Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Evian Masters Preview, Predictions

It's Evian Masters time! One look at the field list will tell you how close this event is to being a major (about 2 years, as it turns out): virtually all the top players from the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET will be competing this week. Sure, it's too bad that the JLPGA's Sakura Yokomine, Chie Arimura, and Ji-Hee Lee, who are all in the top 5 on that tour's money list, won't be here, and that the field hasn't been expanded soon enough to fill out the Spanish Armada with dual LPGA/LET members Maria Hernandez and Belen Mozo, world-class talents who just aren't getting enough playing opportunities to show it. But when you consider that So Yeon Ryu and Hee Kyung Seo get to pick up where they left off at the U.S. Women's Open, Ji-Yai Shin will be trying to defend her title, Ya Ni Tseng will be gearing up for her Women's British Open title defense next week, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, In-Kyung Kim, Na Yeon Choi, and Amy Yang will be looking to break into the winner's circle for the 1st time in 2011, and 17 Japanese players will be inspired by the Women's World Cup win by Nadeshiko Japan (including, most notably, Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Yuri Fudoh, Akiko Fukushima, and Shiho Oyama), this has all the makings to be one of the best weeks of the year for the LPGA.

To get a feel for what's at stake this week, be sure to check out the Evian press kit, web site (among the top 3 all year), twitter feed, and new youtube channel, previews by the LPGA and LET, and the preview by Mostly Harmless's own Tony Jesselli. You can also review my tournament previews from 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Between recent results on the LPGA and JLPGA, Hound Dog's Hot 20, the official tournament history, Golf Observer's historical performance stats, and my own Evian Sunday round-ups from 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, a few patterns present themselves:

  • Only truly special players do really well at Evian on their 1st try. Karrie Webb came in 2nd and Se Ri Pak 5th (to Annika Sorenstam) back in 2000, Paula Creamer won in 2005, Ji-Yai Shin came in 3rd in 2007, and Lexi Thompson came in 2nd in 2010. (Yes, the jury's still out on Lexi, but she did better on her 1st try than JLPGA superstars Momoko Ueda and Sun-Ju Ahn, both T6 in 2007, as well as Michelle Wie, whose 2 silvers came after an inaugural T33 in 2004, and Meena Lee, whose T5 in 2005 seems to be the only big exception to this rule.)
  • You'd better be a really good ball-striker with precise distance control if you want to win at Evian. Although it's one of the shorter courses the LPGA plays, only 1 real bomber, Helen Alfredsson, has won here. It's difficult to go out and overpower this hilly course--just ask Ya Ni Tseng, who hasn't cracked the top 10 here in her previous 3 attempts. 3 of the last 4 and 4 of the last 6 winners have been precision players. And there have been more precision players in the mix late on Sunday than straight shooters or bombers since I've been writing about this tournament.
  • Don't expect the eventual winner to run away with this thing. Last year, Ji-Yai Shin broke a string of 3-straight playoffs, but she needed a walkoff birdie to avoid one with Morgan Pressel, Na Yeon Choi, and Lexi Thompson.
  • This week should be a birdie-fest unless the weather acts up. Which, of course, it has been lately. (Even in the 1 recent year where the weather was bad, though, the playoff ended up being between 2 precision players!)
Given all that, it's going to be very difficult for So Yeon Ryu and Ryann O'Toole to build on their U.S. Women's Open breakthroughs, it's going to be very interesting to see if they or Jennifer Song or Caroline Hedwall can join that very short list of 1st-time single-digit finishers, and it's highly probable that Caroline Hedwall, Miki Saiki, Christel Boeljon, Melissa Reid, Yuri Fudoh, and Ayako Uehara will join the usual list of LPGA suspects at the top of the leaderboard. So who do I think will be there this week? Here are my entries for the latest Seoul Sisters.com PakPicker competition:

1. Kim In-Kyung
2. Miyazato Mika
3. Creamer
4. Shin
5. Kerr
6. Miyazato Ai
7. Webb
8. Choi Na Yeon
9. Nordqvist
10. Hedwall
11. Lee Meena
12. Pressel

Alts: Hjorth, Pettersen, Saiki

I'll have a separate post on the pairings once they're released!

[Update 1 (1:48 pm): Here's Hound Dog's preview.]

[Update 2 (1:58 pm):  And here's Brent Kelley's.]

[Update 3 (7/20/11, 1:24 pm): Here's my list of my favorite 1st-round pairings.]

[Update 4 (10:42 pm): Here are the pre-tournament interviews.]

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