In 2008, Ya Ni Tseng and Na Yeon Choi were locked in a race for Rookie of the Year that saw both of them break the $1M barrier in season winnings. At the Hana Bank/KOLON Championship in 2009, they're looking to put themselves in serious contention in the race for Player of the Year. Both are 2 wins behind Ji-Yai Shin and Lorena Ochoa and are well over $500K behind Shin in winnings, but Choi trails her by 60 points and Tseng by only 42 points in the POY scoring system. They took different paths to get there, but they're the co-leaders heading into the final round tomorrow. For awhile, it looked like Choi was going to run away with the tournament, as she shot a 32 on the front to leap to -8 on a rainy day when most players were heading in the opposite direction fast. (Yesterday's co-leaders Anna Grzebien and Meaghan Francella, for instance, followed up their 66s with an 82 and 79, respectively.) But eventually the conditions got to her, too, and she closed with a 39 that left her at -5. Tseng had peaked at -6 with her 3rd birdie of the day on the 8th, but after a bogey on the 9th made 9 straight pars to hang on for a share of the lead.
The 2 top Super Sophs have plenty of company at the top, though. The top 2 Junior Mints, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim, also held it together in the rain and were able to stay under par. Ji's 71 leaves her 2 off the pace, tied with fellow U.S. Women's Open champion Inbee Park (71) and yet another '07er Song-Hee Kim, along with Ran Hong and Bo-Kyung Kim from the KLPGA, while Kim's action-packed 70 puts her 3 behind the co-leaders, tied with such luminaries as Se Ri Pak (72), Jee Young Lee (72), Meena Lee (73), and Vicky Hurst (75). Wily veterans Maria Hjorth (72) and Jimin Kang (73), both at -4, will be looking to spoil the pajama party tomorrow.
But what about the top POY candidates on both tours? Ji-Yai Shin shot an uncharacteristic 76 to drop 6 shots off the pace, tied with the top 2 KLPGA stars of 2009, Hee Kyung Seo (75) and So Yeon Ryu (74). Lorena Ochoa's disastrous 41 on the back dropped her to +5 overall, 3 shots behind Cristie Kerr (76) and Paula Creamer (74). So it's looking like that scenario that I envisioned Wednesday--"In-Kyung Kim, Ya Ni Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Eun-Hee Ji, and Song-Hee Kim [have] a great chance to make some noise the next 2 weeks and put themselves in contention for all the year-end titles"--has a great chance to come true.
[Update 1 (6:55 am): A 40 on the back 9 dropped one of my favorite players from -3 to out of contention. Seon Hwa Lee has been quantum leaped by a dozen players this season and I keep waiting for her to respond. Maybe tomorrow!]