Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Best of the Young Guns: Top Junior Mints, March 2009 Edition

The top players in the Class of 2007--the new Junior Mints on the LPGA--seem to be owning the top of the leaderboard of late. So who's got the best chance of continuing the tradition at the Kraft Nabisco Championship?

Simply the Best

1. Angela Park: Off to a great start this season, she's still staying barely ahead of the lead chase pack in her class. But as she also has the best record in her class at the KNC, don't look for her to get passed this week.
2. Eun-Hee Ji: Continues to impress in comparatively fewer starts than her top peers, but she's still chasing Angela. Coming off a missed cut at last year's KNC, her top-20 streak is in danger of being broken this week.
3. In-Kyung Kim: It's going to take a win to move up this list, and Inky came just shy last week. Hopefully the big mo' will count for more than her MC at last year's KNC.

The Contenders

4. Inbee Park: Despite getting her 1st real top 20 in Phoenix since last July (her 19th-place finish at the Samsung doesn't really count, right?), I'm officially demoting her from the top rank of her class. Doing this last year kicked off a great run that culminated in that U.S. Women's Open win, so I'm hoping the Mostly Harmless Reverse Jinx will strike again in '09 for her! Plus, she's coming off a top 10 at last year's KNC.
5. Song-Hee Kim: Her finishes are starting to match her performance stats and she's been playing great on Sundays. Watch out for her in '09! I wonder if she'll beat Angela Park and Jane Kim to the next-to-get-her-1st-win in this class? Getting it in her 1st KNC would be amazing!
6. Jane Park: Still plagued by more inconsistency than her top peers, but make no mistake: she's a major talent and will be for a long time to come. It's time to start showing it at the KNC, where she's finished better as an amateur than as a pro.
7. Ji Young Oh: Needs to start hitting more greens and making more birdies to move up this ranking. If not, her #2 status in her class at the KNC is definitely in jeopardy.
8. Kristy McPherson: Showing signs of building toward a breakthrough this spring. She has the talent to win on tour, particularly once her putter comes around. Playing in her 1st KNC, though, so I'm not expecting that much out of her this week.
9. Jin Joo Hong: Off to a slow start in '09, particularly when it comes to hitting greens, but hey, nobody can take away that non-member win in Korea, she recently got featured in the Wall Street Journal, and she is the last in her class to qualify for the KNC, so she has that going for her.

Quantum Leap Candidates

10. Na On Min: Just got her 1st top 20 in a year--that T11 finish last week was her best since the '07 Women's British Open. The former whiz kid (2 top 5s in her 1st 6 LPGA starts) has fallen far and fast over the last 2 seasons, but is she about to get up?
11. Charlotte Mayorkas: Despite a great Q-School, she's off to a slow start in '09, but at least she's hitting greens at a decent rate.
12. Irene Cho: If her putting improves, watch for her to get on a hot streak in '09. If not....

On the Bottom Looking Up

13. Sophie Giquel: She's a Category 11 player, which means she'll get into plenty of events, but if she keeps missing cuts at the rate she has been, it'll be back to Q-School for her.
14. Paige Mackenzie: A Category 15er, but at least she's made a cut this season.
15. Becky Lucidi: Another Category 15er, but hasn't yet made a cut in '09.
16. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke: Got Category 11 status in Q-School, but has missed every cut thus far this season.

On the Outside Looking In

17. Su A Kim: Will be trying to restart her career on the Futures Tour, but only has Category D status there this season.
18. Seo-Jae Lee: Ditto, except for the Category D part.
19. Sarah Lynn Sargent: Ditto.
20. Cindy Pasechnik: Ditto, but only has Category D status there this season.

For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the March ranking.

2009 LPGA Money List (rank), stroke average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on four key indicators of how well someone is playing this season--how much money they've made, how they've scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, and how many greens they've hit in regulation on average per round, plus how they rank in each category (except for birdies, which LPGA.com ranks by total and not by average). I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I don't include putts per green in regulation here. Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are the most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future.

1. Angela Park, $228.2K (#7), 70.80 (#5), 3.53 (#15), 79.4% (#2)
2. Song-Hee Kim, $148.4K (#13), 71.20 (#10), 3.67 (#12), 70.8% (#18)
3. Eun-Hee Ji, $148.2K (#14), 71.06 (#8), 3.44 (#5), 77.8% (#3)
4. In-Kyung Kim, $130.0K (#18), 72.13 (#18), 3.93 (#8), 75.4% (#7)
5. Jane Park, $103.7K (#21), 72.25 (#22), 3.13 (#18), 66.7% (#34)
6. Kristy McPherson, $72.7K (#25), 72.11 (#17), 2.67 (#23), 69.8% (#19)
7. Ji Young Oh, $62.2K (#28), 72.67 (#30), 2.47 (#46), 58.3% (#93)
8. Na On Min, $30.3K (#51), 73.33 (#48), 2.67 (#68), 60.2% (#83)
9. Inbee Park, $29.9K (#52), 73.93 (#64), 2.71 (#44), 65.3% (#47)
10. Irene Cho, $14.3K (#74), 74.50 (#84), 2.63 (#79), 69.4% (#24)
11. Jin Joo Hong, $12.9K (#83), 74.30 (#77), 2.00 (#83), 44.4% (#136)
12. Charlotte Mayorkas, $2.6K (#125), 75.57 (#109), 2.00 (#111), 66.7% (#34)
13. Paige Mackenzie, $2.2K (#130), 76.80 (#123), 1.80 (#129), 57.4% (#98)
14. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, $0K (#187), 77.00 (#128), 1.83 (#122), 48.6% (#132)
14. Sophie Giquel, $0K (n.r.), 78.25 (#137), 1.75 (#138), 50.0% (#126)
14. Becky Lucidi, $0K (#113), 78.67 (#139), 1.83 (#122), 50.0% (#126)

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events entered/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/cuts made (made cut rate): About the only thing these stats are useful for is comparing people who entered the LPGA in the same year (although if you count generations by 3 years, it can be interesting). Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately the Junior Mints haven't been at this all too long, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to people who have not been exempt both years. What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now--although Thomas Atkins has posted an inflation-adjusted LPGA Career Top 50 as of the end of the 2008 season over at Hound Dog's place. In any case, I include these other ways of seeing how the Junior Mints finished relative to their competition in the tournaments they entered because they reveal a lot about how well someone is able to compete at every level, from just making cuts to grinding out top 20s and top 10s to contending for wins. So here's how they stand at the start of '09.

1. Angela Park, $2.08M (#86), 60/0/0/8/18/25/56 (.933)
2. Inbee Park, $1.55M (#111), 56/1/1/3/9/16/43 (.768)
3. In-Kyung Kim, $1.36M (#126), 56/0/1/4/13/21/47 (.839)
4. Eun-Hee Ji, $1.31M (#130), 37/0/1/4/13/18/34 (.919)
5. Song-Hee Kim, $1.21M (#146), 48/0/0/3/9/15/35 (.729)
6. Ji Young Oh, $.89M (#193), 55/0/1/1/6/13/40 (.727)
7. Jane Park, $.80M (#206), 42/0/0/3/6/10/35 (.833)
8. Kristy McPherson, $.56M (#245), 49/0/0/0/6/11/35 (.714)
9. Jin Joo Hong, $.51M (#255), 46/0/0/0/2/7/33 (.717)
10. Na On Min, $.49M (#267), 48/0/0/1/2/6/30 (.625)
11. Charlotte Mayorkas, $.26M (#338), 44/0/0/0/0/4/31 (.705)
12. Irene Cho, $.25M (#349), 43/0/0/0/2/4/25 (.581)
13. Paige Mackenzie, $.13M (#426), 38/0/0/0/0/1/18 (.474)
14. Sophie Giquel, $.11M (#445), 29/0/0/0/0/0/15 (.517)
15. Becky Lucidi $.09M (#478), 25/0/0/0/0/2/8 (.320)
16. Su A Kim, $.07M (#494), 26/0/0/0/0/0/12 (.462)
17. Seo-Jae Lee, $.07M (#498), 25/0/0/0/0/0/10 (.400)
18. Sarah Lynn Sargent, $.05M (#538), 26/0/0/0/0/0/12 (.462)
19. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, $.02M (#600), 21/0/0/0/0/1/3 (.143)
20. Cindy Pasechnik, $.02M (#612), 19/0/0/0/0/0/5 (.263)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 3/30/09) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 3/29/09) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2008 season): This is a way of seeing how those Junior Mints who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, LET, JLPGA, KLPGA, and Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. Eun-Hee Ji, 3.76 (#11), 70.11 (#12); 4
2. Angela Park, 3.68 (#15), 70.67 (#20); 0
3. In-Kyung Kim, 3.46 (#19), 70.62 (#17); 0
4. Inbee Park, 3.09 (#24), 71.15 (#38); 0
5. Song-Hee Kim, 3.01 (#26), 70.13 (#13); 0
6. Jane Park, 2.19 (#42), 71.13 (#35); 0
7. Ji Young Oh, 1.91 (#52), 71.08 (#32); 0
8. Kristy McPherson, 1.56 (#61), 71.14 (#36); 0
9. Jin Joo Hong, 1.09 (#84), 72.25 (#82); 2
10. Na On Min, .83 (#104), 73.13 (#126); 0
11. Irene Cho, .76 (#113), 72.89 (#110); 0
12. Charlotte Mayorkas, .54 (#144), 73.21 (#132); 0
13. Sophie Giquel, .45 (#165), 73.65 (#162); 1
14. Becky Lucidi, .32 (#219), 74.35 (#228); 0
15. Paige Mackenzie, .24 (#249), 73.74 (#173); 0
16. Su A Kim, .18 (#281), ? (n.r.); 0
17. Seo-Jae Lee, .14 (#311), 73.93 (#193); 0
18. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, .03 (#538), 77.18 (#436); 0
19. Sarah Lynn Sargent, .01 (#647), 75.40 (#315); 0
20. Cindy Pasechnik, .01 (#672), 75.92 (#352); 0

FYI, here's the rest my 2009 schedule:

April: Class of 2008 (post-Corona)
May: Young Guns (post-Corning)
June: Class of 2006 (post-Wegmans)
July: Class of 2007 (pre-WBO)
August: Class of 2008 (post-Safeway)
September: Young Guns (post-Longs Drugs)
October: Class of 2006 (post-Korea)
November: Class of 2007 (post-Stanford)
December: Class of 2008 (post-Q School)
January '10: Young Guns (final 2009 ranking)

Monday, March 30, 2009

J Golf Phoenix International Sunday: Karrie Who?

Since Hound Dog picked up on every exciting move on the leaderboard over the 1st 10 holes that I was planning to mention, and since the second coming of Tiger preempted Golf Channel coverage of Karrie Webb going into lockdown mode to secure her 36th career LPGA win, I'm going to have to assume with him that the last eight holes of the J Golf Phoenix International held the kind of drama, if any, that doesn't make it onto scorecards. LPGA.com isn't much help in this regard, but they do help put Webb's 1st win on tour in 44 starts and two seasons in perspective. As does this moment from her interview:

Q. What does this mean to you to get back in into the winner's circle after a couple years?
KARRIE WEBB: It's very important. It means a lot to me. You know, you go through--I mean, I have won in Australia in those two years, but winning on the LPGA against the best players in the world is obviously very important to me. And you just sometimes wonder if--you know you have got the ability to do it, but you are just not putting the scores on the board that indicate that you can still do it. And, you know, even less than a month ago I was still questioning that. And I think watching certain players--you know, not that Phil Mickelson has gone a long time without winning, but he started off pretty rough this year, and then last week Pat Hurst. It really isn't as far away as you think.

Typical of Karrie to get her comeback win the week Tiger gets his. To beat Ji-Yai Shin, In-Kyung Kim, Ya Ni Tseng, and Suzann Pettersen, all of whom got to double digits under par under tough conditions, must have been the icing on the cake. The plot for next week's major, the Kraft Nabisco Open, has officially thickened. The Saturday leader can still be the 1st of the year on the LPGA to hold a lead on Sunday!

Other achievements worth noting: Tseng had the best weekend of anyone, going 67-67, but Hee Young Park wasn't too shabby either; her 69-68 gave her the bronze behind Webb. Song-Hee Kim had another strong Sunday finish; her 67 vaulted her to 6th place. Rounding out the 67 club was Jimin Kang. Morgan Pressel was working on doing all of them even better, until she she took a ride on the bogey train over her final 3 holes to shoot her 2nd straight 70 (still a moral victory for her). Brittany Lincicome followed up 2 straight 72s with a 71, the 1st time she's shot par or better 3 rounds in a row since the Jamie Farr last July. And Moira Dunn avoided her 2nd-straight last-place finish with a fine 71 yesterday (of course her place was taken by another New Yorker, Danielle Downey).

I'll leave you for now with Golf Channel's highlights. Once again, Webb steals the show at the end of them. Congrats, Karrie. Onechan is proud of you!

[Update 1 (7:15 am): I'm sure Jason Sobel is, too, but he buried news of your win on the 16th hole of his weekly 18, commenting on a photo of In-Kyung Kim that reminded him of Tiger. Maybe he should look in the mirror when he wonders on the 10th hole why there is "no hype" for the LPGA in its run-up to its 1st major. When even someone paid to pay some attention to the LPGA doesn't get it as badly as Sobel does, you really have to hope Ryan Ballengee's idea takes off.]

[Update 2 (8:16 am): Who needs GC when you have Seoul Sisters.com? IceCat followed Ai-chan and Angela Park for the front on Saturday (watching the former miss an excruciating number of short putts) and has the play-by-play on the Webb-Shin showdown!]

[Update 3 (9:52 am): Here's Hound Dog's epilogue. And his idea (which Ryan in the link above builds on) for a bloggers' answer to the AP.]

[Update 4 (3/31/09, 4:44 am): Speaking of Waggle Room, Ryan Ballengee also pursues the Webb-Dangerfield connection.]

[Update 5 (4:448 am): I'll forgive Daniel Wexler his Shakespeare heresy b/c he gets Webb's win and the upcoming KNC so right!]

[Update 6 (4/1/09, 6:42 am): Just catching up with Shane Bacon's excellent caddie tales from Papago (he looped for Erica Blasberg and learned a lot).]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mr. Jero Goes to Washington

For the DC Cherry Blossom Festival, of course:

J Golf Phoenix International Saturday: Webb Catches Kim, Shin Leapfrogs Both

Playing with the 1st- and 2nd-round leader and #3-ranked Junior Mint In-Kyung Kim, Hall of Famer Karrie Webb did just what she needed to do yesterday in the J Golf Phoenix International, breaking 70 for the 2nd day in a row and catching Kim (who struggled early on the back after twice getting to -10 on the front) with back-to-back walk-off birdies. But Rookie of the Year--and to some, Player of the Year--favorite Ji-Yai Shin made the biggest move of moving day, throwing down 7 birdies on her way to a Papago-record 66 that vaulted her to -10, 1 shot ahead of both Kim and Webb. Beth Daniel's favorite, Suzann Pettersen, failed to break 70 for the 1st time this week, but bounced back from an early double bogey with an eagle on the 10th and birdie on the 18th to pull within 2 of Shin. Eun-Hee Ji's road to her 70 was a little less hilly, but her mistakes put her 3 back. Meanwhile, Brittany Lang and Ya Ni Tseng also made big moves on moving day with matching 67s, the former with 3 birdies in both her 1st 6 holes and last 4 that brought her to -6, the latter with a birdie-par-birdie-eagle run on the front that helped her get to -5, tied with the steady Ai Miyazato and Angela Park, both of whom are so due to go low on a Sunday.

So Shin has a bunch of fantastic golfers looking to chase her down and pass her like every other leader going into a final round on the LPGA has been in '09. Sunday marks at least the third time Shin and Webb have put themselves in position for a final-round showndown, including last year's ADT Championship and Australian Women's Open, although this is the 1st time they're together in the final pairing. Who among the players within 6 of Shin will walk away with a win?

Start Time: 11:41 AM
Cristie Kerr
Song-Hee Kim

Start Time: 11:49 AM
Angela Park
Na On Min

Start Time: 11:57 AM
Ya Ni Tseng
Ai Miyazato

Start Time: 12:05 PM
Eun-Hee Ji
Brittany Lang

Start Time: 12:13 PM
In-Kyung Kim
Suzann Pettersen

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Ji-Yai Shin
Karrie Webb

I'm rooting for Ai-chan and In-Kyung! I think 7, 8, or 9 strokes back is too much ground to make up, even for Angela Stanford, Lorena Ochoa, and Jee Young Lee, respectively, but if anyone in the world of women's golf can do it, they can.

I'm off to read LPGA.com's notes and interviews before steeling myself for the AP and Golf Channel. Wish Hound Dog had posted already to help give me strength. Back in a minute!

[Update 1 (3:00 am): How good were Shin's 66 and Tseng and Lang's 67s? Here's what Webb had to say about the pin positions: "Where the pin positions were, it was hard to get it real close to have decent birdie putts."]

[Update 2 (3:03 am): OK, I'll go easy on Pettersen from here on out this week. She's fighting tendonitis in her knee.]

[Update 3 (3:06 am): It was kind of the AP writer not to note that Michelle Wie got beat by Morgan Pressel by 4 shots. Let's see if GC mentions it.]

[Update 4 (3:09 am): Nice job by Beth Ann Baldry calling Shin's moving day fireworks. OK, on to GC.]

[Update 5 (3:18 am): Golf Channel wasn't as terrible as they'd been the previous 2 days. Didn't even exploit the Pressel-Wie mini-showdown. Good taste!]

[Update 6 (3:33 am): Check out on-course blogging from Cactus Dave and the usual suspects at Seoul Sisters.com.]

[Update 7 (8:46 am): Here's Hound Dog!]

Friday, March 27, 2009

J Golf Phoenix International Friday: Kim Leads Webb and Pettersen

Even with calmer conditions today at the J Golf Phoenix International, the best score of the day was Angela Stanford's 67. But breaking 70 for the 2nd straight day were 1st-round leader In-Kyung Kim and Suzann Pettersen, who moved to -8 and -6 respectively. Only Karrie Webb could manage to join Pettersen 2 shots behind the leader. But Kim's classmates Song-Hee Kim and Eun-Hee Ji are only 3 back, while Ji-Yai Shin joins Stanford 4 behind the leader.

In fact, most of the hottest players in the world of women's professional golf can be found in the top 25. Even Lorena Ochoa, Ya Ni Tseng, Se Ri Pak, and Hee-Won Han, who have shot nothing but 72s between them, still have a chance to get right back into contention tomorrow. But many players will be unable to take advantage of moving day, having either failed to start (Creamer), withdrawn (Grace, Gulbis, Jo, Kang, Ellis), or missed the cut (Stacy Lewis, So Yeon Ryu, Anja Monke, and Mika Miyazato barely; Jane Park, Seon Hwa Lee, Momoko Ueda, Karen Stupples, Vicky Hurst, and Johanna Mundy by a handful of shots or less; Mi Hyun Kim, Carlota Ciganda, and Shiho Oyama by a lot). Staying alive today were Moira Dunn, Morgan Pressel, and Michelle Wie, among the 12 players who made the cut on the dot at +5; Pat Hurst, Laura Davies, and Brittany Lincicome (+4, T49); and Katherine Hull, Christina Kim, and Amy Yang (+3, T42).

Pettersen has the best explanation of why scores were still so high at Papago today:

Q. The scores still aren't particularly low, even with lower wind. Is the play around the greens, is that's what is causing the difficulty?
SUZANN PETTERSEN: I think the hardness of the greens is what is protecting this golf course. It's very, very hard to play full yardage to the pin. You have pretty much got to allow the ball to, even for like a full seven iron, to release like 15. So you are pretty much looking at front edge on a lot of the greens. And like I say, you have got to make sure you have got good angles and you have got to miss in the right place. These greens, there's hardly any grass on them, and the grass that's on it is quite dead and fairly new, so it's not holding the ball. So that's kind of what probably makes this a bit tough.

Under conditions like these, length can make a big difference among those who are doing everything else comparably well--better to have a more lofted club in your hands than a less-lofted one. But Kim made 2 of her last 3 birdies of the day with fairway woods for approach shots, so it's not like the precision players have no hope heading into the weekend. I'm hoping that Ai Miyazato's best rounds are still to come this weekend. Even though she continues to make lots of birdies, she's still having trouble breaking 70. But if the leaders falter and she simply continues her solid play, she'd be in perfect position for her 1st LPGA win come Sunday.

Once again, I'll leave you with the typically weak Golf Channel wrap-up coverage. I wonder if the Wie interview would have been twice as long as the highlights (half of which were on her, anyway) if she had missed the cut? I would love to see In-Kyung Kim prove Beth Daniel wrong over the weekend! Go, Inky!

[Update 1 (3/28/09, 12:12 am): At least Dan Bickley figured out how to make the obligatory Wie piece somewhat interesting. Being regularly outdriven by Vicky Hurst, who's...shorter than Wie...hmmm. Maybe "marginally more interesting than GC highlights" is the best I can say for this piece.]

[Update 2 (12:15 am): Tim Tyers at least seems to know who is who on tour. Nice job on Stanford's round and Ammaccapane's retirement (Danielle, whose daughter's a movie star!).]

[Update 3 (12:27 am): They're going out in pairs off #1 all day today! Guess who's playing together early on? Yup, Pressel and Wie! (I was kind of hoping for Jeehae Lee and Wie, but Jeehae got Moira instead.) You could have a spelling bee with the Dina Ammaccapane (who hasn't retired) and Stacy Prammanasudh pairing. Han/Ochoa, Pak/Tseng, Yoo/Lang, and Kerr/Choi are all fascinating, and the leading pairings are of course impressive, as well:

Start Time: 12:12 PM
Ji-Yai Shin
Sophie Gustafson

Start Time: 12:20 PM
Eun-Hee Ji
Angela Stanford

Start Time: 12:28 PM
Suzann Pettersen
Song-Hee Kim

Start Time: 12:36 PM
In-Kyung Kim
Karrie Webb

But if I were in Phoenix, I'd follow Angela Park and Ai-chan right before them.]

J Golf Phoenix International Thursday: Papago More Than Holds Its Own

Just a feeling from looking over the leaderboard after the 1st round of the J Golf Phoenix International, but I have to believe many pros are going to miss Superstition Mountain, particularly the ease with which low scores had a tendency to go zinging around it. Not to say that many won't go low the rest of the week, but when the low score is In-Kyung Kim's 68, only 5 other players broke 70, only 20 went under par, and only 67 broke 75, the best thing that can be said about Papago is that it seems to present a major-level test of your game, which makes it a great lead-in to the LPGA's 1st major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, next week. Of course, as LPGA.com points out, afternoon winds in the range of 25-30 mph, with gusts over 40 mph, had a lot to do with the high scoring, which explains why Cristie Kerr needed a couple of eagles just to break 70 and only 4 other players who went out in the afternoon pairings got and stayed under par.

Moreover, given the number of birdies and eagles scored on the 18th hole (which usually plays as the 9th for the general public) and forecasts for less wind, there's great opportunity for better scoring today and high drama down the stretch on Sunday. Plus, who doesn't love to see elevation-, wind-, and dryness-aided driving distances like Michelle Wie's 316.5 yards, Ya Ni Tseng's 309.5, Lorena Ochoa's 308, Vicky Hurst's 307.5, Se Ri Pak's 301.5, Carlota Ciganda's 300, Pat Hurst's 299.5, Shanshan Feng's 299, Brittany Lincicome's 297, and Sun Young Yoo's 294.5? (Never mind that many of them struggled mightily with seemingly every other part of their games yesterday.) Best of all, I love that the leaderboard is nevertheless dominated for the most part by precision players, short game specialists, and great putters. Ji-Yai Shin turned up her game as the wind began to blow harder, finishing birdie-birdie-eagle for her 69. Eun-Hee Ji was -4 and bogey-free through 12, but needed a final-hole birdie for her 69 after making back-to-back bogeys mid-way through the back. Inbee Park birdied 2 of her last 4 holes for her 1st sub-70 competitive round since November and only her 5th since she won the U.S. Women's Open (in final-round wind, you'll recall). In fact, the lone power player under 70, Suzann Pettersen, only hit 10 greens and scrambled her way around the course with only 26 putts. What makes the lst 2 so impressive is that they, like Kerr, did it in the afternoon's high winds.

Because the leaders didn't go low, anyone who kept it respectable yesterday is still very much in the game. Angela Park, Song-Hee Kim, and Karrie Webb are looking very dangerous after their 70s, Ai Miyazato had yet another round where she played better than she scored after making 33 putts on her way to a 71 (those 3 birdies in a row she made as she made the turn are encouraging!), and there's a logjam at 72 that includes Ochoa, Tseng, Pak, Laura Davies, Hee-Won Han, Jee Young Lee, Christina Kim, Amy Yang, Natalie Gulbis, and Candie Kung. Not at all out of it yet are Wie, Yoo, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lang, Stacy Prammanasudh, and Juli Inkster at 73, Na Yeon Choi, Jane Park, Morgan Pressel, Teresa Lu, and Helen Alfredsson at 74, and even Katherine Hull, Hee Young Park, and Sarah Lee at 75. Heck, I'm not putting a win out of reach for the Hurst twins (joke!) at 76, Mi Hyun Kim and Seon Hwa Lee at 78, or even Momoko Ueda and So Yeon Ryu at 79, provided they can bounce back in a big way in better conditions today and make the cut.

I'll leave you with Golf Channel highlights for now.

[Update 1 (2:18 am): OK, can I just say that after a decent preview--why not focus on Ochoa and Wie, after all?--I'm incredibly disappointed that GC never even showed or mentioned anyone else in their highlight reel? I know your new contract doesn't start until next year, guys, but please try just a little bit harder as the week goes on, ok?]

[Update 2 (2:36 am): Oh, and for anyone coming trying to figure out why Paula Creamer didn't start and Grace Park WDed, don't ask me. Bob Baum's AP story has nothing substantive on them, John Davis doesn't even mention them, and the Seoul Sisters.com crew has only found out about Park WDing to protect her back--oh, and the teeny tiny, almost insignificant, FANTASTIC news that Mi Hyun Kim is expecting!! On a related note, here's hoping that Momo-chan shows Annika's caddie what she's made of over the course of her tryout with him.]

[Update 3 (2:54 am): Don't get your hopes up when you see that Ryan Reiterman live-blogged round 1. It's just a list of Wie's hole-by-hole results, with no details of any kind. Have to suspect he wasn't there.]

[Update 4 (2:56 am): The LPGA Insider is pretty flat, as usual, but at least there's a there there.]

[Update 5 (7:33 am): Hound Dog points out that it was Kerr, Park, and Pettersen from the afternoon groups who broke 70. I added a sentence to the end of my 2nd paragraph above giving the latter 2 credit for doing this. Thanks, HD!]

[Update 6 (3/27/09, 11:46 pm): Nice to see the Golf Girl doing some LPGA blogging!]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

J Golf Phoenix LPGA International Preview/Predictions/Pairings

As Hound Dog emphasizes, the J Golf Phoenix LPGA International has a major-quality field, but even though the LPGA has competed in Phoenix since 1980, they've moved to a new course that has just completed renovations (Hound Dog links to a caddie who thinks Papago will play easy; local journalist Bill Huffman thinks it'll play tough). So take Golf Observer's historical stats and Ochoa's domination last year with a big grain of salt if you're playing this week's Pakpicker over at Seoul Sisters.com. Me, I'm basically going with my hot list, with some adjustments based on who I think will adjust best to the new track. Of course, Hound Dog's been kicking my butt all winter in the Pakpicker, so take my predictions with an even bigger grain of salt!

1. Ochoa
2. Stanford
3. Lee Jee Young
4. Tseng
5. Choi Na Yeon
6. Kerr
7. Lang
8. Ji
9. Shin
10. Wie
11. Pettersen
12. Creamer

Alts: Hull, Kim Song-Hee, Yoo

It would be nice to know who have been the best ballstrikers on tour this season, but the LPGA's key performance stats were not kept in Mexico, just as they weren't in Asia. So this is a bit more guesswork than I usually like to be making. Still, the LPGA is back in the States and winter is over, so I'm hoping my luck will turn over a new leaf. (At the same time, I'd love to see Moira Dunn, Ai Miyazato, Seon Hwa Lee, and In-Kyung Kim make me pay for leaving them off my list!)

In any case, the pairings for the first 2 rounds are up, and once again, they are a treat. I'm not even going to try to rank the prime-time quadrants. Just check out the front-side morning groups for Thursday's round:

Start Time: 8:07 AM
Ji-Yai Shin
Eun-Hee Ji
Angela Park

Start Time: 8:18 AM
Laura Davies
Hee-Won Han
Na Yeon Choi

Start Time: 8:29 AM
Sophie Gustafson
Brandie Burton
Laura Diaz

Start Time: 8:40 AM
Wendy Ward
Teresa Lu
Meaghan Francella

Start Time: 8:51 AM
Ji Young Oh
Silvia Cavalleri
Helen Alfredsson

Yeah, it's a little vet-heavy at the bottom for my taste, but these vets got game. Compare their counterparts in the back-side morning pairings and you'll see what I mean about how hard it is to say one set is better than another:

Start Time: 8:07 AM
Young Kim
In-Kyung Kim
Song-Hee Kim

Start Time: 8:18 AM
Stacy Prammanasudh
Candie Kung
Louise Friberg

Start Time: 8:29 AM
Karrie Webb
Carin Koch
Angela Stanford

Start Time: 8:40 AM
Paula Creamer
Juli Inkster
Natalie Gulbis

Start Time: 8:51 AM
Christina Kim
Grace Park
Morgan Pressel

OK, maybe you could make a case that there are more players among those going off the back with a legitimate shot at winning the tournament and fewer in danger of missing the cut, but you'd have to work really hard to convince me.

Now check out the front-side afternoon pairings:

Start Time: 11:45 AM
Jane Park
Brittany Lang
Liselotte Neumann

Start Time: 11:56 AM
Leta Lindley
Katherine Hull
Cristie Kerr

Start Time: 12:07 PM
Se Ri Pak
Hee Young Park
Seon Hwa Lee

Start Time: 12:18 PM
Sun Young Yoo
Meena Lee
Momoko Ueda

Start Time: 12:29 PM
Lorena Ochoa
Suzann Pettersen
Pat Hurst

Wow! But check out their counterparts going off the back:

Start Time: 11:45 AM
Lindsey Wright
Ya Ni Tseng
Karen Stupples

Start Time: 11:56 AM
Lorie Kane
Brittany Lincicome
Jee Young Lee

Start Time: 12:07 PM
Rachel Hetherington
Michelle Ellis
Inbee Park

Start Time: 12:18 PM
Nicole Castrale
Minea Blomqvist
Giulia Sergas

Start Time: 12:29 PM
Michele Redman
Shanshan Feng
Mi Hyun Kim

Even with vets struggling to find their top games, 2 legitimately slumping younger players, and others who haven't been playing quite up to their potential lately, any quadrant with Ya Ni Tseng and Jee Young Lee in it has a lot going for it.

But to get a true sense of the strength of the field, consider who'll need to earn their way into the prime-time weekend pairings. Off the 1st tee, we have Futures Tour playoff-loser Song Yi Choi (7:01 am), Europe's hottest golfer Anja Monke (7:12 am), American rookies Michelle Wie (who's featured in the 1st pre-tournament interview) and Vicky Hurst, playing with NCAA superstar Carlota Ciganda (12:40 pm), sponsor exemption and KLPGA Super Soph So Yeon Ryu (1:02 pm), American rookie Stacy Lewis (1:24 pm), Australian media magnet Anna Rawson (1:35 pm), and 11-time JLPGA winner Shiho Oyama (1:46 pm). Off the 10th tee, we have Japanese rookie Mika Miyazato (7:12 am), LPGA Super Soph Amy Yang (7:23 am), LPGA Senior Standout Ai Miyazato (7:45 am), and Euro-star Johanna Mundy (1:46 pm).

This should be an exciting week! If Pat Hurst can come out of nowhere and beat a relatively strong field in Mexico, who says someone else can't do the same to a much stronger field in Phoenix?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Atsui, Samui, Daijo Bu: Spring Break Edition

Ignoring all State Department warnings, the LPGA went to Mexico for spring break. Fortunately, the only carnage was caused by Bosque Real's hilly layout. So who's returning to the States with a great tan (atsui), a bad hangover (samui), and some nice souvenirs (daijo bu)?


1. Angela Stanford: Tops on the hot list is someone who decided to stay home and study rather than going out and partying. Stanford's 3 wins highlighting her 9-event top 10 streak still make her the hottest player in the world of women's golf in my book. She's gotta keep it going in Phoenix if she wants to stay #1, though.

2. Lorena Ochoa: Despite her win in Thailand, she's going to need to find another gear if she wants to outdo her start to the 2008 season, when she won 6 of her 1st 9 events. By normal standards, she's plenty hot lately, with 2 wins, 7 top 5s, and 9 top 10s in her last 13 starts, but that's only ho-hum for Super Ochoa. A great 1st round and final 7 holes (in which she made 4 birdies) were not enough to offset a bad stretch in the middle of the MasterCard Classic or chase down Pat Hurst.

3. Cristie Kerr: Her hot streak dates back to last May, for in her last 21 tournaments, she's only finished outside the top 20 twice (her worst being a T34 in China), while garnering 11 top 10s, including a win, a runner-up, and yesterday's 5th-place finish.

4. Ji-Yai Shin: Lackluster performance in Mexico was a disappointing follow-up to Thailand, where she came from behind for her 4th win in her 8 previous LPGA starts. Hopefully just a blip.

5. Paula Creamer: Once again, Mexico was cruel to her. But she would have been in contention for yet another top 20 if she hadn't suffered a walk-off snowman on Saturday.

Honorable Mention:

Katherine Hull: A missed cut at Bosque Real?! What's up with that?

Ya Ni Tseng: Yup, I invoked the Mostly Harmless jinx just by drafting the following before the MasterCard Classic was finished: "Yup, we have a new #3! That 2nd career win was a long time coming for Tseng, but no doubt it was well worth the wait--and sweet vindication for a Super Soph who let her 1st career win slip through her fingers in her final round at Bosque Real last season. It gives her her 2nd top 5 and 3rd top 10 of 2009, not to mention her 6th-straight top 20." Still, yet another runner-up for Tseng is nothing to sneeze at. Oh, and by the way, for what it's worth, Jason Sobel may have jinxed Tseng, too.

Angela Park: With 2 top 3s in her 1st 3 official starts on the LPGA in '09 and 3 top 10s in her last 4, taking the week off didn't hurt her standing on the hot list all that much.

Jee Young Lee: Started a new top 10 streak in Mexico (after having a 6-event streak broken in Thailand) and brought her top 20 streak to 9 events (following up on an earlier streak where she had 8 top 20s in 12 starts). Watch out for her in Phoenix! I know, different course this time around, but still....

Eun-Hee Ji: Her T9 gives her 2 top 10s in 4 events this season and top 20s in her last 6 starts.

Na Yeon Choi: Struggled mightily Sunday with the co-leader target on her back, but still managed to hang on for her 2nd top 10 of '09.

Brittany Lang: Started a new top-20 streak in Mexico.

Sun Young Yoo. Struggled on Sunday and fumbled a chance for her 5th top 10 in her last 9 starts.

Jane Park: Even with a disappointing Sunday in Mexico, she still has 2 top 10s and hasn't finished outside the top 30 in '09.


1. Julieta Granada: Another badly missed cut for her, this time in Mexico.

2. Inbee Park: Ditto.

3. Brittany Lincicome: 81-68-76 in Mexico. At least she made the cut.

4. Shiho Oyama: Made the cut in Mexico, but couldn't follow up on a great 1st round.

5. Ashleigh Simon: Skipped Mexico and is not listed in the Phoenix field--must be resting that back injury.

Dishonorable Mention: Na On Min's disappointing tenure as a full-time member of the LPGA continued this week. At least she made the cut. But after 2 top 5s in her 1st 6 LPGA events (back in '07), she hadn't had a top 10 since. Minea Blomqvist is also off to an underwhelming start to the season. With her T50 in Mexico, she's now had 3 finishes outside the top 40 in her 1st 4 events of '09. She hasn't had an LPGA top 20 since the Women's British Open or a top 10 since the Ginn Open.

Daijo Bu

1. Song-Hee Kim: Birdies on 4 of her last 7 holes at Bosque Real boosted her to her 1st top 4 since the Samsung World Championship.

2. Suzann Pettersen: After a couple of un-Pettersen-like starts to the season, she's gotten a pair of top 20s in her last 2 starts, including a T6 in Mexico. And she still isn't playing all that well by her standards.

3. Seon Hwa Lee: Still playing inconsistently by her standards, but got her 2nd straight top 20 this past weekend in Mexico.

4. Se Ri Pak: Is Pak back? Despite a disappointing final 10 holes at Bosque Real, all signs point to "yes"!

T5. Meena Lee and Teresa Lu: Their solid play in '09 continued in Mexico, as each earned their 2nd top 20 of 2009.

Honorable Mention: Among the recovering Korean stars, Grace Park gave her fans some hope that she's back from her recurring back problems (despite that trio of doubles as she made the turn on Sunday), Mi Hyun Kim rested her knee, and Jeong Jang recently had wrist surgery. I'm sure Park and Kim would tell her not to rush her comeback!

[Update 1 (5:21 am): Bill Nichols has a Texas-sized profile of Stanford.]

[Update 2 (3/25/09, 11:20 am): Here's Hound Dog's latest LPGA hot list, a top 20 that's much better thought-out than mine.]

[Update 3 (11:35 am): Nice of Alan Shipnuck to mention both Hurst and Papago on his hot list.]

Monday, March 23, 2009

MasterCard Classic Sunday: Pat Hurst Beats Tseng and Ochoa with Walkoff Birdie

Once again, holding onto the lead proved impossible on the LPGA but not so much on the JLPGA. This time, it was Ya Ni Tseng who was the victim at the MasterCard Classic and Ayako Uehara the victor at the Yokohama PRGR Ladies Cup. True, Uehara never had to defend her 5-shot lead on Sunday--the final round was called off due to inclement weather--and Tseng had to try to hold off charges by Song-Hee Kim (4 birdies in her final 7 holes to get to -8), Lorena Ochoa (ditto to get to -9), and Pat Hurst (who twice bounced back from 2-shot deficits on the back 9 with 4 birdies in her last 8 holes). But Tseng definitely had her fate in her hands, with a 1-shot lead on Hurst and Ochoa heading into the final hole, a par 5 she had birdied on Friday and parred on Saturday. As LPGA.com and Hound Dog describe, however, Tseng was due for disappointment on her 2nd Sunday in a row at Bosque Real. A final-hole 3-putt from 30 feet opened the door for Hurst to avoid a playoff with Tseng and Ochoa (who had missed an eagle chance from roughly the same distance as Tseng's par-saver just minutes earlier), and she canned the 10-footer to get to -10 for the 1st time since she finished double bogey-bogey-bogey the day before. Whereas Tseng couldn't hang onto that elusive 2nd career win--yesterday was her 5th career 2nd-place finish and 3rd since winning the LPGA Championship--Hurst's pressure putt earned her the 6th win of her storied career and 1st since 2006.

As I predicted, there were lots of ups and downs all week at Bosque Real, and Sunday was no exception. Cristie Kerr, who fired the best round of the day yesterday, a 67, had to bounce back from a bogey late on each side. Eun-Hee Ji needed birdies on the last 2 holes (like Hurst and Ochoa) to fight back into the top 10. 2nd-round co-leader Na Yeon Choi, meanwhile, bogeyed more holes on Sunday than she had the previous 2 days combined, but was still able to hang on for a T6 finish. That's because many others plummeted out of contention. Suzann Pettersen was +2 over her final 5 holes, but at least she stayed in the top 10. Grace Park sandwiched a trio of double bogeys between pairs of birdies in the middle of her round to fall from -5 to +1 and bounce back to -1, T12 with Sun Young Yoo, whose Sunday struggles continued with a 75 yesterday. Se Ri Pak was +5 ver her final 10 holes to fall back to E and T16, while Jane Park and Brittany Lang made big numbers and multiple bogeys on their ways to 75s that dropped them all the way to +1 and T22.

So Tseng shouldn't feel too bad about her 70 yesterday. Expect her to bounce back fast next week. But Hurst's closing 68 is even more impressive in this context. Congrats to her, to Vicky Hurst (low rookie), and to Katie Futcher (whose 68 vaulted her into the top 10 for the 1st time since the State Farm Classic last July).

[Update 1 (12:45 pm): Here's Hound Dog's epilogue.]

[Update 2 (3/25/09, 12:49 am): Wouldn't it be cool if Hurst makes my pre-season comment look very good?]

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Yokohama PRGR Ladies Cup Sunday: Uehara Wins 36-Hole Event

Bad weather forced tournament organizers to cancel the final round of the Yokohama PRGR Ladies Cup today, so Ayako Uehara is your 36-hole winner. She jumps to the head of the JLPGA money list:

1. Ayako Uehara ¥17.12M
2. Yuko Mitsuka ¥14.92M
3. Erina Hara ¥6.32M
4. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥5.71M
5. Midori Yoneyama ¥5.44M
6. Sakura Yokomine ¥5.24M
7. Miho Koga ¥4.63M
8. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥4.11M
9. Bo-Bae Song, Hiromi Mogi, Tamie Durdin ¥3.44M

Futures Tour Link-o-Rama

Some great stories coming out of the 1st week of the Futures Tour's 2009 season. Kevin Minnick reported that Angela Oh was unable to afford the attempt to Monday-qualify in Mexico. Lisa Mickey profiled 1st-round leader Song-Yi Choi, who shot a 64 Thursday despite flying in late from a failed Monday-qualifier attempt (by 2 shots) in Mexico this week. Mickey struck again in her 2nd-round recap, giving as much attention to Nicole Hage and Alison Walshe as to Choi's struggles in the wind. The final-round pairings are very interesting, as well. There are only 2 threesomes within 5 shots of the lead, but another 13 within 10. And at this level, all kinds of Sunday numbers are not only possible, but plausible. If the Florida winds stay up, Winter Haven will be anything but for most of the field on the 3rd day of spring. Every day is a final exam on the FT, but this one should prove tougher than most.

[Update 1 (3/25/09, 12:31 am): Forgot to link the to final results. Heartbreaking playoff loss for Song Yi Choi, but great come-from-behind win for Jean Reynolds. Florida winds did end up playing havoc with scoring for most in the field, which makes the 69s by Ashley Prange and Dewi Claire Schreefel all the more impressive. Next up in early April is the iMPACT Invitational. Be there or I'll write a post in all caps except for 1st letters of each word!]

[Update 2 (3/27/09, 3:05 am): Beth Ann Baldry does a nice job with her FT coverage!]

Saturday, March 21, 2009

MasterCard Classic Saturday: Rookie of the Year Race Reprise?

With Ya Ni Tseng and Na Yeon Choi tied for the lead at -7 after the 2nd round of the MasterCard Classic, 1st-round leader Lorena Ochoa wasn't talking so tough in her post-round interview this time around, as her 2-shot lead on Choi turned into a 1-shot deficit heading into the final round tomorrow. With the likes of Pat Hurst (1 down despite a double bogey-bogey-bogey finish), Se Ri Pak (2 down after a 31 on the back), and Grace Park (3 back despite making 2 bogeys on the back) very much in the hunt--not to mention Song-Hee Kim, Sun Young Yoo, and Suzann Pettersen--anything can happen tomorrow.

And that includes huge numbers from the lead pack and a huge charge from behind like we saw last year. So don't count out Jane Park (who made 3 birdies in her last 7 holes to pull within 5 of the lead), Eun-Hee Ji (who shot a bogey-free 68 to pull within 5 of the lead), Brittany Lang (who bogeyed 3 of her final 5 holes to fall 5 back), Jee Young Lee (wh shot a 33 on the back to draw within 6 of the lead), and Seon Hwa Lee (who settled for 12 straight pars after a double bogey on the par-5 6th dropped her to -1). All of these players have gone low on Sundays past.

In fact, even Cristie Kerr (72, E, T19), Vicky Hurst (73, +1, T25), and Johanna Mundy (76, +2, T30) could pull a Louise Friberg tomorrow and find herself in the winner's circle. The same can't be said for Friberg herself, who missed the cut badly, but at least she was in good company. Katherine Hull, Karen Stupples, Helen Alfredsson, Stacy Lewis, Christina Kim, Inbee Park, Julieta Granada, and Sarah Lee couldn't make it to +6. Neither could Hee Young Park, who followed up her 1st-round 69 with an 87 today. Or Liselotte Neumann, who went 70-81. So when you take into account that Shiho Oyama (69-78), Natalie Gulbis (70-78), and Mika Miyazato (70-78), barely held on to make the cut--and that Brittany Lincicome went 81-68--it looks like Sunday's round should showcase some of the severest ups and downs on tour all season.

[Update 1 (11:24 pm): Here's Hound Dog's 2nd-round recap.]

[Update 2 (3/22/09, 12:33 am): Get a load of the final-round pairings!

Start Time: 10:45 AM
Eun-Hee Ji
Jane Park
Brittany Lang

Start Time: 10:55 AM
Sun Young Yoo
Suzann Pettersen
Grace Park

Start Time: 11:05 AM
Lorena Ochoa
Song-Hee Kim
Se Ri Pak

Start Time: 11:15 AM
Ya Ni Tseng
Na Yeon Choi
Pat Hurst

And that's just the last 4 groups! Earlier, Oyama is paired with Creamer, Miyazato with Gulbis, and Uribe with Vicky Hurst. And check out the "avoid-last-place" trio of Han, Bae, and Blomqvist. Wow!]

Yokohama PRGR Ladies Cup Saturday: Uehara Maintains 5-Shot Lead

It wasn't pretty, but a walk-off birdie preserved Ayako Uehara's 5-shot lead from the 1st round of the Yokohama PRGR Ladies Cup. Actually, the main reasons her 71 didn't hurt her were Yayoi Arasaki's bogey-bogey finish and Midori Yoneyama's inability to follow through on her front-side 32. Still, with the likes of Miho Koga, Sakura Yokomine, and Ji-Hee Lee within striking distance and high scores aplenty over the 1st 36 holes from most of the field, Uehara can't rest easy heading into Sunday's final round.

1st/-9 Ayako Uehara (64-71)
T2/-4 Midori Yoneyama (72-68), Ah-Reum Hwang (70-70)
T4/-3 Miho Koga (73-68), Yayoi Arasaki (69-72)
T6/-2 Sakura Yokomine (74-68), Mika Takushima (74-68), Ji-Hee Lee (71-71), Shinobu Moromizato (71-71), Kaori Aoyama (71-71)

Eun-A Lim and Akiko Fukushima made great comebacks today, but will still need to play well tomorrow to end the tournament under par.

T11/-1 Yuko Saitoh (73-70)
T13/E Mayu Hattori (74-70), Namika Omata (72-72), Mayumi Nakajima (72-72)
T16/+1 Eun-A Lim (76-69), Michiko Hattori (74-71), Rui Yokomine (74-71), Mi-Jeong Jeon (73-72), So-Hee Kim (73-72), Hyun-Ju Shin (72-73)
T22/+2 Yukari Baba (76-70), Yuko Mitsuka (74-72), Miki Saiki (74-72), Rui Kitada (74-72)
T28/+3 Mie Nakata (76-71), Nikki Campbell (76-71), Woo-Soon Ko (75-72), Saiki Fujita (74-73)
T38/+4 Akiko Fukushima (80-68), Hiroko Yamaguchi (78-70)
T45/+5 Ji-Woo Lee (77-72), Yuki Ichinose (75-74), Ritsuko Ryu (72-77)

Missing the cut were a host of established stars and young guns:

T55/+6 Akane Iijima (78-72), Erina Hara (77-73), Maiko Wakabayashi (77-73)
T62/+7 Chie Arimura (78-73), Hiromi Mogi (76-75), Esther Lee (75-76)
T70/+8 Yuri Fudoh (79-73), Rikako Morita (75-77)
T79/+9 Tamie Durdin (77-76), Yuki Sakurai (76-77)
T97/+12 Kumiko Kaneda (83-73), Sakurako Mori (79-77)
105th/+15 Kaori Higo (80-79)

Looks like Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda made the right call to rest before playing in Phoenix on the LPGA next week, rather than go through the pressure cookers of Shikoku and Mexico!

MasterCard Classic Friday: Ochoa's Tournament-Record-Tying 65 Gives Her 2-Shot Lead

If I were Lorena Ochoa, I'd be saying exactly what she said in the 1st-round interview for the MasterCard Classic. Sure, she got the bad-1st-round monkey at Bosque Real off her back in a big way--not only had she never broken 70 to start this event, her best round in it before her scintillating 65 today had been 68, too--but she's only 2-up on Na Yeon Choi and 3-up on Ya Ni Tseng and Brittany Lang (and Pat Hurst). This trio ranks among the hottest players on the planet right now and it's been very difficult to hold a lead on the LPGA. So what is the world #1 to do?

There are two more days to play. Anything can happen. I will play tomorrow as if I were three strokes behind, looking for the first place. I’ll go out 100 percent concentrated and calm. I am convinced that being conservative can be a huge mistake.

Yup, she's upping the ante, reminding everyone on tour that her mindset is to go low every round. Can the Young Guns in the lead chase pack keep up? What about rookies Shiho Oyama (69, T6) and Mika Miyazato (70, T12), who had to be feeling pretty good about their 1st career rounds at Bosque Real? How about Suzann Pettersen, Seon Hwa Lee, Hee Young Park, Ji Young Oh, and Grace Park, who joined Oyama at -3? And even more to the point, can other hot golfers like Ji-Yai Shin (74, T50), Katherine Hull (77, T96), Paula Creamer (73, T37), Cristie Kerr (72, T26), Jee Young Lee (73, T37), Jane Park (71, T23), Sun Young Yoo (70, T12), and Eun-Hee Ji (74, T50) shake off the doldrums, put the pedal to the metal, and get themselves back into contention with a mid-60s round or 2 of their own this weekend? Knowing Ochoa is looking to get double digits under par after 2 rounds makes it all the more difficult to do that.

Still, as Hound Dog points out, there are many big numbers out there at Bosque Real, along with the birdies and eagles. More on this theme soon.

[Update 1 (3/21/09, 11:20 pm): Never got a chance to update this post like I planned, and ESPN Deportes is being stingy with the 1st-round highlights this year. Instead of showing huge chunks of their coverage online, this time around they're only showing Ocha highlights so far.]

Friday, March 20, 2009

Yokohama PRGR Ladies Cup Friday: Uehara Opens Up a 5-Shot Lead after Opening with a 64

Ayako Uehara passed up a good chance to steal a victory away from Yuko Mitsuka in the JLPGA's opening event a couple of weeks ago in Okinawa, but she's put herself in the driver's seat this week in Shikoku at the Yokohama PRGR Ladies, thanks to a stretch where she made 8 birdies in 11 holes on her way to a bogey-free 64 and a 5-shot lead on Yayoi Arasaki. She won't have to worry about defending champion Ji-Yai Shin, who beat Sakura Yokomine in a playoff, thanks mostly to Yokomine's yips down the stretch--Shin's playing in the LPGA's MasterCard Classic this week. And it appears Uehara won't have to worry much about Yokomine, either, as she's opened up a 10-shot lead on her as they head into the weekend. More of a threat is the JLPGA's top golfer of 2008, Ji-Hee Lee, who was in contention here last year until a final-round 77 knocked her back into a tie for 4th with Miho Koga. But a 7-shot deficit is a lot to make up in 36 holes.

Still, given how high the scoring was today and has been in the recent past (only 3 players ended last year's tournament under par), anything can happen this weekend. Take a look at the top 10 and notables:

1st/-8 Ayako Uehara (64)
2nd/-3 Yayoi Arasaki (69)
3rd/-2 Ah-Reum Hwang (70)
T4/-1 Ji-Hee Lee, Shinobu Moromizato, Kaori Aoyama (71)
T7/E Hyun-Ju Shin, Midori Yoneyama, Ritsuko Ryu, Namika Omata, Mayumi Nakajima, Toshimi Kimura (72)

T13/+1 Miho Koga, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Yuko Saitoh, So-Hee Kim (73)
T19/+2 Sakura Yokomine, Yuko Mitsuka, Mayu Hattori, Miki Saiki, Saiki Fujita, Rui Kitada, Michiko Hattori, Rui Yokomine (74)
T35/+3 Woo-Soon Ko, Esther Lee, Yuki Ichinose, Rikako Morita (75)
T48/+4 Eun-A Lim, Hiromi Mogi, Mie Nakata, Yukari Baba, Nikki Campbell, Yuki Sakurai (76)
T64/+5 Erina Hara, Ji-Woo Lee, Maiko Wakabayashi, Tamie Durdin (77)
T72/+6 Hiroko Yamaguchi, Chie Arimura, Akane Iijima (78)
T84/+7 Yuri Fudoh, Sakurako Mori (79)
T94/+8 Akiko Fukushima, Kaori Higo (80)
106th/+11 Kumiko Kaneda (83)

It looks to me like there were at least as many double bogeys made today as birdies. I have to assume the weather was bad, but all I can tell from the Weather Channel is that some very high-top clouds blew quickly over Shikoku during the day, so let's say it was windy and rainy. Hopefully conditions will be nicer over the weekend!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

State Farm on NBC, CWO on CBC: LPGA Network TV Deal Prospects?

Dave Kane reports that NBC will be covering the weekend play at the LPGA's State Farm Classic in early June--a nice follow-up to CBC's announcement that they'll be airing the Canadian Women's Open for the next 3 years, starting this September. Can a network TV deal for the LPGA for 2010-2015 be too far away?

MasterCard Classic Pairings

Picking up where I left off yesterday in my MasterCard Classic preview, I'll be focusing on the pairings today. But first a note on the pre-tournament interview with Ji-Yai Shin. Here's the money quote for me (even more important than the news that the 2nd-hottest golfer on the planet and hottest player in the field is still homeless and that she still considers $6000 a lot of money):

Q. Did you change anything with your game during the off-season?
JI-YAI SHIN: I tried getting more distance with my driver, so I tried more training. But my friends say don’t do that because many players try to get more distance, but make more mistakes. So, I tried not to change. I tried more of the same, like last year. Last year, I was very successful--I had three victories--so I tried to stay the same.

I wish more players (not just Morgan Pressel) would take Shin's decision to heart. Improved fitness and increased strength is great for everyone--and of course your swing changes as your body changes--but unless your name is Tiger Woods, reengineering the swing that got you to the top tour in the world is a very risky proposition. And Tiger wasn't even trying to find more distance the times he did it. Remember, Annika Sorenstam went from being an average to a long hitter over the course of several seasons, but never at a cost to her accuracy. If you're a precision player, accept it. The LPGA is a long way away from trying to "Wie-proof" course set-ups. Getting better at the 100 yards and in game is always a good investment and most often a better one than trying to gain a few more yards with each club. Just ask Lorena Ochoa.

OK, back to the pairings. The tournament organizers certainly have a sense of drama, pairing Futures Tour rivals Vicky Hurst and M.J. Hur off the 1st tee at 7:50 am (not to mention Marisa Baena and Maria Jose Uribe off the 10th at the same time). It carries over to their prime-time pairings, such as the back-side early morning quadrant that may well be the strongest of them all:

Start Time: 8:00 AM
Inbee Park
Cristie Kerr
Jane Park

Start Time: 8:10 AM
Katie Futcher
Ji-Yai Shin
Il Mi Chung

Start Time: 8:20 AM
Song-Hee Kim
Heather Young
Karine Icher

Start Time: 8:30 AM
Natalie Gulbis
Brittany Lincicome
Christina Kim

Start Time: 8:40 AM
Suzann Pettersen
Kim Hall
Lindsey Wright

Those going off the front in the same time span can be counted on to disagree with my assessment, though:

Start Time: 8:00 AM
Stacy Prammanasudh
Lorie Kane
Janice Moodie

Start Time: 8:10 AM
Alena Sharp
Brittany Lang
Kristy McPherson

Start Time: 8:20 AM
Brandie Burton
Liselotte Neumann
Irene Cho

Start Time: 8:30 AM
Karen Stupples
Katherine Hull
Teresa Lu

Start Time: 8:40 AM
Louise Friberg
Lorena Ochoa
Hee-Won Han

Similarly, I have to rank the back-side mid-day quadrant ahead of their front-side counterparts:

Start Time: 11:30 AM
Young Kim
Meaghan Francella
H.J. Choi

Start Time: 11:40 AM
Laura Davies
Hee Young Park
Paula Creamer

Start Time: 11:50 AM
Na Yeon Choi
Sun Young Yoo
Helen Alfredsson

Start Time: 12:00 PM
Minea Blomqvist
Jee Young Lee
Diana D'Alessio

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Seon Hwa Lee
Candie Kung
Se Ri Pak

It's pretty close, though:

Start Time: 11:30 AM
Allison Fouch
Ya Ni Tseng
Jill McGill

Start Time: 11:40 AM
Giulia Sergas
Meena Lee
Michelle Ellis

Start Time: 11:50 AM
Grace Park
Shi Hyun Ahn
Eun-Hee Ji

Start Time: 12:00 PM
Sandra Gal
Becky Morgan
Silvia Cavalleri

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Michele Redman
Ji Young Oh
Pat Hurst

Looking beyond those whom the tournament organizers expect to see at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday, it'll be interesting to see how the SunCoast Series gang--Johanna Mundy, Kris Tamulis, M.J. Hur, Meredith Duncan, Moira Dunn, Jin Young Pak, Jeehae Lee, Taylor Leon, Lisa Strom, and Brittany Lincicome, who have been hanging out with many of their Futures Tour peers for much of the winter--will handle the tougher competition on the LPGA (recent winners Tamulis and Duncan will get to feed off each other's play Thursday; they start on the back at 12:30 pm). Same goes for the ALPG gang, although with the likes of Ji-Yai Shin, Katherine Hull, Ya Ni Tseng, and Laura Davies in their ranks (not to mention Karrie Webb, Rachel Hetherington, and Ai Miyazato, who are not playing this week), it's easy for Mollie Fankhauser, Sarah Jane Smith, Diana D'Alessio, Anna Rawson, Wendy Doolan, Michelle Ellis, Lorie Kane, Sarah Kemp, and Haeji Kang (the last 2 of whom Monday-qualified) to be overshadowed. Hey, taking the best 8 scores each day from each "team" (barring those in my projected top 12) would make a nice little match, especially if Kemp makes the field. Come to think of it, since Shi Hyun Ahn, Marisa Baena, Brandie Burton, Sophie Giquel, and Kris Tschetter are kicking off their 2009 seasons this week, the newbies can join in the fun, too, with their top 4 scores of the day. It'll be a great opportunity to see what kind of preparation for the LPGA works best for which players.

I'm hoping that Shiho Oyama benefits from the early starting time (7:00 am off #10 with Mika Miyazato and Jamie Hullett). She's been one of the fastest players on the JLPGA, so I'm curious to see how quickly that pairing moves with no one in front of them. I'm also curious to see how Sarah Lee (7:20 am off #10) does in her 2nd event of what will hopefully be her comeback season. And I'm also hoping fellow early bird Amy Yang (7:00 am off #1) plays fast and plays well. But most of all, I'm hoping that Moira Dunn plays great from the moment she leaves the 1st tee (with Anna Rawson and Becky Lucidi) at 12:30 pm to the time she steps off the 18th green. Go, Moira!

[Update 1 (3/20/09, 3:42 am): Here's some pre-tournament interviews from ESPN Deportes with Natalie Gulbis and Lorena Ochoa. Guess which one is in Spanish?]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MasterCard Classic Preview/Predictions

It seems like forever, but the LPGA will finally be in action again this week at the MasterCard Classic. As I've already explained why this year's event is likely to be so interesting, I'll simply provide the links to Hound Dog's preview, the field (which is stronger than the SBS Open's, according to Hound Dog), tournament history, site, Charlotte Mayorkas's 2007 blog, Louise Friberg's current blog, and the Seoul Sisters.com discussion forum...and move on to my predictions in this week's Pakpicker.

1. Shin
2. Jane Park
3. Ochoa
4. Hull
5. Tseng
6. Choi Na Yeon
7. Kerr
8. Creamer
9. Yang
10. Lee Seon Hwa
11. Lewis
12. Ji

Alts: Monke, Pettersen, Mundy

With a Friday start, the tournament organizers still haven't announced the pairings. More on them soon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

2009 Futures Tour Preview: Mostly Harmless Preseason Top 50

Following up on a great preview by Lisa Mickey, I offer another Mostly Harmless preview of the 2009 Futures Tour season, which kicks off this week in Florida. This time I'm going out on a limb and trying to predict what the top 50 on their money list will look like at the end of the season.

1. Onnarin Sattayabanphot: This member of the LPGA's Class of 2008 will be playing full-time on the FT in 2009. I don't know why I'm so high on her for her to add to her 2007 FT win this season, but I am.
2. Mina Harigae: Having entered this week's event, she probably will be a fixture on the FT this season. Look for her to bounce back from a disappointing college career, but it may take her some time to adjust to professional life.
3. Alison Walshe: Tuned up on the ALPG this winter and had some very good rounds, but could only manage to place 49th on their money list due to playing in only 2 events. Going by her professional record to date, Walshe may find herself struggling to close the deal down the stretch this season like M.J. Hur did last one on the FT, but I'd be shocked if she didn't follow in Hur's footsteps and win high-priority status on the LPGA in '10.
4. Haeji Kang: #230 on the LPGA's priority status list, low among the Category 16 players who just missed the top 20 on the LPGA's Q-School last season, so look for her to rock the FT when she plays, which should be fairly often.
5. Pornanong Phatlum: This 4-time winner on the LAGT has been playing well this winter and practicing hard, so when she doesn't get into LPGA events, expect to see her winning on the FT in '09. Strangely enough, she shows up in neither the alternates list for Mexico nor the field for Florida. I guess that's what happens when you're #319 on the LPGA's priority status list....
6. Song Yi Choi: At the top of the LPGA's Category 17, she's #232 on the priority status list, thanks to her near-miss at a top 5 on the FT last season. I think it's going to be tough for her to avoid the same fate this season, particularly as she's focused on the LPGA so much. (Contrary to her rookie blog, however, she is playing in Florida, not Mexico, this week.)
7. Hannah Jun: The medalist from FT Q-School last season will be playing full-time here this season, so she has a great chance for a top 10.
8. Eunjung Yi: She's the highest-ranked member of the LPGA's Super Sophs on the FT this season, but with Category 15 status on the LPGA and at #152 on the priority status list, she should get into a decent number of events there. Case in point: she's playing in Mexico this week. If she plays as well on the LPGA as I expect her to, she may end up much lower on the FT list than this.
9. Emily Bastel: She's dominated the Futures Tour before, but will find it harder to do it this time around.
10. Sarah Kemp: Like Yi, she has Category 15 status on the LPGA, but will get into fewer events than her due to her #162 placement on the priority status list. Still, as I expect her to do well in those events, she, too, could end up much lower down the FT money list than this.
11. Hannah Yun: I don't think she's as ready for prime time as Harigae, but she's getting closer.
12. Liz Janangelo: She'll be playing full-time on the FT this season, but I just don't see it helping out this 2-time winner on tour all that much in her quest to return to the LPGA.
13. Kristie Smith: That 62 on the ALPG this winter shows what kind of talent she has. A 14th-place finish on their Order of Merit in only 4 events isn't too shabby, either, nor is her 29th-place finish on their overall money list.
14. Sophia Sheridan: At #234 on the LPGA's priority status list, she'll be playing quite often on the Futures Tour.
15. Jessica Shepley: At #233 on the LPGA's priority status list, she, too, will be playing quite often on the Futures Tour.
16. Pernilla Lindberg: After graduating from Oklahoma State, she should do very well on the FT, but will find it hard to make up for her limited schedule.
17. Taylor Leon: Got into the Mexico field this week on the LPGA, thanks to her Category 15 status and #156 placement on the priority status list, which helps explain why I'm not ranking her higher on this list.
18. Gerina Mendoza: Lisa Mickey is higher on her than I am.
19. Briana Vega: Dave Andrews is higher on her than I am.
20. Sara Brown: Golfgal is higher on her than I am.
21. Kate Golden: It'll be interesting to see how this LPGA vet in Category 15 stacks up against the up-and-coming players on the FT in '09.
22. Nontaya Srisawang: At #228 on the LPGA's priority status list in the middle of the Category 16 pack, she'll be spending plenty of time on the FT this season. But she's not starting the season this week in Florida.
23. Angela Oh: Mired in Category 20 on the LPGA at #323 on the priority status list, she, too, will be spending plenty of time on the FT this season.
24. Garrett Phillips: Just missing Category 20 status on the LPGA for '09 will turn out to be a blessing in disguise for this recent Georgia graduate, as it will allow her to focus completely on the FT this season.
25. Chris Brady: Made the cut in half her starts on her rookie season on the LPGA in '08, not that she had so many of them. I look for her to do much better on the FT this season than last.
26. Jane Chin: Look for her to do well on the FT after she graduates from UC Irvine, but probably won't be able to catch the top players on tour in her limited schedule.
27. Jennie Lee: Look for this former Curtis Cupper to play solidly on the FT after she graduates from Duke this spring, but like Lindberg and Chin, she'll have too much ground to make up to do more than gain some insurance in case LPGA Q-School doesn't go as planned.
28. Samantha Richdale: At #227 on the LPGA's priority status list, she'll be spending plenty of time on the FT this season.
29. Jessica Yadloczky: This Florida sophomore will continue to gain FT experience after the end of the spring NCAA schedule, but will find it hard to move up the "money list" (obviously, as an amateur, her winnings will be purely virtual, but my point is that those ahead of her are very good).
30. Virada Nirapathpongporn: I'm hoping this Senior Standout on the LPGA comes back from her shoulder surgery stronger than ever, but as of the LPGA's Thailand event she couldn't play more than 9 holes at a time.
31. Candy Hannemann: Did fairly well in Brazil this winter, so I'm surprised to see this LPGA vet skipping the FT's kickoff event this season.
32. Sarah Lynn Sargent: Another LPGA vet looking to reset her career on the FT.
33. Lisa Ferrero: She's going to find it difficult to repeat her '08 FT success this season.
34. Mo Martin: Ditto, despite her 2 wins on tour.
35. Kim Welch: Ditto, in part because she'll get into a few LPGA events this season, thanks to her #235 position on their priority status list.
36. Maria Hernandez: Look for this All-American to do pretty well on the FT this season after she graduates from Purdue.
37. Paola Moreno: This USC grad should have a solid season on the FT in '09.
38. Natalie Sheary: Look for this Wake Forest sophomore to gain valuable experience on the FT in '09.
39. Amanda Blumenherst: Just like Stacy Lewis last season, don't expect to see her playing very often on the Futures Tour this one. She'll be focusing on lining up her 6 sponsor exemptions on the LPGA and trying to win or win enough to get into the top 80 of the '09 money list.
40. Tiffany Joh: She should be joining Blumenherst on the LPGA for her full complement of sponsor exemptions, but like her she'll probably play in just enough FT events to qualify for '10 there, having learned from Walshe's struggles in LPGA Q-School last December.
41. Kira Meixner: This Kent State grad is still listed as an amateur for the '09 FT season.
42. Mallory Hetzel: This Georgia grad is also listed as an amateur.
43. Sofie Andersson: Should play a little better, now that she's back on the FT full-time again after not getting into a single event as an LPGA rookie last season.
44. Caroline Larsson: Should improve on her previous 2 FT seasons. But the level of competition on tour will likely improve faster.
45. Nicole Hage: One of the struggling LPGA rookies from last season will play full-time on the FT this season, but I expect it to end up being another tune-up for another run at LPGA Q-School.
46. Su A Kim: Ditto.
47. Violeta Retamoza: Ditto. Will definitely make more FT cuts in '09 than she made on the LPGA in '08.
48. Seo-Jae Lee: Ditto. But she only has Category D status on tour this season.
49. Amie Hartje: Ditto. Look for her to start putting the pieces back together this season on the FT, but it's going to take some time.
50. Victoria Kiser: This young amateur is going to get quite an education on the FT this season.

[Update 1 (3/17/09, 2:06 pm): Kang and Kemp both Monday-qualified for the LPGA event in Mexico! Congrats!]

[Update 2 (3/18/09, 6:18 pm): Too bad the LPGA.com preview didn't take note of Kang's being in Mexico!]

[Update 3 (3/20/09, 2:31 am): Great FT preview by Dave Andrews and great choice by Armchair Golfer to give him a bloggy platform!]

[Update 4 (3/25/09, 12:20 am): Ryan Herrington profiles another amateur you may see applying for A-5 status on the Futures Tour after graduation, Purdue's Maria Hernandez, an 11-time winner on the NCAA.]

[Update 5 (3/27/09, 3:06 am): Beth Ann Baldry gives some of her picks.]