It's really hard for me to decide who the biggest surprise of the Sybase Match Play Championship is thus far. With only 9 of my projected sweet 16 actually still playing on the weekend, there are certainly a lot of surprises (at least to me) to pick from. Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly pleased that more than half of my picks made it to the 3rd round--I correctly predicted the upcoming Inbee Park-Ai Miyazato and Suzann Pettersen-Stacy Lewis matches, and at least got Ya Ni Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, and Angela Stanford right--but what about the picks I got wrong?
Going by my most recent Best of the LPGA ranking, some of those who surprised me shouldn't have been. Michelle Wie was #5 as of the end of April, Sophie Gustafson was #27, and Julieta Granada was #31. But what about #41 Kyeong Bae, #47 Meena Lee, #57 Brittany Lang, and #69 Alena Sharp? Let's consider who they beat to get into the sweet 16.
Bae beat #17 Amy Yang and #35 Hee Kyung Seo, both of whom were playing well coming into their matches with her. Hound Dog picked Yang to win it all and I picked her to lose to Ai Miyazato in the quarterfinals, which shows how high our expectations were for her. Meanwhile, Seo is everyone's #1 or #2 in this year's Rookie of the Year race and came off a shellacking of a struggling Jee Young Lee.
Lee beat #6 Ji-Yai Shin and non-ranked (i.e., outside my top 81) Mi Hyun Kim, but Shin is still trying to groove swing changes and Kim hasn't been an elite golfer for years (and it showed in her way-over-par play today).
Lang dominated #56 Christina Kim and beat #2 In-Kyung Kim handily. What makes those wins even more impressive are the facts that (a) Lang has been slumping terribly for quite some time, (b) Christina loves match play and usually plays great golf in Solheim Cup years, and (c) Inky may well be the hottest golfer on the LPGA and was -3 in 17 holes of bogey-free golf today and still lost 2 & 1!
Sharp beat #16 Mika Miyazato and defending champion and #18 Sun Young Yoo, but Miyazato was jet-lagged and Yoo was coming off an emotional 21-hole victory over Grace Park.
So I've gotta say that Lang is the player who's been the biggest surprise so far this week to me. But I have to give an honorable mention to Granada, who knocked off 2 of her classmates from the Class of 2006 with much more impressive career records than her. Morgan Pressel is #7 in my system and while Seon Hwa Lee has slipped to #39, she's still one of the best match play competitors in the game (which is why even though she's been slumping for more than a year I picked her for my final 4). With Granada going up against world (and Mostly Harmless) #1 Ya Ni Tseng and Lang against MH #8 Creamer, a win for either would be a huge deal. For that matter, wins by Bae, Sharp, or Lee would go a long way toward settling this question, as well, for they play Cristie Kerr, Na Yeon Choi, and Angela Stanford, respectively. So let's say Lang for now--and revisit the question tomorrow!