Sunday, February 28, 2010

HSBC Women's Sunday: Can Miyazato Make It Two in a Row?

Lots of players are taking a run at Ai Miyazato during the final round of the HSBC Women's Champions, including Cristie Kerr (who's gotten to -9 for the tournament thanks to 5 birdies and no bogeys in her 1st 14 holes today), Momoko Ueda (who followed up an eagle on the par-5 9th with birdies on the 11th and 13th to get to -8 overall), In-Kyung Kim (who got it to -8 after an eagle on the par-4 10th and birdie on the 12th, but may have ruined her chances with a double on the par-5 13th and after a birdie on the 15th got back to -7 with 3 holes left to play), Ji-Yai Shin (who birdied 3 holes in a row on the back to get to -7 but only has two holes to go), and Song-Hee Kim (who opened with a 31 to get to -7 but hasn't made a birdie since and only has 1 hole left). Despite hiccups along the way, including bogeys on her 1st 2 holes, Ai-sama has shown lots of resilience, bouncing back with a pair of offsetting birdies on 4 and 5; then, after trading a birdie and a bogey as she made the turn, she rattled off 3 birdies in a row to become the 1st player in the field to get to -10. Let's see what happens down the home stretch!

[Update 1 (12:54 am): Nice 68s by Seon Hwa Lee, Stacy Prammanasudh, and Eunjung Yi earlier today, by the way. I also forgot to mention that even with her bogey on the 14th to drop back to -14, Suzann Pettersen still has time to do to Ai-sama this week what Ai-sama did to her last week. The par-5 15th and drive-able par-4 16th will be big holes for Ai-sama. She's never birdied the former this week, but is -4 through 3 rounds on the latter. As she's parred every other hole every other time she's played it, if she wants to extend her lead, 15 and 16 are the places to do it.]

[Update 2 (12:57 am): It's official--Song-Hee Kim closed out her round with 9 straight pars to finish at -7. She's the leader in the clubhouse, for now after her strangely disappointing bogey-free 67!]

[Update 3 (12:59 am): Hey, but Ai-sama and Momo-chan will tell you pars are good after they both bogeyed the 14th to drop back to -9 and -7, respectively. Kerr is now tied for the lead again with Ai-sama!]

[Update 4 (1:02 am): Don't count Sakura Yokomine out just yet, either. After making her 5th birdie of the day and 1st since the 9th on the 16th, she's now only 2 behind Kerr and Miyazato. Birdies have been few and far between on the par-5 15th, so it's a great opportunity for Ai-sama to distance herself from the field on that hole right now!]

[Update 5 (1:06 am): In case you were wondering what happened to 3rd-round co-leader Juli Inkster, she, too, got off to a rough start with back-to-back birdies and followed them up with 3 birdies and 2 more bogeys to hang tough at -6, still only 3 off the pace. Na Yeon Choi and Vicky Hurst have caught her, but they only have 2 holes to go in which to pass Song-Hee Kim as leader in the clubhouse.]

[Update 6 (1:08 am): Ji-Yai Shin matched Kim's bogey-free 67 to join her at -7 for the tournament, but she couldn't buy a birdie over her last 5 holes.]

[Update 7 (1:10 am): Oh, mannn! Inky bogeyed the 17th for the 3rd straight day to drop back to -6 overall, -3 today.]

[Update 8 (1:14 am): Speaking of "oh, mann!" Hee Young Park just went bogey-double to drop out of a chance for contending for her 1st win. She's now +2 on her day, -3 overall, and fighting to stay in the top 20. That's how tightly bunched everyone who's been playing at all well has been this week.]

[Update 9 (1:15 am): Even though Kerr couldn't birdie the par-5 15th, she birdied the 16th for the 3rd time in 4 rounds. That brings her to -6 today and -10 overall!]

[Update 10 (1:19 am): From 13 to 17, Vicky Hurst has gone birdie-bogey-birdie-birdie-birdie to get to -7 with 1 hole left to play. If she can end her round with her 4th straight birdie, she'll be leader in the clubhouse.]

[Update 11 (1:20 am): Oh, mannn! Yokomine bogeyed the 17th to drop back to -6 overall.]

[Update 12 (1:21 am): I don't like how long it's taking the final group to play the 15th.]

[Update 13 (1:25 am): Michelle Wie got on a 3-hole birdie train at the end of her round until she derailed with a walkoff bogey and had to settle for a 70. -4 is a pretty respectable finish for the Super Soph.]

[Update 14 (1:27 am): Oh, mann!! Momo-chan doubled 15 and Inkster bogeyed it. They've fallen back to T10 at -5. Miyazato parred it, putting extra pressure on herself on the 16th.]

[Update 15 (1:33 am): Jee Young Lee continues her climb back into the LPGA's elite with a final-round 69 that could have been better--she was +1 over her last 5 holes. But at -5 overall, she has a chance for a top 10.]

[Update 16 (1:35 am): Inky also closed with a 69 (-6), Angela Stanford with a 70 (-5), Mika Miyazato with a 70 (-3), and Karrie Webb with a 71 (-3).]

[Update 17 (1:37 am): Ya Ni Tseng just made it 2 birdies in a row on 16 and 17, bringing her into the big group at -7 for now.]

[Update 18 (1:38 am): 2-shot swing, baby! Kerr bogeyed 17 as Miyazato birdied 16!! Now it's Ai-sama -10, Kerr -9!!!]

[Update 19 (1:40 am): Kerr's bogey-free run ended at 19 holes. Let's see if she can bounce back on the 18th.]

[Update 20 (1:44 am): For the 2nd day in a row, Hurst bogeyed the 18th to settle for a 69. But it looks like she's got a top 10 locked up and valuable experience under her belt!]

[Update 21 (1:51 am): Now it's Kerr, Pettersen, and Tseng taking a long time on the 18th.]

[Update 22 (1:54 am): For that matter, the final group is taking a long time on 17, too.]

[Update 23 (1:56 am): OK, 3 pars on the tough 17th for the final group....]

[Update 24 (1:57 am): The final 3 groups are on the 18th green, fairway, and tee....]

[Update 25 (2:01 am): Oh, mannn!! Kerr bogeyed her last 2 holes in a row to fall to -8 overall. It's still good enough for leader in the clubhouse, as Tseng and Pettersen parred the 18th to remain 1 shot behind her. But now Ai-sama has a 2-shot lead on Kerr with 1 hole left to play!!!!]

[Update 26 (2:16 am): After that disastrous double, Hee Young Park birdied 2 of her last 3 holes to snag a top 10. Her day will come soon!]

[Update 27 (2:21 am): The answer to my title question is "HAI!!!!!!!!" It's official: Ai Miyazato parred 18 for a 2-shot victory over Cristie Kerr! Ai-sama's 2 for 2 to start 2010!]

[Update 28 (9:16 am): Here's's notes and interviews page. Some highlights:
  • Here are some names Ai-sama's put herself next to: former champions Lorena Ochoa and Ji-Yai Shin, who both went on to win the money list title in the year they won the HSBC; Marilynn Smith (1966), Mickey Wright (1963), Louise Suggs (1952), and Babe Zaharias (1951), who were the only previous players in LPGA history to win back-to-back season-opening events.
  • Ai-sama's birdie train on the back came courtesy of putts of 6, 12, and 5 meters.
  • Ai-sama confirmed she'll be kicking off her JLPGA season next week at the Daikin Orchid Ladies (in Okinawa).
  • Kerr would have used a 3-wood off the tee on 18 if she had it to do over again.
Hoping Ai-sama's youtube fans come out in force! LPGA Fan can use some company!]

[Update 29 (10:18 am): Here are Hound Dog, Brent Kelley, and Bill Jempty on Miyazato's 3rd career LPGA victory.]

[Update 30 (10:45 am): Here's the LPGA Rewind from last week.

Can't wait to see the one from this week!]

[Update 31 (11:26 am): The Squire over at Golf Babes makes up for his unconscionable overlooking of Ai-sama's win last week with an informative and funny post on her win this one. Give it a look when you get a chance!]

[Update 32 (7:20 pm): Here's Golf Girl!]

[Update 33 (7:32 pm): And here's Jamie!]

[Update 34 (7:45 pm): While I appreciate Sal Johnson's look at Ai-sama's LPGA career through the lens of her confidence levels, the fact is that she lost the 2nd half of 2007 and 1st half of 2008 to injury and swing problems that had her so inaccurate with the driver she had to keep it in the bag for quite some time. Lack of confidence definitely played a role during this period, but she built it back up from the 2nd half of 2008 through the 1st half of 2009, as she got her driving distance and accuracy back to where it was in 2004-2006 and could start attacking courses once again. The wins at Evian, Sankyo, Thailand, and Singapore are simply an outgrowth of her improved game and play. The difference this year is that she's been able to close the deal. More on this tomorrow, as it's not just Johnson who's misunderstanding why Ai-sama has been playing better the past year and a half.]

[Update 35 (7:48 pm): Beth Ann Baldry gets the sequence better: first physical problems, then problems with the driver, then loss of confidence, then healthy, then swing and driver back, then confidence back. Then wins!]

[Update 36 (7:51 pm): Ai-sama's now #5 on the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.]

[Update 37 (3/1/10, 11:02 am): Here's Ai-sama's post-round interview:

Note the mix of Japanese and English. Is that the worst thing in the world? I wish the poster had included her answers in Japanese more often, actually. I love how she switches to Japanese to make a joke (and how the reporters and others there get them, even in translation), and how instead of saying "um" or "uh," she says "ah" (the first syllable of the Japanese um, "ano," but Americanized by drawing it out instead of clipping it off).]

[Update 38 (11:09 am): Here's the highlights from Ai-sama's final round from a youtube poster who appears to be quite the fan of Ryo Ishikawa:

Apparently this poster specializes in making Golf Channel clips searchable by Japanese speakers. Still waiting for an actual Japanese highlight show!]

[Update 39 (10:52 pm): Here's Ryan Ballengee!]

[Update 40 (11:14 pm): After years of snide comments, Steve Elling finally jumps on the Ai Miyazato bandwagon. But he wouldn't Elling without raising a tough question: is she 5'2", as most journalists are repeating, or 5'1" as he claims? Inquiring minds want to know!]

[Update 41 (3/5/10, 8:48 am): Here's the LPGA Rewind on Ai-sama's victory!

Much better edited than Bivens-era ones, eh?]

[Update 42 (8:54 am): And here's LPGA Fan's montage:

Chariots of Fire music? Excellent! Didn't realize Ai-sama was rockin' the knee-highs in round 3....]

[Update 43 (9:04 am): Here are the obligatory airport press conferences after Thailand:

and Singapore:

Wonder if an American wins in Australia in the next 2 weeks, she'll get similar treatment on her return home?]


Unknown said...

Ai played a stunning sdhot into 18. She had about 130-140 to the front, another 30 to the back pin, flying over water and with water to the back and right. She hit it dead to abou 7 feet. Great Champion!
The last LPGA player to start the season with back-to-back wins was one of the founders Marilyn Smith in 1966. That's so long ago I was still in nappies!
Giles Morgan of HSBC called me immediately afterwards to say "this is further proof that the game of golf is moving East!"

The Constructivist said...

Thanks, Tim!

The Florida Masochist said...

I blogged about the HSBC and linked here. Is Ochoa and her play resembling the Mid 2004 to pre 2006 LPGA Champion Se Ri Pak?

Mike said...

Well, Cristie and Juli both showed they're ready to play this year, TC. Ai may not have it so easy before long!

The Constructivist said...

Easy? Nothing was easy about that win! Cristie's been knocking on the door almost as often as Ai-sama the last 2 seasons. I expect her to break through some time soon! Too bad we have to wait till late March for more LPGA action. Wondering how many LPGAers are seeking sponsor exemptions into the 2 LET/ALPG events in Australia. Did you see that Davies won in NZ this week?

Mike said...

Yes I did. I really think it's a shame that worldwide wins don't count toward the LPGA's Hall of Fame. Yeah, I know it's the LPGA Hall of Fame, but if a player is a member of the LPGA, I think their worldwide presence should be worth something.

As much as I like the LPGA method of earning your way into the HoF (as opposed to the men's less-than-scientific "pick me, pick me!" method), I think this is going to have to change as the world players become more dominant in the game. Laura Davies belongs in the LPGAHoF!

Mike said...

BTW, Cristie gave Ai that win with bogeys on the 17th and 18th holes. That's why I said it was "easy." Otherwise there would have been a playoff... and anything goes then.

The Constructivist said...

Heh, now you've forced me to be less nice to Cristie--hasn't she given several players wins in the past year or so? I stand by what I wrote in my assessment of Ai-sama's chances of winning POY this season: "Now, if Suzann Pettersen and Angela Stanford can stay healthy in 2010, they'll pose significant challenges, as will Cristie Kerr, who could prove to be the toughest of the bunch if she ever goes beyond talking about 'zen golf' and actually putting it into practice when she's in contention. But as you can see from my top 30 predictions, I'm confident that this is Miyazato's year, not theirs. What that means is 3-6 wins on the LPGA and 2-5 on the JLPGA, including at least 1 major on each tour."

Mike said...

It's not being "less nice" to tell the truth, TC. As you'll recall from my other comments, I agree with you and said that would be Cristie's biggest challenge this year.

But you also have to admit that all of Ai's wins have been overseas. I'm not demeaning her talent in any way, so don't misunderstand me, but it is easier to win where you're most comfortable. (I have to level the same criticism at Cristie -- all her wins are in North America and Hawaii.)

Both have a ways to go before we can put either of them in even Jiyai Shin's category, with 3 U.S. wins in addition to her "comfort zone" domination and a major.