Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kia Classic Friday: Seo v. LPGA

Apparently Hee Kyung Seo did not appreciate being overshadowed in my Best 2009 in Women's Golf award deliberations, for she shot a bogey-free 67 yesterday to leap to -7 and lead the entire LPGA in the Kia Classic after 36 holes. Her lead chase pack consists of In-Kyung Kim (69, -6), Song-Hee Kim (68, -5), Michelle Wie (67, -5), Vicky Hurst (68, -5), and Seon Hwa Lee (71, -5), whom I've listed in relative order of threat to pass Seo on the weekend. Lee, the Stone Buddha, continues to scramble her way around the course, while Hurst is living dangerously off the tee thus far. That leaves Wie, who's driving the ball well and whose wedge game always makes her a threat on small greens, and the 2 Kims, precision-player Inky (who's not playing all that precisely by her standards) and straight shooter Song-Hee (who's hitting the ball great but having trouble on the greens), as Seo's greatest threats on moving day. But as Inky is the only player among the 143 who have completed 36 holes to have broken 70 both days, I wouldn't expect the leaders to up and run away from the field tomorrow.

In fact, if scoring conditions remain as benign as they were yesterday, there are lots of players 1 round away from serious contention. Candie Kung's bogey-free 68 moved her within 5 shots of Seo, while Jee Young Lee eagled the par-5 3rd hole (her 12th) on the way to a 67 that pulled her within 3 of the lead (tied with yesterday's leader Na On Min, who doubled the par-4 14th on her way to a 74). Ai Miyazato needs that kind of 7-shot swing on the 36-hole leader if she wants to keep her hopes of a record-setting 3rd consecutive LPGA win to start the season alive. But she's made only 2 birdies in her 1st 36 holes and sits 9 back at T37. Only there? Yup, a lot of players moved backwards yesterday. For every 69 (by Wendy Ward, Christina Kim, and Stacy Prammanasudh, which shot them up the leaderboard to T19, T13 and T9, respectively), there were far more 75s (most notably by Na Yeon Choi, Catriona Matthew, and Lorena Ochoa, which sent them tumbling down the leaderboard to T13, T19, and T27, respectively). Heck, when 70s by Morgan Pressel, Azahara Munoz, Teresa Lu and Karine Icher, and Mi Hyun Kim moved them into the top 10, top 15, top 20, and top 30, respectively, you know that it's probably going to be more important to get and stay under par than it will be to go super-low in the final 36 holes. (Unless, of course, you shot a 77 like Cristie Kerr to join Ya Ni Tseng, Angela Park, and Moira Dunn in the big group at +4.)

But of course you have to be playing on the weekend to have a chance to reach that goal, and unfortunately some of my favorite players won't have that chance this week. Angela Stanford and Mika Miyazato missed the cut by 1 shot, while Mina Harigae and Tiffany Joh joined Sun Young Yoo and Stacy Lewis 1 further back. Other notable victims of the cut line include Brittany Lang, Se Ri Pak, Hee-Won Han, Jeong Jang, Sophie Gustafson, Brittany Lincicome, Natalie Gulbis, Hee Young Park, and Grace Park.

Still, those playing early today have a great chance to make a move before the breeze comes up. I'm looking for low numbers from the past Rookies of the Year paired together at 9:48 and the European stars in the next 2 groups after them. But the decision to send the players off in pairs from the 1st tee only means that most of the field will be dealing with the wind for a good portion, if not all, of their rounds. I'm in Clinton at my folks' place, so will be subjecting my girls to some LPGA-watching this evening. Can't wait!

[Update 1 (4:15 am): Seo's a very funny interview, it seems, and her tribute to Juli Inkster was very moving! Nice to hear about Inky's peregrinations--never knew she first learned to really use her English in South Carolina! Does she have a Southern South Korean accent?]

[Update 2 (4:25 am): Hee Kyung Seo is the latest to get Stephanie Wei's Know Your Asians treatment!]

[Update 3 (4:33 am): Nice job by Beth Ann Baldry with the mini-updates on Christina Km and Natalie Gulbis.]

[Update 4 (4:38 am): Jay Busbee calls attention to Ai Miyazato's attempt to make LPGA history.]

[Update 5 (12:56 pm): Here are Hound Dog and Jamie on round 2.]

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