crossing my fingers for her...and looking forward to watching some of this on TV this weekend, if Chiba TV decides to air it, that is.


bkawa said...

If I was making millions from a sponsor like Suntory, I'd sure be playing in a tournament in Japan to keep them happy! The money Ai-chan would be making at the LPGA Championship would be pocket change compared to what Suntory pays her.
With the purses on the JLPGA Tour, including cars, airline tickets, etc., to the winner, plus, only having only 10-15 players who are likely to win on a given week, the odds are a lot better over in Japan.
I'd rather watch Ai-chan try to beat Sakura-chan and some of the other JLPGA players instead of shooting for a top-10 finish in the States.
I for one am very happy with her decision, and I'll be tuned in all week to the Suntory.

The Constructivist said...

Thanks for your comment, Barry. I'm not opposed to Ai-chan competing on the JLPGA. In fact, I'll bet we'll see a lot of her here in the second half of the season. But the LPGA Championship isn't just any tournament, and she would have been one of my favorites to win it (and not just b/c I'm a fan). I agree the odds of victory are a lot better on the JLPGA (although I'd say there are probably 20-30 players with a good chance to win each week). Here's hoping she comes through this weekend.

bkawa said...

I think Ai-chan is a great player and I'm a fan of hers, but I don't think she could have won the LPGA Championship, a major, for her first win in the States. All the top players are in that one, and the pressure is incredible. Even Oyama missed the cut and Momoko Ueda is way back in the pack, and a lot of the tough South Koreans are near the top of the leaderboard, and they will be there until the end.
But I also can't say I root for Ai-chan to just waltz back over here and win a JLPGA tournament whenever she feels like playing in Japan, when you have players like Sakura-chan, who is good enough to win on the LPGA Tour, dedicated to playing the JLPGA Tour week in and week out.
It is nice to see players stay here and support their tour and their fans here. Here's hoping Ai-chan returns to play the JLPGA Tour full time. She's never going to dominate the LPGA Tour, and may never win on that tour.

The Constructivist said...

Gotta disagree with you on the assessment of Ai-chan's LPGA potential. You're saying she's not as good as Ji Young Oh (who's won twice on tour)? I don't think so. She's had the bad luck of others playing some really hot golf when she's been in contention. But now that her injuries and swing problems are behind her, the sky's the limit. True, Bulle Rock may not have been the course that most favors her game, but people who hit it shorter than her off the tee are doing quite well there so far.

Should the dozens of Korean players on the LPGA be supporting their tour instead of trying to be the best in the world? Personally, I'd love to see Sakura Yokomine, Miho Koga, Yuko Mitsuka, and the many other top Japanese players take a shot at international success. I also wonder how many up-and-coming Japanese amateurs will try to follow Mika Miyazato directly to the LPGA or Yuki Sakurai to the LET, rather than getting experience on the JLPGA first.

bkawa said...

I used to think Ai-chan had the game to win on the LPGA Tour when she first went, but after watching her over the past three years, I don't think she can. Now, I think Sakura Yokomine would have a better chance with her length off the tee. And someone like Akiko Fukushima could still be winning in the States with her incredible distance off that tee. Short hitters like Ji Young Oh can get hot with the putter and win a few tournaments, but they aren't going to challenge for leading money winning titles with the likes of Lorena Ochoa.
I think Ai-chan is so popular in Japan, that the JLPGA tour really misses her and could use her, and it would be nicer to see her compete on a week to week basis with the players over here. Judging from the results in the States so far, that would have been better for her career, and then fly over and play the occasional major over there. Yuri Fudo might be the best Japanese women's player I've seen when she was in her prime, and she never thought she had the game to play the LPGA Tour on a regular basis. If there was one Japanese player I thought who could have done really well over there, it was her, and she didn't think so.

bkawa said...

Another thought is that Ai-chan has so much attention from the Japanese media, with reporters following her every move, that it has placed an incredible amount of pressure to win on the LPGA Tour, which she can't overcome.
The same thing seemed to happen to Momoko Ueda, who hasn't played like she did on the JLPGA Tour when she joined the LPGA Tour.
Recently, at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, Shingo Katayama said all the Japanese media attention this year at the Masters was on Ryo Ishikawa, so, for the first time, he could play practice rounds and not be bothered by the media and TV interviews. He finished 4th at the Masters, his best finish in the majors in many years.
There are so many great S. Korean players on the LPGA Tour, all the S. Korean media attention isn't focused on one player. And anyway, Se Ri Pak was the trailblazer for the S. Koreans, that's taken a lot of the pressure off the S. Korean players since no one will probably ever beat her record.
There was incredible expectations in Japan from the media and her fans for Ai Miyazato to win big on the LPGA Tour, and there still is. Tournament golf is difficult enough without that added media pressure following your every move and having to be hauled into the media room and give interviews after every round, good and bad.

The Constructivist said...

Barry, check's stats pages. Miyazato's not a short hitter. She's averaging less than 2 and a half yards less off the tee than Lorena Ochoa, for crying out loud. And I think Paula Creamer would disagree with you that short hitters can't win on tour or challenge to be #1 in the world. Anna Nordqvist just won a major averaging 236 yards off the tee, by the way.

I agree length helps, but it's not everything. Rikako Morita looked pretty long to me, but she missed a half dozen cuts in a row earlier this season. That said, I believe that Yokomine, Fudoh, and Fukushima would be fine on the LPGA. In fact, I don't think any of the top 15 on the JLPGA would have trouble on the LPGA, once they got over the transition. Shiho Oyama got off to a slow start on the JLPGA last season and came on strong in the 2nd half, so I'm hoping she'll come back this summer and encourage more of the JLPGA's finest to give Q-School a try.

As for media pressure, it goes with the territory. It's tough, yes, but the great ones learn to deal with it. It's up to the new generation of Japanese trailblazers to handle it.

bkawa said...

Those LPGA stats on distance off the tee are misleading, for example, Ai-chan is driving it farther than Laura Davies, the longest driver on the LPGA Tour when she hits a driver. I've followed both at the Mizuno Classic here over the years, and I can tell you, Davies drives with her 2-iron off the tee as far as Ai-chan does with her driver and probably hits that long iron off the tee more than she should. Lorena Ochoa is always one of the longest hitters in driving distance, and they only measure two holes on that, so she all of a sudden hasn't lost 15 yards off the tee. Probably, she is driving it with a 3-wood or utility club on some of those holes because she doesn't need to hit a driver on every par 4. One thing is that Ai-chan can't reach back on those par-5s for extra length like Ochoa and Davies can, she has that smooth, controlled swing. It's unbelievable how far Davies can rip it on a par-5 when she lets out the shaft. Tiger Woods is the same way, he probably has 30 yards in reserve when he needs it. Morgan Pressel also knows she needs more distance off the tee if she is going to be more successful. She is currently revamping her swing for another 10 yards. Johnny Miller said in the late 90s that if Annika Sorenstam could hit it 15 yards farther, she would dominate women's golf. It turned out to be true when she bulked up like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 and got those 15 yards, and got that extra distance. It is a huge factor in golf at that level when they all have great short games. But Sakura Yokomine is in contention in every JLPGA tournament because she just kills the par-5s, she can reach the ones in 2 that the other ladies can't. That's like spotting her 2 to 3 shots each round and why she is so fun to watch.

The Constructivist said...

Everyone agrees that distance helps, not just on par 5s but long par 4s and 3s--and generally having more lofted clubs on approach shots. But even your short hitter example, Morgan Pressel, has won a major and another tournament. And Miyazato is significantly longer than Pressel. Annika won as a precision player and the reason why she was so great with her added distance was that she didn't lose any accuracy. Most longer hitters struggle with that (as Ochoa is right now), at least at times. That's why golf tournaments are different than long driving tournaments. So I don't see any reason why Ai-chan can't win on the LPGA.

As for domination, right now there's no single dominant player on tour. Ochoa and Kerr and probably a little ahead of Tseng, Creamer, and Pettersen. But even playing as well as those 5 have been, they don't win every week. I think Ai-chan can put herself in the mix to be among the top 10 players on the LPGA and get multiple wins in her career. Whether she'll be able to crack the top 5, I'm not so sure.

I can tell you're a Sakura fan, Barry, and there's no doubt she's putting up great stats and awesome results this season and has been consistently excellent her entire career. There's a reason why I ranked her #1 on the JLPGA recently. So why is she skipping the U.S. Women's Open (for which she's eligible)? Feel free to reply on the post where I ask the question. I enjoy the exchange!