Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ricoh Women's British Open Thursday: Meena Lee Tames Carnoustie

With the winds from the North Sea down and rains softening Carnoustie's fairways and greens, Meena Lee fired a bogey-free 65 that gave her a 2-shot lead on Brittany Lincicome, a 3-shot lead on Angela Stanford, Amy Yang, Sophie Gustafson, and Caroline Masson, and a 4-shot lead on Na Yeon Choi, Paula Creamer, Mika Miyazato, Song-Hee Kim, Momoko Ueda, Amy Hung, Caroline Hedwall, and Lorie Kane in the Ricoh Women's British Open. Karrie Webb and Morgan Pressel at -2, Ya Ni Tseng and In-Kyung Kim at -1, and Cristie Kerr and Maria Hjorth at E probably wish they had taken better advantage of today's relatively benign conditions, but they're certainly in better shape than Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie at +2, Ji-Yai Shin and Melissa Reid at +3, and Suzann Pettersen and Ai Miyazato at +4, all of whom will be struggling just to make the cut tomorrow (which is the low 65 and ties rather than the usual low 70 and ties on the LPGA).

With the LGU, LET, and LPGA providing fantastic overviews and interviews, I'll just add some color commentary of my own. The most striking thing for me today was how well so many slumping golfers played. Lorie Kane hasn't been playing top-level golf for many years; Sun-Ju Ahn and Sandra Gal at -1 haven't been playing well for weeks; Na Yeon Choi and Song-Hee Kim have been playing pretty badly for months, as has Sun Young Yoo at -1; Momoko Ueda at -3, Brittany Lang, Hee Young Park, and Vicky Hurst at -2, and Kristy McPherson at -1 have been struggling for even longer. McPherson was actually -5 through her 1st 6 holes on her way to a bogey-free 31, but stumbled with a birdieless 40 on the back that will make her efforts to take the last spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team away from Christina Kim (who opened with a 79 today) all the more difficult.

The next thing that struck me was how much ground you could make up simply by putting well today. Karrie Webb hit 17 greens in regulation but took 35 putts on her way to her 70; Shanshan Feng had the exact same score but, with only 10 greens in regulation, took only 24 putts. You can see the same contrast between Sun-Ju Ahn, who hit 15 greens, took 34 putts, but eagled 2 par 5s for her 71, and Katie Futcher who also shot 71 but did so by hitting 11 greens, going 5-for-5 in sandies, and needing only 27 putts. But for every Feng or Futcher there were 2 or 3 Webbs or Ahns out there. Most of the golfers who went under par did so by hitting a lot of greens; very few scrambled their way to a very good number.

I think that pattern shows just how penal and difficult Carnoustie actually is. Consider the round of Tiffany Joh, who's been playing great golf lately. She averaged 278 yards off the tee and hit 13 fairways, but could manage to find only 12 greens in regulation, was 0-for-2 from greenside bunkers, and needed to birdie 3 of her last 5 holes just to shoot a 71. With that kind of distance, it's not like she was hitting many hybrids or fairway woods into greens, but she actually did worse than Anna Nordqvist, who averaged only 200 yards off the tee on the holes they measured and hit only 8 fairways, but hit 14 greens, no greenside bunkers, and managed a bogey-free 70. Those 4 bogeys Joh made proved to be quite costly. In fact, the only players in the entire field who managed to combine really good ballstriking with really good putting were Lee, Lincicome, Yang, and Gustafson. Sure, Morgan Pressel scrambled her way to an 11-green, 28-putt 70, but how many other golfers had fewer than 30 putts? And how many of them hit more than 13 greens?

Just take a look at Ai Miyazato's scorecard to see how much teeth Carnoustie has even in good conditions: she opened with 5 bogeys in a row, followed up a birdie on 6 with a bogey on 7, made her 1st par of the day on the 8th, then offset her 2 birdies on the back's par 5s with a double on the par-3 13th. But when you look at her ball-striking stats--275 yards off the tee, 11 fairways, 12 greens--you might not have expected a 76 from her. The difference was with disasters and missed putts (34 in all).

So let's see what the weather is like tomorrow before we talk about how the LGU had defanged The Beast. I want to see how many players can tame Carnoustie over 72 holes!

[Update 1 (7/29/11, 1:12 am): Check out the earmuffs on Mika Miyazato and other great photos at Fairways and Forehands!]

[Update 2 (1:28 am): And here's Ryan Ballengee's overview.]

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