Saturday, September 26, 2009

CVS LPGA Challenge Saturday: Bombs Away!

Sophie Gustafson has a chance for a wire-to-wire win tomorrow at the CVS LPGA Challenge, but she'll have to beat the world #1 to get her 1st LPGA victory since 2003, because Lorena Ochoa saw her 66 and raised it with a walkoff birdie for a 65, putting them both at -16, 6 shots ahead of Angela Stanford and Sun Young Yoo. So most likely it's going to be a battle of the bombers tomorrow: Gustafson is averaging 281 yards off the tee and has only missed 4 greens all week but has missed her share of putts, having taken 10 more than than Ochoa, who's averaging over 283 but conceded after her round that she's come to accept that she's going to be outdriven by her partner more often than not.

I never would have imagined Blackhawk Country Club to be a bomber's paradise, but that's what it's turning out to be this week. Sure, the longest player off the tee thus far, Suzann Pettersen (averaging over 287 yards) was -10 for the tournament with 6 holes to play today, but bogeyed 3 in a row and then added another on 18 to add insult to injury (she tweeted yesterday that she needs to get an MRI taken on her foot). So instead of having a chance to crash the party, Pettersen crashed and burned instead, falling all the way back to -6 and T17. And yes, Shanshan Feng (269 yards) was at -10 earlier on and took her last 13 holes to fall back to Pettersen's level, while Ya Ni Tseng (270 yards) bogeyed 2 of her last 4 to join them. But even the bombers who struggled are still much higher on the leaderboard than I expected them to be this week. Stanford's averaging over 267 yards off the tee, but even 3 bogeys today couldn't keep her out of a tie for 3rd. Maria Hjorth (over 282 yards) is only 1 behind Stanford, despite offsetting her 5 birdies today with an equal number of bogeys. A bogey on 17 kept Vicky Hurst from equalling Hjorth scoring-wise, although she's been equalling her in length all week. But Christina Kim (almost 275 yards) equalled Ochoa's 65 for low round of the day, despite failing to birdie 2 of the par 5s today. Hey, even Karrie Webb (almost 274 yards) got in the act on her back 9, shooting a bogey-free 33 on the front t0 get back to -4 overall (T25).

It's not like the precision players have completely fallen on their faces this week, either. Morgan Pressel matched Ochoa's closing 30 today, thanks to 5 straight bogeys to close out her round. At -9, she's tied with Hjorth, hometown favorite Paula Creamer, who shot a bogey-free 69, and Leta Lindley (averaging 234 yards off the tee!), who matched Gustafson's 66 today. But they'll need to get into the low 60s tomorrow to have a chance to catch the leaders. As will Kristy McPherson (77), Seon Hwa Lee (70), and In-Kyung Kim (69), just to salvage some pride from this week.

Speaking of pride, I expect Lorena Ochoa to be in full terminator mode tomorrow. To give Ron Sirak credit: despite his being almost completely wrong in every respect on his claim that the LPGA lacks a player with Annika Sorenstam's talent (the thing is, there are about a dozen--and they're all making it difficult for each other!) and standing (which they'll continue to lack as long as golf writers pine for the days of single-power domination and overlook the amazing competition in front of them week in and week out), maybe, just maybe, he's lit a fire under Ochoa and she's playing to prove him wrong this week. Sure, she's the soul of diplomacy in her post-round interview, but watch how she plays tomorrow. I wouldn't be surprised if she's snapped back into that 2nd-half-of-2006-through-1st-half-of-2008 mindset of playing for tournament records that will take years to surpass. Which is to say that a 63/-25 total may be in the offing from a certain world #1. You heard it here 1st!

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