Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kia Classic Sunday: March Madness--Sandra Gal Takes Down Ji-Yai Shin

Ji-Yai Shin didn't have her putter going in the final round of the Kia Classic, but even though she bogeyed 3 of her 1st 6 holes and was 2 behind Sandra Gal after an uncharacteristic birdieless 41, it looked like she had righted the ship on the back 9, making birdies on 10 to stay within 2 of the lead and on 13 to catch a suddenly-shaky leader at -14. When Gal airmailed the 14th green and Shin stuck her approach, I figured another 2-shot swing was in the works and Shin would find her 9th LPGA victory a surprising walk in the park down the home stretch. Instead, Gal canned an improbable par save to stay tied for the lead when Shin failed to make her birdie putt. Well, when Shin birdied the par-3 15th to get back to E on her day and take a 1-shot lead on Gal, that's when I knew things were over. I went back to reading Amy Chua's compelling Tiger Mom memoir with only half my attention to the screen. Sure, I was disappointed that Na Yeon Choi's aggressive play didn't pay off the back 9, that In-Kyung Kim and Michelle Wie couldn't get putts to drop, and that Cristie Kerr ran out of holes--and I was pleased for all the Kraft Nabisco Championship 11th-hour qualifiers (and horrified at Moira Dunn's 77 that dropped her off the list)--but I was already thinking about how I would describe Shin's win.

Instead, Shin couldn't buy a birdie putt over her last 3 holes and Gal kept the pressure on the former #1 player in the world with a birdie on the 16th and a stuck lob wedge on 18th that was inside Shin's stuck approach on the par-5. Both would have short birdie putts, but Shin's was downhill and slippery, while Gal's was a true tap-in. Still, I almost fell off the couch when Shin's too-hard, pushed putt hit the right edge of the cup and spun out hard. Just like that, the 100th-ranked player in the world had beaten the #2 player in the world. Even though I have had Gal at #18 among those yet to win on the LPGA since last January, I never saw this one coming. In fact, if I had had time to update my list, I would have ranked her lower. As Hound Dog can tell you, it's super-rare for players ranked this low to win against strong fields. But that's just what Sandra Gal did! It's March madness, baby!

[Update 1 (9:35 pm): Hound Dog's overview reminds me how close Shin came to a 2-shot swing in her favor on the 12th, as well. Somewhere in the multiverse, perhaps in most of the other universes, Shin made up 6 shots in those 3 holes and walked away with an easy win. But not in this one!]

[Update 2 (10:57 pm): Looking over's notes and interviews and thinking more about today's round, this really was like a classic upset on the NCAA. The big-time team made enough mistakes early to let the little guys think they could win it, expended a lot of energy playing catch-up, couldn't put the game away when they finally took the lead, and lost when the underdog went into overdrive in the last minute. There are no buzzer-beaters in golf, but that approach by Gal was like making one from way outside the 3-point line!]

[Update 3 (3/28/11, 3:36 pm): Here are bangkokbobby and Hound Dog!]


Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

although your analysis of this being like an NCAA upset does have some merit when I read your comparisons, this is much bigger. NCAA upsets seem to be a daily occurance of late. What Gal did truly is a real shocker.

Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

One more thing, I don't think your giving yourself enough credit about your evaluation of Sandra Gal. I don't have time to look back now but I seem to remember you writing very recently that she was a "quantum Leap" candidate of yours.

The Constructivist said...

Thanks, Tony, for both comments. On upsets in golf, it cuts both ways. In match play, I think it's much easier for a lower-ranked player to defeat a much higher-ranked one than in basketball, but over 72 holes of stroke play, I agree it's much harder.

Here's the link to my career ranking of the class of 2008--I had Gal at #7, the best of the rest....