Sunday, February 28, 2010

LET/ALPG Update: Is the Fountain of Youth Down Under?

Just like last season, Laura Davies found a way to win Down Under, this time at the NZ Women's Open. Her closing 68 brought her to -9 overall and gave her a 2-shot victory over Pernilla Lindberg (63), Marianne Skarpnord (68), and Sarah Kemp (71). Also finishing in the top 10 were LPGAers Gwladys Nocera (67, -5), Linda Wessberg (69, -4), Iben Tinning (69, -4), Mina Harigae (70, -4), and Lorie Kane (71, -4). Diana D'Alessio broke 70 the 1st 2 rounds, but had to settle for T13 after going 79-71 over the weekend, joining Ashleigh Simon (who went 78-69 to close out the tournament) and Taylor Leon (67, -3).

Others who we'll be seeing on the LPGA later this season didn't finish quite so high. Here are their final results:

T18/-2 Dewi Claire Schreefel, Kristie Smith
T21/-1 Nina Reis
T26/E Jane Park (listed as Korean, is she the same player as Korean-American Jane Park?), Katie Futcher
T31/+1 Louise Stahle, Sarah-Jane Smith
T36/+2 Becky Morgan, Alison Walshe, Misun Cho
T47/+5 Azahara Munoz

Too early in the season to get very worried about finishes like these, but I do find it surprising that Munoz and Walshe got off to quite such cold starts. We'll talk LET Rookie of the Year implications after the ANZ Ladies Masters and Women's Australian Open are played over the next 2 weeks.

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?]

Saturday, February 27, 2010

HSBC Women's Saturday: Well, Well, Well, Well...Nice Moves by a Japanese Quartet

Ai Miyazato surged into a tie for the lead at the HSBC Women's Champions today, thanks to an eagle on the par-4 16th that brought her to -7 for the tournament, but she's going to have to outduel a 49-year-old Hall of Famer and outrun 23 other golfers looking to do to her what she did to Suzann Pettersen last week if she wants to win her 2nd LPGA event in a row.

Among them are her friends and rivals from the JLPGA, Momoko Ueda (who shot her 2nd straight 68 to pull within 2 of the lead) and Sakura Yokomine (who birdied 3 of her last 7 holes to stay 4 behind). Even fellow Okinawan Mika Miyazato got into the act, shooting a 5-birdie, 3-bogey 70 to keep within 6 of Miyazato and Inkster. But a quick glance at the top half of the field shows that this is still anyone's tournament. So I'll close with some questions.

Can Hee Young Park, Sun Young Yoo, or Vicky Hurst get her 1st win on one of women's golf's biggest stages?

Can Michelle Wie, Jee Young Lee, or Momo-chan join the LPGA's 2-win club--or Ya Ni Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, or In-Kyung Kim graduate from it--and block Ai-sama from career LPGA win #3?

Can Angela Stanford, Suzann Pettersen, or Cristie Kerr reaffirm their places at the top of the LPGA heap--or Hee-Won Han rejoin them, and, in the process, join Inkster in showing that motherhood and LPGA greatness can go hand-in-hand?

How will Ai-sama stand up against one of the toughest competitors in LPGA history?

Once again, the Showdown in Singapore is living up to its billing. Should be a Sunday for the ages!

[Update 1 (7:00 am): Sweet! Momo-chan is in the final group!]

[Update 2 (7:12 am): That link up there was to the notes and interviews page, by the way. Here are the pairings. And here's where the winner is most likely to come from:

Start Time: 8:58 AM
Karrie Webb
Song-Hee Kim
Mika Miyazato

Start Time: 9:09 AM
Lindsey Wright
Amy Yang
Ji-Yai Shin

Start Time: 9:20 AM
Inbee Park
Michelle Wie
Maria Hjorth

Start Time: 9:31 AM
In-Kyung Kim
Angela Stanford
Jee Young Lee

Start Time: 9:42 AM
Sakura Yokomine
Vicky Hurst
Na Yeon Choi

Start Time: 9:53 AM
Cristie Kerr
Ya Ni Tseng
Suzann Pettersen

Start Time: 10:04 AM
Hee Young Park
Hee-Won Han
Sun Young Yoo

Start Time: 10:15 AM
Juli Inkster
Ai Miyazato
Momoko Ueda

Rooting for Ai-sama, of course, but there are a lot of players I really like in the mix!]

Friday, February 26, 2010

HSBC Women's Champions Friday: Fortunately, Unfortunately Day?

Many top players moved in opposite directions in a big way during the 2nd round of the HSBC Women's Champions, while nobody among the 1st-round leaders managed to separate herself from the field. Let's take a look at the widest--and wildest--swings 1st, before focusing on the bunched leaders.

Fortunately, Angela Park bounced back from an opening 76 with a 69 today, which included a run of 3 birdies in a row as she started the front (her back). It's great to see the former Rookie of the Year breaking 70 again, something she hasn't done since the 1st round of the Navistar Classic last October. Here's hoping it's a sign of better things to come for her.

Unfortunately, world #1 Lorena Ochoa had one of the worst days on the course in her career, ballooning to a 79 after an opening 68 and dropping from T1 to T39. Her birdieless performance included 3 bogeys in a row as she made the turn and a disastrous bogey-triple finish. Ouch!

Fortunately, Momoko Ueda bounced back from a lackluster start (she was +3 over her 1st 20 holes) with a 5-hole birdie train on the back (her front), which continued early on the front with another pair of birdies before she derailed and bogeyed 3 holes in a row near the end of her round. Even with that weak finish, she still shot a 68 today and moved up to T15 (-1).

Unfortunately, Kristy McPherson moved backwards from her opening 70 in a big way today, making 3 bogeys and a double in a birdieless day that dropped her back to +3 overall with Ochoa.

Fortunately, Ya Ni Tseng bounced back from her lone bogey of the day on the par-5 5th hole (her 14th) with 3 straight birdies to close out her round and post a 67, which brought her to -3 overall and T8, only 2 shots out of the lead.

Unfortunately, Christina Kim, who had been ebullient about her day 1 ball-striking after her opening 69, shot a birdieless 39 on the back to drop back to E (T21) overall.

Fortunately, Hee-Won Han matched Tseng's 6-birdie, 1-bogey performance, moving up to -4 for the tournament (T3) on the strength of 3 birdies in her last 5 holes.

Unfortunately, Hee Young Park made 4 bogeys in her last 10 holes today and could only offset 2 of them with birdies, so she fell from T1 to T10.

Fortunately, Na Yeon Choi joined her at -2 overall with back-to-back birdies to end her roller-coaster round, which had earlier seen her make 3 birdies in the last 6 holes on the back (her front) and then follow them up with 2 bogeys in her 1st 4 holes on the front.

Unfortunately, co-leader Angela Stanford's bogey-free streak ended at 29 holes and in her last 7 she plummetted from -8 to -5 overall. has done a good job of highlighting her struggles with her swing thus far this week, so I'm assuming they caught up with her down the stretch. As she said on Thursday, "you know, you can get away with certain golf swings, and I was getting away with it today. But that doesn't mean that later in the week under pressure, that same golf swing is going to hold up.... I think as the week goes on and you feel like you need to make more birdies and be more precise‑‑that's why I'm a little uncomfortable with it."

Actually, though, this may be the kind of week where nobody's able to go low and stay low. I don't know if the wind is up, the greens are hard, or what, but it's been very difficult for anyone to play consistently well over the 1st 36 holes. Take a look at the scorecards of the 2 hottest players on tour right now, Suzann Pettersen and Ai Miyazato. Where the former played flawless golf but struggled to make birdies (she's averaging 2.50 per round, far below her career average), the latter had to make birdies to recover from her many mistakes today (she's averaging 4 of them per round but also 2 bogeys per round this week). Or take Cristie Kerr, who's also been playing very well already this year. She seemed to have figured out something about her putting stance on the back yesterday, but made back-to-back bogeys early on the front and could manage only 1 birdie coming in. Sure, Pettersen and Miyazato are T3 at -4 and Kerr is still in the hunt at -3 (T8), but you know they're capable of running away from the field and they're just not doing it. Maybe this won't be the shootout everyone expected but instead a war of attrition.

When the hottest players in the field aren't scoring as well as they're playing, that opens the door for everyone else. Song-Hee Kim, who's looking for her 1st win on the LPGA, is in a great position to get it this week. Despite bogeying her penultimate hole to drop back to -5 overall, she's still tied with Stanford for the lead. And if Sun Young Yoo can figure out how to score on the front on the weekend (she has 2 37s on that side already) and keep it going on the back (where she has a pair of 33s), she may just beat Kim to graduating from my best among the LPGA's winless list. But don't count out Hall of Famers Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb. If it weren't for weak finishes--the former bogeyed her last 2 holes and the latter, like Lorena, suffered a walkoff triple--they'd both be at the top of the leaderboard instead of T3 and T10, respectively.

With defending champion Ji-Yai Shin hanging around at -2, right with Dubai champion In-Kyung Kim--and a total of 26 players within 5 shots of the lead--the weekend should be very interesting. Stanford knows that she missed an opportunity today: "My caddie made the comment that it's only Friday, but like I said yesterday, these girls are so good that if you have the opportunity to create some space, you should." But she wasn't the only one to do so. The question is, who will take advantage of her opportunities tomorrow?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Meanwhile, Over in New Zealand on the LET/ALPG

Marianne Skarpnord got off to a hot start at the NZ Women's Open, firing a 29 on the front on the strength of 5 birdies and an eagle and holding on for a 65. LPGA vet Diana D'Alessio was only 2 shots back, however, after a 5-birdie, no-bogey performance. Ashleigh Simon, Kristie Smith, and Anna Oh are 3 back and Laura Davies, Sarah Kemp, and Dewi Claire Schreefel are only 4 back, which means that 6 of the top 8 have a direct connection to the LPGA. A little lower down the leaderboard are present and former and almost LPGAers Azahara Munoz, Sophie Giquel, and Sarah Oh at 71, Katie Futcher, Linda Wessberg, Nina Reis, Becky Brewerton, Alison Walshe, Taylor Leon, and Sarah-Jane Smith at 72, Gwladys Nocera, Tani Elosegui, Mina Harigae, Pernilla Lindberg, Iben Tinning, Wendy Doolan, and Becky Morgan at 73, and Louise Stahle and Misun Cho at 74.

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]

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Recommended Reading: Brent Kelley Picks The Next 5 Sets of Solheim Cup Captains

When you get a chance, head on over to's golf page and give Brent Kelley some feedback on his response to the news that the LPGA named Rosie Jones the U.S. Solheim Cup team captain in 2011 as well as on his picks for the captains of Team U.S.A. and Team Europe for 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021.

HSBC Women's Champions Preview, Predictions, Pairings

How psyched am I for this year's Showdown in Singapore? Try taking any answer you can imagine and putting it to the power of your second-highest answer.... With Ai Miyazato looking to make it 2 in a row in 2010, with my other favorite golfers (Momoko Ueda, Seon Hwa Lee, In-Kyung Kim, Ya Ni Tseng, and Na Yeon Choi) playing well in Thailand last week, with the JLPGA's Finest joining the Best of the LPGA, and with Tim Maitland contributing the majority of writing to the awesome HSBC tournament site, the only missing pieces of the puzzle are Paula Creamer and the top KLPGA players from 2009. I hope the tournament organizers consider reserving spots for major winners and leading money winners from the JLPGA and KLPGA, expanding the field to 90, and instituting a cut to the top 60. If they really want to be considered Asia's major in women's golf, they'd also better consider upping their purse to compete with the LPGA's fall-season events--right now the Hana Financial Group is way ahead of HSBC.

With Lorena Ochoa dominating in 2008 and Ji-Yai Shin making a stirring weekend charge in 2009, and both going on to win the LPGA money-list title in those years, there's extra motivation to get your name added to the short list of winners here in 2010. Having already done previews for both seasons, I don't have too much to add. So let's jump right into my predictions:

1. Miyazato Ai
2. Shin Ji-Yai
3. Pettersen
4. Kerr
5. Ochoa
6. Ueda
7. Tseng
8. Kim Song-Hee
9. Yokomine
10. Kim In-Kyung
11. Choi Na Yeon
12. Lee Seon Hwa

Alts: Yang; Stanford; Hull

I'll tell you what, it hurts not picking Karrie Webb, Hee Young Park, Michelle Wie, Maria Hjorth, or Bo Bae Song! It's going to be a real accomplishment for anyone to make the top 20 this week, that's for sure.

Once again, every pairing has a few paragraphs worth of greatness in it, so I'll settle for just listing my top 5 threesomes:

1st tee, 10:19 AM
Ji-Yai Shin
Ai Miyazato
Lorena Ochoa

1st tee, 9:57 AM
Cristie Kerr
Na Yeon Choi
Momoko Ueda

10th tee, 9:57 AM
Jee Young Lee
Vicky Hurst
In-Kyung Kim

10th tee, 8:40 AM
Brittany Lang
Sakura Yokomine
Hee-Won Han

1st tee, 8:40 AM
Christina Kim
Kristy McPherson
Hee Young Park

Do take a look for yourself--Ya Ni Tseng and Michelle Wie are playing together, as are Morgan Pressel and Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen and Angela Stanford, Amy Yang and Bo Bae Song, and Candie Kung and Angela Park, just to name a few.

It's going to be a great week!

[Update 1 (6:07 am): Golf Girl agrees!]

[Update 2 (6:15 am): As always, go to Seoul for the best fan commentary and photos on the web. Despite getting my #1 pick right in last week's PakPicker, I finished only 4th. But I'll take a 4th-place finish for an Ai Miyazato win any day. This week I'm hoping that my dark horses Sakura Yokomine and Seon Hwa Lee come through for me!]

[Update 3 (6:24 am): Jay Busbee throws some red meat to the Wie-haters/Wie-fanatics that duke it out in comments at Devil Ball Golf.]

[Update 4 (6:46 am): Ryan Ballangee's interview with Sandra Gal went well:

Never knew she got migraines--ouch! She noted the fairways are tighter than last week, but the rough is low, so the key is to fire at pins. She thought the greens were better than last week, too. She's been working on driving accuracy in the off-season, so it's really too bad we won't be able to track her (or anyone's) results in that stat this week.]

[Update 5 (2:15 pm): Vince Spence at One-Eyed Golfer got my hopes up with his title that he'd be expanding his LPGA blogging, but he just means doing more Wie blogging. All well and good, but hasn't the Tiger saga shown that no tour can afford to put all its eggs in one basket? Why should bloggers be any different?]

[Update 6 (2:25 pm): Tan Yo-Hinn hopes for an Ochoa-Shin showdown this week. So do I, but the fact is that any 1 of maybe 12-20 golfers could be part of that party. We're going to have to give up pinning our hopes on any 1 or even 2 golfers to help the LPGA get to where it ought to be.]

[Update 7 (2/25/10, 12:46 am): Pretty funny that the only mistake the Yomiuri Shinbun made in its report on Ai Miyazato's win, offseason preparation, and goals for 2010 was the number of wins in Japan she's had (15, not 14!). Oh, and "money queen" is probably too literal a translation of the Japanese phrase that sounds to me like "shocking joe" (shakinjo?).]

[Update 8 (12:51 am): And that Ravipan Pavasuthipand's only big mistake was his claim that Ai-sama came to LPGA Q-School with 15 JLPGA titles to her name--nope, 12.]

[Update 9 (1:06 am): Back to looking ahead, here's's pre-tournament notes and interviews--love the range of players interviewed and the questions put to them!]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tim Maitland Profiles Ya Ni Tseng

Ya Ni Tseng: The Birdie Machine Switches into Lower Gear
Tim Maitland

Asian sensation Yani Tseng has set herself an unusual target for the 2010 LPGA season. The 2008 Rookie of the Year and Major winner and fastest player ever to reach US$2 million in prize money wants to stop trying.

Or at least stop trying so hard.

"This year I don't have any expectations. I just really want to enjoy it; really enjoy it. It's really easy to say, but hard to do. But my goal this year is just to really enjoy it. I want to relax and just go and have fun. Relaxed is when I play my best golf. When I'm focused and thinking 'be careful of this be careful of that' I can’t play good," says Tseng, who enters the new campaign with the demeanour of someone who is putting her thoughts into action, particularly when it comes to thoughts of next week’s HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, the place she calls her second home.

"My friends have been sending me messages every day saying, 'I'm so happy you're coming to Singapore,' and I'm happy too. It's a really good course. You're probably going to hit all 14 clubs on that course. And you have to shape the ball. It's not just a straight golf course. You need to stay in focus because if you miss one shot in can get you big time," Ya Ni adds before pausing to consider the fact that each of the previous HSBC Women's Champions winners--Lorena Ochoa and Ji-Yai Shin--have gone on to be dominant players for the rest of the season.

"Then I would love to win in Singapore!" she says, with a characteristic roar of laughter.

"I'm going to win in Singapore!"

The smiles and laughs, the hugs she exchanges with almost every player she encounters at this week’s Honda PTT LPGA Thailand, give no indication that last year Ya Ni faced what she now admits was the first crisis of her golf career.

On face value the 21-year-old from Chinese Taipei did more than enough in 2009 to back up her incredible debut season, which included making her first win a Major at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and winning the 2008 Rookie of the Year award. Her sophomore campaign saw her once again lead the tour in birdies, finish in the top ten of two-thirds of the LPGA's key statistics, record more top 10s than the previous season (14 compared to 10), and win again at the LPGA Corning Classic.

Although she slipped from number two in the world to number five and finished seventh on the money list compared to third 12 months earlier, this was no sophomore slump. But it did catch up with the "Birdie Machine" when a missed cut at the US Women's Open sparked a run of five tournaments where she finished no higher than 20th.

"It's the first time in my life I've felt that golf was really challenging me," Tseng admits candidly.

"Those two months, every tournament I was crying. My tears probably dried out I was crying so hard. I was putting so much pressure on myself. After that, I just wanted to let it go. I didn't care if I dropped to world number 20, I didn't want to care about my status and my rankings. You don't want to care, but you do.

"The tears were frustration. I felt I was working hard, I should be at this point," she said raising her hand high.

"And I was still playing bad. I was crying so hard because I think I was putting too much pressure on myself. It was all my pressure."

The key to getting out of her funk was a chat with world number one Lorena Ochoa, which encouraged her to communicate more clearly with her family and friends about her needs, and three phone conversations with Texas-based sports psychologist Dr. Deborah Graham.

"At that time, when my swing was good, my mental[ity] was off. When my mental[ity] was good, my swing was off. They wouldn't match. I was thinking too much about the results. She just told me don't think about the result. She told me to mark the number of shots where I committed to hit the shot. So now I'm focusing on committing to hit the shot, not focusing on the result. It works pretty good. Now I have an idea of how not to think about the result." Yani explains.

"I started thinking, every time I missed a putt, how many more chances will you have to make that putt in the future? Probably a thousand million! So, if you don't make it today, you'll make it tomorrow, and if you don't make it tomorrow, you'll make it at the next tournament, and if you don't make it this year, you'll make it next year."

Despite such trying times, Tseng regards her time of torture with a fondness, a trial she underwent and a test she passed. In a nutshell, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

"Now I look back, I think it was a really good thing. If I didn't go through those two months I wouldn't have learned that much. The last five tournaments I was top ten. But those two months, I learned a lot of things and it was a good experience. If you never go down, you won’t go up!

"I was just trying too hard; trying too hard to be perfect. But you don't have to try so hard, just do your job," she says with a grin.


Nice to see Ya Ni extend her top-10 streak to 6 events, going back to last season, with her T3 in Thailand last week! It looked like she had a lot of fun playing with her friend Momoko Ueda in the final round.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Best on the LPGA: 2-Time Winners, February 2010

Whereas coming up with ranked lists of the top players on the LPGA with no wins and 1 win was pretty cut-and-dried, some of the best active players on the LPGA have 2 wins and even those who have been struggling recently have pretty impressive records. It'll be very interesting to see who's the 1st to graduate from this list in 2010. Will it be 1 of the LPGA's Young Guns, someone from the New Blood generation, or one of the resurgent vets on tour? Here's who I think is most likely to win again in 2010.

Most Likely to Win in 2010

1. Ai Miyazato: I've said it before and I'll say it again: she gave herself 13 chances to win on the LPGA and JLPGA in 2009, but could close the deal only at the Evian Masters (her 1st, obviously) and Sankyo Ladies (her 15th). So last season's #4-ranked LPGA player and #6-ranked JLPGA player is my frontrunner for LPGA Player of the Year in 2010. Yup, I'm expecting multiple wins from her on the LPGA this season. Heck, she's already 1 for 1! [Update 1 (2/28/10, 11:33 am): Well, how about that? Ai-sama was the 1st to graduate from this list! Time to update the next one!]
2. Ya Ni Tseng: It took her what felt like forever to get that 2nd LPGA win, but I doubt she'll have to wait that long for win #3. She was riding a 5-event top-10 run into 2010 and is averaging 1 win and $1.55M in winnings per season thus far. So I'm not at all surprised that she took solo 3rd in Thailand. [Update (4/4/10, 10:22 pm): Ya Ni made her 3rd win her 2nd major! Congratulations!]
3. In-Kyung Kim: Her win at Dubai to end 2009 gives her dual LPGA-LET membership in 2010. If she plays her scheduling cards right, she could have the best season of anyone on this list. T11 in Thailand is a solid start.
4. Na Yeon Choi: She was 1 of the hottest golfers in the world at the end of last season and I don't see any reason for her not to carry that over into 2010. After all, she's never missed an LPGA cut or failed to join the Million Dollar Club in her 1st 2 seasons. T13 at Thailand is a solid start for her, too. [Update (7/4/10): Well, In-Kyung Kim gave it her all in Toledo with a final-round 64, but after a 4-way playoff that included Christina Kim, as well, it was NYC who got her 3rd win 1st!]
5. Morgan Pressel: With her new swing grooved, short game sharp, and her confidence rising, she's poised for a breakout 2010. She came out flat in Thailand (T26), but I'm not worried about her.
6. Anna Nordqvist: Hound Dog claims her rookie season was the best by anyone in LPGA history who failed to win the Rookie of the Year award and ranks it 8th overall. I'm not going to argue with him, but I'd like to see the LET's ROY make the top 20 and top 10 more consistently before I'm moving her up this list. Like Kim, she may be able to take advantage of dual LPGA-LET membership in 2010. Her 31st-place finish in Thailand is no cause for alarm, but it does suggest I'm right that she's severely overrated in the Rolex Rankings.
7. Eun-Hee Ji: She gutted out a win at the U.S. Women's Open to join this list, then joined the list of players who succumbed to the Open jinx. So far she's handling it better than Inbee Park--and way better than Birdie Kim or Hilary Lunke--but she still is the coldest among the top-shelf 2-time winners on the LPGA.

The Contenders

8. Jeong Jang: She didn't bounce back from wrist surgery like I expected her to in 2009, but still maintained her lead in career winnings in the Seoul Sisters generation, staying just ahead of Hee-Won Han and maintaining her lead on Grace Park. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a comeback for her in 2010.
9. Karen Stupples: She came back from maternity leave faster and played better than I expected in 2009, so I'm looking for her to have a great 2010.
10. Christina Kim: She didn't have that breakout Solheim Cup year that I was looking for, but after working hard to get in better shape she's in good shape for 2010. Which makes her T40 in Thailand all the more puzzling.

Quantum Leap Candidates

11. Ji Young Oh: Somehow I can't believe that this Junior Mint has as promising a future on the LPGA as the other Young Guns on this list, but she's proven me wrong before and she could well do it again in 2010. She trained with Ji-Yai Shin in Australia over the off-season, so I wouldn't put anything past her. Still, T45 in Thailand is not encouraging.
12. Stacy Prammanasudh: 2009 was easily the worst season of her 7-year career. She dropped to #59 on my Best of the LPGA ranking, but I don't expect to see her that low at the end of 2010. The key for her is to get her driving accuracy back to where it was in 2004-2006, when she was hitting the fairway over 70% of the time. If she can do it, she can start attacking courses again. If you don't think this matters, check out the difference between Ai Miyazato's 2009 and her previous 2 seasons. T18 in Thailand is a solid start, but b/c the LPGA doesn't keep performance stats abroad, it's unclear what sparked Stacy P's performance.
13. Meena Lee: After being a top 20 player in her 1st 2 seasons, averaging 1 win and 6 top 10s per year, her last 3 have been more of a struggle, as she's failed to crack the top 30 on the money list and is averaging only about 2 top 10s per year. Still, she made cuts and scored pretty close to her career norms in 2009, earning the #46 spot on my Best of the LPGA ranking, so there's no reason she can't come back in 2010, particularly if she keeps improving her approach shots, her Achilles heel the last 3 seasons. When you're as accurate off the tee as she is, she should be giving herself a lot more birdie chances. But a T43 in Thailand was not an inspiring start to the season.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

14. Michele Redman: She hasn't been the top 30 player she was from 2000-2005 for quite some time, but even in that stretch she's never finished worse than 61st on the money list and ended 2009 ranked #44 on my Best of the LPGA ranking. I don't see any signs that she won't continue to add to her total of 76 career top 10s since she joined the LPGA in 1992, but at the slower pace she's set in 2006-2009, when she's averaged just over 1 per season. If that playoff against Eunjung Yi and Suzann Pettersen had turned out just a little bit differently, though, she would have graduated from this list last season, so don't count her out for 2010.
15. Janice Moodie: This 3-time Solheim Cupper has never lost her LPGA tour card, even when she gave birth in 2006 and played only 10 events. But she hasn't won since 2002 and has gotten only 4 of her 44 career top 10s in her last 4 seasons, so it's not like being a mom on tour hasn't taken its toll on her game. Hound Dog has her pegged for a breakout season, but I'll believe it when I see it.
16. Laura Diaz: She suffered easily the worst season of her LPGA career in 2009, when she couldn't find the fairways off the tee or the hole once she got to the green. Thanks to her top 40 finish in 2008 (actually she was 20th on both the money list and my Best of the LPGA ranking), though, she squeaked into the 144th spot on the priority status list for 2010. She'd been a regular in the top 40 and on the Solheim Cup since 2000, and even had 2 consecutive top-10 seasons early last decade, so I expect her to make the most of her opportunities this coming season--at least as long as her pregnancy allows her to play!
17. Gloria Park: She got a medical exemption after sitting out all of 2009 on a maternity leave, so enters 2010 at #141 on the priority status list. Let's see how she adjusts to being one of the newest moms on tour!
18. Jennifer Rosales: She was a top-30 caliber player from 2002-2005, when she notched her 2 wins and 17 of her 19 top 10s, but she hasn't broken into the top 10 since then, making only 42 of 69 cuts in that stretch (and that's using the LPGA's generous policy of not usually counting WDs and DQs toward totals on career bio pages). Still, she's kept her card each of these seasons and has been bringing her scoring average back down to respectable levels, so maybe 2010 will be her year.
19. Carin Koch: She notched 56 top 10s between 1995 and 2008, but only 2 wins, and at the Corning Classic and in Mexico (2 warning signs from my 1-time winners' ranking). But 2009 was a disaster when she took the driver out of her hands and she enters 2010 at #153 on the priority status list. I don't see her returning to her top-10 form in 2002 from back before her daughter was born, but I do see her playing closer to her career norms this coming season--if, that is, her move back to Sweden doesn't mean that she's planning an even more limited LPGA schedule than last season's.

On the Outside, Looking In

20. Patricia Meunier-Lebouc: She's made 16 of 42 LPGA cuts over the last 3 seasons and sits at #221 on the priority status list for 2010. She's also curtailed her LET schedule in that same period, so my guess is she's almost ready to move on from her professional golf career, which dates back to 1994 on the LET.
21. Heather Daly-Donofrio: She's made 16 of 40 cuts over the last 4 seasons and joined the LPGA's Communications Department in 2009. Still, she's #223 on the priority status list for 2010, so may well be able to tee it up a few times this coming season, now that her daughter is past the terrible 2s.

The Best on the LPGA: 1-Time Winners, February 2010

1 may be the loneliest number, but I'll bet those on this ranked list of best players on the LPGA with a single tour victory wouldn't prefer to return to my Best Without a Win list. At the same time, those on that list may want to avoid making their 1st win the U.S. Women's Open, the Safeway, the Farr, the State Farm, or any event in Mexico. It's looking like the Corning Classic's demise will spare 1st-time winners that particular jinx, unless new LPGA commissioner Michael Whan finds a way to revive it in 2011. You'll see what I mean when you check out these profiles of 1-time winners on the LPGA, ranked in part by career achievements and mostly by what I expect from them over the rest of the 2010 season.

Most Likely to Win in 2010

1. Michelle Wie: According to Hound Dog, she was part of the 2nd-greatest collective rookie season in LPGA history (behind Seon Hwa Lee's and Ai Miyazato's '06ers) and had an ROY-quality year--good enough for 12th on his list of all-time individual rookie performances on the LPGA. Even on a limited schedule in 2009, she ended up #11 on my final Best of the LPGA ranking. So it ahould be no surprise that with Ai Miyazato graduating from this list this week, Wie's my new frontrunner here, particularly in light of the fact that I picked her to finish 4th on tour this season. I'm not at all worried by her slow start in Thailand.

The Contenders

2. Momoko Ueda: She won the 2007 Mizuno Classic as a JLPGA member and she did it with a bang:

Since then, she's brought her victory total on the JLPGA to 8, but has only cracked the top 10 as an LPGA member 6 times in 38 starts. So why do I rank her so high here? Well, she got 2 of them in the 2nd half of 2009, when the work she'd been putting into her game over the previous season and a half finally started to pay off. I was looking for a huge 2010 from her and am very happy with her 1st 63 holes in Thailand. For her to follow through on her promise to win on the LPGA this season, though, she'll need to play great all 72 holes.
3. Jee Young Lee: She's coming off her worst year in her 4 as an LPGA member following her non-member win in Korea in 2005, but she finally seemed to be on the comeback trail at its end, finishing 2009 with 3-straight top 20s and ending up #33 on my Best of the LPGA ranking. There's only 1 direction she can move in 2010. There's no way a player of her caliber has 2 bad seasons in a row.
4. Katherine Hull: In 2009, she showed that her hot streak at the end of 2008, jumpstarted by her win at the Canadian Women's Open, was a true quantum leap, making the top 30 on the money list and keeping her scoring average in the mid-71s for the 2nd-straight season. I'm looking for her to add to her total of 18 career LPGA top 10s in a big way in 2010, particularly if she augments her 7 ALPG wins at home Down Under in the next few weeks. She finished 2009 ranked #27 on my Best of the LPGA ranking and I don't see her going any lower in 2010.
5. Inbee Park: She seems to have slogged her way through her U.S. Women's Open jinx (see #25 and #26, below), having played well in Asia at the end of 2009 (T7 in Korea, T5 in Japan, T2 at JLPGA Q-School). If she plays her scheduling cards as well in 2010, she can build momentum on the JLPGA and improve on her #5 standing in her rookie class ('07ers) and #14 standing in her generation (Young Guns). I definitely expect her to improve on her #52 standing on my Best of the LPGA ranking.
6. M.J. Hur: I never expected her to beat Vicky Hurst, Stacy Lewis, and Shiho Oyama from the class of 2009 to that 1st LPGA victory, but she faced down Suzann Pettersen and Michele Redman in a playoff at the Safeway Classic to do it. Let's see if she can do better in the next few seasons than Soo-Yun Kang did after her lone LPGA win at the Safeway in 2005. With only 1 other top 10 in the 12 events she completed in 2009 (against 10 that she didn't finish), the jury's still out on her in 2010. But I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt for now. After all, she made #37 on my final Best of the LPGA ranking in 2009. And after her T13 in Thailand, I'm thinking she's in a better place than Gulbis and Castrale right now.
7. Natalie Gulbis: Recurring back problems since her 2007 Evian Masters playoff victory over Jeong Jang have dropped her back where she was in her 1st 3 seasons on the LPGA--a player who makes her share of cuts but has trouble cracking the top 10. In fact, 24 of her top 10s and all 7 of her top 3s came between 2005 and 2007, when she was a regular on the top 20 of the money list. If she can stay healthy this coming season, there's no reason she can't get back to that level. Yes, that's a big "if," but she's coming off a season where she brought her scoring average back in the low 71s and--even though she had to shut things down when her back started acting up again in October and November--still ended up #30 in my final Best of the LPGA ranking. So I'm actually optimistic for her in 2010. Her T40 in Thailand was a pretty big disappointment, however.
8. Nicole Castrale: Her 2 Solheim Cup appearances and playoff win at the Ginn Tribute in 2007 pushed me to give her the benefit of the doubt and rank her in this category, but she'll need to work very hard in 2010 to bounce back from a very disappointing 2009, when she missed 10 cuts, saw her scoring average approach 72.50, fell outside the top 50 on the money list, and only managed to get her 19th and 20th career top 10s on the LPGA. Still, I'd be very surprised to see her end up in 2010 as low as she ended up in last year's final Best of the LPGA ranking (#54).

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Julieta Granada: This Senior Standout has been hanging on to her LPGA card by the skin of her teeth the last 2 seasons, playing well in Q-School both years to improve the priority status she earned from the regular season. She'll be trying out dual LPGA-LET membership for the 2nd year in a row this coming season, this time with a bunch of fellow Spanish speakers joining her, so it'll be interesting to see if she plays more often on the LET in 2010. That ADT Championship win at the end of her rookie season and those 10 top 10s in her 1st 2 years on tour are looking more and more like blips than foundations of a great LPGA career, but I can't justify ranking her lower than this just yet.
10. Shi Hyun Ahn: Like Jee Young Lee and Momoko Ueda, her only LPGA win comes with an asterisk, as she got it as a KLPGA member in 2003, but since then she's played roughly 20 events on the LPGA each year, garnering 27 top 10s in the process. Whereas she was a regular on the top 30 of the money list over her 1st 4 seasons, she's slipped into the 50s the last 2, missing more cuts (10 in 38 starts) and getting fewer top 10s (only 3) than usual. Let's see if she can reverse that trend in 2010.
11. Young Kim: Last season was the 1st in her 7-year LPGA career that she failed to break into the top 10. Look for her to add to her total of 22 in 2010, when she'll also be looking to add a JLPGA victory to her 2 KLPGA ones after winning medalist honors at their Q-School in December. Whether she'll add to her win column at the LPGA remains to be seen, but if anyone on this list is going to break the Corning Classic jinx (see #13, #19, and #23), I would expect her to be the one to do it!
12. Leta Lindley: Injuries curtailed her schedule in 2009, not even allowing her to defend her 2008 Corning Classic title. But as that win gives her high-priority status through the 2011 season, she's in good shape to begin adding again to her total of 33 career top 10s.
13. Meaghan Francella: She shocked the golf world with a win over Annika Sorenstam on the 4th playoff hole at the 2007 MasterCard Classic, but Annika's announcement a little later that season that she had been suffering significant back and neck injuries for some time put a little asterisk by that victory. To make matters worse, Francella had to deal with injury issues of her own over the next season and a half, but the Senior Standout bounced back in 2009 by getting her 5th and 6th top 10s on tour, breaking the 73 barrier in scoring average for the 1st time in her career, and returning to the top 50 of both the money list and my Best of the LPGA ranking, so things are looking up for this NYer in 2010.
14. Eunjung Yi: Her playoff victory over Morgan Pressel at the Farr last year remains her only LPGA top 10 since her LPGA career began in 2008. She won Hound Dog's fluke victory of 2009 award, a dubious distinction. The only way things could be worse for her prospects in 2010 would be if her defeat of Pressel had come in a U.S. Women's Open (see Kim, Birdie, below). Seriously, it remains to be seen what she'll do over the next 2 seasons she's guaranteed high priority status on the LPGA. And she starts 2010 having ended 2009 ranked #53 in my system. There's still hope for her! But I'm thinking her T32 in Thailand is more representative of how she stacks up against the LPGA's elite than her 1 win....

On the Bottom, Looking Up

15. Heather Bowie Young: She won at the Farr in 2005 and has collected 26 top 10s since joining the LPGA in 2000. 2009 was her 1st season without 1 and while her scoring average held steady, her made-cut rate plummeted to the lowest of her career. Still, she ended the season just outside the top 80 and will be playing a full schedule again in 2010. Let's see what she makes of it.
16. Moira Dunn: Her 2004 win at the Giant Eagle Classic was the high point of an LPGA career that dates back to 1995, but her best season was probably in 2001. She's been struggling to keep her card the last 4 seasons; let's see if my junior golf buddy can add to her 23 career LPGA top 10s in 2010.
17. Soo-Yun Kang: Her win at the Safeway Classic in 2005 was part of the best season of her career, where she got 6 top 10s and ended up #14 on the money list. But it was also the last season her stroke average dipped under 72. She's still making her share of cuts, but of her 17 career top 10s since she started on the LPGA in 2001, only 2 have come after 2005.
18. Jimin Kang: She's never matched her 1st full season in 2005, when she won the Corning Classic and finished 39th on the money list, but since then she hasn't lost her card and has added to her top 10 total every season (she now has 9). Let's see if she can reverse 2009's worrying trend of missing more cuts than usual--which dropped her to #74 on my year-end Best of the LPGA ranking--this coming season.
19. Silvia Cavalleri: She's only had 10 top 10s in an career that started back in 1999 and in that span has only cracked the top 50 on the money list once--in 2007, when she won the Corona Championship. She's finished outside the top 100 on the money list the last 2 seasons, though, so 2010 is a crucial year for her. It's her last in Category 6 on the priority status list, for starters. She needs a good season to get off Hound Dog's fluke victories list!
20. Joo Mi Kim: She came to the LPGA in 2005 with 3 KLPGA victories under her belt and made a lot of cuts in her rookie season, then followed it up with a playoff win at the SBS Open (over Lorena Ochoa and Soo Young Moon) and 4 top 10s in all the next season, where she ended up 27th on the money list. She stayed in the top 50 for the 3rd straight season the following year, but has only played 24 events over the last 2 seasons and hasn't cracked the 73 barrier in scoring average in that span. At #146 on the priority status list (at the head of Category 15), though, she should get plenty of chances to get back on track in 2010.
21. Louise Friberg: Her come-from-behind rookie win at the MasterCard Classic in 2008 gives her high-priority status in 2010 and 2011, which is a good thing, because she made only 3 cuts in 21 starts in 2009.
22. Kelli Kuehne: She got a medical exemption for 2010 and sits at #143 on the priority status list, so she'll get another chance to see if she can return to her 1999-2004 form, when she won at the Corning Classic at the start of that run and notched 24 of her 26 career top 10s over the course of it. Since then, though, she hasn't broken the 73 barrier in scoring average in any season and has made only 33 of 86 cuts. So 2010 may be her swan song.

On the Outside, Looking In

23. Kris Tschetter: Her current bio page is coming up blank on, so I'm going with her 2008 page. Her rookie season was 1988, she won the Northgate Computer Classic in 1992, and she sits at #160 on the priority status list for 2010. Even though 2002 was her last solid season, her 50 career top 10s show that she's got the talent to bounce back, now that her kids are elementary school age.
24. Sung Ah Yim: Like Joo Mi Kim, she joined the LPGA in 2005 and got her 1st win in 2006, at the Florida's Natural Charity Classic. But in the last 3 seasons she has neither added to her career total of 8 top 10s nor broken the 74 barrier in scoring average. At #227 on the priority status list (the last player in Category 15a), it's an open question how many events she'll get in on the LPGA in 2010--for all I know, she may have decided to play the KLPGA full-time or spend most of her time on the Futures Tour (where she played in 2004). In any case, it's going to be difficult for her to play her way out of the #6 spot in Hound Dog's fluke victories list.
25. Jin Joo Hong: After playing 3 seasons on the KLPGA, she won the jointly sponsored event with the LPGA and switched tours for the next 3 seasons, ending 2009 ranked #10 in her rookie class. Well, she's heading back to the KLPGA in 2010, according to Happy Fan at Seoul
26. Marisa Baena: Her LPGA career started in 1999, but after a terrible 2004, it looked like it was in jeopardy. She bounced back in 2005 with a win in the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship from the 60th seed. She'll need to draw on that experience in 2010, as 2009 was her 2nd-worst year on tour. She finds herself #159 on the priority status list, which means it'll be difficult for her to put together a consistent schedule, much less get her 14th career top 10 and 2nd since 2005.
27. Kate Golden: Her win at the State Farm Classic in 2001 was part of a run from 2000-2004 when she averaged in the mid 72s in scoring and mid-$200Ks in winnings, but since then she hasn't made more than half her cuts in any season and has only added 1 top 10 to her career total of 14. At #225 on the priority status list in 2010, this could be the last year of an LPGA career that started in 1992.
28. Birdie Kim: I had wanted to put her higher on this list, feeling that she had been coming back from the U.S. Women's Open jinx after her stunning 2005 win from the sand over then-amateurs Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang. But no, she's only made 13 cuts in 31 starts over the last 2 seasons, hasn't added to her career total of 4 top 10s in that span, and has never broken the 73 barrier in scoring average since she started on the LPGA in 2004. Her exemption from that Open victory runs out in 2010; let's see what she makes of what could end up being her last season on tour.
29. Hilary Lunke: She may never be knocked from the top spot in Hound Dog's fluke victory list. Thanks to a medical exemption, her 2003 U.S. Women's Open victory ensures she'll be able to play a full schedule in 2010. Her 2nd career top 10 can wait on remembering what it's like to make cuts: she's 6 for 36 over the last 3 seasons.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Honda LPGA Thailand Sunday: I Can't Believe Ai-sama Did It!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow!!! Ai-sama, omedetou gozaimasu!

I was telling the Full Metal Archivist last night why I wasn't going to be doing any not-quite-live-blogging for the final round of the Honda LPGA Thailand. 1st, and most important, our girls didn't let us really celebrate her birthday, so the night was hers. 2nd, this tournament was reminding me a lot of last year's Canadian Women's Open. As I responded to Jamie Belyea's history of Suzann Pettersen's Sunday collapses in my last update last night, he

asks the key question about Pettersen: can she hold this lead? Although he misses some earlier history--like the major Morgan Pressel ended up winning before Pettersen began her 5-win run late in the 2007 season--and he's generally right about what has to happen for anyone to have a chance tomorrow, where I really disagree with him is how relevant Pettersen's recent history is. Her mindset and conditioning seem awesome heading into the final round and most important her ball-striking is close to perfect. I just don't see her faltering at all tomorrow. Figure she's going to get to -21 no matter what and then you know what someone needs to shoot to have a chance to catch her....

Well, Miyazato shot a 63 and got to -21. Pettersen's bogey-free streak ended on her 63rd hole. At that point, after that 2-shot swing on the 9th, she was -19 and Ai-sama was -16. And this leads into my 3rd reason for not wanting to not-quite-live-blog the final round. I would have been an absolute wreck no matter what. If somebody else was going low--besides Momo-chan, Inky, or the Stone Buddha--I would have been wondering, "why not Ai-sama?" And if Ai-sama was the one to challenge Pettersen, I would have lived and died with every update. Knowing Ai-sama's perfectly capable of breaking 65 and "watching" her try to actually do it by building on her opening 32 are 2 very different things. Finally, I would have been exhausted afterwards, and I owe a colleague and her students a Tiger Woods post, which I only have this morning to write. (Don't worry, LPGA fans, it's not going up here.)

To say I'm shocked by the actual result would be the understatement of the year. Hardly anybody went low besides Ai-sama, so it's not like the course was set up easy. Sure, 14-year-old Thai amateur Ariya Jutanugarn shot a roller-coaster 68, Stacy Lewis fired a bogey-free 67 that included a walkoff eagle, Laura Davies came out of nowhere with a 65 that brought her to T6, and Karrie Webb's bogey-free 67 brought her to T4. But the only other players to break 70--Ya Ni Tseng (-15, 3rd), Na Yeon Choi (-8, T13), Amanda Blumenherst (-6, T18), and Ji-Yai Shin and Michelle Wie (both -5, T22)--barely did so with 69s. Big names like Cristie Kerr (70, -13, T3), Angela Stanford (70, -7, T16), and Lorena Ochoa (72, -6, T18) just couldn't get it in gear today.

Which makes Ai-sama's Sunday back-9 charge all the more amazing and impressive. She followed up her birdie on the 9th with 2 more on the next 2 holes, cutting Pettersen's lead to 2 (Pettersen birdied the 10th for the 4th time this week). Birdies on 13 and 15 erased Pettersen's lead entirely, and when Pettersen made her 2nd bogey of the tournament on the par-3 16th, Ai-sama had the lead. When she matched Pettersen's par on the 17th and birdie on the 18th, the win was hers. But of course it wasn't as simple as that. To save you a trip to for the details, here's their description, reordered:

Pettersen missed her eight-foot par putt at 16 while Miyazato chipped-in from 10 yards behind the pin at 18 for a two shot swing. Pettersen’s 72nd-hole eagle effort slid by the hole, but she tapped in for birdie to take runner-up honors by a stroke.... Miyazato, who was 10-under-par in her final 16 holes, chipped-in for birdie at 18 to clinch her second-career LPGA victory.... This year, a bogey at the 16th hole and a short birdie-putt miss on 17 cost [Pettersen] a chance at a seventh LPGA title.

2 chip-ins in her last 3 holes to take the win! Sugoi!!!!

Too bad onechan's violin teacher is part of a strings concert on campus this afternoon! Not only are we going, but even if we weren't, I'm pretty sure our friends with the 2 boys onechan's and imoto's age and whom we watched a few events with last season will also be at the concert. Maybe I'll see if they can tape it for us.

More on the meaning of this win tomorrow, when I update my list of the top 2-time winners on the LPGA Tour!

[Update 1 (8:58 am): OK, in my excitement, I wrote as if Ai-sama and Pettersen were playing together (and so, by the way, did But of course Ai-sama was 2 groups ahead of Pettersen. So Pettersen wasn't able to see anything Ai-sama did, and vice versa. From interviews and twitter, here's what I was able to piece together:

Pettersen knew Ai-sama was making a charge, but didn't know quite how serious it was until mid-way through the back: "When I came up to 14, I saw she was 20-under so I knew she was playing well."

Pettersen's 2nd bogey of the tournament was a straight 8-footer on the 16th. And the short birdie putt she missed on the 17th was "about six feet, down, left to right," according to Pettersen's interview.

Miyazato knew where she stood on the 18th tee: "I knew I needed to make birdie at the last because I saw the scoreboard before I go to the green. The pin position was really difficult for me and for everyone. I was trying to get it close on my third shot and I missed. It wasn’t that bad chipping it. Only 10 yards from the hole to the pin. I was lucky."

Pettersen just missed hitting the 18th in 2; she "[g]ripped down on [her] rescue so it would come down soft. It was 197, plays uphill about 12 [yards]." Her eagle putt from the fringe was, according to the LPGA, about 23 feet long, and she said it "broke right to left pretty much the whole way."

So Ai-sama played inspired--and, yes, lucky--golf down the stretch, and Pettersen had trouble with her putter under pressure. Amazing!]

[Update 2 (9:03 am): Why am I so stubborn to insist on 1st doing this stuff on my own, only consulting primary sources, when I could have simply linked to stories by my blogging buddies Bill Jempty and Hound Dog?]

[Update 3 (9:09 am): Check out Ai-sama's tempo:

I'll post more clips as Ai-sama's fans get on the ball!]

[Update 4 (12:12 pm): Here's Brent Kelley on Ai-sama's win and Creamer's WD.]

[Update 5 (12:33 pm): Lots of great pics up at Seoul!]

[Update 6 (2/22/10, 12:42 am): Here's Golf Girl's take on Ai-sama's win!]

[Update 7 (12:48 am): Here's Hound Dog's epilogue!]

[Update 8 (12:52 am): Wanchai Rujawongsanti, whose preview post was too wacky for even me to link to, had really great stories about Ai-sama's galleries, Hee Young Park's short shorts, and other gallery favorites. Must-read!]

[Update 9 (12:55 am): Wanchai's "Avian Open" made me think of other cross-language phonetics stories. The funniest recent one was when my mom called me last night and said, excitedly, "Ai won a tournament!" Having heard, "I won a tournament," I tried to find out which one and when she played it and where. Two minutes later, we had it all straightened out....]

[Update 10 (1:10 am): Nice choice of music by MH regular LPGA Fan!

Sorry, 1 more Wanchai response here, prompted by seeing the slide show. I'm not sure Wanchai knows Ai-sama's from Okinawa....]

[Update 11 (2:24 am): Here's LPGA Fan's full-field slideshow:

Great visual of the tour's diversity!]

[Update 12 (2:34 am): Whoops, overlooked Candie Kung's closing 68. Sorry, Candie!]

[Update 13 (4:24 am): My friend did tape the Golf Channel coverage for me and seeing it I realized that there was no chip-in for Ai-sama on 16, just a good sandie. Too bad the Champions Tour went into a playoff; it was cool to see Bernhard Langer shaping his approach shots on the 18th in opposite directions to close out the final round and put himself in position on the 1st playoff hole for that amazing sand shot from the plugged lie, but since it meant missing almost every single one of Ai-sama's birdies, I'm against it.]

[Update 14 (11:25 pm): Here's Beth Ann Baldry on the experience of reporting from Asia. Ai-sama, by the way, is now #4 in the Rolex Rankings and #6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index!]

[Update 15 (11:59 pm): Check out the Thailand LPGA Rewind--most of the Ai-sama birdies Golf Channel didn't have time to show are there!]

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Honda LPGA Thailand Saturday: Yang Breaks Through, Leaders Stall in Early Going

It was moving day at the Honda LPGA Thailand for those lower down the leaderboard, led by Amy Yang's 8-birdie 65 that brought her to -9 for the tournament, but the leaders were playing a different kind of game. While Christina Kim was lighting up the Old Course with a 66 that included an eagle on the par-5 7th, In-Kyung Kim was moving to -8 overall on the strength of her 6-birdie-plus-eagle 67, Jee Young Lee and Amanda Blumenherst were bouncing back with 68s, and Lorena Ochoa, Ji-Yai Shin, Na Yeon Choi, and Brittany Lang were firing 69s, leader Suzann Pettersen was quietly extending her bogey-free streak for the tournament to 46 holes while making her 3rd birdies of the tournament on the 1st and 10th holes, Ai Miyazato saw her bogey-free run come to an end on her 41st hole of the tournament and needed 2 birdies just to stay within 5 of the lead and tied with playing partner Momoko Ueda, who bogeyed 2 of her 1st 5 holes but responded with 4 birdies in her next 6, as well as Hee Young Park, who had a very un-Rocket-like front side to remain at -11 overall.

Behind them, things were as quiet or quieter from those with a chance to make up ground on Pettersen: the explosive Ya Ni Tseng had offset her front-side double with a back-side eagle to remain at -8, Maria Hjorth was riding the roller-coaster (5 birdies, along with 2 bogeys and a double, over her 1st 13 holes), and the normally-efficient Song-Hee Kim was only able to produce 2 birdies and a bogey in that same stretch. So while Kim made it to double digits under par and Hjorth returned there on the 13th after 1st getting there on the 1st, Tseng needed a birdie on the 14th to catch Yang, and Cristie Kerr and Catriona Matthew have chances pass Kim and join the lead chase pack if they continue their fine play, nobody within reach of Pettersen is making a serious run at her thus far on moving day.

The leaders have about 6 holes to go, so let's see what they make of them.

[Update 1 (3:33 am): I think of the Rocket as an adventure golfer in the style of Hjorth and Sophie Gustafson, but for one stretch in this event she had a 20-hole bogey-free streak going and she's working on a 10-hole run right now. Pettersen's entering the part of the course she's owned the 1st 2 days. She's made 5 birdies and an eagle in her 2 runs through the last 6 holes of the Old Course thus far, so maybe she's been conserving her energy for another late-round explosion.]

[Update 2 (3:36 am): Yang is familiar with chasing Pettersen on the LET; if she hadn't made a double a day her 1st 2 rounds, and if she hadn't let her 22-hole bogey-free run come to an end on the tough 17th today, Pettersen would be feeling a lot more pressure from her lead chase pack. And if wishes were fishes....]

[Update 3 (3:39 am): How's this for an explosive finish? M.J. Hur went birdie-par-birdie-par-birdie-eagle to get to -8 for the tournament! Her 68 puts her in the top 10 right now.]

[Update 4 (4:14 am): Nice runs by Tseng and Kim. Tseng turned her single birdie into a 3-hole birdie train to get to -11, while Kim birdied 15 and 16 to get to -12. If everyone else can get back on track with a few closing birdies, and if Pettersen keeps it in neutral, there could be as many as 13 players with a hope of going super-low Sunday and chasing her down.]

[Update 5 (4:18 am): Among those players is Cristie Kerr. She closed with her 2nd eagle of the day and threw in a pair of birdies down the stretch to post a 66 that brought her to -11 overall. Game on!]

[Update 6 (4:21 am): Seon Hwa Lee is one of my favorite players on tour and someone I'll be tracking pretty closely all year. She dropped out of the tour's elite for the 1st time in her career last year, so I'm expecting a big comeback this one. Well, she seems to be where Ai Miyazato was at the start of last year: showing signs of playing well, but making too many mistakes still to break 70. With her 14 birdies in 54 holes, and at -6 overall, she's probably ahead of where Ai-sama was at this time last year. Here's hoping the Stone Buddha goes low tomorrow!]

[Update 6 (4:54 am): Nice comebacks by Ai-sama and Momo-chan. The latter birdied her last 2 holes and the former her final hole to get to -12 for the tournament, tied with Tseng (68) and 1 shot behind Kim (68). But Pettersen birdied the 17th and has a chance to get to -18 or -19 through 54 holes, depending on how she plays the 18th.]

[Update 7 (5:24 am): Nice birdie by Pettersen. She takes a 5-shot lead on Kim, a 6-shot lead on Miyazato, Ueda, and Tseng, and a 7-shot lead on Kerr, Hjorth, and Park into the final round. Somebody's going to have to break 65--and probaby by a lot--to have any chance tomorrow. Pettersen's a much better golfer now than the one who almost gave up a 7-shot lead to Laura Davies here.]

[Update 8 (5:33 am): Some fantastic pairings tomorrow, even before the main event. Super Sophs Stacy Lewis and Anna Nordqvist get to battle it out starting at 10:06 am, Se Ri Pak and Michelle Wie take center stage at 10:22, uber-tweeters Christina Kim and Morgan Pressel get started at 10:46, the Brittany Ls (Lang and Lincicome) follow right after them, comebackers Seon Hwa Kee and Stacy Prammanasudh go off at 11:34, and then Hall of Famers Karrie Webb and (soon) Lorena Ochoa see if they can salvage the week.

Start Time: 11:50 AM
M.J. Hur
Catriona Matthew

Start Time: 11:58 AM
Amy Yang
In-Kyung Kim

Start Time: 12:06 PM
Maria Hjorth
Hee Young Park

Start Time: 12:14 PM
Ai Miyazato
Cristie Kerr

Start Time: 12:22 PM
Ya Ni Tseng
Momoko Ueda

Start Time: 12:30 PM
Suzann Pettersen
Song-Hee Kim

Lucky for Momo-chan to be paired with her good friend!]

[Update 9 (9:36 am): Check out the notes and interviews. Is somebody there a Mostly Harmless fan? Impressive use of "young guns" to refer to Miyazato, Ueda, and Tseng there. To be precise, Tseng is the #1-ranked Young Gun, Miyazato is #7, and Ueda is #13. While that ranking system looks back at performance over the course of the Young Guns' short careers, it's worth noting that Miyazato is ranked #1 and Ueda #4 in my more forward-looking list of 1-time winners and Tseng is #1 among my ranking of the LPGA's 2-time winners. All my wins-based lists are meant to be predictive, focusing on which players right now are the most likely to add to their totals.]

[Update 10 (7:14 pm): Jamie at Snap Hook Herald asks the key question about Pettersen: can she hold this lead? Although he misses some earlier history--like the major Morgan Pressel ended up winning before Pettersen began her 5-win run late in the 2007 season--and he's generally right about what has to happen for anyone to have a chance tomorrow, where I really disagree with him is how relevant Pettersen's recent history is. Her mindset and conditioning seem awesome heading into the final round and most important her ball-striking is close to perfect. I just don't see her faltering at all tomorrow. Figure she's going to get to -21 no matter what and then you know what someone needs to shoot to have a chance to catch her....]