Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Navistar Classic Preview/Predictions/Pairings

The LPGA is in Prattville, AL, this week for the Navistar Classic and defending champion Lorena Ochoa returns to the site of her last win in 2008 in with some momentum. Although she hasn't put 4 good rounds together in the same week, she's shown flashes of La Reina and looks just about ready to win again. Her putting averages are approaching her career norms, her driving distance is going up, and her driving accuracy is practically the best of her LPGA career. If she can improve her iron play this week, watch out for her!

The field will be looking to make Ochoa wait for her 3rd win of 2009 until November at least. Last week's winner Sophie Gustafson has a challenge as focused as Ochoa's: if she can putt well this week, she could run away with this tournament. I'm excited about the chances of several young players who haven't yet come close this season to realizing their potential: Amy Yang, Vicky Hurst, Michelle Wie, Hee Young Park, and Shanshan Feng. Why? Looking over last year's preview, I still believe the Senator Course favors the LPGA's longer hitters, so I'm going with the bombers I think are playing best right now--or are due--for this week's PakPicker:

1. Ochoa
2. Hurst, Vicky
3. Yang Amy
4. Tseng
5. Wie
6. Gustafson
7. Hjorth
8. Kim Song-Hee
9. Kerr
10. Kim, Christina
11. Yoo
12. Choi Na Yeon

Alts: Pettersen, Pressel, Lang, Feng

I'm also struck at how the Navistar kicked off 9 events in a row last year, while it's the last of 6 in a row this one. Another reason why I'm hoping for breakthroughs from Yang, Hurst, and Wie in particular: they ought to be able to recover more quickly from the rigors of a long season than the vets and have enough experience now to get past those rookie/sophomore jitters and big numbers.

I only have time for a quick look at the pairings. Moira Dunn kicks things off #10 at 6:50 am in a twosome with Lee Ann Walker-Cooper. If they play fast, watch for a low score from Moira. Fans of the Asian-Pacific and golfers from or with ancestry from it should stay by the 10th tee for the late-morning prime-time pairings:

Start Time: 8:18 AM
Ya Ni Tseng
Christina Kim
Wendy Ward

Start Time: 8:29 AM
Michelle Wie
Candie Kung
Katherine Hull

Start Time: 8:40 AM
Haeji Kang
Na Yeon Choi
Hee Young Park

Start Time: 8:51 AM
Brittany Lang
Anna Grzebien
Louise Friberg

Start Time: 9:02 AM
M.J. Hur
Jee Young Lee
Leta Lindley

Going off opposite them on #1 in the early-afternoon prime-time pairings, by contrast, are some of the most recognizable names on tour to the casual fan:

Start Time: 11:45 AM
Suzann Pettersen
Lorena Ochoa
Sophie Gustafson

Start Time: 11:56 AM
Morgan Pressel
Stacy Lewis
Cristie Kerr

Start Time: 12:07 PM
Meg Mallon
Laura Davies
Sandra Gal

Start Time: 12:18 PM
Eunjung Yi
Natalie Gulbis
Seon Hwa Lee

Start Time: 12:29 PM
Maria Hjorth
Pat Hurst
Se Ri Pak

The only players who probably belong in these 2 quadrants who aren't are Vicky Hurst (1st tee, 8:18 am), In-Kyung Kim (1st tee, 8:29 am), Song-Hee Kim (1st tee, 9:02 am), Amy Yang (10th tee, 11:56 am), and Sun Young Yoo (10th tee, 12:07 pm). I'm curious to see how Alexis Thompson does in the group behind Moira and how Nontaya Srisawang and Pornanong Phatlum do late in the afternoon on the same side.

The pairings page lists the length of the course at over 6500 yards, almost 100 yards more than on the main page, so combined with the wet conditions down south of late, look for the precision players to struggle a bit more than on the weekend, especially if the scattered thunderstorms predicted for Friday stay away from the course.

[Update 1 (9/30/09, 5:33 pm): Appreciate the link from Golf Observer. First time in MH history....]

[Update 2 (11:13 pm): Here's Jamie's preview. Pettersen did drop out, as I expected. I edited my picks above.]


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that Pettersen stayed in for this tournament. Let that ankle heal ! This is a goofy golf course with lots of hills and dunes - why push an ankle like that ?

Don't hold your breath on Wie. Too much trouble not far off the fairways.

Good pick on Vicky Hurst !

The Constructivist said...

I wanted to pick Hurst or Yang for the win, but had a stronger feeling that La Reina is back (thought it would happen last Sunday, myself, but I think a RTJ design favors her even more).

With Wie, it all depends how sharp she is. She was driving the ball better when she was playing a lot. Who knows which Wie will show up Th and F?

Anonymous said...

We still see Wie differently. I still see only two good weeks for her this season - the showdown she lost against Angela Stanford, and the Solheim Cup where she was playing for fun and not for money.

She's still better than most of the tour - but not good enough for the winner's circle...yet.

The Constructivist said...

This week will be an interesting test case: what's impressed me about her recently is that she's outperformed my expectations on shorter, tighter courses. I expect a RTJ layout to favor the big hitters, and she's been dialed in with her irons pretty well all season. So let's see how she performs when my expectations are higher for her than usual lately.