Sunday, May 1, 2011

Avnet LPGA Classic Sunday: Maria Hjorth Shoots 2nd-Straight 67 for 5th LPGA Win

Maria Hjorth fired her 2nd-straight 67 of the weekend to take control of the Avnet LPGA Classic and make her 5th career LPGA victory look almost easy. I say "almost" because she missed a couple of short putts down the stretch, just as Na Yeon Choi, Suzann Pettersen, and Song-Hee Kim were finally starting to put some pressure on her. But she kept her cool, responded to each mistake with clutch birdies on the very next holes, and ended up with a 2-shot margin of victory over Kim.

Playing with Amy Yang, whom she outduelled (along with Kim and Choi) over the weekend in her last win at last December's LPGA Tour Championship, Hjorth put pressure on 3rd-round co-leaders Kim and Lexi Thompson with 5 birdies in her 1st 10 holes to get to -10 with 8 holes left to play in the tournament. With Thompson making 2 early bogeys to fall to -6 and Kim following suit on the 9th and 12th, with charges from Katherine Hull and Stacy Lewis falling short, and with Choi and Pettersen struggling to hole putts in the middle of their rounds, it seemed like it was all over but the shouting. Then Pettersen birdied 3 holes in a 4-hole run (but failed to birdie the par-5 13th during it or extend it with a birdie on the par-5 16th), Kim suddenly eagled the 16th out of the blue to get to -8, and Choi made a walkoff birdie to join Pettersen in the clubhouse at -7. So when Hjorth had trouble with those 4-footers, it was starting to look like that '09 LPGA Championship when she had a miracle bounce out of a rocky creek but still lost to Ya Ni Tseng in a 4-hole playoff. Instead of falling back to a top Young Gun, however, Hjorth did what it took to secure her 5th career LPGA victory.

Frankly, I was glad for a little drama at the top of the leaderboard to distract me from the pain of watching Lexi Thompson make back-to-back double bogeys. It wasn't just what Thompson was suffering through that was so painful but flashing back to the many iconic Sunday implosions, from Rory to Dustin to Nick to Stacy to.... Oh, well. Lexi's not alone in going through this and she'll get through it just fine.

With Shanshan Feng firing a 5-birdie 68 to sneak into the top 10, I guess I was right to refer to her and Hjorth's Thursday-Friday group as a "dark-horse pairing" in my preview, but once again I was way off with just about everyone else I actually picked this week in the Seoul PakPicker. That's nothing compared to Choi hitting 61 of 72 greens but never breaking 30 putts all week. Slow and steady sometimes wins the race against streaky players like Hjorth, but not this time. It's amazing, but Choi putted even worse than Yang, who was an absolute non-factor on another weekend in a tournament she had put herself in position to win. Like Ji-Yai Shin, the Final Round Queen who today once again failed to live up to her nickname in 2011, Choi and Yang (and Kim and Pettersen) are having good troubles. As Ai Miyazato--who knocked on the door most of 2009 and then busted it down in 2010--shows, you put yourself in the mix enough times and things are bound to go your way.

OK, that's it for me. Check out Hound Dog, Tony Jesselli, Ryan Ballengee, and (soon) [ah, here it is] for more!

[Update 1 (5/2/11, 11:16 am: Here's Hound Dog's epilogue.]

[Update 2 (3:08 pm): Stephanie Wei "weis" in on the question of Lexi's dad caddying for her.]

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