Friday, March 16, 2012

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup Thursday: Tseng Shoots 29 on Back to Catch Hee Young Park at -7

Yani Tseng put on an exhibition during the back 9 of the 1st round of the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup yesterday to catch Hee Young Park at -7 and take a 1-shot lead on Ji-Yai Shin, a 2-shot lead on Na Yeon Choi, Karen Stupples, Hee Kyung Seo, Pernilla Lindberg, and Christine Song, and a 3-shot lead on a host of golfers that included defending champion Karrie Webb, Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato, Stacy Lewis, Azahara Munoz, So Yeon Ryu, and Inbee Park.  With 37 players in the 60s, 84 at par or better, and 54 holes to go, it's way too soon to call this one for the world #1, but when you consider that Tseng missed a short birdie putt on 18 and still went -7 over her last 8 holes, the rest of the field must be feeling the same kind of pressure that Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa used to put on them to go low, stay low, and never look over their shoulders.

Tseng talked in interviews about staying patient on the front when the putts weren't falling, but even more impressive to me than the fact that she went -8 over her last 14 holes of bogey-free golf was the following statement:
I've been working really hard with my strategy, my driver, my tee‑off, because like first couple year when I was on Tour my driving accuracy was low in the rank. So after that I tell myself I want to get my driving accuracy at least top 50 because that way if I hit it more on the fairway I can have better chance to make birdie to hit it on the green.

So this Tour year I've been improving a lot of my driving accuracy today. Some of the holes I just choked down the three‑quarter shot. Some of it was wide hole, I just bumped in there and tried as hard. When you feel that rhythm there, you just hit a good shot, and I didn't worry about too much. So I didn't worry about if I hit it in the rough or I just think about where my ball is going to go. So it's kind of very positive thinking.

If Tseng is able to turn herself into what I call a "straight-up bomber"--that is, someone with great distance and good accuracy off the tee--she's going to become even more dominant than she was last year.  To see what I'm talking about, compare her 1st-round stats to former world #1 and 8-time LPGA winner Ji-Yai Shin.  Shin hit every fairway, but because she averaged only 245 yards off the tee, she hit only 13 greens and needed a hot putter to allow her to shoot her bogey-free 66.  Tseng, meanwhile, hit 11 fairways while averaging over 280 yards off the tee, which enabled her to hit 16 greens and not only give herself loads of birdie chances but also make an eagle on the par-5 15th.  If Tseng continues to hit fairways at that pace all year, she'd probably rank in the top 10 in driving accuracy (going by rankings over the last several seasons, not just last year, when driving accuracy was way up on tour).  What does that mean?  Well, in 2007, Lorena hit only 68.2% of her fairways, but combined with over 270 yards off the tee and some stellar iron play (#1 in greens in regulation) and putting (2nd in putts per green in regulation), she won 8 times and fell just short of $5M in winnings.  That's the kind of year I'm talking about.

OK, enough about how awesome Tseng is and can be.  Overshadowed by her fireworks was a smart little 30 on the back by Jane Park, who only improved 10 strokes from her front-9 score!  It was great to see her playing like she's capable of again.  And I was pleased to see good numbers from others of my faves, like Mika Miyazato and Mina Harigae at -3 and Seon Hwa Lee and In-Kyung Kim joining Park at -2.  Almost makes up for my disappointment with that late double from Tiffany Joh that dropped her to a 74 or the back-9 collapse of Hannah Yun that saw her skyrocket to a 77.  Or my shock that HSBC Women's Champions winner Angela Stanford hit 15 greens but could only manage a 75 on Thursday.  But let's end on a positive note:  it's really neat to see highly-hyped youngsters like Danielle Kang (68), Belen Mozo (68), Lexi Thompson (69), Jennifer Song (69), Caroline Hedwall (70), and Cydney Clanton (70) get off to good starts, more-under-the-radar youngsters who started last season off well like Christine Song (67) and Mindy Kim (68) put themselves in the mix right off the bat this week, and vets like Karen Stupples (67), Karrie Webb (68), Hee-Won Han (69), Pat Hurst (69), Janice Moodie (69), Se Ri Pak (70), Laura Davies (70), and Sophie Gustafson (70) show the kids a thing or two.  But probably the player I'm happiest for right now is Pernilla Lindberg (67), who's struggled mightily in her transition to professional golf but who looks to be turning things around.

OK, who am I kidding?  Yes, I'm totally psyched that Ai Miyazato shot an efficient 68 to put herself right where she needed to be.  Glad she's recovered from her illness that almost forced her to withdraw from the HSBC Women's Champions!  Let's see what she can do today!

[Update 1 (12:22 pm):  Here are bangkokbobby (with loads of pics and youtube clips) and Emily Kay on the 1st round.]

[Update 2 (12:32 pm): Great pre-tournament profile of rookie Lizette Salas by Lisa Mickey in the New York Times!]

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