Saturday, September 17, 2011

Navistar Classic Thursday and Friday: Lexi Thompson Gets to Double Digits Under Par, Takes 2-Shot Lead into Weekend

It took Lexi Thompson only 26 holes to get to -10 in the Navistar Classic, so in one sense she's given the rest of the field new life by going only E over her last 10 holes.  But even so, the 16-year-old has avoided the disastrous holes or stretches of golf that have torpedoed some of the best women golfers on the planet already this week (Cristie Kerr, In-Kyung Kim, Sun Young Yoo, Christina Kim, and Ryann O'Toole all missed the cut).  Thompson has a 2-shot lead on Stacy Lewis and Becky Morgan and a 3-shot lead on Meena Lee (whose Friday 64 eclipsed Jennifer Johnson 's Thursday 65 for low round of the week) heading into the weekend, so all in all I'd say she's in great position for someone who's had a very uneven year to date (as Ruthless Mike points out), with great play in Alabama for 3 rounds at the Avnet in the spring and a dominating performance over a strong field in the 1st stage of Q-School in the middle of the summer, but otherwise bad or indifferent play on both the LPGA and LET. 

Still, given how the Senator course seems vulnerable to impressive runs, it's clear Thompson has to find the accelerator again, and soon.  Consider a few of the best ones:  Johnson was -7 over her last 10 holes on Thursday, Ya Ni Tseng was -6 over her 1st 16, Pat Hurst birdied 5 holes in a row to start the back and reach -6 through her 1st 14 holes on Thursday, Samantha Richdale played her last 15 holes bogey-free and -5 on Thursday, Gwladys Nocera made 6 birdies in her 1st 16 holes Friday on her way to a bogey-free 66, Amanda Blumenherst birdied 4 of her 1st 6 holes as she made the turn Thursday to get to -5 through her 1st 15 holes of bogey-free golf, Suzann Pettersen was -4 in her 1st 12 holes of bogey-free golf Thursday, Giulia Sergas made 6 birdies in her 1st 15 holes of bogey-free golf yesterday and came back after a hiccup to save her 66, Paula Creamer has played her last 10 holes bogey-free and -5, Hee Kyung Seo birdied 4 of her last 6 holes on the back yesterday on her way to a bogey-free 67, Alison Walshe got off to a hot start Thursday with 4 birdies in her 1st 7 holes and kept it going for a great 67, Brittany Lang did the same yesterday and ended up with a 68, Se Ri Pak has played her last 12 holes bogey-free and -5 to match Lang's 18- and 36-hole totals, Karen Stupples made 3 birdies in a row early on the front and tacked on another on the 11th on her way to her own bogey-free 68 yesterday....  The list goes on and on and the only question is, who will be next? 

But by the same token it's just as easy for things to go bad quickly on the Senator.  Tseng finished Thursday's round bogey-bogey and doubled the 11th, her 2nd hole yesterday, and when she could play her last 16 holes only in E, she fell 8 shots off the pace.  Hurst went from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll as she finished Thursday's round and started Friday's, going +5 in those 10 holes of birdieless golf, but she did bounce back by playing her last 12 holes bogey-free and -2 to pull back within 7 shots of the lead.  Lang opened the week with a birdieless 39 on the front, which is the main reason she's 5 behind Thompson with 36 to go.  The further down the leaderboard you go the wilder the roller-coaster rides get.  Song-Hee Kim, who was cruising along at -2 Thursday through her 1st 12 holes, made 4 bogeys to close out her round and needed 4 birdies between the 8th and 14th yesterday to fight her way back to -2.  Maria Hjorth, who won in Alabama already this year, open this week with a triple and was +4 through her 1st 8 holes of birdieless golf; even though she bounced back by going -5 over her next 12 holes of bogey-free golf, she fell back with 2 bogeys and a double in her next 6 holes before fighting back to -1 at the halfway point with 4 birdies and no bogeys in her past 10 holes.  And Tiffany Joh was only 5 back until she finished bogey-double-bogey yesterday.

In a nutshell, hardly anyone's played as consistently well as Jenny Shin, who's had bogey-free runs of 18 holes on Thursday and 17 (and counting) on Friday, but even she can find room for improvement, as she's hit 32 of 36 greens but has made only 5 birdies and is 6 behind Thompson.  Last week's runner-up Amy Yang is one of them:  she went on a 19-hole bogey-free run to start the tournament and is currently on one of 16 holes, but she, too, is 6 back.  On a course like this, it doesn't seem like slow and steady will win this race.

How about the Race for the Top 50?  A few days ago, I surveyed the top candidates for entry into the all Asian swing:
Right now, with 1 event to go, Jimin Kang is sitting pretty at #50 with almost $123K in winnings to her name.  She's over $8K up on the struggling Katherine Hull, who is seeking to find her game in time to defend her title.  #52 Momoko Ueda is teeing it up in Japan this week, so there are great opportunities for #53 Mi Hyun Kim ($106.6K), #54 Pornanong Phatlum ($106.2K), #55 Mina Harigae ($103.8K), #56 Cindy LaCrosse ($102.3K), #57 Tiffany Joh ($101.4K), and #58 Amanda Blumenherst ($99.4K) to at least move up the limited-field events' alternate lists over the next several months in this season and next.
With only Mi Hyun Kim and Cindy LaCrosse missing the cut and Jimin Kang stuck at E, this race has some potential for drama.  Phatlum looked like she was in trouble after an opening 78, but she bounced back with a 68 yesterday to make the cut on the number.  Joh's Friday collapse brought her back to -1, while Harigae birdied 3 of her last 6 holes to move to -2.  Hull is doing her best to defend her title and at -4 is 1 behind Blumenherst.

So while all eyes will be on Lexi and Stacy, I'd expect a lot of fireworks from a lot of different golfers today.  It's worth keeping in mind that of everyone within 5 shots of the lead, only Stacy Lewis has played consistently well for virtually all of 2011. Except for Brittany Lang, who's been playing well since the Women's British Open, nobody else can really be said to even have been on a roll lately. That leads me to believe we're likely to see a lot of the people who have been having good 2011s make some serious moves up the leaderboard on the weekend.  Hello, Ya Ni?  Pink Panther attack?  Only time will tell!

[Update 1 (9:39 am):  By the way, if you want to track the races for the top 80, 100, and 125 on the money list, Hound Dog has an excellent rundown of where things stood after the Walmart.]

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