Monday, June 28, 2010

LPGA Championship Sunday: How Scary Was Cristie Kerr's Win?

By now, you know the news: Cristie Kerr absolutely dominated the field and the course at the LPGA Championship, garnering her 2nd career major, 14th career victory, and becoming the 1st American ever to sit atop the Rolex Rankings in the process. With an amazing 4 rounds under 70 and a winning total of -19, Kerr made a tough Locust Hill track her own personal playground, finishing 12 shots ahead of Song-Hee Kim to establish the largest margin of victory in a modern LPGA major.

And it's not like people weren't taking runs at Kerr all week. Kim made 8 birdies and an eagle in her last 27 holes, Azahara Munoz went -6 in a bogey-free stretch of 22 holes on Friday and Saturday, and Amy Yang made 8 birdies in a 28-hole stretch on Thursday and Friday. But Kerr posted the lowest score of the day 3 times this week to crush the spirits of everyone trying to keep pace with her. Munoz played her last 23 holes in +4. Yang played her last 36 holes in +4. Jimin Kang played her last 16 holes in +3. But perhaps the most telling example is Mika Miyazato: midway through Saturday's round, she had pulled within 3 shots of the lead, but she played her final 24 holes in +7!

Ai Miyazato, whose 66 yesterday brought her into a tie for 3rd with Ji-Yai Shin, 14 shots off the pace, said it all when asked about Kerr's scoring this week:

I mean almost that's too good, I guess. Me and my caddie was talking about earlier this week winning scores going to be maybe 5- to 8-under or so. So she played really, really good and she had such a solid round on her second round, I guess. But she is just amazing. I played really good, too. But she is just better than me.

Even though Kerr found only 55.4% of her fairways, she hit the green in regulation 80.6% of the time from some very thick and usually wet rough and putted the lights out (taking only 110 strokes in all on the greens, tied with Song-Hee Kim and only 3 more than Ai Miyazato, who hit 16 fewer greens than she did on the week). Imagine how low she could have gone if she had been only slightly more accurate with her driver!

Kerr's victory this week puts me to mind of what turned out to be Annika Sorenstam's last LPGA win at the Michelob Ultra in May 2008. That was very nearly the perfect tournament, but it was also a kind of swan song, as she announced just 2 days later that she would be stepping away from competitive golf. Just as Annika's probable retirement robbed LPGA fans of a showdown between her and the new #1 Lorena Ochoa, so, too, did Ochoa's this season rob us of a showdown between her and her lead chase pack. Well, Kerr isn't going anywhere, Miyazato and Shin aren't backing down, Pettersen and Tseng are still in the hunt, and there are probably a dozen more players with a legitimate shot at the #1 spot before the season is out.

But right now Kerr and Miyazato have put some distance between themselves and the rest of the contenders for the various crowns the LPGA awards. Kerr's win pulls her with $60K of Miyazato on the money list, 17 points in the Player of the Year race, and helps bring her scoring average down to 69.40 (over a third of a stroke lower than her nearest competitor for the Vare Trophy, Song-Hee Kim). We'll have to wait to see them again at the U.S. Women's Open at Oakmont, where each has a great chance to become the 1st player in 2010 to break the $1M barrier. Neither is playing the Se Ri Pak Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic next week (like Suzann Pettersen, Anna Nordqvist, and Michelle Wie, they're resting and preparing, but Pak, who got clocked on the leg by an approach shot during a practice round at the LPGA Championship, will be missing the tournament she's won 5 times), so there's a big opportunity for Ji-Yai Shin, Ya Ni Tseng, Song-Hee Kim, and Na Yeon Choi to make up some serious ground on them, as well as for Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Morgan Pressel, Inbee Park, In-Kyung Kim, Jee Young Lee, Amy Yang, Stacy Lewis, and Seon Hwa Lee to turn up the notch on their seasons. Stay tuned!

[Update 1 (11:18 am): Not only is Kerr #1 in the Rolex Rankings (.12 ahead of Miyazato), she's also #1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (.07 ahead of Ji-Yai Shin)! Here's Hound Dog and Jeff Skinner with more!]

[Update 2 (11:42 am): Here's Ryan Ballengee and Jason Sobel.]

[Update 3 (6/29/10, 10:50 am): Here's a very interesting follow-up from Ryan.]


courtgolf said...

Don't forget that Miyazato was seriously handicapped in the final round. Apparently all her nice clothes were stolen and she was forced to make a run to Goodwill before her tee time. :-D

diane said...

Thanks for the great reporting, TC!

The Constructivist said...

You're welcome, Diane! CG, all I can say is that it looked just fine, up close.