Thursday, February 25, 2010

HSBC Women's Champions Thursday: On a Tough Day for Scoring, Two Ways to the Top

If you don't believe me that different golfers have very different styles of play and that there's more than one way to be a great golfer, the 1st round of the HSBC Women's Champions is my Exhibit A. On a day when half the field is finding it easier to make double bogeys than birdies (or so it seemed from a quick scan of scorecards) and breaking 70 is a major accomplishment, let's break down how those at the top of the leaderboard got there or are getting there.

You can try to minimize your mistakes and take birdies when you can get them, as Angela Stanford (-4 and bogey-free through 17) and Ai Miyazato (4 birdies and 1 bogey in her 1st 16 holes) have done so far, or Song-Hee Kim has already done (4-birdie 69). Or you could try to bounce back from your mistakes and make as many birdies as possible, a la Hee Young Park (7 birdies and 3 bogeys), Christina Kim (1st 10 holes: 3 bogeys and 2 birdies; last 7 holes: 4 birdies and no bogeys), and Cristie Kerr (who just ended a 4-hole birdie train after making 2 bogeys and a lone birdie in her 1st 7 holes, but bounced right back with a walkoff birdie for a 31 on the back and a 68 overall).

Don't get me wrong: Kerr plays a very similar kind of game as Angela Stanford and Song-Hee Kim, but her scorecard looks more like Hee Young Park's and Christina Kim's. Even straight shooters like Kerr can get in trouble for a stretch, but it's that capacity to right the ship and rip off a birdie run that this week's winner is going to need. Lorena Ochoa is certainly reminding people of why she's the world #1--after a 2-bogey stretch over 3 holes on the back derailed her -4, bogey-free start through her 1st 11 holes, she bounced back with a birdie on the 16th to join her playing partner Ai-sama at -3.

More in a bit!

[Update 1 (1:54 am): A quick look at some interesting scorecards while the last groups play out the last 3 holes. Katherine Hull got off on the wrong foot with an early double, but she offset it with an eagle on the 9th hole and added 2 more birdies on the back before a walkoff bogey netted her a 71. In-Kyung Kim had an indifferent start on the back, but birdied 4 of her 1st 5 holes on the front; unfortunately for her, she bogeyed the 4th and 6th holes, so she's "only" -2 as she plays the par-5 9th.]

[Update 2 (2:00 am): Well, well, well! Ochoa birdied her 2nd par 4 in a row to get to -4, tied for the lead with Park and Stanford--who may well be the only player in the field to fire a bogey-free round. Oh, and Inky got off the roller-coaster and finished her round with 3 straight pars for an acceptable 70. Back to interesting scorecards: Sun Young Yoo opened with a near-flawless 33, but sandwiched her lone birdie on the front (her back) between a pair of bogeys near the end of her day, so she, too, had to settle for a 70 of her own. Not as steady as the 3-birdie 70s by Suzann Pettersen, Karrie Webb, Kristy McPherson, and Juli Inkster, but everyone needs a little excitement in their lives, right?]

[Update 3 (2:12 am): Here's Lewine Mair with an early report. Looks like Global Golf Post is positioning themselves to do more than a 2-page spread on the LPGA, as they did this week for Ai-sama's win in Thailand. But don't go away too long--Ochoa parred 18 to join the Park, Kerr, and Stanford at -4, and Ai-sama also parred the final hole to join Song-Hee and Christina Kim at -3. The only player left on the course with a good chance to break 70 is Sophie Gustafson, who's made 3 birdies in her last 5 holes and has only the 18th left to play.]

[Update 4 (2:20 am): More previews from Mair while we wait for the last groups to finish. Uh-oh--Natalie Gulbis just withdrew after an opening 73. First Creamer's thumb and now (most likely) Gulbis's back?? More pressure on the remaining top Americans to pick up the least until American fans realize that Asian and Asian-American players aren't going to back off, any more than European or North American players would be expected to!]

[Update 5 (2:30 am): Gustafson parred 18 for a fine 69. OK, so with about 2/3 of the field within 5 shots of the lead, 24 at par or better, and only 8 breaking 70, this is very much a bunched field. I wonder how many of the 18 who went under par today will be able to repeat the performance tomorrow. And can anyone who's in the bottom third make a run over the last 3 rounds and get back into contention? I'm sure Ya Ni Tseng, Morgan Pressel, and Se Ri Pak at 74, Momoko Ueda at 75, Brittany Lang, Stacy Lewis, and Angela Park at 76, and Eun-Hee Ji and Amanda Blumenherst at 77 would love to be the player who does it. Remember that defending champion Ji-Yai Shin, who shot a 71 today, played over-par before her weekend 66s! Anything can still happen. 54 holes is a very long time.]

[Update 6 (2/26/10, 5:25 am): Phew, turns out Gulbis didn't withdraw, after all! Good notes and great interviews over at]

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