Sunday, July 26, 2009

Evian Masters Sunday: Race to the Finish

As the 4th-round set-up from Evian Masters TV helps remind us, there's a lot at stake today for the 9 players within 3 shots of the lead and 15 within 5 shots at the Evian Masters.

Let's start with the co-leaders at -12. Playing in the final pairing, In-Kyung Kim is looking to become the 1st Korean winner in the history of the tournament and make a case for her inclusion among Lorena Ochoa's top challengers. Her playing partner Sophie Gustafson is looking to put her name alongside the prestigious European winners of the event and mark her return from her final-round collapse last June when she had a chance to run away with the Ginn Tribute. Meanwhile, Becky Brewerton is playing for her 2nd win in a row on the LET, one that would give her the membership on the LPGA that she failed to attain in last year's Q-School.

Playing with Brewerton and only 1 behind her is Cristie Kerr, who's let 2 wins at majors slip between her fingers this season, but has put herself in a position to join likely Solheim Cup teammates Juli Inkster, Paula Creamer, and Natalie Gulbis as this decade's odd-year-winners of the tournament. In the group ahead of them is my favorite player in the field Ai Miyazato, still looking for her 1st LPGA win and 1st win anywhere since 2006, which would put her alongside Hiromi Kobayashi as Evian champions. Playing alongside her and 2 back is Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, who's looking for her 2nd Evian win, which would be her 2nd win of the season and 37th of her career.

Helen Alfredsson is only 3 back and looking for her 4th win at Evian. She's playing with Paula Creamer, who's looking for her 2nd win at Evian and 1st of 2009. Like In-Kyung Kim, former KLPGA star Na Yeon Choi (3 back) is looking to become the 1st Korean winner at Evian, while current JLPGA star Yuko Mitsuka (4 back) hopes to become the 2nd Japanese winner, which would get her the same ticket to LPGA membership that Momoko Ueda got by winning the Mizuno Classic in 2007.

Needing to make an early charge are Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak--the only active Hall of Famer who hasn't yet won at Evian--and Brittany Lang, who like Miyazato and Choi is still looking for that 1st LPGA victory. Also at -7 are Wendy Ward and Stacy Lewis, fighting to displace Natalie Gulbis from the last automatic spot on the US Solheim Cup team, and Junior Mints Song-Hee Kim and Ji Young Oh, the former looking for her 1st LPGA win and the latter looking for her 3rd.

With this many players in the hunt, the winner is going to have to go low. And there ate certainly opportunities to do just that, judging from the early rounds. Jane Park bounced back from yesterday's 80 with a tournament-low 30 on the back for a 66. Angela Stanford shot a 33 on the front and still hasn't made a bogey today as she heads into the short closing trio of holes. Juli Inkster shot a 34 on the front and is looking to make a statement to US Solheim Cup captain Beth Daniel over her final 4 holes. And Brittany Lincicome impresses once again in a big event with 3 birdies in her 1st 6 holes.

But it's not just the Americans making noise early. Katherine Hull bounced back from her 4th-straight bogey on the par-4 2nd hole with 6 birdies between the 6th and 16th and could match Park's 66 with another on 18. Laura Davies made 5 birdies on the front on the way to her 32 there and is looking to make more on her last 2 holes. Shiho Oyama is -5 through 13, having birdied 4 of her last 5 holes, while Hee Kyung Seo, who has dual KLPGA and LET membership this year, has birdied her 1st 2 on the back to climb to -4 through 11. And Lindsey Wright birdied her 1st 3 holes and is -4 through 6.

Should be a great round! Refresh this page regularly, as I'll be updating it while my kids remain asleep--and hopefully until we find out who wins the race to the finish.

[Update 1 (6:06 am): Davies birdied 17 to get to -5 on her day; with her length, an eagle isn't out of the question on 18. Guilia Sergas is -3 through 15 and playing bogey-free golf.]

[Update 2 (6:12 am): Chie Arimura, last week's winner on the JLPGA, shot a 33 on the front and just bounced back from a bogey on 11 with a birdie on 12 (the hole that her compatriots up the leaderboard, Miyazato and Mitsuka, both doubled earlier in the tournament). Lincicome and Wright are both -4 through 7 now. Hull, meanwhile, couldn't birdie 17 or 18, so had to settle for a 67. Ya Ni Tseng got a moral victory, at least, by eagling the 18th to get back to E today and +5 for the tournament. Better luck next week, Ya Ni!]

[Update 3 (6:14 am): Jeong Jang also got a walkoff eagle. She's coming off wrist surgery, so that -3 finish over her last 4 holes is quite encouraging. Go, JJ!]

[Update 4 (6:21 am): No fireworks for Stanford; she finished where she started the back, at -3. And Davies bogeyed 18 for a 68. But don't look now, Lorena Ochoa is off to her 1st fast start this week. She's -2 through 5, -5 for the tournament, and -10 over her last 39 holes.]

[Update 5 (6:31 am): Bogeys on 14 for Arimura and Seo. But a birdie on 15 brings Johanna Westerberg to -3 on the day and a chance to make a late push up the leaderboard.]

[Update 6 (6:41 am): Wright birdied 9 for a 31 on the front. Lincicome doubled it for a 34. Sergas ended up with a 69. Meena Lee has birdied 2 of the 1st 4 holes to get to -8. Yuko Mitsuka birdied 1 to get to -9. And Na Yeon Choi did the same to get to -10.]

[Update 7 (6:59 am): Oyama birdied 18 to match Park's 66. She's the leader in the clubhouse at -5 for the tournament. Choi bogeyed 2 to fall back to -9. Paula Creamer birdied 1 to take her place at -10. Meena Lee is now -3 through 5 and -9 for the tournament. Lincicome bounced back with a birdie on 11.]

[Update 8 (7:02 am): Miyazato and Webb parred 1 to remain at -11 and -10, respectively. Creamer bogeyed 2 to join Lee, Choi, and Alfredsson at -9. Mitsuka bogeyed 3 to join Stacy Lewis and Song-Hee Kim at -8.]

[Update 9 (7:08 am): Webb has hit 51 of 55 greens thus far. Maria Hjorth is -3 through 10. Good to see her making a charge. Ochoa birdied 9 for bogey-free 33 on the front to join her at -6 for the tournament. Momoko Ueda heads into the 9th having birdied 3 in a row to join them.]

[Update 10 (7:10 am): Ai-chan birdied the tough 2nd hole to join Brewerton, Gustafson, and Kim at -12. They now have a 2-shot lead on Kerr, who bogeyed the 1st. Webb's bogey on 2 makes it 6 players at -9.]

[Update 11 (7:12 am): Westerberg ended up with a 68. Ji-Yai Shin birdied 10 to get to -3 on her day and -6 for the tournament. There are now 23 players within 6 shots of the lead.]

[Update 12 (7:15 am): Michelle Wie eagled the 9th to get to -5 for the tournament. She's caught Wendy Ward, who's +2 on her day.]

[Update 13 (7:19 am): Kim and Gustafson opened their Sundays with pars. But Brewerton bogeyed 2 to fall back to -11. So far nobody's broken the -12 barrier!]

[Update 14 (7:21 am): Seo ended up with a 69. There's a real logjam on the 12th. Scores for Lincicome and Wright haven't been updated in forever.]

[Update 15 (7:27 am): The players are as tiny as they were last year on Evian Masters Live TV, but I suppose I'll have to watch the leaders come in. Girls still asleep. Ueda makes it 4 in a row on the 9th, joining Wright and Lewis at -7.]

[Update 16 (7:31 am): The JLPGA's finest are out in force today. A bogey-free 34 brings Ji-Hee Lee to -5 on the tournament and Mi-Jeong Jeon is hanging tough a hole behind her and a shot ahead of her. Arimura birdied her last 2 holes for a 68 that brought her even with Seo and Westerberg at -3.]

[Update 17 (7:33 am): Meena Lee is now -4 through 10 and only 2 shots back. She's the only player in the lead chase pack making an early charge.]

[Update 18 (7:36 am): Erina Hara just birdied 13 to get to -3 for the tournament. The Japanese media must be going nuts.]

[Update 19 (7:37 am): Ueda makes it 5 in a row on the 10th. She's only 4 back now!]

[Update 20 (7:38 am): Mitsuka birdied 6 to get within 2 of the lead! Is this a JLPGA event??]

[Update 21 (7:42 am): Seriously, Jeon just birdied 9 for a 34 that gets her to -7. Your move, Ai-chan!]

[Update 22 (7:45 am): Imoto is up and drawing at the kitchen table. Took her and onechan to the driving range yesterday. Imoto swings like a hockey player, onechan like a baseball player. It was more fun than miniature golf, where the girls just wanted to throw their balls in the ponds and fish them out. Back to the action, Brewerton is on a 3-hole bogey train, her longest of the tournament. She's bounced back from back-to-back bogeys before, so let's see how tough she is today.]

[Update 23 (7:48 am): Ueda is now only 3 back and has a tournament-best 6-hole birdie train chugging along.]

[Update 24 (7:52 am): Ai Miyazato and In-Kyung Kim are now alone at the top after a Gustafson bogey on 4. Sorry, Inky, but I'm rooting for Ai-chan.]

[Update 25 (7:54 am): There are still 11 players within 3 shots of the lead. But an Ochoa double on 12--that hole again!--dropped her back to -4.]

[Update 26 (7:57 am): Meena Lee is now -5 on her round, too. So here's how the leaderbard looks right now:

-12 Ai-chan, Inky
-11 Lee, Kerr, Gustafson
-9 Ueda, Mitsuka, Alfredsson, Creamer, Webb, Brewerton


[Update 27 (8:00 am): Darn it, Ai-chan just bogeyed the par-4 6th. Onechan will be happy to hear that Webb birdied it. She's rooting for Webb and Creamer; we'll see whose player wins!]

[Update 28 (8:02 am): Ueda's birdie train ends on 12. Mitsuka bogeyed 7 to join her at -9. Shin is now -4 on the day and -7 overall. And Gustafson birdied 5 to tie Kim for the lead at -12.]

[Update 29 (8:03 am): Creamer joins Webb at -10 with a birdie on 7.]

[Update 30 (8:04 am): Evian Masters Live TV moves around and zooms in, so I probably won't be doing what I did last year and confusing Choi, Alfredsson, and Angela Park--who, by the way, is definitely not retiring.]

[Update 31 (8:07 am): Natalie Gulbis is -2 with 4 to go--she needs to make a move to get some Solheim Cup points and make it harder to knck her out of the #10 spot.]

[Update 32 (8:11 am): Some weird glitches on Wright's and Lincicome's scorecards right now.]

[Update 33 (8:33 am): Onechan woke up and kicked me off the computer I was on. I'm now on the backup laptop we got fixed in Akihabara in June. So it's fitting that Yuko Mitsuka birdied 4 of her last 6 holes on the front for a 32 that has brought her into a tie for the lead a -12 with Gustafson, Inky, Kerr, and...yes...Ai-chan, who birdied the par-3 8th for the 3rd time this week.]

[Update 34 (8:38 am): Ueda bogeyed the 13th to fall back to -4 on her day. Wright shot a 38 on the back for a 69 that ties her with Oyama and Karine Icher (who als shot a 69 today) at -5. Lincicome ended up with a 70 that puts her at -4. Hjorth can become the new leader in the clubhouse with a par or better on 18.]

[Update 35 (8:44 am): Anna Nordqvist has birdied 3 of her 1st 4 holes on the back to get to -8. She's only 4 back now. But Meena Lee bogeyed the 12th and 13th, just like yesterday, to fall back to -3 on her day and -9 for the tournament. Still only 3 back.]

[Update 36 (8:46 am): It's a bitter back for Ochoa, with a bogey to follow up on her 2nd double of the side. All of a sudden she's +2 on her day. So much for building momentum heading into the WBO.]

[Update 37 (8:51 am): Hjorth parred 18 for a 69 that brings her to -6. She's the leader in the clubhouse for the moment. Just saw Shin make a nice lag putt on 18. Hopefully it was for eagle. If she does birdie that hole, she'll tie Hjorth.]

[Update 38 (8:54 am): Ai-chan is the 1st to break the -12 barrier! Here's a leaderboard update:

-13 Ai-chan
-12 Mitsuka, Kerr, Gustafson
-11 Brewerton, Inky
-10 Lee, Choi, Alfredsson, Creamer, Webb


[Update 39 (8:56 am): Ueda needs to regroup after another bogey on the par-5 15th. Let's see if she can birdie 17 and 18!]

[Update 40 (9:02 am): Creamer and Webb have joined Inky and Brewerton at -11. Shin did birdie 18 for a 69 that makes her co-leader-in-the-clubhouse with Hjorth at -6. But Ji-Hee Lee can pass them with a par or better on 18.]

[Update 41 (9:05 am): Gustafson is the next to break the -12 barrier. Meena Lee just birdied 14 and 15 to get back to -5 on her day and -11 overall.]

[Update 42 (9:08 am): But Ai-chan birdied 11--her 3rd in her last 4 holes--to take the lead alone at -14. The 12th will be key for her. Ji-Hee Lee birdied 18 for a bogey-free 67 that brings her to -8. Momo-chan can catch her with a birdie on 18 and Jeon has 2 holes left in which to pass her.]

[Update 43 (9:11 am): Wie birdied 3 of her last 4 holes to offset her 3 earler bogeys on the back and finish with a 70. She's T21 at -5 right now, 2 shots ahead of Gulbis (T30). Ward is +3 through 14 and -4 for the tournament. She still has time to make a statement.]

[Update 44 (9:18 am): Ueda made a nice 2-putt on 18. Unfortunately it was only for par. Her 69--and -7 overall total--has to feel disappointing after that ride on the birdie train for 6 holes, but breaking 70 in 3 of her 4 rounds this week is a great confidence-builder heading into the WBO.]

[Update 45 (9:21 am): Kerr and Mitsuka have joined Gustafson at -13, 1 behind Ai-chan. Time is running out for Meena Lee. She'll need to go birdie-eagle on 17 and 18 for a 64 that would get her to -14 in order to have a chance to win.]

[Update 46 (9:26 am): Lee birdied 17! Wow! Jeon absolutely stuck her approach on 18--and tapped it in. Her 2nd-straight 68 makes her the leader in the clubhouse at 9. Ji had a 6-footer for what I hope is a birdie--and canned it. Nope, it was for par. Still, a top 30 after winning the U.S. Women's Open is just fine.]

[Update 47 (9:30 am): Time for a leaderboard update. Let's limit it to those double digits under par.

-14 Ai-chan (through 12)
-13 Mitsuka (through 13), Kerr (through 11), Gustafson (through 11)
-12 Lee (through 17)
-11 Brewerton (through 11), Inky (through 11), Creamer (through 13), Webb (through 12)
-10 Choi (through 13)

Gambare, Ai-chan!]

[Update 48 (9:34 am): Kerr bogeyed 12 to fall back to -12. Choi bogeyed 14 and is now -9, tied with Jeon and Alfredsson. Meena Lee is trying to chip in from just off the back of the green. No, looks like she putted it--good speed, but it just slid by the hole on the right.]

[Update 49 (9:38 am): Turns out Lee's missed putt was for eagle. Her birdie at 18 gives her the low round of the tournament, a 65 that makes her the leader in the clubhouse at -13. But Gustafson just joined Ai-chan at -14 with a birdie on the 12th. With Mitsuka's bogey on 14, she and Kerr are 1 behind Lee and 2 behind the co-leaders.]

[Update 50 (9:39 am): Inky's birdie at 12 also pulls her within 2 of the lead.]

[Update 51 (9:48 am): Song-Hee Kim just made a nice 11-footer on the 18th for a walkoff eagle that ties her with Jeon at T10 (-9). Ward and Lewis are playing 18 now.]

[Update 52 (9:52 am): Ward stuck her approach to 5 feet and Lewis has a long eagle (?) attempt from just off the left side of the green. Oops, she was too aggressive and her chip went into the fringe behind the hole on the back right. But she quickly stepped up to the 10-footer and slammed it home. Ward calmly followed up with a perfect putt.]

[Update 53 (9:56 am): Ward's was for her 2nd birdie in a row, after 3 straight bogeys. Don't know what Daniel will make of that, or her T27 finish. Lewis's putt also gave her her 2nd birdie in a row and brought her back to E on the day and -7 for the tournament. She's tied with Ueda and Nordqvist at T16.]

[Update 53 (10:00 am): A Gustafson bogey on 13 means it's time for another leaderboard update.

-14 Ai-chan (through 14)
-13 Lee (65), Gustafson (through 13)
-12 Kerr (through 13), Inky (through 13)
-11 Mitsuka (through 15), Creamer (through 15), Webb (through 14), Brewerton (through 13)
-10 Alfredsson (through 15)

We should start seeing more birdies now as the leaders enter the 15th through 18th holes.]

[Update 54 (10:05 am): With Pak and Lang on 18 the lead groups are playing slow! Oh no, the live tv feed froze while Pak was contemplatng her chip from just past pin high on the left back of the green!]

[Update 55 (10:09 am): Phew, the feed is back--but just in time for nobody to be there for a few holes.]

[Update 56 (10:15 am): Oh, no! Ai-chan bogeyed the 15th for the 2nd time this week. She's tied for the lead now with Gustafson and Lee. Choi and Mitsuka are playing 18, trying to get back to double digit under par.]

[Update 57 (10:18 am): Choi faded a hybrid or fairway metal in from the right rough to the left side of the green, just off the fringe about pin high. She has 20 feet or so for eagle, I believe.]

[Update 58 (10:24 am): Pak and Lang finished at -8, btw, tied for 13th now that Brewerton bogeyed 15 to go to +4 on her round. Choi's decided to chip. She raised her arms as it tracked toward the pin, but hit it and bounced out somehow. She tapped in for what I believe is a birdie. Mitsuka made her 3-footer. They both join Webb at -10. Creamer's only at -11 headig into 18. She'll need to make an eagle to give herself a chance.]

[Update 59 (10:28 am): Creamer split the fairway and was just past the new fairways bunker. It looked like she went for the green with a long iron, but the camera couldn't follow her shot. Alfredsson put her mid-iron approach to the back-middle of the green. Less than 15 feet for an eagle that would get her to -11.]

[Update 60 (10:36 am): Alfredsson sank her eagle putt and saluted the crowd with a high fist pump. Creamer missed a tap-in for birdie. Here's how the leaderboard looks as Ai-chan plays 18:

-13 Lee (65), Ai-chan (through 17), Gustafson (through 15)
-12 Kerr (through 16)
-11 Alfredsson (70), Creamer (70), Webb (through 17), Inky (through 15)
-10 Mitsuka (70), Choi (71)

Come on, Ai-chan!]

[Update 61 (10:45 am): Ai-chan had to lay up. She waited for Karrie to hit her 3rd shot, waved back the Japanese TV crew, and calmly put a wedge about 10 feet from the cup on about the same line as Alfredsson's eagle attempt. It all comes down to this for her. Gustafson parred 16, so Ai-chan needs this putt to put any pressure on her. Kerr is -12 heading into 18. Inky's -11 heading into 17. Webb's pitch from the lettuce to the left of the green rolled right by the cup and came to rest about 8 feet away. She'll need that to stay at -11. I counted 8 "Silence!" signs that went up around the green as Ai-chan stepped up to her putt. And she made it!!!!!]

[Update 62 (10:48 am): Webb made hers, too. She's T5 with Alfredsson and Creamer, but Inky has a chance pass her with a birdie or better and Kerr needs an eagle to catch Ai-chan.]

[Update 63 (10:54 am): Things are falling into place for Ai-chan. Gustafson failed to birdie 17, so she needs a birdie to catch Ai-chan and an eagle to beat her. Kerr either hit a monster drive or had to lay up way back. Let's hope it's the latter, because she stuck her approach to the length of Creamer's missed tap-in.]

[Update 64 (10:58 am): Brewerton babied what I'm guessing was her 30-foot eagle attempt. Kerr's putt is a little longer than Creamer's, actually. She's really grinding over it. Big fist pump when she made it. But it was only for birdie.]

[Update 65 (11:00 am): Can Gustafson win this outright? She has the length to go for 18 in 2.]

[Update 66 (11:04 am): She's in the middle of the green, putting a little bit up and then down the ridge over 25 feet from the hole, so I assume she did hit it in 2. Inky left her chip from the left side of the green 6 feet above the hole. Gustafson's putt died on the lip. She tapped in for...par!!! Ai-chan wins! Ai-chan wins!!!!!!!!!!]

[Update 67 (11:11 am): Dammit, You can't keep doing this to me. Gustafson did birdie 18. There's a playoff!!!! Here's how the leaderboard looks after 72 holes.

-14 Ai-chan (69), Gustafson (70)
-13 Lee (65), Kerr (70)
-11 Alfredsson (70), Creamer (70), Webb (71)
-10 Mitsuka (70), Choi (71), Inky (74)

Gambare, Ai-chan!]

[Update 68 (11:13 am): The carts are taking the players and their caddies back to the 18th tee. If Gustafson can put her drive anywhere in play anywhere that gives her a shot at the green in 2, she'll have a big advantage.]

[Update 69 (11:23 am): Man, if I had thought to have my twitter feed open, I wouldn't have had to deal with that little whiplash back there. Ai-chan split the fairway on her drive and looks like she's thinking about going for the green in 2. She hit a fairway wood, it looked like, but where the hell dd it end up? Twitter says bunker--behind the green, I assume. Gustafson had a good lay-up. She has a great look from less than 80 yards. But she didn't put the ball in an easy spot for her birdie putt. Looks like she's to the right of the pin, a little short of it on or near the fringe.]

[Update 70 (11:25 am): Ai-chan's sand shot from just past pin high right of the green didn't land soft and skidded 5 feet by, but she has a better angle than Gustafson for birdie.]

[Update 71 (11:29 am): Gustafson yanked hers from the start. Ai-chan's putt was really only 3 and a half feet--and she canned it. Then the tears started flowing and the hugging began. Mitsuka snuck through the sea of cameras to give her a quick one before she left the green.]

[Update 72 (11:30 am): Now it can be said for real: "Ai-chan wins! Ai-chan wins!!!!!!!!!!"]

[Update 73 (5:22 pm): Appreciate the linkage and congrats out there. To the good people at Golf Babes, the only thing I can say is domo arigato (and I've found that somen noodles work better than udon). To Hound Dog, arigato gozaimasu (but onechan is actually sad for Karrie Webb and Paula Creamer).]


Unknown said...

Congrats on the win Ai... you definitely deserved it. Now that pressure for the first win not on you anymore. Good job.

Rjay said...

Congrats to Ai for the terrific - well deserved win.

Thanks to you TC for the coverage - loved it.

Hound Dog said...

Great work on the live-blog. I specifically instructed everyone to come here first for the full story. It's Party Time in the Mostly Harmless household!!

IceCat said...

Such a shame that despite picking Ai-chan you came up just short in the PakPicker. :(

The Constructivist said...

A teeny tiny disappointment on an otherwise great day, Kevin! Be sure to check out my official celebration post, everyone!