Friday, July 8, 2011

U.S. Women's Open Thursday Morning: 4 Golfers Get Under Par Before Lightning Suspends Play

Mike Whan should have a new pitch for potential LPGA sponsors: any chronically drought-stricken locales ought to bring the planet's wettest best women's professional golf tour to town, post-haste. It's a running joke among the players that they're rain-makers, but this is starting to get old. I mean, Rochester had a super-dry summer going until Wegmans LPGA Championship week, when it rained at least a little every day from Wednesday through Sunday. But at least there it didn't ever stop play. How about at the Broadmoor for the U.S. Women's Open? Well, here's the Director of Golf Maintenance Fred Dickman before Wednesday's rains:

"It's been very hot and dry," said Dickman, a 25-year GCSAA member. "It has been 10 to 15 degrees above normal and we've had .320 of an inch of rain since May 24. That puts a lot of pressure on the turf since we're mostly Poa annua and ryegrass. We've done a tremendous amount of handwatering to stay on top of things, but at this altitude of 6,500 feet, low humidity, and the lack of afternoon rain we usually get this time of year, it has been really stressful for the plants."

With Thursday's storms moving through the Rockies and suspending play before half the morning pairings had time to finish their rounds, the stress has shifted from the plants to the humans. Play will resume at 7:45 am today, and Cristie Kerr and amateur Amy Anderson will have to pick up where they left off and try to keep their -2 rounds going, the former on the last 3 holes on the front, the latter on the last 6 holes on the back. Kerr's playing partner and like her former Rolex Ranking #1 Ai Miyazato and Miyazato's fellow dual LPGA/JLPGA member and former U.S. Women's Open Champion Inbee Park also have great chances to finish the 1st round under par. Whereas Kerr is on a 2-hole birdie train as she plays the long par-4 7th, Miyazato is on a 6-hole bogey-free run which includes her 4th birdie of the day, on the long par-4 5th, to offset her 3 bogeys on the back. And Park needs a birdie on the medium-length par-5 9th to post a 69 and put even more stress on the rest of the field.

There were many other solid rounds among the morning groups. Maria Hjorth, Mika Miyazato, and Cindy LaCrosse continued their fine play from Locust Hill 2 weeks ago and are at even par with just 2, 1, and 1 hole(s) to play. Joining them are Hall of Famer and 2-time USWO champion Karrie Webb, JLPGA star Mi-Jeong Jeon, and amateur sensation Rachel Rohanna, who have 3, 6, and 6 holes to go before their 1st rounds are complete. Meanwhile, the unheralded Sue Kim can post a 71 with a birdie on the 9th, which would eclipse current leader in the clubhouse Kristy McPherson, who shot a 2-over 73 despite hitting 15 greens, thanks to 2 bogeys in her last 3 holes on the front (once again, her putter was her Achilles heel).

Unfortunately, for every Juli Inkster or Aree Song who managed to break 75, there were more than 7 times as many players who failed to do so, and 5 of them even failed to break 80. Among the notables with the worst scores, Momoko Ueda, who's actually been playing pretty well this year, had to stage a small comeback to post a 78, and Michelle Wie and Sandra Gal will have to play some solid golf this morning to match her. Belen Mozo is +6 through 11, while fellow rookie Lexi Thompson is +5 through 15. My pick for low amateur, Victoria Tanco, is +4 through 13, just like rookie Jennifer Song. But it's not just young players who the Broadmoor is feeding on: Candie Kung and Heather Bowie Young shot 76s, LET star Gwladys Nocera is +5 through 14, Michele Redman is +4 through 14, and there are more golfers with plenty of experience on the LPGA and other professional tours who could end up doing worse than them in the next few hours.

So never fear, even with the rain softening the fairways and greens, this is still a U.S. Women's Open. That roll I was talking about in my preview that would make things easier for the precision players? Likely gone for at least a couple of days. And even with the already-generous fairways playing even wider, the rough will be much, much tougher, so the wilder bombers will also be suffering as much as usual in an Open. All in all, the players in the morning pairings who got off to good starts and can finish them out strong may end up having a huge advantage on those in the afternoon pairings, many of whom will have to start their 1st rounds a day late and then turn back around and get out on the course again for their 2nd rounds.

But that's what a U.S. Open does. It tests your resolve and your patience and everything else that makes you who you are as much as it tests your golf game. Let's see who's up to the challenge!

[Update 1 (1:44 pm): Wow, amateur Amy Anderson leads the U.S. Women's Open with the only sub-70 round of the Thursday morning wave. Riding a 3-birdie 69, she leads Karrie Webb, Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, and Maria Hjorth by 1, Cristie Kerr, Inbee Park, and Cindy LaCrosse by 2, and Mi-Jeong Jeon by 3. Amy Yang at +4, Shanshan feng at +5, Lexi Thompson at +6 and Michelle Wie at +7 have a lot of time to regroup and prepare themselves for the fight to make the cut this afternoon and evening (and probably tomorrow morning, too).]

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