Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who Can Challenge Ya Ni? How About Amy Yang?

We've seen that Ya Ni Tseng can be beat when she opens the door: Katherine Hull almost did it in last year's Women's British Open and Stacy Lewis did at the Kraft Nabisco Championship this spring. But who can stay with her when she's on?

It's definitely a short list: Cristie Kerr and Stacy Lewis have the all-around game; Suzanne Pettersen, Karrie Webb, and Angela Stanford have the ballstriking skills; Brittany Lincicome and Michelle Wie have the length; and precision players Ji-Yai Shin, In-Kyung Kim, Na Yeon Choi, Paula Creamer, and Morgan Pressel can go very low when they're hitting on all cylinders. But over 72 holes, I think it's going to be very difficult for anyone else to keep pace with Tseng, unless they step up their games. Who's close to joining the LPGA's super-elite?

Of course I believe Ai Miyazato is very close to getting her game back to that level and Mika Miyazato is just as close to reaching that level for the 1st time. Song-Hee Kim and Sun Young Yoo haven't been playing all that well lately (Kim, in fact, has been playing terribly), but they have the kind of "straight shooter" game--with the length not to be blown away by Tseng and the accuracy to take advantage of her occasional wild drive--that lends itself well to long-term success on the LPGA. And given Inbee Park's consistent excellence on the JLPGA, it's only a matter of time before she brings it on the LPGA. But after following one player for 15 holes on Sunday at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, I believe Amy Yang is the player most likely to join Tseng's lead chase pack very soon. Yang was right in the thick of things at Locust Hill, -6 through 51 holes, but she finished Saturday's round with 3 straight bogeys and never got her putter going Sunday. So, yes, her 74-71 weekend performance was the 3rd-worst in the top 20 (beating only Cindy LaCrosse and Pat Hurst), but the numbers are a little misleading. Here's what I saw and why I think she has the game to take Tseng on.

The 1st thing I liked was that Yang came out with an aggressive game plan Sunday. She was going for every pin she possibly could, no matter how tucked they were, knowing that a great round could put her in the mix for 2nd place.

The next thing I liked was her execution from tee to green. Even though she hit only 7 fairways that day, she was often in the 1st cut of rough and never more than 2 yards or so from the edge of the fairway, with drives that were at least as long as Se Ri Pak was driving the ball the day before. And her irons were sublime (except for a hiccup here or there). The only weakness for her was the short game. Consider the following:

  • 3rd hole: Pin tucked front right, 10 paces from a bunker and 5 from the front edge of the green. Yang lofts a short iron to within 6 feet. Misses birdie.
  • 4th hole: Yang sticks a lob wedge within 5 feet to another tucked pin on elevated green. Misses birdie.
  • 5th hole: Yang sticks a short iron to another tucked pin on an extreme uphill par 3 to about 3 feet. Makes birdie.
  • 6th hole: Yang lands mid-iron in 10-foot-wide neck of fairway just short of green and bounces ball to within 5 feet of front pin. Makes birdie.
  • 7th hole: Yang hits 1st missed iron I've seen, short left, about 35 feet from back right pin. Lags to under 2 feet. Misses tap-in. Bogey.
  • 8th hole: Yang hits 1st missed drive I've seen, in left fairway bunker. Fluffs sand shot only 25 yards, leaves fairway wood short left of green, gets up-and-down after mediocre pitch with clutch 7-footer for par.
  • 9th hole: Goes for front right pin tucked behind bunker. Misses short right, hits bad chip 10 feet by, misses putt. Bogey.
I'll stop there, but it was more of the same on the back. She hit 2 great shots on 10 and came away with nothing, birdied 11, missed yet another short birdie putt on the tough 12th, got a great up-and-down from over the 13th green, bogeyed 14 after pulling her drive left and having to deal with tree trouble, got routine pars on 15 and 16, and 3-putted 18 for a bogey, missing yet another very short putt. And the par-5 17? Well, she smashed her drive to the top of the hill, just off the right edge of the fairway past the fairway buynker guarding the right. Then she had a long discussion with her caddie over whether to lay up with a 4-iron into the flat of the fairway about 25 yards short of the green (her preferred option) or hit a hybrid at the left-center of the green (it was only 210 to the pin, her caddie told her, emphasizing that she ought to be able to put it in the middle or back of the green from where she was). In the end, her caddie won out (just before she readied her address to the ball, he encouraged her not to be scared and to put a free swing on it). She did push the hybrid just a hair and it looked like it might have trouble carrying the bunker guarding the front right of the green. I haven't seen the Golf Channel coverage of the final round yet, so I don't know if they caught this, but from where I was standing (about 195 out in the right rough), I knew immediately it was very close from the strangled excitement of the crowd. Tiffany Joh told me later that the shot hit the pin and almost dropped for double eagle. As it was, Yang's eagle was definitely the highlight of her day. But if she had had a good day with the putter, her 71 could have easily been a 66.

The last thing I liked about Yang was her rhythm and temperament. She's very much on an even keel--the only time I saw her get excited was at the crowd's reaction to her approach on 17--and I never saw her get down after missed putts (the contrast to me is not in my favor; you should have seen the histrionics when I missed 3 birdie putts under 6 feet today and even with 2 made ones from that length plus one 18-footer I still shot a 77!). She kept to her own pace all day, which at first I thought was a little slow (especially her pre-shot routine, which was killing me), but then I came to realize it's a good pace for the slow play of the final day of a major and it's a good way to clear her head after long waits and focus back on what she needs to do. The only thing I think Yang needs to do (besides work like crazy on her short game) is develop more of a killer instinct. I'd like to see her realize how good she is and play with a little more confidence and gusto. I couldn't believe her caddie had to convince her to go for the 17th in 2. The way she'd been striking the ball all day, it should have been a no-brainer.

Looking at Yang's performance stats over the last 3 years, she's consistently driving the ball in the 255-to-260-yard range (which is above average on the LPGA) and from what I saw she can hit it much further when she wants to. Her driving accuracy could stand some improvement, although it's pretty darn good for a near-bomber like she is. She's hitting more greens this year than in previous years, but it's a small difference (just over 70% as compared to just over 69% the previous 2). Just like the round I witnessed, it's clearly her chipping and putting that's holding her back this year. Her 1.82 putts per green in regulation is much worse than her 1.77 PPGIR rate last year, and she isn't getting up-and-down as efficiently as last season, either. From what I saw, I think she's capable of averaging 265 off the tee and hitting 70% of her fairways and 75% of her greens, which would give her a great shot at improving her 3.41 birdies per round rate. She could certainly do better than that any given week, on any kind of course. Yes, her 2 best finishes aren't at the biggest events, but 7th at a Robert Trent Jones course and 6th in Thailand is nothing to sneeze at. And top 20s at the 3 biggest events of the year--the HSBC Women's Champions, Kraft Nabisco Championship, and Wegmans LPGA Championship--show how close she is to breaking through. If she can improve her performance on the weekends in particular, watch out for her at the Broadmoor and Carnoustie. I'd love to see her go head-to-head with Tseng in a major!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Can Cheyenne Woods Follow in the Footsteps of Ya Ni Tseng, Michelle Wie, Candie Kung, Tiffany Joh, Mina Harigae, Jennifer Song...?

The 36-hole stroke-play portion of the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links is complete and Cheyenne Woods was the only player to finish under par at Bandon Dunes, going 72-69. Now it's on to the match-play portion of the competition, in which the top 64 strole-play qualifiers compete, March Madness-style, until the 2 finalists play a 36-hole match to decide the champion. If Woods can capitalize on her #1 seed and actually win this thing, she'd have accomplished something only Candie Kung in my title's list of former WAPL champions can lay claim to: been both the stroke-play medalist and match-play champion (although Kung won when the match-play final was only 18 holes). Let's see if she can do it!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Morgan Pressel, Mika Miyazato, In-Kyung Kim, Career Trajectories, and Expectations

As you'd expect, final round 71s by Morgan Pressel and Mika Miyazato that put them in 2nd and T8, respectively, at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, as well as In-Kyung Kim's 72, which dropped her to T12, were completely overshadowed by Ya Ni Tseng's historic win and dominating performance. But given that I picked Kim to win, thought Miyazato was playing well enough to win (and predicted a bronze for her), and predicted a top 10 for Pressel, I was curious to hear from them right after their Sunday rounds on what they thought of and how they felt about their weeks.

Pressel was in high spirits, having recovered from a birdieless +2 start over her 1st 11 holes with 3 birdies in her last 7 holes of bogey-free golf, most encouragingly with ones on the tough 12th and 14th. I jokingly asked her, "How does it feel to deny Cristie Kerr her 4th-straight 2nd-place finish?" (or words to that effect--I was a little tongue-tied!). Pressel replied in kind (but much more articulately):

You know, that's what I told her. I said, "At least you didn't finish second four times in a row." She goes, "I would have taken it." I said.... I told her, I said, "I wanted to make that birdie on 17 so that I would save your record of winning by 12 shots."

Considering her account of her comeback to Kerr was interrupted by a fan asking for an autograph (at the "...."), her delivery was excellent. But when I joked that now she knows how Jason Day feels, she replied in a somewhat more serious mode:

I guess. I'll take a second and a third in the first majors. I'm trending upwards, though. The next one's going to be better!

What I take from that brief walk from the putting green to the entrance to the players' locker room is that Pressel had reconciled herself while still out of the course to being unable to put any pressure on Tseng that day. Although she clearly wants her 2nd LPGA major, 3rd worldwide major (she got one on the JLPGA in 2010), and 3rd LPGA win really really badly, she understood this was Ya Ni's week and was already putting her own performance in perspective. Rather than beat herself up for not pulling off a Sunday miracle, Pressel was experienced and self-confident enough to know she had played well enough to win any normal LPGA Championship and was already looking forward to the U.S. Women's Open. Considering that her performance moved her 5 spots up in the latest Rolex Rankings to #12, that she's now #7 on the money list with almost $500K in winnings in only 10 starts, that she's playing very good golf this year, and that she's broken 70 5 times in her last 8 rounds, I'd say she has every right to feel the way she does. She seems to be in a great place where she can maintain very high expectations for herself and recognize how close she is to meeting them without letting the gap get her down.

I'd say about the same is true for Mika Miyazato, but given that she started on the LPGA 3 years after Pressel and is in an entirely different generation as a result, what counts as high expectations is very different for her than for Pressel. Sure, Miyazato also posted a convincing win in a JLPGA major last year and is accustomed to contending just about whenever she competes in Japan, but she knows she's just one of many very talented players without a win or a major on the LPGA (I think she's one of the best, but still...). In addition, after her 12-event top-25 streak on the LPGA that lasted from late last August to early this April came to a grinding halt with a missed cut at the Avnet, a disappointing T22 at the Salonpas Cup the following week on the JLPGA, a 1st-round loss at the Sybase, a weak T42 at the ShopRite, and a halfway-decent T23 at the State Farm, her top 10 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship was something of a distant memory. Still, with the best ball-striking stats of her short LPGA career to her credit in 2011, she knows that all she has to do is get her putter going to start seriously contending on the LPGA (she's averaging 1.84 putts per green in regulation this year, compared to 1.78 last year). And it almost happened last week. Her 6-birdie 68 on moving day shows what she's capable of when she gets on a roll--it was quite an impressive performance, as she didn't birdie a single par-5 that day and even bogeyed the par-5 4th hole!--but the way she hung in there when she couldn't find the flow was even more impressive to me. Even under Sunday pressure, she finally played Locust Hill's par 5s well; with birdies on the 2 easier ones, the 8th and 17th, she brought her total for the week on the par 5s to -1. All in all, Miyazato's T8 performance this week wasn't her best at the Wegmans (she finished T4 there as a rookie in 2009 when it was a standalone LPGA event), but it was her 3rd-straight top 15 at Locust Hill and 2nd-straight top 10 in an LPGA major.

All things considered, then, Mika Miyazato was a pretty satisfied golfer when I talked to her on Sunday after 1st taping 15 minutes of interviews with both tv and print media from Japan. From what the Full Metal Archivist conveyed to me about those interviews, most of what Mikan was doing during them was dealing with the praise and attention that comes from being the low Japanese golfer in the field. It seemed to me as I struggled to understand the questions and answers that Mikan was trying to convey just how challenging the course set-up was. She kept emphasizing how narrow the fairways were, how tough the rough was, how tucked the pins were for the final round, how difficult it was to gauge the speed of the greens all week, how she learned to deal with the frustrations of that kind of golf (the word "gaman"--put up with it/endure patiently/suffer stoically--came up a lot), how she handled the stress of playing in an LPGA major, and how happy she was with her overall performance and final results. Of course she also got questions about the U.S. Women's Open and her decision to donate her winnings in LPGA majors to reconstruction efforts in Japan by the American Red Cross. In addition, the Japanese media were quite familiar with her back story--how her friendship with Ya Ni Tseng was what drew her to start her pro career on the LPGA (rather than, as is usual for promising young Japanese amateurs and pros, to play at least a few years on the JLPGA)--so she fielded a number of questions about Tseng, as well. In a sense, then, Mikan was helping the Japanese media put not only her performance but also the missed cuts by Ai Miyazato and Chie Arimura, the final-round collapse by Momoko Ueda (who dropped from -4 at the end of Saturday to E the next day), and the -19 from Tseng in context for their viewers and readers.

That sense of perspective comes from a golfer who knows she could have done better but was happy with another good week in Rochester. When I asked her what she likes about Locust Hill, she replied,

This golf course, fairways very narrow and the greens small. Very difficult situation, but [and here she shifted to Japanese, so I'm paraphrasing the FMA's translation] it suits my game and I like that style of golf.

When I asked her if she feels Locust Hill prepares her well for the Broadmoor in 2 weeks, she answered:

Yes, absolutely. That course, the holes and the rough is very long, and if I miss the fairway, very difficult second shot. I played there last week and the greens very big. I need still to practice my short game.

So the need to keep the ball in the fairway, hit good shots from the rough, and play good recovery shots around the greens at Locust Hill all prepare her well for the challenges posed by the Broadmoor, but clearly she's expecting to have difficulty reaching some par 4s in regulation if she misses the fairways, so she's anticipating that she'll need a very sharp 50 yards and in wedge game to score well on that much longer course.

I was curious if she felt any added pressure down the stretch on Sunday, knowing that the size of her donation for Japan reconstruction efforts would be affected by her score, but she replied, "No, no pressure. I just wanted to play well today." In response to my final question about whether she sees herself doing in the future what Tseng was doing that week, she expressed the hope that she'd be playing soon with Ya Ni on a weekend, although she acknowledged that Ya Ni was "very strong" right now.

Even more important than her exact words was the tone of her interviews with the Japanese media and me. She was much more relaxed than last year; even if she hadn't reached the polish of an Ai Miyazato just yet, she was much more comfortable in the limelight and pleased at how close she had come to meeting her expectations for the week. She's clearly a young player who's coming into her own.

The contrast between Pressel and Miyazato's moods, on the one hand, and Kim's, on the other, was stark. Inky had battled her way to -6 with 7 holes left to play, despite a balky driver that led to 7 missed fairways out of 14 in all that day. But she bogeyed 12, 14, and 15 and needed a birdie on 17 to snag a T12. That finish, as good as it was, broke a streak of 4-straight top 10s in LPGA majors. So even though she extended her top-25 run on the LPGA to 12 events (and counting) dating back to the end of last October, her results this week were disappointing for a player who's had 1 win, 1 runner-up, 4 bronzes, 10 top 5s, and 15 top 10s since last year's LPGA Championship--and only 2 of those 21 starts outside the top 25. And it was clear from the way she answered my question about how her last year had been on the course since she had last been to Locust Hill. In a noncommittal tone of voice, she replied,

It's been good. I've been playing well, you know. Just, uh.... There's a lot of good finishes. I'm looking forward to playing in the next couple of weeks.

I wonder where that train of thought she decided not to share was taking her! She was similarly unimpressed with her results this week:

Um...I mean, it's gotten better, actually, on the weekend. Just started off kind of shaky, but I'm hitting the ball much better. I just have a few mistakes out there. But, you know, it happens.

She got interested in a question about adjusting to the changing course conditions after all the rain in the middle of the week:

I think it actually helped a lot of players, the soft conditions. The greens were I think a little slower, a few times, and downhill so fast, you know what I mean? So it was hard to adjust to the speed of the greens.

Kim joined the LPGA 1 year after Pressel did, and her results and expectations have kept rising ever since. I don't know if it was the frustration at her start or finish to the week that was driving her to be so hard on her performance and results, or if it was also the number of close calls she's had in the last calendar year, but whatever it was, Inky was not at all satisfied with her play and not at all hesitant to say so. Whether she can put that frustration to good use in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but I think it speaks volumes to her situation as someone fighting to join the LPGA's super-elite. She's just about a point behind Na Yeon Choi on the Rolex Rankings and, at #1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, barely ahead of Suzann Pettersen, Choi, Cristie Kerr, Tseng, and Ji-Yai Shin (they're all within a quarter-point of her!), so she knows that her finish this week doesn't help her cause all that much, and certainly not as much as it could have.

So it's no wonder that Miyazato, who's moved up to #24 in the RR and #23 in the GSPI, would be happy with a result that ends a rough patch in May and early June for her, whereas Kim would be angsting over mightabeens and Pressel would be licking her lips for the next major. The trick for Miyazato will be to keep raising her expectations and preparing herself to keep meeting them, while for Kim and Pressel it will be figuring out what it takes to keep up with theirs. Keep an eye on these players the next few weeks. While the length of the Broadmoor will likely present them with some problems, Evian and Carnoustie had better watch out!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Yani Was the Major Story as She Eased Her Way to Glory

Yani Tseng was just Amazing in winning the LPGA Championship with ease this week. For recaps and stories see The Constructivist, and Hound Dog.

After watching Cristie Kerr demolish the field last year we all figured it would be quite sometime before we see something like that happen again. WRONG. Just one year later Yani Tseng matched Cristie's 19 under par total while winning by ten strokes.

At the age of 22 she is the youngest player (male or female) to win four majors in the modern golf era.

Part of the fun of writing a blog is to get others' feedback on my opinions. A little controversy, whether it comes from the casual reader or one of my fellow bloggers, is always welcome. I don't expect any debate when I say that Yani is clearly the best female golfer in the world, and by a wide margin. Will she be next in line to dominate the way Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa did? Only time will tell, but I think she is well on her way.

How dangerous will Yani Tseng be with the U.S. Open next? Well, she is coming off two consecutive victories and needs this win to complete the career grand slam (winning all four majors at least once). Hard to pick against her.

Stats updates:

Rolex Player of the Year Award (carries Hall of Fame point):

1- Yani Tseng - 169 points
2- Stacy Lewis - 80
T3- Karrie Webb - 72
T3- Cristie Kerr - 72
5- Suzann Petterson 61
6- Morgan Pressel - 52
T7- Paula Creamer - 51
T7- Brittany Lincicome - 51
No other player is making any kind of a mark.

The surprise here is not the players on the list, but the players NOT on the list.

Jiyai Shin, who was in the race for this award until the last event the past two years, is buried in 15th place with only 27 points. Although she has fallen just short of victory twice this year, her finishes of T35, T11, T29, T33, T29, and T34 this week, have kept her out of contention most of the year. The most disappointing so far is Ai Miyazato, who has not been in contention in a stroke play event this year and is in 28th place with just 6 points. Such unheralded players as Katie Futcher (18 points) and Julieta Granada (10 points) are ahead of her.

Vare Trophy Award (carries Hall of Fame point):

1- Yani Tseng 69.31
2- I.K. Kim 70.26
3- Cristie Kerr 70.41
4- Suzann Petterson 70.96
5- Karrie Webb 70.97

Not a lot you can say about this. Yani is so far ahead it is going to be very difficult to take this Hall of Fame point away from her. You have to go back to 2005 to find a lead as big as Yani's.

Rolex Rookie of the Year Award:-

1- Hee Kyung Seo - 233 points
2- Christel Boeljon - 116
3- Jennifer Song - 109
4- Stephanie Sherlock - 66
5- Jenny Suh - 62
6- Tiffany Joh - 60
7- Jenny Shin - 59
8- Jennifer Johnson - 54
9- Jessica Korda - 47
10-Belen Mozo - 41

Not really all that impressed with anyone on the above list. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Boeljon who has accumulated her points in just 4 events.

The Titleholders Championship:

Qualifying this week are Azahara Munoz, Meena Lee and Mika Miyazato. Inbee Park remains the highest-ranked player yet to qualify.

Most top 5 finishes this year:

Yani Tseng - 8
Cristie Kerr - 7
Paula Creamer - 5
Suzanne Pettersen - 5
I.K. Kim - 5

Does it seem that the same players are finishing in the top 5 every week? That has certainly been the case lately. In the last 4 tournaments Cristie Kerr (4), Yani Tseng (3) and Paula Creamer(3) have top-five finishes at least 3 times.

Louise Friberg Watch:

Louise Friberg missed the cut again this week for the 9th consecutive time.

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Week:

Paula Creamer From #11 to #8
Morgan Pressel From #17 to #12

Paula is the only newcomer to the top 10 as her impressive run of top 5 finishes enables her to jump over Ai Miyazato, Karrie Webb and Michelle Wie.

The only newcomer to the top 50 this week is Azahara Munoz who comes in at #47. Falling out of the top 50 is Brittany Lang.

Hard-to-believe stat of the week:

Maybe this one should be called "impossible-to-believe stat." How is it even possible that Song-Hee Kim has now missed 3 consecutive cuts?

Wegmans LPGA Championship Sunday: Has the Tseng Dynasty Arrived?

Less than a week ago, I suggested it was too soon to tell whether we should consider the Tseng Dynasty (2008-present) as the successor to the Ochoa Era (2003-2009), which itself followed on the Sorenstam Era (1994-2008). (Since my eras overlap, maybe "successor" is the wrong word, but you get the picture.) Now, the day after Ya Ni Tseng fired a final-round 66 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship to match Cristie Kerr's winning total of -19 from last year and take her 4th LPGA major, 8th LPGA tournament, and 5th worldwide title of 2011 (6th if you count a mini-tour event in Taiwan) by 10 shots over Morgan Pressel and 11 over Kerr, Suzann Pettersen, and Paula Creamer, is it any wonder that Jonathan Wall, Average Golfer, Brent Kelley, and Hound Dog are kicking around similar questions? For the record, I still think it's too soon to tell, but, man, what an impressive victory for the 22-year-old!

I mean, when you consider that Creamer was riding a 28-hole bogey-free wave at Locust Hill from Saturday through the front 9 Sunday, Pettersen's was at 26 until she bogeyed her 72nd hole, and Azahara Munoz extended hers to 37 holes before bogeying the par-5 17th yesterday but they all lost ground to Tseng during their runs, well, you know that she was simply untouchable this week. 27 birdies will do that for you! Even though Tseng was nervous on the 1st tee yesterday and made her 5th bogey of the week, she quickly righted the ship with 5 birdies in her next 7 holes. With the tournament in hand, she looked for something to motivate her on the back and decided to go for -20. Although she just missed a 12-footer on 18 to get it, that was about the only thing that didn't go her way this week.

I have so much more to share with you all--notes on 2 of my favorite golfers, In-Kyung Kim and Mika Miyazato, a focus on Amy Yang, interviews with the Futures Tour posse of Tiffany Joh, Pornanong Phatlum, and Cindy LaCrosse (who all got top 25s), and another "Walking with Onechan" feature (this time following Mi Hyun Kim and Ji-Yai Shin)--but it's time to call it a night!

[Update 1 (11:38 am): Here's Stephanie Wei on Ya Ni's dominance.]

[Update 2 (11:49 am): Check out the big-time media coverage from Randall Mell, Steve DiMeglio, Mick Elliott, and the SI guys.]

[Update 3 (6/28/11, 8:29 am): Check out Ruthless Mike's comparison of Ya Ni's stats with the top guys'!]

[Update 4 (6/29/11, 12:06 am): Nice Tseng Dynasty finds on youtube by bangkokbobby, who was the first to coin the phrase that I know of!]

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Wegmans LPGA Championship Saturday Afternoon: Will Any of the Leaders Pull Away from the Field?

I decided to stay at the hotel with the girls and after going to the pool while the Full Metal Archivist napped, watch the Golf Channel's coverage of moving day at the Wegmans LPGA Championship (and then meet my friends at their home for dinner) rather than try to sneak back to the course on my own or with onechan and/or imoto. You can see one product of my decision if you take a look at my scouting report on the back 9 at Locust Hill. Here I just want to note some of the notable patterns in today's later rounds.

With In-Kyung Kim birdieing 16 and 17, she joined Mika Miyazato at -4, along with Katie Futcher, who birdied 4 of her 1st 12 holes and was bogey-free on her round until the tough 16th (which broke a 38-hole bogey-free run dating back to Thursday), and Maria Hjorth, who lost a 17-hole bogey-free streak on her last hole. Stacy Lewis came back from a double bogey on the par-3 9th with birdies on her 2 closing holes to join Cristie Kerr and Meena Lee (who birdied 3 holes in a row at the very end of her round until she parred the 18th) at -5. So you can see there are definitely some scores out there for the leaders.

[Update 1 (5:28 pm): Last year's Rookie of the Year Azahara Munoz has a 25-holes-and-counting bogey-free run going, and her lone birdie of the day on the par-3 15th adds her to the group at -4. What's impressive about it is that she only hit 8 greens today, after hitting 14 and 12 the previous 2 rounds. Tiffany Joh, whom I'd love to see put herself in the running for this year's ROY race, opened with a bogey-free 32, but gave away bogeys on the 11th and 13th; still, with a par on 18, she can join the big group at -4.]

[Update 2 (5:36 pm): Darn it, Joh bogeyed 18 to settle for a 72 and join Suzann Pettersen, Inbee Park, and Candie Kung at -3. But with Ya Ni Tseng starting her round hot--on a 16-hole-and-counting bogey-free run going and birdies on 2, 9, 12, and 13--she's opened up a 5-shot lead on Morgan Pressel, Pat Hurst, and Cindy LaCrosse. These 4 players have a great chance to run away and hide from the rest of the field as they finish out their rounds. Paula Creamer and Amy Yang at E today and at -5 overall had better get it going if they want to catch them, as does Hee Young Park, who's +1.]

[Update 3 (5:38 pm): Talk about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Joh hasn't made a bogey on the front but has 8 on the back. Like Joh, LaCrosse started off hot, with 3 birdies in her 1st 5 holes, but she's sprinkled 3 bogeys and 2 birdies into the mix over her next 10. Let's see if she can finish strong!]

[Update 4 (5:59 pm): Onechan and I went foraging for snacks during a commercial break and who did we see as we waited for the elevator to arrive to take us back upstairs but Lexi Thompson stepping out of it. I said to onechan, "Do you know who that was?" and noticed that Lexi overheard me and looked back to see who was saying it. You never know who you'll run into in Pittsford!]

[Update 5 (6:01 pm): Ya Ni's lead shrunk to 3 when she pulled a drive left on 14 and had to play for a bogey, just as Pressel birdied 15, but Tseng bounced back by sticking her approach on 15 and making the tap-in to get back to -12. LaCrosse, however, birdied 17 to stay within 4.]

[Update 6 (6:03 pm): Just noticed that Momoko Ueda birdied 2 of her last 4 holes to join the big group at -4. Looks like that group's playing for 2nd right now--and maybe 4th!]

[Update 7 (6:09 pm): Great approach shot from the right rough on 18 by Paula Creamer to give herself a chance to extend her bogey-free run to 19 holes.]

[Update 8 (6:18 pm): Nice 2-putt from way above the hole by Creamer to join the group at -5, while LaCrosse also made a nice par to become leader in the clubhouse at -8. Great job by Golf Channel showing how Creamer's earrings and pony tail slapped her in the face after her drive!]

[Update 9 (6:22 pm): Nice birdie by Hee Young Park on 17 to fight back to E for the day and -6 overall.]

[Update 10 (6:25 pm): Just as imoto was referring to Morgan "Pretzel," she hit a drive straight down the middle on the narrow 18th, within 10 yards of Hee Young Park's!]

[Update 11 (6:35 pm): Ya Ni played her chip on 17 much better than Se Ri did from just a little to the right of where Pak had been and sank a great 5-footer for yet another birdie. After she striped her drive on 18, I'm thinking she's not just competing against the field, but against Cristie Kerr's -19 total last year and Rory McIlroy's dominance at the U.S. Open.]

[Update 12 (6:36 pm): Can't believe Pressel left her birdie putt on 18 a hair short! I think that means that Cindy LaCrosse is with Tseng in the final group tomorrow.]

[Update 13 (6:46 pm): Ya Ni cozied up her birdie putt on 18 to secure her 67 and stand at -13 through 54 holes with a 5-shot lead on LaCrosse and Pressel. Let's see how much she can win by tomorrow!]

What to Expect from the Back 9 at Locust Hill the Rest of Moving Day

Here's a little update of last year's scouting report of Locust Hill Country Club, the site of the Wegmans LPGA Championship. As I mentioned earlier, I followed Se Ri Pak and Ji-Yai Shin on the back 9 today, so I'm focusing on how they did, pin positions, and more. I wasn't able to walk the course on Wednesday as the rain was pouring down and I wasn't back until about 11 this morning, so I was struck by how much the course had changed since Tuesday afternoon, when I walked the 6th through 9th with Mika Miyazato's pro-am group.

#10 413-yard Par 4

Even with the longer elevated tee, Ji-Yai Shin was able to carry the trap that pinches the fairway from about 215-230 yards out, but she found the left rough, while Pak outdrove her by about 25 yards and put it in the middle of the severely downhill, right-to-left-sloping fairway. With the pin on the lower left tier, near the back of the green, Shin hit a great hybrid that just didn't hold the green, while Pak chunked her mid-iron and ended up just short of the green. Both made good chips to about 4 or 5 feet and sank their putts. This was a good example of how the wetter fairways and thick rough make it very difficult to judge how the ball is going to come off your club--and how the greens are very soft in some places yet relatively firm in others, making it difficult to anticipate or control what your ball is going to do when it lands on the green.

#11 511-yard Par 5

Last year, I wrote:

There's a blind tee shot (you can just spot the tops of the bleachers by the green from the tee) and a creek about 310 out, but OB right is much more dangerous and the trees on each side of the fairway seem to funnel in on you but really funnel out. If you hit your drive past about 240, you're going to have a downhill lie on your attempt to reach the green in 2, which isn't necessarily a bad thing b/c you're likely to get some extra roll to compensate for the slight uphill grade to the slightly elevated green. But with traps guarding the false front, a ridge behind the green, and a bump on the left side that looks designed to shoot balls off the green, it might be a smarter play for most in the field to treat this as a 3-shot hole.

What struck me walking the hole again today was how narrow that tee shot is, even though both Shin and Pak hit it, and how dangerous it is to miss right. The 2nd shot was definitely a lay-up for both of them, although they each hit at least 5-wood, but with the landing area so narrow, and getting narrower the closer to the green you try to get, it was no surprise that Shin missed the fairway just to the left while Pak missed it right. Neither got close to the accessible pin from where they were, although Pak his the more impressive shot--a lob wedge that stopped quickly despite coming from out of what looked like cabbage a mere yard off the fairway! No birdies there for either of them.

#12 361-yard Par 4

From last year:

It's almost a blind tee shot; you can usually just see the tip of the flag from the tee. With both overhanging trees and OB right pushing you leftwards off the tee, but with some trees on the left interfering with the left side of the elevated, right-to-left sloping green and a huge and deep trap after a creek that runs beneath it, you have to be very accurate with your driver or 3-wood to have a good shot at a pin on this hole. Tee balls between 220-240 and 260-280 will find the flattest parts of the undulating fairway. Balls that land past the trap but on the very front of the green will kick forward, while there seems to be a collection area on the left (a "false side," if you will).

Shin put her drive in the 1st flat right in the middle of the fairway, but Pak rushed her downswing and pulled her drive what seemed like way left but ended up only being 10 feet into the rough and not blocked by trees. Both players missed the green short right, in a little neck of the fairway to the right of the trap guarding the front pin. It was an incredibly fast chip, as the left side of the green sloped sharply downhill to the left, and Shin's chip rolled 8 feet by after nearly hitting the flag. Pak took a lob wedge and left it 4 feet short or so. Both made great par saves. That pin is in a very difficult spot. It's real easy to 3-putt from the back of the green if you try to avoid that front trap, while a miss left puts you in heavy rough. Par is very good on this hole today.

#13 386-yard Par 4

From last year:

The little creek looks a little farther out there from the elevated tee than it really is--it's only about a 200-yard carry--and the fairway is wide, so players have a big incentive to go after their drives and climb the uphill slope past the creek as far as possible. They'll be hitting into a long, relatively narrow, and sharply-tiered green (kind of like a shelf in the very back of the green). There's a small bunker to the front right of the green that you can't see from the fairway (at least it was a surprise to me when I got far enough up the hill to spot it!) and 2 deep ones on either side more even with the middle-back part of the green.

With the pin near the right-center of the green, almost at the back of the lower tier, and a left-to-right win blowing, I thought the shot was to try to fade one in, have it bounce or roll up the backstop, and roll back down and to the right toward the pin, but Shin inexplicably pulled her approach into the left front trap and Pak decided to stay below the hole, putting her approach about 12 feet short of the flag. Pak sunk her birdie putt, while Shin missed a tricky 5-footer.

#14 400-yard Par 4

From last year:

The narrow fairway slopes right to left at first, but the hole curls slightly to the left at the end, where overhanging pine trees and a creek guard the front of a green with a false front and a collection area in the front left and bunkers on either side guard its middle and back.

Shin pulled her drive to the left side of the fairway while trying to get a little extra out of it, but Pak put her drive in perfect position on the right edge of the fairway. Shin played an aggressive drawing hybrid that just skirted the trees on the fairway and avoided the big tree guarding the left of the green, while Pak stuck a mid-iron pin-high at the back of the green. I didn't see their putts, as I was headed to the 15th green, but from the sound of the crowd (or lack thereof), neither birdied. In fact, Shin bogeyed it!

#15 150-yard Par 3

From last year:

I saw Ai Miyazato make a great birdie putt on this big, 2-tiered green. The back tier bulges a little, especially on the left, but there's a relatively flat area in the front left of the green on the lower tier. Expect a lot of birdies when the pin's down there. But with an elevated tee and a relatively open feel around the green compared to most holes at Locust Hill, look for any wind to affect approach shots more here than usual.

The pin was in the accessible lower tier, and players had a choice of landing it short or using the backstop to get more aggressive shots to back up. Pak pulled her short iron into the left trap and failed to get her sandie when she blasted a 5-footer through the left-to-right break. Shin just barely carried the front traps, got a good leftward kick toward the pin, but missed a 15-footer for birdie. The volunteer I talked to said he'd seen a lot of putts of around 10 feet but only 1 drop. Oh, and Brittany Lincicome hit the pin on 1 hop and had her ball drop into the hole--and bounce out. I would expect a lot of birdies on this hole.

#16 356-yard Par 4

From last year:

The fairway here slopes left to right and is uphill until about 200 yards out, but stays relatively flat until about 270. The green slopes severely back to front, tilts a little left to right, and is protected by 4 bunkers surrounding it and a mound behind it. Odds are you're going to have a downhill putt on this hole.

This is one of the tee boxes they moved back and to the right to emphasize the dogleg as much as possible. Pak outdrove Shin on what looked like a great line from the tee box, but whereas Shin stayed in the left side of the fairway and stuck her approach shot to kick-in range, Pak had to play a clever little shot from very heavy rough 1 yard to the left of the fairway to give herself a 12-foot uphill birdie chance from the middle of the green to the back-left pin. Somehow she read it going right to left, but the ball actually went a little left-to-right. She was steaming as she came off the green.

#17 478-yard Par 5

From last year:

Mentioned by many players in the media guide as their favorite hole on the course, this is one of the few tee shots where the longer hitters may have a slight advantage. The uphill, left-to-right sloping fairway seems to feed into a bunker on the right side of the fairway that's sitting about 230-250 yards from the back tees. If you can carry it past this trap with a slight draw and keep it on the right side of the fairway (where there's a little more room than you might have expected from the tee), you'll have a great view of the dogleg left, from a flat area that extends from about 220 to 100 yards from the green. There's a little depression between 60 and 100 yards from the green, which I'd try to avoid, but trying to get past it brings the 2 huge, deep, and long traps that guard both sides of the green and extend well in front of it into play. This is the hole I most wanted to play because I wanted to see if I could carry the trap and hit a good fairway wood or hybrid to the green, which is 2-tiered horizontally, with some weird subtleties that I couldn't catch from a distance. You can still make a birdie staying short of the trap, keeping at least 100 yards away from the green, and hitting an accurate wedge or 9-iron, but what's the fun in that?

Here's how wet the course was playing: Pak smashed her drive, but only ended up even with the trap, while Shin's drive was also in the fairway but just short of it. Both players went for broke, hitting good fairway woods, but Shin ended up going through the fairway and into some deep rough just short of the green and Pak got robbed when she hit a perfect fade that was tracking to the green, but landed too close to the front right trap guarding the green and slid straight right inton the rough just past it instead of bouncing forward onto the green. With the pin in a very tricky back-left position--with a ridge to its right kicking everything left and making it very difficult to be very aggressive on an uphill chip from short of the green, neither Shin nor Pak could get very close and neither could make their birdie putts.

#18 396-yard Par 4

From last year:

This looked like the longest par-4 on the course to me from the tee and for a hole where water doesn't really come into play (unless you spray it way right toward the 2nd green), it's probably the most intimidating drive on the course. That's because the narrow fairway seems to go straight up toward the clubhouse and get narrower as it goes. All I know is that the hole doesn't flatten out until you get to the long, narrow green that's guarded by 2 front traps on either side of it. The 1st third of the green seems flatter than the rest, which (you guessed it) slopes from back to front. Now surrounded by grandstands, this green is probably even tougher to hit (at least in your head), because you have to worry about an errant shot ending up someplace weird. I would not want to have to par this hole to win the tournament.

They moved the tee back, removed a lot of trees near the tee and green, and made a very difficult closing hole that much tougher. As before when Shin tried to reach back for more with her driver, she pulled it left, while Pak smashed her drive but had it kicked into the right rough by the left-to-right sloping fairway. Shin couldn't reach the green from some gnarly stuff about 20 feet left, but she hit a good fairway wood layup about 20 yards short of the front of the green. Pak had what looked like a decent lie from about 155 yards from the center of the green when I looked at it, but could only advance her hybrid about 140 yards. Both made very good chips, Shin pleasing the crowd with a bounce-and-spinner that used the backstop to back up to about 5 feet above the hole, while Pak kept hers about the same distance below the hole, and both made great par saves.

So that's my updated scouting report. I'd expect to see birdies on the odd-numbered holes and bogeys on the even-numbered, both from their layouts and where their holes were located. Let's see how the leaders do on them!

Wegmans LPGA Championship Saturday Morning: On Following Se Ri Pak and Ji-Yai Shin

By a stroke of luck, I ran into Se Ri Pak and Ji-Yai Shin just as I made it to the top of the hill at the 10th tee, so instead of checking into the media tent to orient myself on moving day of the Wegmans LPGA Championship, I decided to follow them for the back 9. The course was soft, the greens were holding but still very slick, the rough was thick, the rain was holding off, and the winds were intermittent, swirling, and apparently different at tree top level than on the ground. So you needed to use great judgment along with great ball-striking to give yourself scoring opportunities. When even a Hall of Famer and former world #1 were stymied by Locust Hill in these conditions, I have a feeling things are going to be even tougher on the leaders. Pak made 1 birdie and 1 bogey to secure an even-par 72, but she gave herself a lot of great birdie chances down the stretch and couldn't convert. Shin, meanwhile, had the best approach of the day--a stuck short iron on 16 that spun back toward the pin, but made 2 bogeys and couldn't convert her other birdie opportunities on the back, either. Both players seemingly missed as many greens as they hit and made a lot of solid chips and pressure putts in the 4-to-7-foot range. It was great to compare notes with IceCat of Seoul at the 18th green; he followed Grace Park, who matched Shin's 73, over all of Locust Hill.

Still, some players took advantage of approachable pins on the par-5 11th, par-4 13th, and par-3 15th, among other holes. When I saw literally hundreds of people following Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie as they made their way from the 9th green to the 10th tee, I had no idea how they were doing. Little did I know that Kerr would rattle off birdies on 10, 13, 16, and 17 to head into the final hole -5 on the day as well as for the tournament. I was actually planning to follow Mika Miyazato and Suzann Pettersen; Mikan was -2 through 10, and after a stop at the driving range to meet up with Golf Channel's John Goldstein, I planned to catch up with them on the 11th or 12th hole. But when I got a call from the Full Metal Archivist, who was jet-lagged and lost with the girls on the way to Pittsford, I had to leave the course to find them and caravan our way to the hotel, from where I'm now writing this. Too bad--Mikan ended up shooting a great 68, with birdies on 2, 7, 9, 10, 12, and 13 (offset a bit by bogeys on 3 and 4), while Pettersen righted the ship after a roller-coaster 34 on the front that had more birdies and bogeys than pars with a bogey-free 35 on the back to move to -3 for the tournament.

Others having good rounds in the morning were Katie Futcher and Jeehae Lee, so if they can do it, you know anyone in the afternoon can, as well. Right now I have to decide if I'm going to return to the course or just watch the Golf Channel coverage. A lot depends on how good the girls would be while the FMA is napping (good thing she bought them a Nintendo DS in Japan!). If I stay here, I'll go into a bit more detail on Pak's and Shin's rounds as I update my Locust Hill scouting report post. If I go, you won't hear from me for awhile, as we have dinner plans with friends in Rochester.

Wegmans LPGA Championship Friday Afternoon: So Much for the Scoring Opportunities, Eh?

Just as I was turning off the tv yesterday afternoon to head out to the Toronto airport to pick up the Full Metal Archivist, I heard Judy Rankin mention that it was a bad sign the winds were picking up and Terry Gannon say there were storms all over western NY. Which would help explain why the low rounds of the afternoon at the Wegmans LPGA Championship were 69s by Chie Arimura, who missed the cut by 1 shot anyway, Hee Young Park, whose bogey-free effort moved her to T3, Morgan Pressel, who joined her despite making 3 bogeys, Amy Yang, who birdied 15, 16, and 17 to climb to T6, and Inbee Park, who finished eagle-birdie on 8 and 9 to move from fighting to make the cut to T19.

Unfortunately, my old junior golf sparring partner Moira Dunn bogeyed her last hole to miss the cut by a single shot and my favorite golfer Ai Miyazato wouldn't get her putter going yesterday and missed it by 2 shots. Other victims include Song-Hee Kim, Sandra Gal, Christina Kim, Brittany Lang, Vicky Hurst, Jane Park, Seon Hwa Lee, Jee Young Lee, Amanda Blumenherst, Mariajo Uribe, Mina Harigae, Laura Diaz, Jessica Korda, and Lexi Thompson.

As for today's plan, it's going to take me awhile to get to Pittsford, but I may get there in time to catch the end of the Ji-Yai Shin/Se Ri Pak pairing. After that, I'll try to catch up with Suzann Pettersen and Mika Miyazato (11:04 am), and if they're not doing much I'll wait for Anna Nordqvist and Na Yeon Choi (11:58 am). I'll do the same with Mi Hyun Kim/Inbee Park (1:10 pm) and Jimin Kang/Tiffany Joh (1:37 pm), then watch the leaders come in on the 17th green. That's all contingent on the Full Metal Archivist being rested enough to drive the girls to Japanese school in Buffalo and then on to our hotel in Pittsford. If not, I may only catch a little bit of golf today in person. We'll see!

[Update 1 (5:43 pm): Great post by Ruthless Mike on Tseng's greatness--and potential!]

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wegmans LPGA Championship Friday Morning: Pat Hurst, Minea Blomqvist, Cindy LaCrosse, Reilley Rankin Making Unlikely Moves

I've been scrambling all morning to get ready for the return of the Full Metal Archivist from Japan--in fact, onechan, imoto, and I are heading out to pick her up in Toronto in about an hour--but as I sit here watching the Golf Channel coverage of the Wegmans LPGA Championship, I just had to underscore how significant it is that Pat Hurst, Minea Blomqvist, Cindy LaCrosse, and Reilley Rankin put up good numbers in the morning groups. Sure, you'd expect someone playing well like Shanshan Feng to go low--she's -6 today with 2 good birdie chances on 8 and 9 if all goes well--as well as Anna Nordqvist, who birdied 5 holes in a row on the front and ended up with a 30 and is still -3 on her round after back-to-back bogeys on 13 and 14. But for a struggling veteran like Hurst, a couple of journeyman-type players like Blomqvist and Rankin, and a "New Blood" generation member to be putting themselves in contention by firing rounds in the 60s today shows the leaders in the afternoon groups what kind of scores are out there. For further confirmation, check out what Karrie Webb, Mi Hyun Kim, Na Yeon Choi, and Katie Futcher are doing. Sorry I can't go into more detail, but got to get ready to go!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wegmans LPGA Championship Thursday Afternoon: Who Will Follow the Morning Leaders?

The differing fates of Angela Stanford and Ji-Yai Shin epitomize how much harder Locust Hill Country Club is playing for the afternoon groups in the Wegmans LPGA Championship. Stanford bounced back from the only bogey in her round on the tough par-4 18th with a bogey-free 32 on the front to post a fine 68 and tie Meena Lee from the morning groups for 3rd (so far), but Shin bogeyed 3 holes in a 4-hole stretch early in her round on the back and needed a walkoff birdie on the par-3 9th, her only one of the day, to salvage a 75 that puts her 9 shots off the lead and at the moment T107.

Mika Miyazato, meanwhile, birdied 3 and 4 but bogeyed 7 and 10 for her 72, while In-Kyung Kim needed a birdie on 17 to salvage a 73.

I'll have to start updating this post after the girls and I have dinner!

[Update 1 (9:07 pm): More after I get the ladies to bed, but did you notice that Na Yeon Choi hit 2 fairways and 6 greens (most toward the very end of her round) and hung in there for a 73 by birdieing 2 of her last 3 holes on the front (her bag)?]

[Update 2 (6/24/11, 2:13 am): Diana D'Alessio had one of the most surprising low rounds of the 1st day, a bogey-free 68 in which she hit only 6 fairways and 12 greens but took only 26 putts. Almost as surprising to me was Stacy Prammanasudh's 7-birdie 68, but given how good she used to be, a return to form is a little less unexpected than a great round out of almost nowhere like D'Alessio's!]

[Update 3 (2:16 am): On the downside, just as unexpected were high rounds by Se Ri Pak (78), Karrie Webb (74), and Sun Young Yoo (73).]

[Update 4 (2:21 am): I wasn't at all surprised by Stacy Lewis's 5-birdie 69, except perhaps that she didn't go lower after her bogey-free 33 to start her round on the back, but the fact that vets Amy Hung and Minea Blomqvist and newbie Jennifer Johnson matched her--Hung despite going on a 3-hole bogey train on the front, Blomqvist despite hitting only 5 fairways and 12 greens, and Johnson by hitting 14 greens and never making a bogey--did surprise me!]

[Update 5 (2:22 am): Clearly, it's not how many fairways and greens you hit that really mattered yesterday, but how close you came to them when you missed them, instead! I think fairways will matter a lot more in the coming rounds, though, as they don't plan to cut the rough the rest of the week!]

Update 6 (2:36 am): Great 70 by Cindy LaCrosse, who won the Futures Tour money list race last year, particularly under the circumstances. And after hearing Pat Hurst putting down her putting for 45 minutes on Tuesday evening, I'm guessing she wasn't any happier about it after hitting 14 greens and never making a bogey but sinking only 2 birdies. But the round I'm probably most psyched about is Tiffany Joh's. After birdieing 10 and 11 out of the gates, she weathered a rough patch midway through the back and played her last 11 holes bogey-free and -1 to secure an opening 71 despite hitting only 10 greens. Who was it who said those FT kids were going to be alright?]

[Update 7 (2:44 am): Nice 71s by Hee Kyung Seo (great comeback), Maria Hjorth, Vicky Hurst, Natalie Gulbis, and Pornanong Phatlum and 72 by Momoko Ueda (who hit only 5 fairways). They bring the totals to 31 players under par (Leta Lindley can join them by going at least E in her final 2 holes early this morning), and 51 at par or better (Karin Sjodin and Dina Ammaccapane can join them by going at least E on 8 and 9).]

[Update 8 (2:49 am): With what look like scattered showers heading Rochester's way by the early morning but nothing else on the horizon, I'm thinking the players, fans, and tournament organizers may dodge a wet bullet today, unless we get some pop-up activity in the afternoon and early evening. Even so, I think that wetness (and the chance of it on Saturday, as well) will only make Locust Hill tougher. I expect those numbers of players at and under par to steadily shrink over the course of the week, as errant driving catches up to people, as hot putters cool off, and as changing course conditions and the difficulty of reading and adjusting to them kick in, not to mention the pressure. Anyone who gets and stays double digits under par this week has a great chance of winning!]

[Update 9 (2:57 am): Yup, just as I figured, reports there was a 2-hour weather delay in the early evening.]

[Update 10 (3:12 am): Great quotes from Ya Ni Tseng

At Kraft, I tried my best and Stacy played good, I'm happy for her. That's all I can do. I try my best. I still coming into this week, I'm still looking forward to the Majors.

Actually last night I did think a little bit about Kraft. I try not to think too much.

I asked Steve, does Jack Nicklaus miss more tournaments that he won? He said, yes, all of the best players are going to miss a lot of tournaments. You need to learn from this.

Paula Creamer

I think that they've done a really good job with the golf course. I think normally they probably would have put some water on it when it was getting so dry on Tuesday evening when I played it. I think they've done a really good job. It's still bouncing. It's not like it used to be. You can't fly it to the flags. You still have to allow for release and you have to think, because if you're above the hole out here, it's death.

You see a lot of putts that are 5 feet by. I think that the way the course is playing is different. It's not easier by any means.

and Angela Stanford

I gave myself probably the most chances that I’ve ever had here. I seemed to be below a lot of holes. Really I felt like the only bad decision that I made today was on 18 out of the rough and it was kind of a bad swing off the tee. I just struggled with my driver. But I never made the mistake off the tee that I couldn’t recover.

. I like the way Stanford put it. The key is minimizing the number and consequences of big mistakes off the tee.]

[Update 11 (3:15 am): bangkokbobby found great interviews on youtube, including one with Karen Stupples not on]

[Update 12 (3:25 am): Looks like Creamer, Pettersen, Pressel, and Inkster played in the CVS Classic last week. Pressel said she got in her prep at Locust Hill beforehand.]

Wegmans LPGA Championship Thursday Morning: Tseng and Creamer Set the Pace

Ya Ni Tseng opened the Wegmans LPGA Championship with 6 birdies in her 1st 11 holes at Locust Hill Country Club and held on despite some errant drives down the stretch to post a 66 and take a 1-shot lead on Paula Creamer, who fired a bogey-free 67 that included a 3-putt par on the par-5 17th. Among the mini-surprises at the top of the leaderboard are Meena Lee (bogey-free 68), Hee Young Park (4-birdie 69), and Ryann O'Toole (4 birdies in her last 6 holes for a 69)--Lee's been accurate off the tee this season and putting the lights out, but missed the cut at the year's 1st major; Park has been driving the ball great but not doing anything else all that well; and this is O'Toole's 1st major. Less unexpected was Morgan Pressel's bogey-free 69, but I don't think anyone would have predicted she'd do that on a day she hit only 7 of 14 fairways.

Although these players made Locust Hill look easy, it was anything but for the majority of the morning groups. Sure, Amy Yang, Mindy Kim, Katherine Hull, Eun-Hee Ji, M.J. Hur, and Azahara Munoz shot 70s, but Yang had to come back with a bogey-free 31 on the front (her back) to do it, Kim sprinkled 3 bogeys into her round despite hitting 15 greens, Hull needed an eagle on the par-5 17th to offset back-to-back bogeys earlier on the back, Ji only hit 6 fairways and 11 greens but scrambled like mad and limited her damage to only 2 bogeys as she made the turn on to the front, Hur hit 6 and 10 but made 6 birdies and 4 bogeys, and Munoz hit 14 greens but still managed both a bogey and a double. Only 4 other players went under par, but Hee-Won Han made a double and a bogey in her last 3 holes, Candie Kung bogeyed 3 of 4 holes as she made the turn onto the back, Jimin Kang broke a 16-hole bogey-free streak on (of all holes) the 17th, and Beatriz Recari had 26 putts after hitting only 7 fairways and 9 greens, but still made 3 bogeys. Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen, Michelle Wie, Christina Kim, and Yoo Kyeong Kim needed strong finishes to salvage 72s, Kristy McPherson and Jennifer Song had to scramble like crazy for theirs, Karen Stupples, Moira Dunn, and Amelia Lewis played 1-step forward, 1-step back all day, and Jee Young Lee collapsed with 3 bogeys in her last 5 holes on the front for hers while Kyeong Bae followed up a bogey-free 35 on the back with 2 bogeys and a double on the front.

If even those who scored well had to work for their numbers, how about those who didn't? Catriona Matthew, Inbee Park, and Julieta Granada have beeen playing well lately (although Park struggled recently in Japan), but had to hold on for 73s. Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang, and Juli Inkster, who have also been playing well, could only manage 74s. Sandra Gal and Ai Miyazato hung in there for 75s that could have been worse. Seon Hwa Lee and Amanda Blumenherst stumbled out of the gates with 76s. Mina Harigae and Belen Mozo blew up with 77s. And stars on other tours Lindsey Wright (ALPG/78), Chie Arimura (JLPGA/78), and Gwladys Nocera (LET/80) got off to horrific starts.

It's raining and thundering here in Hamburg, so I'm wondering how the weather is for the afternoon groups in Pittsford. Looks like they might get another hour in before the storms sweep in....

[Update 1 (4:40 pm): I have to agree with Jeff Skinner's criticism of the Golf Channel's decision not to stick with the Wegmans during the Transitions weather delay. The paucity of actual golf they show in early rounds is a recurring theme, however; in fact, they had more cameras on the course than usual today. I haven't been bothered by the taped segments, because they allow time for scene-setting, context, and storytelling, all of which the tour needs. If it were spread out over a 5-hour show, it wouldn't be so annoying, I think. And if the announcers were better prepared to do some of this themselves as they're showing golf, they could shorten the segments to allow for more coverage of the competition itself.]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Best on the LPGA Without a Major: 2011 Wegmans LPGA Championship Edition

All right, with the LPGA's 2nd major a morning away, it's about time I updated my list of the best on tour without a major, ranked by their likelihood of breaking through at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. The numbers in parentheses are for LPGA wins and international wins (but only from the other major tours: JLPGA, KLPGA, LET).

Most Likely to Break Through in 2011

1. In-Kyung Kim (3/1): In her last 11 majors, her only finishes outside the top 20 have been at exceptionally windy Kraft Nabisco Championships in '09 and '10. Coming into this week with 4 top 10s in majors in a row (3 of them top 5s), and playing top-notch golf this past calendar year, she's ready to win a major. Will this be her time to stop knocking on the door and finally bust through it?

2. Na Yeon Choi (4/4): Besides her missed cuts at the '07 U.S. Women's Open and '10 LPGA Championship (still her only MC in her career as an LPGA member), her worst finishes in a major are T40 at the '09 KNC and T49 at the '11 KNC; otherwise, she has all top 30s, with top 10s in 5 of her last 8 starts, including a silver and a bronze in 2 of her last 3. This season, she's been a little bit Dr. Jekyll and a little bit Mr. Hyde by her standards of consistent excellence, but I still think she's got to be one of the favorites this week. Particularly since she has something to prove at Locust Hill.

The Contenders

3. Mika Miyazato (0/1): She already has 3 top 15s to her credit in LPGA majors in her short professional career, including a T7 at this year's KNC. Plus, she's already won a JLPGA major, getting revenge at the '10 Japan Women's Open for her final-round collapse in the '09 edition. For more on why I'm so high on her chances this week, read on.

4. Ai Miyazato (6/15): Although her best major is clearly the Women's British Open, she does have 2 T3s at LPGA Championships, one when it was sponsored by McDonalds and one by Wegmans last year. I think she's got the eye of the tiger this week. Let's see if her putter can finally heat up--it's about time she started proving my pre-season prediction right!

5. Amy Yang (0/3): A T9 at the '08 LPGA Championship had been the only hint she's shown in the majors of her prodigious talent until last season, when she steadily improved from T27 to T14 to T5 to T5. She improved at this year's KNC to T19, so is a top 10 in the cards for her at Locust Hill?

6. Angela Stanford (4/0): Her best chance to win a major to date was back in the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, but Hilary Lunke answered Stanford's 27-foot birdie with her own walkoff birdie to win the 18-hole playoff instead. Since then, Stanford's had 14 top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship (back when it was sponsored by McDonalds). I'm thinking she's bound to improve on last year's T25 at Locust Hill.

7. Michelle Wie (2/0): So far, her performance in majors as an LPGA member has been nowhere near her 7 close calls from 2003-2006, including 6 top 5s, 2 of them at Mission Hills. But a 6th-place finish at this year's KNC may well be the start of something great--although maybe not on courses that put a premium on accuracy off the tee like Locust Hill.

8. Sun Young Yoo (1/0): She's made the cut in 10 of her last 12 majors, a fitting companion to her late bloom on the LPGA relative to most of her Young Gun-generation peers. Even though her best finish in a major (and only top 20) was T12 at last season's KNC, she's been putting up impressive performance stats for several years now, as an Angela Stanfordesque straight shooter. Anyone who can cut through the top players on tour as she did in last year's Sybase Match Play Championship like [insert metaphor of your choice here] certainly has the talent to break through in a major. Even though she's been a little shaky lately this season, Locust Hill really suits her game.

9. Song-Hee Kim (0/0): With top 25s in 9 of her last 11 majors, she's got the talent and the game to make her 1st LPGA win a major. I'm talking Cristie Kerr-style talent and game, here. But given her weak performance stats thus far in 2011, I wouldn't put any money down on her to break through this week, even though Locust Hill should suit her game very well.

10. Sandra Gal (1/0): Yeah, she never cracked the top 30 in a major in her 1st 11 tries, but she got a T15 at the KNC. Can she set a new record for her best finish in a major this week? She'll need to have a great ballstriking week and continue putting the lights out!

11. Katherine Hull (2/1): Yes, she only has 3 top 20s in majors in her life, but she's coming off a near-miss against Ya Ni Tseng in last year's Women's British Open and has a T8 at the '09 KNC (her only other career top 10) to build on. Still, she barely made the cut at this year's KNC and has gotten off to yet another slow LPGA start after building another solid foundation Down Under.

12. Maria Hjorth (5/5): She's an explosive, unpredictable golfer with 4 top 10s and 3 MCs at the KNC alone. She may not yet be quite back to being the kind of player again who averaged 2 top 10s in majors a year in 2007 and 2008--and I doubt she'll improve on that T2, 4th, 2nd run from the '07 WBO to the '08 U.S. Women's Open. When you put together a T2 at the '08 LPGA Championship, a top 20 at this year's KNC, and a missed cut at last year's LPGA Championship, what would you expect from her this week?

Quantum Leap Candidates

13. Mindy Kim (0/0): OK, so she only has 2 top 30s in her 4 majors, but she's been playing great this season, so why shouldn't she keep doing so at Locust Hill? Maybe because it puts a lot of pressure on her driving accuracy, which has been one of the only weak spots in her game this year...?

14. Shanshan Feng (0/0): If she hasn't even cracked the top 50 in any of her 11 starts in majors and finished T54 her 1st time at an LPGA Championship at Locust Hill, why am I even putting her on this list? First, she's a relatively long hitter on the LPGA who hits a lot of greens in regulation; second, she's shown signs of being a very good putter; and third, she has a 3 top 20s and 2 top 10s in her last 4 starts (never mind that missed cut mixed in there).

15. Brittany Lang (0/0): She's finished inside the top 40 in 9 of her last 13 majors (the only real blemish being a missed cut at the '08 WBO; she just missed top 40s twice last season to go with her 2 top 10s, including her being in contention for awhile at Oakmont). She still hasn't improved on her T2 finish (with fellow then-amateur Morgan Pressel) in the 2005 U.S. Women's Open that Birdie Kim won with a walkoff slam dunk from the sand, but she's long and straight enough to contend in any major and has 3 top 15s in a row, including 2 top 10s, heading into Locust Hill this week.

16. Kristy McPherson (0/0): Her weak performance in '10 majors accounts for most of the winnings deficit compared to her '09 campaign. Even during that cold spell, though, she still snagged a top 20 at Oakmont. I'm hoping she fully recovers from off-season elbow surgery by Solheim Cup time. She can do a lot this week to ensure she makes the team, if her hard work at getting her touch around and on the greens back starts paying off.

17. Seon Hwa Lee (4/3): She's had only 1 top 10 in her last 12 starts in majors--probably the key reason she dropped so far down the 2009 and 2010 money lists. However, she's coming off a T19 at last year's LPGA Championship and fairly solid play thus far in 2011. Let's see if her comeback is ready for the pressure Locust Hills puts on everyone's all-around games.

18. Jee Young Lee (1*/2): From the 2nd major of 2006 to the 1st of 2009, her worst finish in a major was a T22. But like Wie, she's been struggling recently in them, although she could still sneak a T25 out of Oakmont. I don't see her matching that, much less her best finish in a major, a T2 at the '07 WBO, this week, mainly because I'm not sure about the state of her health. She just hasn't been the same golfer since October of 2010 and I'm not sure why.

The Best of the Rest

19. Hee Kyung Seo
20. Vicky Hurst
21. Momoko Ueda
22. Kyeong Bae
23. Jane Park
24. Natalie Gulbis
25. Hee Young Park
26. Azahara Munoz
27. Christina Kim
28. Jennifer Song
29. M.J. Hur
30. Amanda Blumenherst
31. Mina Harigae
32. Mariajo Uribe
33. Beatriz Recari
34. Haeji Kang
35. Maria Hernandez
36. Chella Choi

Watch List

37. Sophie Gustafson
38. Hee-Won Han
39. Candie Kung
40. Mi Hyun Kim

What a Rush! Powering Up at the Wegmans LPGA Championship

When I left the sleepy media tent at Locust Hill Country Club around 11:30 am today, just as the clouds had stopped opening up (at least for the time being), I expected to head past the putting green on my way to the driving range and my car for a quick drive back to Hamburg, so my parents could have one day off before heading back on the road again to help out with onechan and imoto's cousins in Connecticut. Instead, as I approached the putting green and saw a crowd gathered around it, it felt like someone had flicked a switch and turned the intensity back on. Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Ji-Yai Shin, and about a dozen other pros had their game faces on as they quickly prepared for their practice rounds and tried to figure out how much the rains had softened and slowed down the greens at Locust Hill. About the only people who seemingly weren't drawn into the serious vibe were Tiffany Joh and her pals, but even their high spirits seemed a product of the heightened energy and concentration of everyone getting ready to play. If you've seen any episodes from the Dragon Ball animation franchise, you'll know what I'm referring to in the subtitle. Don't get me wrong--nobody was going all Super Saiyan just yet...

...but you certainly could feel the players' power levels rising....

Oh, it's definitely major!

Wegmans LPGA Championship Preview, Predictions, Pairings

It's Wegmans LPGA Championship week at Mostly Harmless. I'm writing this preview from the media tent at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, NY, as steady rains have been trying to lull me to sleep for the past 3 and a half hours. To stay awake, I've been working up my notes from yesterday into an intro post, a look at Mika Miyazato, and a comparison of how Ya Ni Tseng and Suzann Pettersen are preparing for the LPGA's 2nd major of 2011. There's much more coming before I head back to Hamburg this afternoon--including an update of last year's hitchhiker's guide to Locust Hill (which I'm going to have to do without walking the back today, as it's raining harder than ever and I'm now hearing thunder) and plenty of rankings and predictions, but for now, check out my tournament previews from 2010, 2009, and 2008, along with those by, Brent Kelley, and Mick Elliott.

As for my picks from this week's field for the PakPicker competition at Seoul, I'm taking advantage of Hound Dog's rundown of key LPGA performance stats, the history of both the LPGA Championship and the Wegmans LPGA event that it's merged with for 2010-2012 at least, and my own feel for who can deal best with the now-changing course and weather conditions, here are my guesses:

1. Kim In-Kyung
2. Shin
3. Miyazato Mika
4. Kerr
5. Miyazato Ai
6. Creamer
7. Tseng
8. Pettersen
9. Choi Na Yeon
10. Pressel
11. Kim, Mindy
12. Lewis, Stacy

Alts: Webb; Stanford; Yang, Amy

Here are my favorite Thursday pairings:

1st tee, 9:05 am: Ya Ni Tseng, Ai Miyazato, Juli Inkster
10th tee, 12:48 pm: Ji-Yai Shin, In-Kyung Kim, Stacy Lewis
1st tee, 8:54 am: Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome, Michelle Wie
1st tee, 9:16 am: Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, Sandra Gal
10th tee, 12:59 pm: Na Yeon Choi, Se Ri Pak, Anna Nordqvist
10th tee, 1:10 pm: Karrie Webb, Laura Davies, Natalie Gulbis
10th tee, 9:05 am: Morgan Pressel, Amy Yang, Julieta Granada
10th tee, 9:16 am: Catriona Matthew, Katherine Hull, Mindy Kim
1st tee, 8:32 am: Seon Hwa Lee, Kristy McPherson, Candie Kung
1st tee, 8:43 am: Inbee Park, Brittany Lang, Hee-Won Han
1st tee, 12:26 pm: Song-Hee Kim, Sun Young Yoo, Amy Hung
1st tee, 12:48 pm: Hee Kyung Seo, Vicky Hurst, Pat Hurst
1st tee, 7:59 am: Moira Dunn, Pernilla Lindberg, Louise Stahle
1st tee, 8:21 am: Amanda Blumenherst, Mina Harigae, Beatriz Recari
10th tee, 7:37 am: Chie Arimura, Danielle Kang, Angela Oh
1st tee, 7:15 am: Harukyo Nomura, Ryann O'Toole, Jenny Suh
1st tee, 8:10 am: Sarah Jane Smith, Belen Mozo, Lexi Thompson

With Mika Miyazato going off the 1st tee at 12:37 pm, Jane Parl at 2:05, and Tiffany Joh at 2:16, I really wish I could spend the rest of the week here. But daddy duties are calling and it's about time I headed back to Hamburg. On the other hand, the rain's stopped so maybe I'll have time to just take a peek at the driving range before I go....

[Update 1 (5:29 pm): Emily Kay makes a great point about Ya Ni Tseng's far more impressive record than Rory McIlroy's, but could have augmented her case by pointing out that the LPGA's been benefitting from a global youth movement in women's golf for half a dozen years at least (and pointed out that Cristie Kerr's win at Locust Hill last year was every bit as dominating as Rory's).]

How Ya Ni Tseng and Suzann Pettersen Are Preparing for the Wegmans LPGA Championship

I got a chance to talk briefly with Ya Ni Tseng at Locust Hill's putting green and Suzann Pettersen as she was leaving its driving range in the early evening yesterday. What they told me about how they're preparing for the LPGA's 2nd major of the year was actually pretty revealing--about the strengths and weaknesses of their games, about what they anticipate the biggest challenges will be this week for them, and about how much planning and effort goes into fine-tuning 2 of the hottest players on the planet right now.

For Tseng, her key will be keeping her driver in play and on the fairway as much as possible. With her length, she can give herself a lot of birdie chances if she hits her irons as well as she has been this season. But the big question mark for her is whether she can go from a win 2 weeks ago at the wide-open Panther Creek Country Club to one at Locust Hill, which features super-narrow fairways, trees in play on virtually every hole, and rough that's getting tougher by the minute (as the rain falls as intensely now as it has all morning). The other key for her yesterday was working on her putting, focusing especially on getting the speed of the greens down. Hopefully that'll come in handy when the rains take the weekend off and the greens dry off again (knock wood).

For Pettersen, who as I already mentioned was on the driving range working on her 3/4 wedges, the focus is on controlling the shape and trajectory of her irons and approach shots--and being as precise as possible with her 80 yards and in game. Even though she's been putting a lot better this season than in recent ones, she's barely in Hound Dog's top 40 in total putting, as compared to 7th in driving and 1st in greens in regulation. Basically, she's honing the true strength of her game--her accuracy with her irons--knowing she can count on her driving and hoping to take as much pressure off her putting and chipping as possible.

It may sound funny that Pettersen, who's been reaching the fairway this season 76.8% of the time, and Tseng, who's been doing the same a fantastic 71.1% of the time--both of whom are contending to take Annika's and Lorena's mantles as straight-up bombers (Tseng is averaging over 271 yards off the tee while Pettersen is approaching 262)--have such different approaches to honing their long games. But I think each has taken the approach that's right for her--and right for the course conditions as they were experiencing them on Monday and Tuesday. With fast and firm and hilly fairways, it's easy for Tseng's drives to go all over the lot. And with fast and firm and undulating greens, it's difficult for even someone who's as pure with her irons as Pettersen to consistently put it close to the pin.

I think both players I talked to yesterday are secretly rejoicing at today's rains. Anything that makes Locust Hill's fairways and greens easier to hit yet makes the course longer for the tour's precision players works to their benefit. They're going off the 1st tee in back-to-back groups Thursday morning--Tseng with Ai Miyazato and Juli Inkster at 9:05 am and Pettersen with Paula Creamer and Sandra Gal at 9:16--so as long as they don't run into conditions or delays strikingly different from what the afternoon pairings have to deal with, look for them to have a big advantage!

Mika Miyazato Looks Ready to Win the Wegmans LPGA Championship

There's something different about Mika Miyazato this year at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. Maybe it's because she's hitting the ball great coming into this week (Hound Dog ranked her 11th in total driving, plus she's 18th in greens in regulation), having gained both distance and accuracy off the tee from last season. Maybe it's because Locust Hill has been dry as a bone (at least until rains swept in overnight, have been coming in waves this morning, and may be with us on and off through Friday), which has really allowed her to attack the course from off the tee and put herself in position to fire at pins and go for par 5s in 2. Maybe it's because even though she hasn't been putting all that well this season she knows how to get the ball in the hole at Locust Hill (as evidenced by her T4 finish in '09 and chasing of Cristie Kerr here for most of the tournament last year until a final-round 76 knocked her back to 13th place). Maybe it's because she won the Japan Women's Open last year, going wire-to-wire after giving it away in the final round the year before and followed up her 1st professional win by contending seemingly whenever she competed in Japan in 2010. Maybe it's because she's getting more comfortable on the LPGA in her 3rd year as a member and as a professional golfer. Or maybe she's just more mature at 21 than she was at 20.

Whatever the reason, Mikan is carrying herself this week like someone who expects to contend. Yes, she's still the laid-back, somewhat unassuming player she's always been, but there's an underlying confidence and self-assurance I didn't see last year at Locust Hill. Following her from the 6th through 9th holes yesterday and watching her work on her short game for what seemed like 2 hours after her round, I noticed she's looser with her pro-am partners, more relaxed on the course and with the media, and practicing very intensely. She wasn't paired with the best amateurs in the world, but she outdrove every one of them every time while never missing a fairway on the holes I saw. The 6th is a long par-4 and the 8th is a short par-5; she was just short on the former in an effort to keep the ball below the front pin and just on the back-left fringe on the latter in 2 after perfectly executing a baby draw down the treeline from about 220 yards out. On both 170-plus-yard par 3s, the uphill 7th and the downhill 9th, she hit perfect mid-irons, making a 5-foot birdie putt to close out her round. Her group was -12--completely overshadowed on a day Brittany Lincicome's group went -19 net and Vicky Hurst's -18 gross (and the Japanese media was excited about Ai Miyazayo's group's -15 gross)--but I think Mikan's exactly where she wants to be heading into her 12:37 starting time on Thurday: locked-in on her long game and working hard at her short game.

The drill she was doing with her caddie on the putting green was very simple. He would put a pair of tees blocking the right and left edges of the cup, thereby closing the side door on her. Sometimes it seemed he'd even move one or the other a little more toward the center, dropping her target from 90% of the cup to 75% or less, depending on the length of the putt. She was sinking 3- and 4-footers with ease, and quickly moved from hole to hole doing the drill after making a specified number in a row. But when she came to a putt that gave her trouble--a downhill, right-to-left 10-footer that broke differently depending on the speed she hit each putt--they literally stayed there for an hour. I can't tell you how many tees she hit, but I'd say over 85% of her putts were either in or ricochets. Unlike last year here, when she was emphasizing chipping, she spent at least 4/5th of her time today putting rather than chipping.

Now, it's true neither she nor her caddie were satisfied with her efforts, and that she was having issues with her chipping and lag putts on the super-fast/-firm Locust Hill greens, but it's also true that we may get just enough rain to soften/slow the greens a bit but not so much that the fairways get really wet. Or the course may get soaked--it's been raining steadily since I've begun writing this and it just started to get a bit more intense! I think any moisture actually helps Mikan's chances this week. She's long enough off the tee to attack just about every hole--and with more receptive greens than I was seeing yesterday, who knows how many approach shots she might stick this week? I predict at least a top 10 for her and I wouldn't at all be surprised to see her in contention on the last 9 holes of the tournament.

[Update 1 (10:01 am): Nice job by the Futures Tour highlighting former UCLA teammates Ryann O'Toole's and Tiffany Joh's chances this week!]