Saturday, July 23, 2011

Evian Masters Friday: Miki Saiki Leads 5 by 1

The JLPGA's Miki Saiki leads the Evian Masters by 1 shot over 5 players, including countrywoman and 2009 champion Ai Miyazato. Saiki is in the midst of the best season in her JLPGA career, with a win at the Fundokin Ladies, 2 runner-ups, and 6 top 5s in 13 starts, including a T4 last week at the Stanley Ladies. She briefly got to double digits under par when she made her 6th birdie of the day on the 11th hole, but dropped a shot on the very next one and parred in from there, so she did leave the door open for many players. But nobody walked through it.

Miyazato had a great chance, having birdied 2 holes in a row midway on the front and 3 in a row as she made the turn to get to -9 and a share of the lead through 14 holes, but the Golf Channel jinx kicked in almost immediately: just as soon as the cameras started, she made a couple of bogeys in a row, both due to missed fairways and miscues with her putter. However, she bounced back with a walkoff birdie to end the day at -8, tied with playing partner Angela Stanford, who matched Caroline Hedwall's 66 for low round of the day (and the week) when she recovered from a double bogey at the par-3 14th with 3 birdies in a row to close out her round, Stacy Lewis, who came back from her own miscues at the end of Thursday's round with 5 birdies in her 1st 10 holes and hung on for a 67, and 1st-round co-leaders Maria Hjorth and Shin-Ae Ahn, who couldn't quite make as many birdies as they did in the 1st round, but still posted fine 69s. Fellow 1st-round co-leader Karen Stupples also had her chances to get double digits under par, but had to settle for a 70 that left her at -7, tied with Paula Creamer (bogey-free 67 that could have been even better) and Cristie Kerr (a 69 sparked by an eagle on the par-5 9th). Rounding out the top 10 are defending champion Ji-Yai Shin and former KLPGA rival Ran Hong, who both shot her 2nd-straight 69 of the week. Shin's probably been striking the ball better than anyone this week, with only 5 missed greens in her 1st 36 holes, so if she keeps it up and finds a way to get more putts to drop, she could be a big threat this weekend.

With much more benign weather conditions in the 2nd round than the 1st, there were a lot of very good rounds. Matching Saiki's, Lewis's, and Creamer's 67s were a couple of great ball-strikers, Suzann Pettersen and Amy Yang, who pulled within 5 shot of the lead. Matching Ai Miyazato's 68 were Mika Miyazato, Catriona Matthew, and Stacy Prammanasudh, who stand with Hedwall 1 closer to Saiki heading into the weekend, as well as Ai-sama's playing partner Na Yeon Choi (-4), Sun Young Yoo (-3), In-Kyung Kim (-2), Gwladys Nocera (E), and Anna Nordqvist (+1). And there were a bunchy of 69s, most notably by legends Se Ri Pak and Yuri Fudoh--2 of the 27 golfers within 5 shots of the lead through 36 holes--and U.S. Women's Open champion So Yeon Ryu (-3).

But not everybody could take advantage of the great scoring conditions, most notably Sun Ju Ahn, Saiki's JLPGA rival and the only player on tour ahead of her on their money-list, and USWO runner-up Hee Kyung Seo. But a host of very good golfers won't be playing on the weekend, including Juli Inkster, Laura Davies, Grace Park, Akiko Fukushima, Hee-Won Han, Momoko Ueda, Jee Young Lee, Seon Hwa Lee, Michelle Wie, Kristy McPherson, Vicky Hurst, Amanda Blumenherst, Mindy Kim, Jennifer Song, Christel Boeljon, Ashleigh Simon, and Caroline Rominger.

With many of my favorite golfers--as well as onechan's (Paula Creamer) and imoto's (Ji-Yai Shin)--near the top of the leaderboard, I'm really psyched for the weekend. I would love to see Ai Miyazato make the Evian the site of her return to the LPGA winner's circle, of course, but it was great seeing so much of her, In-Kyung Kim, Na Yeon Choi, and Ji-Yai Shin on Golf Channel's Friday coverage. I've got a Buffalo district event to get ready for by Monday morning, so I'm trying to learn what I can from watching all the action at Evian!

[Update 1 (6:36 am): Once again, bangkokbobby has a fantastic Evian Masters post up at Fairways and Forehands, with lot of great observations, photos, and videos. I totally agree with him about Natalie Gulbis's skills in the booth, by the way. If she doesn't make the Solheim Cup team, somebody ought to hire her to help cover it!]

[Update 2 (6:44 am): Looking at highlights of Chie Arimura's albatross and hole in 1 in the JLPGA event she won last week

(courtesy of a link from Jonathan Wall), I have to wonder yet again why she's decided to skip Evian and the Ricoh Women's British Open.]

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