Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Australian Girls Amateur Champion Beats Strong Field on ALPG

It's a topsy-turvy world in women's golf. You'd think Laura Davies and Lee-Anne Pace, who won 5 times on the LET in 2010, would have been the players to beat at the Royal Canberra Ladies Classic, but both shot themselves out of contention with 76s, Pace in the 2nd round and Davies in the 3rd and final round. What about Melissa Reid, who contended for the LET money title for a long time last season? Nope, she failed to break 70 all week. How about former LET money-list title holder Gwladys Nocera, whose LPGA rookie season was rather pedestrian last year? Instead of starting 2011 on a new note, Nocera struggled in her final round, falling from 3 off the lead almost all the way out of the top 10.

Well, with visiting Euro stars not playing close to their peaks, what about the Australians in the field? Surely the LPGA's Katherine Hull would build on her momentum from the 2nd half of last season and ALPG win 2 weeks ago and run away from the field, right? Not exactly. Even though she went under par each day, she, too, failed to break 70 and ended up 4 shots off the pace. Lindsey Wright? A bad final round dropped her out of the top 20. How about lesser-known Aussies with a lot of game who have shown some of it in the U.S. like Sarah Kemp, Sarah-Jane Smith, and Kristie Smith? Only the last of them was able to do anything special all week, closing with a 66, but it was too little, too late, and she finished 3 back.

So who was in the mix all week and who pulled it out in the end? LPGA/LET rookie Caroline Hedwall, who was coming off a win last week, was poised to make it 2 in a row, as her 2nd-round 67 left her tied with Alison Walshe, 1 shot behind co-leaders Frances Bondad and Ashley Ona. Surprisingly, it was the 19-year-old Australian Girls Amateur champion who got out to a fast start in the final round and Walshe who ended up pushing her the hardest, making birdies over her final 3 holes to cut a 4-shot lead down to 1. But in the end Ona made a pressure-packed up-and-down to secure her victory. Meanwhile, Bondad, who had called a penalty on herself on the 16th green, ended up 3 back with Hedwall and Smith.

With Walshe taking low American honors and almost playing herself into a playoff, the underachieving former Curtis Cupper stole the spotlight from Beth Allen, whose final-round 66 moved her into a tie for 7th with Hull, Katie Futcher, who played solidly in matching the JLPGA's Nikki Campbell for a T10 finish, and Tiffany Joh, whose albatross in the 2nd round was overshadowed by a closing 75 that dropped her out of the top 20. Probably the biggest surprise (and disappointment) among the Americans was that Hannah Jun missed the cut, but other Futures Tours stars continued to be rusty, including Kim Welch, Ryann O'Toole, and Candace Schepperle.

Fortunately, they'll all get another shot this week at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, but they'll have to step up their games, as Ya Ni Tseng, Ji-Yai Shin, Karrie Webb, Stacy Lewis, Christina Kim, Jennifer Song, Lexi Thompson, Karine Icher, Karen Stupples, Eun-Hee Ji, So Yeon Ryu, and Guilia Sergas--not to mention Tamie Durdin, Anja Monke, Becky Brewerton, Rebecca Hudson, Becky Morgan, Sandra Gal, Julieta Granada, Louise Stahle, Louise Friberg, Irene Cho, Pernilla Lindberg, Mariajo Uribe, Mina Harigae, Dewi-Claire Schreefel, Cindy LaCrosse, and Belen Mozo--are coming into town. Oh, and 13-year-old Lydia Ko, who almost beat Hedwall at home in New Zealand last week, is in the 3rd group off the back with Icher and Campbell. No pressure!

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