Sunday, July 24, 2011

Evian Masters Saturday: Ai Miyazato's 67 Lifts Her 2 Ahead of the Lead Chase Pack

It was a tale of two putters down the stretch on moving day at the Evian Masters. Stacy Lewis, who fired her 3rd-straight 32 on the front this week to briefly lead at -12, struggled with her speed on the greens and also suffered a couple of cruel lipouts as she shot her 2nd 37 of the week on the back. Meanwhile, her playing partner Ai Miyazato smoothly surged past her with nearly flawless golf, posting a bogey-free 67 that moved her to -13 and a 2-shot lead over Lewis (69), Angela Stanford (69), Miki Saiki (70), and Ran Hong (67).

But today's final round is unlikely to be only a 5-player race to the finish. With In-Kyung Kim (64) and Mika Miyazato (68) making 9 birdies each yesterday, getting the former (like Maria Hjorth) within 3 of the lead and the latter (like Cristie Kerr and Shin-Ae Ahn) within 4, Ai-sama knows that she'll have to keep going low to get her 2nd win at Evian in the last 3 years and 7th on the LPGA. After all, a sub-65 final round is entirely possible from Ji-Yai Shin (-8), Paula Creamer (-7), Suzann Pettersen (-7), Morgan Pressel (-7), Ya Ni Tseng (-6), and/or Na Yeon Choi (-5). Just imagine where Tseng would be if she hadn't taken a snowman on Friday, or where Choi would be without her 2 triples this week!

One key at Evian is giving yourself lots of birdie chances, so if past results are any indication, tomorrow's going to come down to Lewis (47/54 greens in regulation thus far this week), Ai-sama and Shin (46), and Stanford and Kim (45). Here are the key Sunday pairings:

11:00 am: Na Yeon Choi, Inbee Park
11:24 am: Ya Ni Tseng, Paula Creamer
11:40 am: Suzann Pettersen, Morgan Pressel
11:48 am: Ji-Yai Shin, Caroline Hedwall
11:56 am: Cristie Kerr, Shin-Ae Ahn
12:12 pm: Mika Miyazato, Maria Hjorth
12:20 pm: In-Kyung Kim, Miki Saiki
12:28 pm: Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford
12:36 pm: Ai Miyazato, Ran Hong

As you can see, the mix of top Japanese, American, Korean, and European golfers in the hunt this week emphasizes the global nature of the women's game and underscores the need for the top tours to get together and create a worldwide team match-play competition. As I've argued repeatedly, the most feasible path is for the Solheim Cup (USA vs. Europe) and Pinx/Kyoraku Cups (Japan vs. Korea) to be synchronized so that the winning and losing teams from each face off in even-numbered years. All it would take is for the Big 4 women's tours to get their acts together....

I have other ideas about how to use team golf to help raise the profile of the women's game, but that's the subject for another post. With play already under way in the final round, I'm going to burn off some nervousness for Ai-sama, Mikan, and Inky in particular by trying to sneak out early on my new home course to prepare for my own Buffalo District tournament tomorrow. I'm not even going to go online again until the Golf Channel coverage is complete--which is saying a lot for me!

[Update 1 (6:03 am): Before I go, though, I have to agree with bangkokbobby that the media gets too fixated on a single narrative when it comes to Ai Miyazato's relatively mediocre play at the start of this season. Yes, obviously, she needed time to deal with the massive tragedy and crisis that has engulfed her native country (just as Suzann Pettersen will for the horrible attacks in Norway), but she's been struggling with the pressures of being and fighting for #1 on the planet for virtually an entire year now. I am still amazed that nobody in the European media has thought to ask her about what influence Nadeshiko Japan's stirring win at the FIFA Women's World Cup has had on her approach to golf. We've heard a lot about her talk with her caddie, but there's got to be more to her recent turnaround than that....]

[Update 2 (6:21 am): One more thing: the start to Inky's round will be key. She's made 16 birdies in her last 38 holes, but she'll have to keep the pedal to the metal today to make up that 3-stroke deficit to Ai-sama. I have a feeling it's going to come down to those 2 in the end....]

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