Monday, August 31, 2009

Safeway Classic Sunday: The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat

With my favorite and 3rd-favorite players in contention yesterday at the Safeway Classic, I did something unusual for me. I didn't go online all day (went swimming with the family instead), called a friend with ESPN and 2 boys onechan's and imoto's ages, and actually watched the last 6 holes or so plus the playoff between Suzann Pettersen, Michele Redman, and M.J. Hur. Instead of imitating Hound Dog's and Jamie RS's play-by-play or Corey Grice's and Bill Jempty's nicely-contextualized summary of the final results, I'll simply offer my congratulations to M.J. Hur and make a few comments on my tv-watching experience and what I observed about the players I saw on tv.

I've read some people complaining about the lack of hi-def on ESPN's coverage, but since my norm is no-def, you won't hear any complaints from me. I got to drink beer from Quebec with a friend of mine (a former concert violinist who's now a colleague at my university) while our wives hung out drinking shoju and eating dried squid and our kids ran wild. Perfect Sunday afternoon. Except for Ai Miyazato picking up where she left off on the back 9 yesterday, giving away opportunity after opportunity, and settling for a blah 35-35 when she had a chance to put herself right in the Player of the Year race. And Seon Hwa Lee squandering her gutty 3-consecutive-birdie comeback from a bogey-double meltdown early by cooling off at crunch time. I mean, it was fun playing color commentator for my buddy, who no doubt heard too many details about Miyazato's and Lee's past showdowns and tendencies on Ghost Creek this week, Pettersen's and Hur's Sunday struggles on the LPGA and Futures Tour, respectively, and the LPGA's response to the disproportionate numbers of Asians and Asian Americans at the top of the world of women's golf (hey, he asked for it when he told me about a violinists' blog that remarked upon a similar phenomenon in the musical world). But at least chatting with him distracted me from paying too much attention to the opportunities ESPN's broadcast team missed to set up the action. And what action it was! I was so happy to see Hur and Pettersen both come back from late mistakes that prevented them from running away from the field, Hur by settling down after missing what looked like 2 tap-ins for birdie in a row and Pettersen by making a solid sandie on 17 and a great up-and-down from 50 yards and 12 feet on 18. I was feeling for Michele Redman, who played 18 perfectly twice in a row but twice had her fairway wood approach get stuck on the incline it landed on instead of hopping up onto the 2nd tier where the pin was. And who could complain about seeing so much of Michelle Wie, Christina Kim, and Natalie Gulbis? OK, well, me. As much as I love to see them playing well, the second Wie failed to go lower than -11, Kim melted down, and Gulbis fell out of contention, I wanted to see every shot of the Stone Buddha's and Ai-sama's as they tried to catch the suddenly struggling Pettersen and Hur. Instead, I had to wait until the ratings drivers got off the course and never did find out how Lee birdied 13 to get back to -11.

So, yeah, the tv-watching experience was great and all, but not half of what it could have been. If I were a tv announcer, commentator, or interviewer, I'd be reading the best blogs on women's golf every day, so I had the right information and context at my fingertips when a relative unknown makes it 4 rookie wins in '09 thus far on a day when another Korean teenager was playing pretty well at the U.S. Amateur. ESPN gets a pass because it's their last coverage of women's golf for quite some time. But are you listening, Golf Channel? It's me, the Constructivist.

[Update 1 (3:47 am): OK, that ending was too weird to pass up, but I do have some random observations on players. Or rather, a series of questions.

What was Natalie Gulbis doing trying to carry the water on 18 when even holing it wouldn't have gotten her into serious contention?

What's been different about Christina Kim's game since the European swing that's allowed her to get herself into contention at the Women's British Open and the Safeway? (All I've seen are her meltdowns under pressure, not her great play that's gotten her there.) And why was she able to play so well at the Solheim Cup when she's clearly not used to that kind of pressure?

Why, oh, why, did Ai-sama lose her great tempo on her tee shot on 18? That was the fastest, wildest swing I think I've ever seen from her--and only her 3rd missed fairway of the week, right when she didn't need it! Unfortunately, I had the same feeling for her today as I did watching her struggle on the back at the WBO. She just wasn't her usual self. But it's clear she's not just riding a hot streak, as she hasn't yet had a week that she's capable of this season. Cristie Kerr and Ji-Yai Shin, the only 2 players ahead of her on the money list and in POY points, had better get their games in order, Ai-sama is not going away.

When will people stop concern trolling Michelle Wie's game? She's been a better putter this season than most people acknowledge, so it's not like Dave Stockton is a magic bullet here. And of all the bombers on tour, she probably has the best precision game right now, what with the quality of her approach shots, pitches, and recovery shots around the greens. Once she really starts trusting her driver again, she's finally going to be the force everyone expected her to be in her mid-teens. It could come together for her in September, or next season, but it's going to happen soon.

What's it going to take for Suzann Pettersen to finally break through again? I've lost count of the number of times she's put herself in position to win over the last 2 seasons! Mi-Jeong Jeon showed the way to get the monkey off your back, Suzann. Just blow the field away and stop giving people hope!

Many more questions percolating in my head, but work calls. Mata-ne!]

[Update 2 (4:28 am): Man, I'm beginning to think Tolkien made the opening of Fellowship as dry as he could. Verdant Garden's notes from Ghost Creek, especially the most recent one, are anything but.]

[Update 3 (4:00 pm): Here's Hound Dog's epilogue. And while you're there be sure to check Bill Jempty's spot-on critique of the "LPGA=boring" meme.]

[Update 4 (4:22 pm): Here's Brian Heard on Hur's win.]

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Yonex Ladies Sunday: Jeon Does It Again

When you have a 4-shot lead through 36 holes on the JLPGA and shoot a bogey-free 66 on Sunday, you have every right to expect a runaway win. That's just what Mi-Jeong Jeon did, and got, at the Yonex Ladies today. The only player in the field to keep pace with her today, Yukari Baba, made it to -12, but stayed 5 shots behind her overall. The rest played from pretty well to very well, but lost ground anyway. With her 3rd runaway win of the season, Jeon has officially put her history of near misses behind her. Here are final results for the top 10 and notables:

1st/-17 Mi-Jeong Jeon (68-65-66)
2nd/-12 Yukari Baba (70-68-66)
T3/-9 Saiki Fujita (70-70-67), Mayu Hattori (71-67-69), Shinobu Moromizato (67-71-69), Eri Terasawa (67-71-69), Miho Koga (69-68-70)
8th/-8 Tomomi Hirose (67-71-70)
T9/-7 Bo-Bae Song (68-71-70), Toshimi Kimura (69-69-71)

T11/-6 Chie Arimura (71-71-68), Hiromi Mogi (70-72-68)
T14/-5 Sakura Yokomine (70-72-69), Ji-Hee Lee (69-73-69), Sakurako Mori (69-71-71), Na-Ri Kim (67-72-72)
T18/-4 Midori Yoneyama (73-70-69), Yuri Fudoh (71-71-70), Miki Saiki (69-72-71)
T24/-3 Woo-Soon Ko (72-71-70),
T31/-2 Kumiko Kaneda (69-75-70), So-Hee Kim (69-73-72)
T42/E Rikako Morita (73-71-72), Mie Nakata (69-74-73)
T45/+1 Li-Ying Ye (73-71-73)

The race for the top of the money list is officially on. With 4 wins, Moromizato stays on top, but the trio of 3-time winners--Yokomine, Jeon, and Arimura--are hot on her trail.

1. Shinobu Moromizato ¥97.90M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥83.18M
3. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥79.68M
4. Chie Arimura ¥74.50M
5. Yuko Mitsuka ¥64.15M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ¥47.83M
7. Miho Koga ¥42.72M
8. Yuko Saitoh ¥38.70M
9. Eun-A Lim ¥33.15M
10. Yukari Baba ¥30.30M
11. Erina Hara ¥29.59M
12. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥28.86M
13. Akiko Fukushima ¥28.74M
14. Ayako Uehara ¥28.15M
15. Tamie Durdin ¥25.98M
16. Rui Kitada ¥24.76M
17. Yuri Fudoh ¥23.34M
18. Midori Yoneyama ¥22.50M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥21.94M
20. Rikako Morita ¥21.81M
21. Ji-Woo Lee ¥21.68M
22. Li-Ying Ye ¥21.27M
23. Momoko Ueda ¥19.69M
24. Na-Ri Lee ¥19.50M
25. Nikki Campbell ¥19.48M
26. Miki Saiki ¥18.66M
27. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥18.06M
28. Hiromi Mogi ¥17.99M
29. Bo-Bae Song ¥16.40M
30. So-Hee Kim ¥16.22M

Nice 5-spot moves by Baba into the top 10 and Fujita into the top 20. Mayu Hattori has now moved to #41 on the list, 1 spot behind Ji-Yai Shin.

Next up on the schedule is the Golf5 Ladies, the last tune-up before the year's second major and highest-purse event of the year, the Konica Minolta Cup (it's tied with the Japan Women's Open at the end of September and, due to the weakness of the dollar against the yen, higher than the Mizuno Classic). The Golf5 Ladies field has been announced, and as expected, the LPGA's Japanese contingent will be playing in the Canadian Women's Open instead. But as this week's action shows, you don't need them for impressive results from the JLPGA.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Safeway Classic Saturday: Now That's What I Call Precision!

Between them, the 3 players within 1 shot of the lead at the Safeway Classic have missed a grand total of 4 fairways and made only 6 bogeys through the 1st 2 rounds. Anna Nordqvist at -10 has only missed 5 greens so far, while Seon Hwa Lee at -9 has taken only 51 putts and Ai Miyazato is right between them with 6 missed greens and 56 putts. Of the 3, Miyazato has played the front best (33-33)--particularly the turn--while Lee (31-33) and Nordqvist (32-33) have feasted on the back. For Ai-sama to get her 2nd win of the season, she'll need a stronger stretch run than she's previously put together; for Nordqvist to get her 2nd win, she'll need to play better at the turn; and for Lee to get her 5th career LPGA win (and 3rd over Ai-sama), she'll need to hit more greens and play better at the turn. However, if each accomplish this but fail to take advantage of the parts of the course they've already been playing very well, they'll open the door to a host of players in the lead chase pack. And this is precisely why it's so hard to win on the LPGA.

A comparison to the Yonex Ladies, a 54-hole event in its final round right now on the JLPGA, can illustrate this neatly. Mi-Jeong Jeon, like Nordqvist, was the only player double digits under par after 2 rounds there. But Miho Koga was the only player within 4 shots of her and there were only 8 players within 5. By contrast, there are 13 players within 4 shots and 20 within 5 of Nordqvist. Nothing against last year's money-list leader Koga or Shinobu Moromizato, this year's money-list leader (as she's clearly a much better player now than when she struggled to make cuts in her rookie season on the LPGA in 2006), but would you rather have them chasing you or Suzann Pettersen (-8), Angela Stanford (-7), Natalie Gulbis (-7), Christina Kim (-6), Sophie Gustafson (-6), Jeong Jang (-6), Cristie Kerr (-5), Michelle Wie (-5), or Hee Young Park (who bounced back from an opening 74 with the low round of moving day, a 65 that included 5 birdies in her last 7 holes on the front)?

Good thing for the leading trio at Pumpkin Ridge that the rest of the LPGA's best aren't bringing their A-game this week. A sick Lorena Ochoa has stalled at -2 with Brittany Lang at T37, while Ya Ni Tseng was -6 through 27 holes and closed with a 40, Ji-Yai Shin has a grand total of 1 birdie in 10 par-5 attempts thus far, and Song-Hee Kim hasn't capitalized on a hole in one--so all remain stuck at -1 (T46). Meanwhile, a walkoff bogey on the par-5 9th cost In-Kyung Kim a missed cut and 68s by Catriona Matthew and Katherine Hull were too little, too late for them to make the cut after opening 77s. And those were just some of the most prominent players who came close to the even-par cut line. Laura Davies (71-74), Inbee Park (76-70), Nicole Castrale (74-72), Brittany Lincicome (77-71), Helen Alfredsson (70-78), Hee-Won Han (77-72), Shiho Oyama (78-73), and Karrie Webb (74-78)? Not a chance.

So I'll be rooting for a classic Ai-sama/Seon Hwa duel tomorrow, hoping that the 3rd time's the charm for my favorite golfer on the planet, and wondering who among my friends in town will be willing to let me hijack their tv from 4 to 6 tomorrow.

[Update 1 (11:31 pm): Here's Hound Dog!]

[Update 2 (11:39 pm): Here are Jamie in the Rough and Nice Ballz. Nice preview of what's to come on when they finally post their notes and interviews for round 2.]

[Update 3 (11:59 am): For those interested in comparing somewhat new and very old new technology, be sure to follow GolferWriterGuy and NiceBallz as they live-micro-blog from Ghost Creek and check out the bulletin board on-course report threads on Seoul by Verdant Garden and Go-Kimmie-Go.]

[Update 4 (8/30/09, 12:05 am): I realize I haven't mentioned Jee Young Lee's 67, M.J. Hur's closing 30 on the back, Meena Lee's 3-hole closing bogey-train to drop her 4 back, Karrie Webb's 1st-round hole in one, or any other interesting tidbits. Plus, I haven't mentioned the weather (often rainy). Until now.]

[Update 5 (12:06 am): As for Se Ri Pak's WD before the start of play yesterday, I'm too distraught for words.]

Yonex Ladies Friday and Saturday: Can Mi-Jeong Jeon Win Big Again?

Only a walkoff bogey prevented Mi-Jeong Jeon from taking a 5-shot lead into the final round of the Yonex Ladies. Her 65 today was not only the low round of the tournament, but it also lifted her to -11. Miho Koga broke 70 in both of her rounds, as well, but trails by 4 after a bogey on the 17th forced her to settle for a 68 today. Shinobu Moromizato, who was tied for the lead at -5 after Friday's round, had to come back with 3 birdies in her last 10 holes just to shoot a 71 and remain tied for 3rd. Sakura Yokomine has definitely cooled off--she's out of contention, 9 back. But Mayu Hattori seems to be getting her game back, as a 67 today lifted her into a tie for 3rd.

Here's a quick run-down of where the notables stand heading into the final round.

1st/-11 Mi-Jeong Jeon (68-65)
2nd/-7 Miho Koga (69-68)
T3/-6 Mayu Hattori (71-67), Yukari Baba (70-68), Shinobu Moromizato (67-71), and 4 others
T10/-5 Bo-Bae Song (68-71), Na-Ri Kim (67-72)

T12/-4 Saiki Fujita (70-70), Sakurako Mori (69-71)
T17/-3 Miki Saiki (69-72)
T22/-2 Yuri Fudoh (71-71), Chie Arimura (71-71), Sakura Yokomine (70-72), Hiromi Mogi (70-72), Ji-Hee Lee (69-73), So-Hee Kim (69-73)
T34/-1 Midori Yoneyama (73-70), Woo-Soon Ko (72-71), Mie Nakata (69-74)
T44/E Rikako Morita (73-71), Li-Ying Ye (73-71), Kumiko Kaneda (69-75)

Hyun-Ju Shin went from being in contention to missing the cut, but she wasn't alone, as a lot of young guns were firing blanks this week.

T53/+1 Akane Iijima (72-73), Julie Lu (72-73), Rui Kitada (70-75), Hyun-Ju Shin (67-78)
T63/+2 Ah-Reum Hwang (71-75)
T71/+3 Maiko Wakabayashi (74-73)
T78/+4 Yuki Ichinose (76-72)
T87/+5 Erina Hara (78-71)
T92/+6 Mai Arai (75-75)
T100/+8 Esther Lee (70-82)
T105/+12 Da-Ye Na (71-85)
WD Yuko Saitoh (72-WD), Yun-Jye Wei (76-WD)

Back to the top of the leaderboard, Jeon has a history of losing close ones but also of winning in dominating fashion. Wonder which trend will continue tomorrow!

Safeway Classic Friday: Welcome Back! (And Other Themes)

With this semester looking to be the most intense in my career and onechan going back today to her full Saturday schedule of Japanese school in the morning and violin lessons in the early afternoon--plus being less than 2 weeks away from starting kindergarten--it's looking like I won't be able to give women's golf the kind of close attention I was able to do pretty consistently over the summer. So for the Safeway Classic, I'm trying a little experiment in micro-not-quite-live-blogging--but via blogger rather than twitter. This way, you can get a sense of my reactions to things that stand out to me during the round and I can focus in my recap posts on what I missed and the larger patterns of each day. I know it involves a little more clicking for those who just want to start with my recap posts, so please do let me know what you think of the scrolling vs. clicking issue.

In any case, the day 1 leaderboard is something worth waking up early for. How awesome is it to see Seon Hwa Lee (34-31) and Moira Dunn (35-32) joining Ai-sama (33-34) in the thick of things? Pretty awesome for someone like me, I'll tell you what! (Even the 70 by Momoko Ueda was exciting--she finished her round on the front with a birdie-birdie-eagle run to do it. Plus, In-Kyung Kim's 74 could have been much worse--she couldn't completely erase the double she made on each side, but 2 birdies in her 1st 3 holes on the back and 2 in her last 4 on the front to close out her day give me some hope for her.) And how about that 66 from Stacy Prammanasudh and 68 from Jeong Jang? This leaderboard was like a flashback to the middle of the decade--in a good way. I'd love to see JJ and Stacy P rejoin the game's elite, Moira be a top 40 player again, Lee finally to mount a serious challenge this season to Ya Ni Tseng's career lead among the Young Guns (Tseng, by the way, had a nice comeback of her own--3 birdies in her last 4 holes on the front--for her 68), and Ai-sama to rack up more wins this season and finish as Player of the Year.

Oh, and how cool would it be for the LPGA if Jennifer Rosales, Natalie Gulbis, and Christina Kim kept shooting 68s? It's nice to welcome them back to the land o' goin' low. And that kid Michelle Wie? Watch for her! You heard it here 1st.

Speaking of Solheim Cuppers, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many of them adjusting back to the rigors of individual competition so quickly. Sure, Suzann Pettersen needed to come back from a slow start to shoot her own 68, Cristie Kerr had to settle for a 69 after a walkoff bogey on 18, Helen Alfredsson had to take a 70 after a walkoff bogey of her own on the 9th, Maria Hjorth had to accept a 70 of her own after her typical mix of birdies and bogeys, and Laura Davies (walkoff eagle), Sophie Gustafson (late birdie), and Kristy McPherson (ditto) needed comebacks for their 71s, but I expected more of a letdown from them and their peers I've already micro-not-quite-live-blogged about who shot exceptional numbers on a new course to them.

Speaking of Ghost Creek, it certainly haunted a lot of talented players. Kyeong Bae played great in Korea and Shiho Oyama played well in Japan, but they both ballooned to 78s on day 1. Brittany Lincicome, Catriona Matthew, Katherine Hull, and Hee-Won Han only did 1 better. Inbee Park had shot a 64 in Korea last week, but she opened with a 76 yesterday. Karrie Webb, Ji-Yai Shin, Morgan Pressel, and Vicky Hurst joined Inky at 74. Brittany Lang, Na Yeon Choi, Song-Hee Kim, and Amy Yang will have to fight to stay on the right side of the cut line after their opening 73s. So who knows what scoring will be like later today?

Looking forward to seeing what moving day looks like when we get back from Buffalo this afternoon. I wonder if Ai-sama's experience winning so many 54-hole events in Japan will serve her well this weekend!

[Update 1 (5:36 am): It's fun to see Jamie RS and Hack stepping up to the plate. Gotta disagree with T-Joh's Emo Friday proclamation. Heck, her melody is even upbeat.]

[Update 2 (5:46 am): For those who don't mind the real micro-blogging experience that is Twitter, be sure to follow GolferWriterGuy and NiceBallz--Ghost Creek is their home turf.]

[Update 3 (6:01 am): New technology is great and all, but gotta love how the Seoul crew rocks the bulletin board format. Check out Go-Kimmie-Go's detailed notes on various groups, including Jee Young Lee-Inbee Park-Mika Miyazato and In-Kyung Kim-Christina Kim-Catriona Matthew. Verdant Garden followed several groups, too, and has interesting notes on Haeji Kang, Eun-Hee Ji, Soo-Yun Kang, Vicky Hurst, and others. Thanks, y'all!]

[Update 4 (6:10 am): Oh, and Alan Shipnuck's Solheim Cup piece was well worth the wait. Whereas Ron Sirak clearly mailed his in, Shipnuck found the best details to convey the drama and energy of the competition--and his writing was pitch-perfect.]

Friday, August 28, 2009

Safeway Classic Friday: Candie Kung Rides the Birdie Train

A good number of players went low on Ghost Creek's front side today at the Safeway Classic, but nobody matched Candie Kung's 31, the result of a 5-hole birdie train from the 4th through the 8th. Unfortunately for her, she couldn't take advantage of the next 2 par 5s and bogeyed the par-3 11th to fall back to -5 on the day, but she still has a great chance to post the low score of the afternoon pairings. Stay tuned!

[Update 1 (7:32 pm): A birdie on 12 got Kung back to -6!]

Safeway Classic Friday: Angela Stanford Is Making a Move

Move over, Beth Bader! Angela Stanford birdied 3 of her 1st 5 holes and, as she plays the par-3 14th, has just birdied 4 of her last 5. No Solheim Cup hangover for this one!

[Update 1 (5:08 pm): Stanford cooled off with a late bogey and Anna Nordqvist passed her with a 65. Nice walkoff birdie by Ai Miyazato to pull within 1 of Stanford.]

Safeway Classic Friday: What's Gotten Into Beth Bader?

Check out Beth Bader's scorecard at the Safeway Classic. She's made 9 birdies, 6 pars, and 1 bogey and has 2 holes left to play. Her previous low round this season was a 66 at the Corning Classic. And she's rarely broken 70 at Columbia Edgewater the last 5 seasons, so I'm guessing she's loving Ghost Creek. Let's see how low she can go today!

[Update 1 3:58 pm): Bader ended up posting a 64--5 shots better than the previous leader in the clubhouse, Il Mi Chung. You don't see that kind of gap every week!]

[Update 2 (4:01 pm): Nice shot from the nice boys at Nice Ballz.]

[Update 3 (4:09 pm): Janice Moodie's 66? Not only overshadowed by Bader, but also by Tiffany Joh's unveiling of her new website.]

Safeway Classic Friday: Anyone Know Why Creamer WDed?

The 1st pairings are off at the Safeway Classic, but I was surprised to see that Paula Creamer is not among them. She's listed as withdrawn, not "did not start," so what the heck happened?

[Update 1 (11:48 am): Nice Ballz, Hound Dog, Seoul're on the clock!]

[Update 2 (11:51 am): You, too, Verdant Garden.]

[Update 3 (12:16 pm): Should have checked the twitterati 1st. Ron Sirak has the ominous reason--return of the stomach problems from earlier this season and late last one.]

[Update 4 (12:17 pm): And Nice Ballz preserves the image of the way people on site were notified of Creamer's WD, for the historical record. Nice work!]

[Update 5 (7:11 pm): Oh man, another player I really like had to WD from what I hope isn't a recurrence of a recurring problem for her. (Jane Park--back?)]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is Juli Inkster Going to Retire?

Talk about the end of an era if it happens: I just got a feeling Juli Inkster will announce her retirement soon when I heard she got the sponsor exemption into the Samsung World Championship at Torrey Pines. It wouldn't take much to argue she doesn't deserve this and didn't deserve the last captain's pick for the Solheim Cup, at least based on her play the last 2 seasons. But in terms of honoring her place in golf history, both are exactly the right call. I can't see Daniel and Samsung doing what they did unless they, too, have the same feeling as me.

[Update 1 (4:24 pm): Somehow that "reduced schedule" she mentioned after the Solheim Cup doesn't sound right for someone as competitive as she is. I think she's either all in or out.]

[Update 2 (8/28/09, 12:12 pm): Wish Tim Rosaforte had gone for the scoop on Inkster's future plans in his otherwise strong piece on Inkster and the Solheim Cup kids.]

The Wegmans Is Back, Baby!

Great news from one of Hound Dog's regulars who linked to the following report that the LPGA and Wegmans have agreed to a multi-year deal. Here's the LPGA's announcement.

You know what this means: more Constructivist family trips to Rochester in June!

Safeway Classic Pairings

Hound Dog's preview for the Safeway Classic is out, and once again he notices something I missed in mine. Even though virtually all of the top players on tour are taking on Ghost Creek (although Mi Hyun Kim appears to have started her maternity leave), many of the mid-level pros decided to skip the event, so that players in the 300s on the priority status list got into the field. This should make for some interesting not-ready-for-prime-time pairings on Friday. Let's check those out 1st.

One that sticks out to me is the Alena Sharp-Meredith Duncan-Katie Futcher group going off the 1st tee at 7:37 am. If you had asked me, I would have told you at the start of the season that I thought at least 1 of these players was going to have a breakthrough year. Instead, Sharp and Futcher are fighting to stay in the top 80 on the money list and Duncan to get into the top 100. With all the Canadians playing so well on the Futures Tour--lead by sponsor exemption Samantha Richdale--Sharp had better pick it up. Richdale gets to play with Sandra Gal and Song Yi Choi in the last group before the prime-time pairings begin. Others fighting to get into the top 100 include some of the hottest players in the world at the end of last season, Anja Monke (off #10 at 7:26) and Johanna Mundy (#1, 2:11). My buddy Moira Dunn (#1, 2:00) has dropped just outside the top 80 and is playing with Kim Hall, whose M.O. is to have 1 strong finish each year that gets her just inside the top 80. Will this be Hall's week? At #138 on the money list, she sure needs it to be.

It's strange to see golfers who haven't been having all that terrible seasons going off right next to players hoping to be around in 2010. Shi Hyun Ahn is 1 group before Moira's, while Jane Park is 2 (she's playing with Hye Jung Choi, who had a great chance to win in Korea and couldn't take advantage of it). On the back in the afternoon, Vicky Hurst is 1 group out of the prime-time pairings, Amy Yang and Shiho Oyama are 2, but then you get once-elite Sarah Lee with ex-Futures Tour star and rookie M.J. Hur and...Jeanne Cho-Hunicke?! The former pair are fighting for the top 80, while the latter is trying to avoid the basement (somehow Audra Burks, who's the current cellar-dweller, got a 1:05 starting time off the 1st, while Jeehae Lee, who's right ahead of Cho-Hunicke, is in the next group).

So it's not all fun and games on the LPGA. Even being in the primest of prime-time quadrants, late morning off the 1st tee, is no picnic. Just ask the 1st group going off:

Start Time: 8:43 AM
Meaghan Francella
Jeong Jang
Louise Friberg

Start Time: 8:54 AM
Eun-Hee Ji
Brittany Lang
Lindsey Wright

Start Time: 9:05 AM
Ai Miyazato
Angela Stanford
Anna Nordqvist

Start Time: 9:16 AM
Suzann Pettersen
Paula Creamer
Ji-Yai Shin

Start Time: 9:27 AM
Cristie Kerr
Lorena Ochoa
Michelle Wie

Jang is still recovering from wrist surgery, Francella is coming out of a slump, and Friberg is in the depths of one. Not really so different from Wie and Miyazato (trying to put injury and slump far behind them), Pettersen and Stanford (who have to deal with chronic injuries that flare up), or Lang (who had a terrible sophomore slump of her own), but with all them at the top of the game now, it sure feels like light-years separate them.

It's a similar story in the 2nd-brightest concentration of LPGA stars going off the back in the early afternoon. The 1st and last names on the list had been wandering in the golf wilderness for quite some time.

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Inbee Park
Mika Miyazato
Jee Young Lee

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Young Kim
Hee-Won Han
Michele Redman

Start Time: 12:32 PM
Se Ri Pak
Morgan Pressel
Na Yeon Choi

Start Time: 12:43 PM
Catriona Matthew
Christina Kim
In-Kyung Kim

Start Time: 12:54 PM
Karrie Webb
Ya Ni Tseng
Brittany Lincicome

I'm wondering if Park (who lost in a playoff last week on the KLPGA) is ready to make that same quantum leap back to the LPGA's elite that Lincicome surprised me by making this season. Tseng, who was struggling by her standards coming into the tour's mid-summer vacation, is also looking to come out sharp, while Solheim Cup rivals and Women's British open Sunday partners Matthew and Kim get to test their momentum against a well-rested In-Kyung Kim.

The other prime-time pairings don't have as many names that leap off the page. But there sure is an interesting combination of veterans and newbies going off the back in the late morning:

Start Time: 8:43 AM
Hee Young Park
Laura Davies
Leta Lindley

Start Time: 8:54 AM
Helen Alfredsson
Nicole Castrale
Eunjung Yi

Start Time: 9:05 AM
Stacy Prammanasudh
Rachel Hetherington
Ji Young Oh

Start Time: 9:16 AM
Momoko Ueda
Sophie Gustafson
Laura Diaz

Start Time : 9:27 AM
Wendy Ward
Kristy McPherson
Stacy Lewis

It's either 1 youngster with 2 vets or players in the prime of their careers like McPherson, Castrale, and Prammanasudh in the middle. As for the late morning front-side quandrant, don't be surprised if the winner comes out of the very 1st group:

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Sun Young Yoo
Teresa Lu
Song-Hee Kim

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Natalie Gulbis
Liselotte Neumann
Lorie Kane

Start Time: 12:32 PM
Meena Lee
Carin Koch
Pat Hurst

Start Time: 12:43 PM
Kyeong Bae
Candie Kung
Katherine Hull

Start Time: 12:54 PM
Maria Hjorth
Silvia Cavalleri
Seon Hwa Lee

I'm wondering if Hjorth can keep her Solheim Cup momentum going or whether fatigue will bring down the new mom this week, and whether playing partner Seon Hwa Lee, who's having the worst season of her impressive career, can make a late-season charge like Cristie Kerr did last year.

So there's lots to follow in Portland this week at Pumpkin Ridge. Looking forward to reading all about it!

[Update 1 (4:10 pm): And following Go-Kimmie-Go's photoblog!]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tiger at Turning Stone!

An early start to the semester and a ticket price over $300 meant I wasn't going to hang out with my parents and go see Tiger Woods, Notah Begay, Mike Weir, and Camilo Villegas play a charity skins game at Atunyote Golf Club, but that didn't deter or dampen the spirits of the humongous crowds. It's not every day that a world-class star comes to central NY!

On a side note, it's not that the Constructvist family is not splurging on a sporting event this year. For Thanksgiving break, we'll all be heading to Skate Canada to witness Daisuke Takahashi's attempted comeback from knee surgery and warm-up for the Vancouver Winter Olympics (which we'll go to if we win the lottery in time). The Full Metal Archivist's verdict: Dai-chan=ikemen; Tiger=otaku. Sorry, Tiger!

Safeway Classic Preview/Predictions

The full LPGA is back in action this week after a long mid-summer vacation. It'll be interesting to see how Karen Stupples and Amy Yang (who duelled on the LET), Momoko Ueda (who won on the JLPGA), Il Mi Chung, Hye Jung Choi, and Inbee Park (who just missed winning on the KLPGA), and sponsor exemption Samantha Richdale (who just won on the Futures Tour)--not to mention the members of the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup team and Team Europe's beaten but unbowed LPGAers--will do on the new site, the par-71 Ghost Creek course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, for the 54-hole Safeway Classic. With greenside ponds on 9 and 18, a creek running throughout the course, plenty of trees, bunkers, elevation changes, and elevated, tiered, and huge greens, this one will be a real test of ball-striking, judgment, precision, focus, and nerve. Holes 12 through 18 are all on top of each other, so the leaders will know exactly what everyone else is doing down the stretch on Sunday.

In 2007, Lorena Ochoa made the Safeway her 3rd straight win, while last season Cristie Kerr defeated Sophie Gustafson and Helen Alfredsson in a playoff to break the million-dollar barrier after a rough start to her season, so you know the top women golfers in the world come to Portland ready to play. The only prominent players who won't be joining the party this week are Angela Park, Minea Blomqvist, and Linda Wessberg (the latter 2 are in Helsinki, competing on the LET--Blomqvist is sponsored by the tournament sponsor). So the idea of picking the top 12 in this week's PakPicker is feeling more daunting than ever, particularly when you can throw the historical stats pretty much out the window. For what they're worth, here are my guesses:

1. Shin Ji-Yai
2. Wie
3. Kerr
4. Kim In-Kyung
5. Creamer
6. Miyazato Ai
7. Stanford
8. Ochoa
9. Kim Song-Hee
10. Tseng
11. Ueda
12. Park Inbee

Alts: Stupples, Christina Kim, Wright

It sure hurt not to pick Hee-Won Han, Karrie Webb, Jeong Jang, and Juli Inkster, who have good histories at this event, but I had to go with the players I thought were hottest coming into this week. Very interesting that 2 amateurs, Ayaka Kaneko and Taylore Karle, made it in via Monday qualifying. I'm very curious to see what they make of this opportunity and hoping that Go-Kimmie-Go, who will be posting photos and more from Pumpkin Ridge at Seoul (along with Verdant Garden and other Pacific NW regulars), gets to meet them.

Since it's a Friday start this week, my pairings observations will have to wait for another day. With so few full-field events left on the 2009 schedule (6 counting the closing Tour Championship), the race for the top 50 on the money list (and entry into the Asian swing) is in full force, not to mention for the top 80 (which gives you full status on tour in 2010), top 100 (which gets you decent status on tour and a free pass into the finals of Q-School), and top 125 (which gets you lowly status on tour and a free pass into the finals of Q-School). More on this tomorrow!

[Update 1 (2:30 am): While you wait, be sure to check out Jamie's preview at his new site Jamie in the Rough. Our top 5 picks are the same (if jumbled), but we almost totally disagree on the next 7. I'm sure we both feel we have good reasons for our picks. It'll be interesting to see how the rest of the PakPickers deploy their picks this week!]

[Update 2 (2:43 am): Forgot to mention that the LPGA has set up Ghost Creek as a par 72 by turning the long par 4 9th into a short par 5, so there will be plenty of action as players make the turn on the 3 consecutive par 5s starting on the 8th!]

[Update 3 (4:48 pm): Go to Nice Ballz now for a great preview of Ghost Creek from guys who have played it.]

[Update 4 (4:54 pm): Here's Hound Dog's Hot 20.]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Will the Rookie of the Year Race Finally Get Interesting?

Ji-Yai Shin leads Michelle Wie by almost a 2-1 ratio in the LPGA's Rookie of the Year race. But Wie is making more birdies (4.08 per round to 3.84) and averaging more top 10s (.385 to .313) than Shin. What she really needs to do is cut into that 2-0 deficit in wins. Can she do it? Can she make the ROY race interesting?

[Update 1 (8/26/09, 3:31 am): Oh, yeah. Classes start at Stanford September 21st. Wonder if Wie can sign up for a special independent study/travel abroad course of study so she can make the Asian swing!]

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another Near Miss for Harigae on the Futures Tour

Hurricane Bill made life difficult for the players continuing their long, hard slog through the 2009 Futures Tour season in Harrisburg this week. In a Monday finish, Samantha Richdale clinched an LPGA tour card by beating Amanda Mathis in a playoff after both golfers ended the morning at -10, the former by making birdies on 3 of her last 4 holes and the latter by doing the same on 3 of her last 7.

The top 5 golfers on the FT money list get full status on the LPGA, while the next 5 get very low status but a bye into the finals of Q-School to try to improve upon it. #5 Whitney Wade's +2/T34 finish only got her $790, which means that she can be passed for the final assured spot by anyone from #6 to #14 on the money list if she were to miss the cut in Albany the 1st week of September and one or more of them were to win or finish high enough to displace her. But #8 Alison Walshe, #9 Dewi Claire Schreefel, and #10 Pernilla Lindberg will be looking over their shoulders, as well. At under $30K for the season, they're vulnerable to being passed by multiple people, dropping out of the top 10, and having to go through sectional qualifying for Q-School in mid-September or late-September through early-October. If Lindberg were to miss the cut in Albany, a win could vault everyone from #11 through #41 on the money list into the 10th spot or better. But there are so many permutations, it's impossible to predict who will end up in the top 10.

For me, though, the biggest story coming out of Harrisburg today is Mina Harigae losing another lead down the stretch. After birdies on 5 of her 1st 6 holes yesterday vaulted her to -12, she looked like a lock for her 4th win of the season, but a bogey on the 8th before play was stopped due to darkness brought her momentum to a screeching halt. She just didn't have it today, bogeying 14 and 15 to settle for a 38 on the back and a 70 on the round that left her 1 shot out of the playoff. That's gotta hurt. The big question for Harigae fans like me is whether she'll be more like Vicky Hurst or M.J. Hur next year on the LPGA. Hur infamously had trouble on Sundays in contention, while Hurst had one of the most dominant seasons in FT history. This year on the LPGA, Hurst is having a respectable but not breakout campaign thus far; at #53 on the money list and 6th in the Rookie of the Year race, she's doing all right, but her missed cut in Korea this week shows how far she has to go to join the game's elite. Hur is fighting to get into the top 80 (she's about $4500 behind Allison Fouch at #80 right now) and is a non-factor in the ROY race at #10. Since winning her historic battlefield promotion, Harigae's had chances to match Hurst's FT win total. Even though she hasn't done it, she still has improved her scoring average (to 71.03), birdie rate (to 3.38 birdies per round), and percentage of rounds under par (to 56.8%). Bottom line, I'm still not sure what to make of her potential and ability to compete on the global stage that is the LPGA.

[Update 1 (8/26/09, 2:04 am): Check out the very funny on-course observations from Seoul's Carl Spackler. I wouldn't put too much stock in the putting woes he witnessed; getting the speed (and hence line) right on wet greens on a course you don't know very well is one of the toughest challenges in golf.]

Thank You, Blogoramaville, for Your Solheim Cup Writing

Thank you, Brent Kelley, Bill Jempty, Hound Dog, Ryan Ballengee, and Average Golfer, for the quick overviews of Sunday action and the Solheim Cup as a whole.

Thank you, Hound Dog, for the live play-by-play.

Thank you, Jeff Skinner, Jay Busbee, Greg Couch, and Jason Sobel, for trying to get a debate started on the significance of Michelle Wie's 3-0-1 record this week and on the week as a whole for the LPGA.

The beach was awesome, by the way. Maybe I spent too much time in the hot tub afterwards, but I'm pleasantly surprised to find the SI guys so excited about the week.

[Update 1 (3:31 am): I'll add Golf Channel's Shag Bag blog, Golf Digest Woman, and Golfweek's The Tour Blog to my gratitude list.]

[Update 2 (9:33 am): Hound Dog's epilogue was the first article or post I've seen giving the rundown on individual records in this year's Solheim Cup matches. Plus he's got some great observations and commentary.]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Catch up Fast on the Solheim Cup

With work and family taking up almost all my time the last few days, I'm probably closer to the majority of sports fans when it comes to this year's Solheim Cup than I've been since I started Mostly Harmless. Like most Americans, I needed a way of catching up fast on all the action I missed, but I wanted to do so without relying on the simplified versions passed on by the AP and others in the golfy media. So here's what I did, and what you can do, too, if you want to get ready to follow today's action.

To remind myself of where things stood heading into the Saturday morning best-ball matches, I checked out Brent Kelley's overview of Friday's action and his executive summary of the four-ball matches. Then I headed over to Hound Dog's live-blog to see how things played out and his breakdown of the afternoon alternate-shot matches to see how he set things up. Then I did the same Kelley/Hound Dog combo for the afternoon foursomes matches. After reading Hound Dog's rundown of the Sunday singles match-ups, I'm ready for his live-blog and's live scoring. And so are you, assuming you don't have Golf Channel.

Me, I'm off to the beach with the family. I only have time for a couple of comments. By putting Pettersen rather than Davies 1st, Team Euro Captain Alison Nicholas ensured it's going to be a long day. Since this is the 3rd round of 5 she's decided to lead off with Pettersen, I have to assume slowing things down is part of her strategy. I thought that Pressel and McPherson saved Team USA Captain Beth Daniel's butt yesterday afternoon. If they had lost, I would have been the 1st to question her decision to put 2 precision players together on the long Rich Harvest Farms course. We'll see if her strategy of resting her players pays off today! It's all on their shoulders now.

CAT Ladies Sunday: Moromizato Outduels Koga and Fukushima for Win #4 of '09

After the 1st 2 days of the CAT Ladies, a showdown was brewing between golfers who have been having a fantastic 2009 (Shinobu Moromizato and Eun-A Lim at -6, Sakura Yokomine at -5) and those in need of a spark to get as hot as they had been in 2008 (Miho Koga at -7, Akiko Fukushima at -6, Esther Lee at -5, Ji-Hee Lee at -4). And from the very 1st hole, most everyone in the hunt rose to the occasion.

It started with an eagle on the 1st hole, a 470-yard par 5, by Moromizato, who was playing with Yokomine and Lee in the penultimate group. She followed it up with birdies on the 2nd and 4th to get to -10 for the tournament. But Fukushima, who birdied her 1st 5 holes yesterday, birdied 5 of her 1st 6 to pass her at -11. Her playing partner Koga could only manage 1 birdie in that stretch, while Lim squandered her own opening eagle with a bogey on the 6th. At that point, the leaderboard looked like this:

Fukushima -11
Moromizato -10
Koga -8
Lim -7

But they were soon joined by 3 players in earlier groups who were really tearing up the course. After Fukushima settled for a 31 on the front with a bogey-birdie-par finish, and Moromizato and Koga converged on -9 with a bogey and a birdie, respectively, a 30 by Mayu Hattori, 3 birdies in her 1st 10 holes by Yukari Baba, and 3 birdies in her 1st 11 holes by Ji-Hee Lee brought them into the hunt at -7. As the lead group played the 12th, the leaderboard looked like this:

Fukushima -10 (after a bogey on 11)
Moromizato and Koga -9 (after Koga went birdie-bogey to start the back)
Hattori, Baba, and Lee -7 (after a double on 10 dropped Lim out of the lead pack)

Lim bounced back with back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th to return to -7, but since every one of the leaders but Hattori birdied the 484-yard par-5 13th, it didn't help her out all that much, especially when Moromizato birdied the 548-yard par-5 15th to join Fukushima at -11. A bogey on the 14th dropped Baba back to -7, and even 2 birdies down the stretch weren't enough to catch the leading trio. 3 birdies in her last 6 holes pulled Sakura Yokomine to -8, where she was joined by Hattori (whose birdie on 17 broke an 8-hole par train and helped her finish with a bogey-free 66, the best round of the tournament) and Ji-Hee Lee (whose bogey on the 17th dropped her out of contention).

So in the end it came down to the 3 players who got to double digits under par. Moromizato finished with 3 straight pars for a 68 that put her at -11, and then she had to wait and see what Fukushima and Koga would do. Fukushima's bogey on 17 dropped her to -10 with Koga, who ended up parring her last 5 holes for her 2nd-straight 70 that left her 1 short of Moromizato. And a Fukushima bogey on 18 forced her to settled for her 3rd-straight 70 that left her tied with Baba for 3rd. Moromizato became the 1st player on the JLPGA to win 4 times in 2009.

Here's how the top 10 and notables finished:

1st/-11 Shinobu Moromizato (69-71-68)
2nd/-10 Miho Koga (69-70-70)
T3/-9 Yukari Baba (70-72-68), Akiko Fukushima (70-70-70)
T5/-8 Mayu Hattori (74-71-66), Ji-Hee Lee (70-72-69), Sakura Yokomine (70-71-70)
8th/-7 Eun-A Lim (70-70-72)
T9/-6 Kaori Aoyama (71-72-70), Esther Lee (71-70-72)

T11/-5 Rui Kitada (73-72-69), Miki Saiki (72-73-69), Maiko Wakabayashi (70-75-69), Akane Iijima (69-76-69)
T18/-2 Na-Ri Lee (72-76-69), Mi-Jeong Jeon (74-73-70), Ji-Woo Lee (74-73-70)
T21/-1 Hyun-Ju Shin (75-73-70), Saiki Fujita (75-72-71), Ah-Reum Hwang (75-71-72), Shiho Oyama (76-69-73)
T28/E Li-Ying Ye (77-71-71), Erina Hara (75-72-72), Ayako Uehara (75-72-72), Rikako Morita (72-74-73), Yuko Mitsuka (70-75-74), Kumiko Kaneda (72-72-75)
T38/+1 So-Hee Kim (76-71-73), Tamie Durdin (72-75-73), Yuki Ichinose (70-75-75)
T43/+2 Yuko Saitoh (75-73-73), Midori Yoneyama (75-71-75), Yun-Jye Wei (73-73-75)
59th/+5 Julie Lu (72-72-80)
60th/+6 Woo-Soon Ko (72-75-78)

Moromizato has extended her lead on Yokomine on the money list and is now just 1 good tournament away from becoming the 1st to break the 100 million yen barrier in 2009:

1. Shinobu Moromizato ¥94.84M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥82.32M
3. Chie Arimura ¥73.43M
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥68.88M
5. Yuko Mitsuka ¥64.15M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ¥46.97M
7. Miho Koga ¥39.66M
8. Yuko Saitoh ¥38.70M
9. Eun-A Lim ¥33.15M
10. Erina Hara ¥29.59M
11. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥28.86M
12. Akiko Fukushima ¥28.74M
13. Ayako Uehara ¥28.15M
14. Tamie Durdin ¥25.98M
15. Yukari Baba ¥25.02M
16. Rui Kitada ¥24.76M
17. Yuri Fudoh ¥22.73M
18. Midori Yoneyama ¥21.89M
19. Rikako Morita ¥21.57M
20. Ji-Woo Lee ¥21.37M
21. Li-Ying Ye ¥20.99M
22. Momoko Ueda ¥19.69M
23. Nikki Campbell ¥19.48M
24. Saiki Fujita ¥18.88M
25. Na-Ri Lee ¥18.64M
26. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥18.06M
27. Miki Saiki ¥18.05M
28. Hiromi Mogi ¥16.92M
29. So-Hee Kim ¥15.81M
30. Bo-Bae Song ¥15.05M

Mayu Hattori jumped to #49 and Esther Lee to #64 on the money list with their 1st top 10s of the season. Next up is the Yonex Ladies!

[Update 1 (8/24/09, 2:21 am): Can't wait for Happy Fan to give us the final results for this week's KLPGA event. Inbee Park is a co-leader by 1 over Sun Ju Ahn and Hye Jung Choi!]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Assessing the Captains' Solheim Cup Strategies

So here are the day 1 results and scoring summary from the Solheim Cup, along with the Saturday morning match-ups. What do you make of captains Alison Nicholas's and Beth Daniel's strategies thus far?

Right now, I'm shocked at how close Team Europe is keeping things, given how badly their go-to players have performed. Nicholas's decision to rest Laura Davies comes as no surprise, but benching Sophie Gustafson and making new moms Catriona Matthew and Maria Hjorth work so hard definitely does. Clearly, Nicholas is hoping that Alfredsson and Elosegui support each other well, that Matthew and Luna wouldn't face too tough a match-up, that playing with Nordqvist steadies Pettersen, and that Hjorth and Nocera will be tough in the clean-up position. I think she's done a good job of pairing rookies with experienced players, despite my assumption heading into the week that putting LET players Nocera and Luna together Saturday morning would be the way to go (that assumption was based on the expectation that Team Europe would be tied or leading after Friday's play).

Team USA has needed some good morning comebacks and some clutch putting just to have a 1-point lead heading into today's team matches. But except for resting Paula Creamer, Daniel has done almost exactly what I called for her to do with her team leading this morning, down to leading off with Kim and Wie. Sure, she's mixed up her pairings more than I expected--Creamer, Kerr, and Stanford have played with someone different each match from among Lang, Castrale, and Inkster--and made sure to give everyone 1 match off. This has meant she's relied on the Lincicome-McPherson pairing much more often than I expected--plus they're batting clean-up in best-ball after getting beaten soundly in alternate shot. Clearly, Daniel is hoping her 1st 3 pairings can get wins and that the rookies might bounce back with a half or get caught up in the momentum and make it a Team USA sweep. That way, she can rest easy resting Stanford, Lincicome, and 2 other players.

So with Team Europe hoping for some morning upsets and Team USA looking to build a big lead, here's how I think the afternoon alternate-shot matches will look, with Nicholas's options limited and Daniels looking for the kill:

Inkster-Creamer v. Davies-Brewerton
Wie-Gulbis v. Nocera-Elosegui
Kerr-Lang v. Alfredsson-Gustafson
Kim-Pressel v. Pettersen-Nordqvist

You can follow the morning scoring live at Let's see how the players respond and what the captains actually pick for the afternoon.

[Update 1 (8:27 am): In the beginning of a critique of the 1st group's slow play that alternates between pettiness and fair-mindedness, Jim McCabe proclaims that this LPGA season is The. Most. Forgettable. Ever. Since when have respected media figures become whiny teenagers? Why does McCabe have to put down the rest of the LPGA season to find some glimmer of praise for the Solheim Cup? If he's so bored covering women's golf, I know a few bloggers who would do a much better job. Why not step aside? McCabe's professionalism aside, I'm wondering what would prompt him to make this claim. What's been so forgettable about this LPGA season compared to others? The only thing I can pinpoint is that there's no single Big Story the media herd can follow in their sleep like sheep. If Cristie Kerr had actually won the 2 majors she could have this season, she probably would have passed Lorena Ochoa to become #1 in the Rolex Rankings (as well as on the money list and in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index)--and boom, The Return of American Golf would have been the Big Story of 2009. And all would be well in the world of women's golf for the vast majority of American journalists. Maybe they like the Solheim Cup because they get to celebrate the dominance of American golfers this week like they wish they could every week. And they wish they could forget the fact they can't.

This has been one of my favorite seasons, so I can understand but not identify with the feeling of disappointment and disorientation emanating from McCabe's whine. And although I enjoy the Solheim Cup for what it is, I'm not going to take too much from an American win. But I have to ask you, my 18 regular readers, has this been the most forgettable LPGA season for you?]

CAT Ladies Friday and Saturday: Meanwhile, Over in Hakone...

...the JLPGA's finest are duking it out, sans most of their LPGA visitors, at the CAT Ladies. With Shiho Oyama the only JLPGA irregular in the field and Chie Arimura sitting this one out after winning last week, new #1 on the money list Shinobu Moromizato and former #1 Sakura Yokomine are locked at -5 with a handful of holes left to play, only 2 shots behind a couple of money list leaders from different times last season, Miho Koga and Akiko Fukushima.

Plus, on Cheju Island in Korea, plenty of LPGA stars are competing against the best of the KLPGA, but only Vicky Hurst is in danger of missing the cut.

More to come when the 2nd rounds of both events are complete.

[Update 1 (1:28 am): In the 1st round, walkoff birdies by Miho Koga and Akane Iijima and a 17th-hole bogey by Shinobu Moromizato knotted them at -4 on the par-73 layout. A bogey on the same 17th hole dropped Sakura Yokomine 1 shot back, tied with such stalwarts as Ji-Hee Lee, Eun-A Lim, Yuko Mitsuka, and Akiko Fukushima, among others. Today, Fukushima jumped out to an early lead with 5 straight birdies to start her round, but fell back to -5 for the tournament with a triple on the par-4 6th. A bogey on the par-3 17th just offset 2 earlier birdies on the back, so she's now at -6. Moromizato caught her with a birdie on the 14th and Eun-A Lim did the same with birdies on 13 and 15. Koga, meanwhile, birdied 3 of her 1st 5 holes on the back to peak at -8, but a bogey on 15 dropped her back to -7. Yokomine has a bogey-free round going as she plays the 18th, but she's only managed 2 birdies thus far and sits at -5, tied with Yukari Baba and Esther Lee, who each made a recent bogey to fall back from T2.]

[Update 2 (1:34 am): Where the cut line will fall is also an interesting question. There are a bunch of players T50 at +2.... Despite opening with a 76, Shiho Oyama won't have to worry about making the cut after firing a sweet 69 today. She made 4 birdies in her 1st 11 holes and never made a bogey all day. Here's hoping she's put her neck troubles behind her and that she's been able to rest/rehab the tendonitis in both elbows that has held her back most of this season.]

[Update 3 (1:44 am): Hiroko Yamaguchi also shot a 69 that vaulted her to -3 for the tournament, but disappointing finishes have squelched the hopes of many of her peers. After making 3 birdies in her 1st 10 holes to get to -4 overall, Kumiko Kaneda bogeyed 14 and 15 to drop back to -2. Iijima is on a 3-hole and Maiko Wakabayashi is on a 2-hole bogey train; they have fallen all the way to -1 overall, while Mitsuka suffered a double on the 6th and late bogeys on each side to join them. Tamie Durdin finished bogey-double to drop all the way to +1 overall. The finishing holes look like they're tough, judging by so many bad finishes.]

[Update 4 (2:07 am): Here are the final results for the top 10 and notables after round 2:

1st/-7 Miho Koga (69-70)
T2/-6 Eun-A Lim (70-70), Akiko Fukushima (70-70), Shinobu Moromizato (69-71)
T5/-5 Esther Lee (71-70), Sakura Yokomine (70-71)
T7/-4 Ji-Hee Lee (70-72), Yukari Baba (70-72)
T9/-3 Hiroko Yamaguchi (74-69), Mayumi Shimomura (73-70), Kaori Aoyama (71-72)

T12/-2 Julie Lu (72-72), Kumiko Kaneda (72-72)
T14/-1 Shiho Oyama (76-69), Mayu Hattori (74-71), Rui Kitada (73-72), Miki Saiki (72-73), Yuko Mitsuka (70-75), Maiko Wakabayashi (70-75), Yuki Ichinose (70-75), Akane Iijima (69-76)
T27/E Midori Yoneyama (75-71), Ah-Reum Hwang (75-71), Yun-Jye Wei (73-73), Rikako Morita (72-74)
T35/+1 Erina Hara (75-72), Ayako Uehara (75-72), Mi-Jeong Jeon (74-73), Ji-Woo Lee (74-73), Tamie Durdin (72-75), Woo-Soon Ko (72-75)
T50/+2 Li-Ying Ye (77-71), Hyun-Ju Shin (75-73), Yuko Saitoh (75-73), Na-Ri Lee (72-76)

T64/+4 Hiromi Mogi (76-74)
T70/+5 Nikki Campbell (77-74), Sakurako Mori (77-74)
90th/+10 Mai Arai (78-78)

Ye birdied her last 2 holes to make the cut. The winner tomorrow will most likely be the one who can finish almost as well!]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Can It Be? Golf Channel Going All Out for the Solheim Cup

Wow, after years of terrible LPGA highlights, looks like Golf Channel has realized it had better build up U.S. interest in women's golf for the start of its new contract next season. For this year's Solheim Cup, they have produced a great overview page, interesting, well-informed video previews, profiles of Michelle Wie, Kristy McPherson and other rookies, pages and pages of Tour Insider stories, great live-blogging from The Shag Bag, and Randall Mell in the house. Amazing what they're capable of when they start trying.

That's not to say they're any better than the combined forces of Bill Jempty, Hound Dog, and Ryan Ballengee.

From them and the scoring summary, I'm psyched to catch some of the live streaming video from GC when the morning matches are complete! Nothing much of interest to add until then, plus I have some work that can't be avoided any longer--sorry!

[Update 1 (2:57 pm): Oh, who am I kidding? With the US leading 2 of the final 3 matches and none separated by more than a hole, this is a dramatic morning. So I'm squeezing work in. Anyway, turns out Creamer and Kerr came back from 3 separate deficits to win 1-up over Pettersen and Gustafson. Phew!]

[Update 2 (4:03 pm): Oh, man, got caught up in my work (don't you love when that happens?) and forgot to check the final morning results. 2.5-1.5 lead is huge for the Americans, but if it weren't for Alfredsson and Matthew, it could have been 3.5-.5--hope that doesn't come back to bite Team USA.]

[Update 3 (4:27 pm): Listening to the live feed is hilarious. It's like the announcers don't know if/when people can hear them talking!]

[Update 4 (5:24 pm): Yeesh, listening to the live feed was all I could do. Too much work!]

[Update 5 (5:32 pm): Here's Brent Kelley to the rescue with an executive summary of the morning action and afternoon match-ups.]

[Update 6 (8/22/09, 12:21 am): Hound Dog's semi-live-blogging picks up right about where I had to leave off my not-at-all-live-blogging!]

[Update 7 (12:28 am): Nice executive summary from Bremt Kelley.]

[Update 8 (7:57 am): Maybe I'm caught up in the Solheim Cup excitement and all, but I'm enjoying the live-blogging from Golf Digest Woman. I know Ryan's regulars at Waggle Room are going to tease me for saying that (at least the guys!).]

[Update 9 (8/25/09, 10:24 am): Sal Johnson still gets a lot of things wrong, but he is dead on in his assessment of Golf Channel's coverage of the Solheim Cup.]

Solheim Cup Projections

Having set up my fantasy Solheim Cup Team USA and Team Europe combos for morning best-ball, afternoon alternate-shot, and Sunday singles formats, here's how the matches might stack up.

Friday Morning Four-Ball

Stanford-McPherson v. Matthew-Moodie
Lincicome-Gulbis v. Davies-Brewerton
Wie-Creamer v. Alfredsson-Nordqvist
Kerr-Lang v. Gustafson-Pettersen

Friday Afternoon Foursomes

Inkster-Creamer v. Matthew-Moodie
Kim-Pressel v. Davies-Brewerton
Stanford-Gulbis v. Hjorth-Nocera
Kerr-Castrale v. Gustafson-Pettersen

My Saturday combos would depend on the results of these matches, so let me 1st flash-forward to Sunday Singles, where my strategy for each team is pretty fixed, no matter what the previous outcomes:

1. Inkster v. Davies
2. Kim v. Alfredsson
3. Wie v. Moodie
4. Lincicome v. Matthew
5. Lang v. Gustafson
6. McPherson v. Pettersen
7. Castrale v. Hjorth
8. Pressel v. Nordqvist
9. Gulbis v. Nocera
10. Stanford v. Brewerton
11. Creamer v. Elosequi
12. Kerr v. Luna

Now, if Team Europe does as well as I think they might on Friday, here's how Saturday morning might look:


Wie-Gulbis v. Nocera-Luna
Kim-McPherson v. Hjorth-Elosegui
Stanford-Lang v. Alfredsson-Nordqvist
Kerr-Creamer v. Gustafson-Pettersen

The afternoon matches would once again depend on the morning results, but let's say it will be pretty tight heading into them. If so, here's how the match-ups could look:


Inkster-Creamer v. Matthew-Moodie
Kim-Pressel v. Davies-Brewerton
Stanford-Gulbis v. Alfredsson-Hjorth
Kerr-Castrale v. Gustafson-Pettersen

But so much can happen in match play that it's almost pointless to try to project how Saturday's match-ups might look. And it's impossible to predict their outcomes. I know I said I thought it would end up Team USA 15, Team Europe 13, but I really have no idea. That's what makes the Solheim Cup so great, and that's why I wouldn't scrap it or modify it.

[Update 1 (3:16 am): And here are the actual Friday morning four-ball match-ups:

Kerr-Creamer v. Gustafson-Pettersen
Stanford-Inkster v. Alfredsson-Elosegui
Lincicome-Lang v. Davies-Brewerton
Wie-Pressel v. Hjorth-Matthew

Hjorth got the nod over Moodie and Elosegui got the nod over Nordqvist from Captain Nicholas, but otherwise I was pretty good for Team Europe. Looks like no rest for Inkster from Captain Daniel, but except for Pressel over Gulbis there were no surprises as to who would be playing for Team USA. But what I did find surprising was who would be paired with whom. They all make great sense, of course, although I still like mine better, particularly my preferences for ordering my line-ups. Be that as it may, there are some fascinating matches here. The opening 1 is an instant classic and a complete toss-up. The 2nd is intriguing, but I'd give the advantage to Team USA unless Alfredsson goes off. The pressure is on the young Americans in the last 2 as they go up against much more seasoned team match-play opponents. Lincicome, Davies, Wie, and Hjorth may be all over the course! Very exciting golf coming up later today!]

[Update 2 (3:32 am): Stephanie Wei is spot-on in noting what a huge shift in public perceptions of Wie this Solheim Cup could produce, but I'm a little anxious for her, to tell you the truth. Hjorth-Matthew is a tough best-ball team and I could easily envision Wie struggling with her driving accuracy and Pressel struggling with her approach shots and/or putting. But all the casual Wie-watchers will likely expect is a cakewalk for the Americans--and be ready to draw completely unwarranted conclusions if they lose. Personally, I think the match is a toss-up. Both new moms from Europe are rusty, notwithstanding some great recent rounds by Hjorth and Matthew's WBO title, so it's not like it's advantage Team Europe or anything. This is what's so great about team match play. But all the Wie fans and Wie haters will want to see is a W or L in the results column, so they can go ahead and say what they would have said anyway. Here's hoping reality intrudes this week and unfixes their minds just a little. That's as optimistic as I'm ready to get at this point.]

[Update 3 (3:43 am): I see from Hound Dog's pairings post that I missed the announcement by almost 12 hours. That's what an all-day retreat and ensuing neck pain will do to ya! I'm as surprised as he is by the Lincicome-Lang pairing, although I wouldn't quite call Lang a bomber (she's long and straight, like Stanford and Kerr, which is why I projected pairing her with them on different days). If the 2 Brittanys can pull off a W later today, we may well get that Team USA blowout everyone is expecting this week.]

[Update 4 (2:34 pm): Here are the afternoon foursomes pairings. I guess with Davies and Brewerton getting skunked by the Brittanys, Captain Nicholas couldn't follow my advice completely, but she came pretty close. I thought Hjorth might get a rest for Alfredsson, but nope. As for the Americans, I'm shcoked to see Lincicome playing twice but not Kerr. And I didn't expect to see 2 rookies going out at all, much less together on Day 1. Other than that, it's pretty much the people I expected, just paired differently and in a different order than I hoped for. But we'll still get that Inkster-Creamer v. Matthew-Moodie match I was hoping for!]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Solheim Cup Preview: Team Europe

Captain Alison Nicholas and her Annika-less team have absolutely nothing to lose in this year's Solheim Cup. They're playing on American soil, where a European team has never won, they're clearly outgunned and thinner than Team USA, and they had the misfortune of potentially stronger players having down years in 2009. Karen Stupples's impressive win over Amy Yang came 1 week too late, as did Melissa Reid's impressive performance in Wales, when they needed to step it up over the entire season to displace the top LET point-getters or convince Nicholas to give them a captain's pick. Stupples's emergency appendectomy and Reid's Jeong Jang-like wrist problems certainly didn't help on that front. But as someone whose name it would bother me to invoke once said during America's dark ages, not so long ago, "You fight with the army you have." And this edition of Team Euro may well have the power and experience to knock off even this loaded Team USA. If their famously mercurial leaders all play well consistently all competition, they could surprise a lot of people, including Hound Dog (who predicts an 18-10 US victory) and Brian Heard (who thinks it will be less of a blowout at 16.5-11.5). When you consider the kinds of players Captain Nicholas has available to deploy and their strength in team match play, this year's Solheim Cup is likely to be closer than anyone thinks. Consider this.

Laura Davies has competed in every Solheim Cup and although she is not nearly the player she used to be, she still had enough to charge from behind for a stirring win against a strong field in the Australian Women's Open this winter. Guess who she beat? Her rookie teammate, Tania Elosegui, who I had as one of my favorites at LPGA Q-School last season, but who earned such low status that she decided to play regularly on the LET instead and has earned a gold, 3 silvers, and a bronze in 11 events this season. By the way, Davies is coming off a top 10 in Wales, so she has some positive momentum heading into Friday. And Elosegui averages over 260 off the tee (although she only hits the fairway 64.4% of the time).

Even with Davies's driving average down in the mid-250s, Team Euro has a definite power advantage over Team USA. Suzann Pettersen was the best player in the world of women's golf at the end of 2007, and even though she hasn't won on the LPGA since then, she's kept playing near, at, or even above that level ever since. But while she's one of the longest hitters on the LPGA (and much more accurate than Wie or Lincicome), she's been outdriven on the LET by Solheim Cup teammates Sophie Gustafson, Helen Alfredsson (who bombs it less on the LPGA but is quite accurate off the tee there), Maria Hjorth, and Becky Brewerton, while Gwladys Nocera is about as long as Elosegui. While Brewerton's one of the hottest players on the LET right now and Nocera is unfairly maligned for her 91 on Thursday at the Women's British Open (she came back on Friday to go -4 over a 10-hole stretch, so she definitely has game), the rest are used to contending and winning on both tours. Sure, like Catriona Matthew, Hjorth is just coming back from childbirth, but Matthew's win at the WBO should show what new moms are capable of!

Team Euro really only has 1 precision player, Anna Nordqvist, who gives the squad 1 more 2009 major than Team USA. Diana Luna, who has won twice this year on tour and is coming off a top 10 in Wales, and Janice Moodie, who's a match-play machine, both hit it right around 250 off the tee, but aren't all that accurate. Still, joining Nordqvist with very high greens in regulation rates are Nocera, Elosegui, Hjorth, and Gustafson (all over 75%), while Luna, Alfredsson, and Davies also are good with their irons (with GIR rates of around 70%).

As for putting, Team Euro's birdie rates on the LET and LPGA are very high, for the most part, so you know they can get the ball in the cup, even if only Gustafson's, Alfredsson's, and Pettersen's putting stats really stand out, while Nordqvist's, Brewerton's, Davies's, and Matthew's are respectable.

So how would I put together Team Euro's players to build on their strengths and try to build up an early lead on Team USA? As with Team USA, I would use the alternate-shot format of foursomes to make my decisions on the best best-ball four-ball teams. The idea is to concentrate firepower on Friday. Here's the order I'd put my combos out in for afternoon foursomes:


Despite the relative age of Team Euro and the fact that 2 of their best players are coming off childbirth, I'd also seek to stack my Friday morning four-ball teams:


The goal is to build as big a lead as possible on Day 1, so I could cycle in the rest of the Solheim Cup rookies Saturday morning and rest Matthew, Moodie, Davies, and Brewerton. Here's how the morning four-ball teams would go off:


If Team Euro hadn't built up a big lead Friday, though, I'd call on Matthew and Moodie to replace Nocera and Luna, and sub Luna in for Nordqvist with Alfredsson.

The Saturday afternoon foursomes would look pretty much the same as Friday's, with 1 substitution:

Alfredsson-Nordqvist (although Hjorth could substitute for either)

That leaves singles, where the only way for Team Euro to win is to stack up their toughest players early and hope for late upsets on Sunday:

1. Davies
2. Alfredsson
3. Moodie
4. Matthew
5. Gustafson
6. Pettersen
7. Hjorth
8. Nordqvist
9. Nocera
10. Brewerton
11. Elosequi
12. Luna

Team Euro should be much stronger in 2011, what with up-and-coming new pros (and new pros-to-be) Melissa Reid, Sandra Gal, Pernilla Lindberg, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Maria Hernandez, Azahara Munoz, and Carlota Ciganda likely to join Nordqvist and Elosegui, as well as stalwarts like Pettersen, Gustafson, and Hjorth--provided the LET changes its selection criteria to limit the LET to the top 3 points-getters and rely on the world rankings for its next 6 players, leaving the next captain with 3 wild cards. With almost all of the best European golfers practically playing full-time on the LPGA (or expected to do so by next season), they have to change their current 5-4-3 selection ratio if they want to stay competitive. As for this year, with so many streaky golfers playing so many matches and with so much trouble off the tee and on approach shots waiting for the generally less accurate Team Euro, it's an open question how much they'll be able to take advantage of their power and experience advantages on Team USA. I have a feeling this one's going to come down to the wire. Let's call it 15-13 for the Americans.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Solheim Cup Preview: Team USA

Hound Dog is your one-stop shop for all things Solheim Cup. His preview, evaluation of the teams, and breakdown of individual players' records are excellent enough, but then he went and recommended strategies for putting the best-ball (four-ball) and alternate shot (foursomes) teams together. This, better than anything else, shows how many choices are available to the captains and how much of a difference chemistry and tactics can make in team match play. The pressure is on Beth Daniel, as an American loss on home turf would be a huge humiliation. And Rich Harvest Farms puts a lot of pressure on the players, both off the tee and on approach shots. So how to set up her teams to hold off an inevitable charge from the European underdogs with nothing to lose?

First step is knowing what kinds of players you have to work with. Michelle Wie and Brittany Lincicome are bombers, long and not at all accurate off the tee. Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lang, Christina Kim, and Juli Inkster are long hitters who are much more accurate than the bombers (although the latter 2 have lost a little distance this year, due to weight loss and age, respectively). Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis, Nicole Castrale, and Kristy McPherson are all precision players. Gulbis, Kerr, and Wie are probably the best putters on the team right now, then McPherson, Creamer, and Stanford, then Castrale and Pressel.

Next step is figuring out who is most likely to play well together and in what format. Alternate shot is the toughest format, so you want players with experience who will complement each other well, which means no bombers allowed. Inkster and Creamer were a great team in 2007 and 2005. I'm not splitting them up in alternate shot, no matter what. Kerr has played well with both Gulbis and Castrale in recent Cups, but I wouldn't put 2 of the best putters on the team together unless absolutely necessary, so let's call it Kerr and Castrale for foursomes on Friday. Stanford is another anchor in foursomes and would pair well with Gulbis, Pressel, or McPherson; my heart says put the Southerners together, but my head says save that for Saturday if necessary and start Gulbis on Friday. I would make Kim my last Friday foursomes anchor and pair her with Pressel for an all-star Twitter combo. So what order to put the teams out in on Friday afternoon?


A tough-as-nails lead-off team, the most vulnerable of the 4 teams next, and the 2 strongest to finish off the 1st day.

Friday morning best-ball pairings follow from these. I'd rest Inkster both mornings so she's fresh for foursomes. Pressel is the shortest hitter on the team, so I'd bench her Friday morning. I agree with Hound Dog that it's important to get everyone out there on the 1st day, so that means pairing the bombers with some steady players. To me, that means putting Lincicome with Gulbis and Wie with Creamer (it would be the other way around if Wie and Gulbis weren't in the top 3 in putting on the team). Rookies Lang and McPherson also need steadying influences, so pairing the former with Kerr and the latter with Stanford makes the most sense to me. That frees up Kim and Castrale for cheerleading duties with Inkster and Pressel. Here's my Friday morning line-up in order:


Once again, I want Kerr's team batting clean-up and a tough lead-off team, but this time I'm hoping for at least 1 win from the 2 bomber/precision player pairings in the middle.

What to do on Saturday depends a lot on Friday's results. If Team USA is leading the 1st day, I'd get a little creative with my best-ball pairings Saturday morning:

Wie-Kim (to get the top sparkplug/cheerleader done early)
Lincicome-Creamer (especially if Lincicome couldn't get even half a point with Gulbis the morning before)
Stanford-McPherson (or Gulbis, if McPherson played badly the morning before)
Kerr-Lang (or Castrale, if Lang played badly and Castrale teamed up well with Kerr in alternate shot the afternoon before)

If Team USA is tied or trailing, though, I'd consider concentrating my firepower a little more in hopes of nailing down at least a couple of points in the morning:

Kim-[the hottest-remaining precision player]

My Saturday afternoon would depend, again, on previous results. If Team USA and Team Euro are tight, I'd go with the same combos as on Friday, unless someone were playing really badly, in which case I'd go to the Plan B in parentheses:

Kim-Pressel (Gulbis if Pressel is struggling)
Stanford-Gulbis (McPherson if they've done well in previous matches or if Gulbis needs to switch partners)
Kerr-Castrale (Lang or Pressel could sub for Castrale if necessary)

Oddly enough, if Team USA is trailing or leading, I'd use the same alternate combos as in the morning:

Kim-[the hottest remaining precision player]

The idea would be to either mount a comeback or pour it on. Even if these pairings didn't work out in the morning best-ball matches, I think they'd have a better chance of working out in the afternoon alternate-shot matches, because the players would have become even more accustomed to playing together in a team match-play format.

Here's my order for singles, which wouldn't change much no matter what the previous results. My idea would be to put your shakiest players right after Inkster and Kim, who have to lead off to set the tone and get in cheerleader mode as soon as possible, and then build up to your steadiest ones:

1. Inkster
2. Kim
3. Wie
4. Lincicome
5. Lang
6. McPherson
7. Castrale
8. Pressel
9. Gulbis
10. Stanford
11. Creamer
12. Kerr

My only modification to this principle would be to put Wie after Kim (normally she'd be my #7 person), so she'd have a friendly face to confide in if there's any waiting on the tees.

So there you have it. Tomorrow I'll preview Team Europe!

[Update 1 (7:52 pm): Here's Brian Heard's excellent preview.]

[Update 2 (8/20/09, 2:25 am): Here's Average Golfer's set-up for the Solheim Cup.]

[Update 3 (2:36 am): Here's Jeff Skinner.]