Saturday, August 20, 2011

Safeway Classic Friday: Na Yeon Choi Rides 7-Hole Birdie Train to 2-Shot Lead on Grace Park

Na Yeon Choi birdied 7 holes in a row at Pumpkin Ridge's par-71 Ghost Creek golf course and had a bogey-free round heading into the tough 18th hole, where she made a double bogey to settle for a 65 in the 1st round of the Safeway Classic. Nobody from the afternoon groups could surpass Grace Park's early-morning 67, which was similarly bogey-free until late in her round, when she finally made one on the par-4 17th. But even as the winds picked up, the greens firmed up, and Ghost Creek toughened up, Se Ri Pak fired a bogey-free 34 on the front (her back) to secure a 68.

The Hall of Famer will be paired tomorrow with the other 2 golfers who played the best in the afternoon, Stacy Lewis and Brittany Lang, who both joined Park at -4 for a time, but stumbled down the stretch to a 69 for the former and a 70 for the latter. With Suzann Pettersen tied with Lewis and defending champion Ai Miyazato and 2-time winner in '11 Karrie Webb tied with Lang--not to mention Anna Nordqvist, M.J. Hur, and Ashli Bunch tied with Pak--Choi is going to have to bounce back quickly from her final-hole miscue if she wants to make this week her return to the winner's circle. With loads of pressure from Korean sponsors, media, and fans, NYC has her work cut out for her.

Speaking of cuts, lots of the LPGA's best will be struggling just to make it tomorrow. Sun Young Yoo opened with a humbling 82, In-Kyung Kim with an 80, and Amy Yang, Morgan Pressel, and Maria Hjorth with 76s. Media magnets Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson, and Jessica Korda could only manage 74s (T62), while straight shooters Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, and Song-Hee Kim had to settle for 73s (T46). Meanwhile, world #1 Ya Ni Tseng finished bogey-par-double-par for a 72 that left her tied with Ji-Yai Shin, Paula Creamer, Mika Miyazato, and Brittany Lincicome 7 shots off the pace set by Choi.

Still, given how penal Ghost Creek can be, no lead is really safe. With only 25 golfers at par or better after 18 holes, it'll be interesting to see if Choi can keep the pedal to the metal or whether others will make big moves on her on moving day!

[Update 1 (8/20/11, 6:35 am): Taking a little more time to look at scorecards from the 1st round, I was struck by how quickly Ghost Creek can strike fear in the hearts of the best women golfers in the world. And especially those who have been struggling with their games. If you're not afraid of being haunted, check out what happened to Libby Smith and Jane Park after solid starts to yesterday's rounds. Ouch!]

[UPdate 2 (6:43 am): Some awesome on-course reporting from Verdant Garden, a regular at Seoul Na Yeon Choi's birdie train, among other cool things!]

[Update 3 (8:51 am): See if you can get this Golf Channel recap to work for you!]

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