Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The 2012 Worldwide Women's Professional Golf Schedule and Results

It's kinda fitting that my overview of the LPGA's, JLPGA's, KLPGA's, and LET's 2012 schedules and most recent winners comes on leap-year day, given how behind I am with my golf blogging this year!  But at least I'm ahead of the KLPGA, which as far as I can tell hasn't yet released this season's schedule (hence the question marks below). [Update 1 (3/9/12, 8:02 pm):  The KLPGA sked is out!] [Update 2 (3/12/12, 8:28 am):  Just added in LPGA Q-School dates!]

Note: A [D] following a player's name indicates that she is the defending champion of a tournament that has not yet been completed.


16-19: Hyundai China Ladies Open (KLPGA/CLPGA) HYE YOUN KIM


2-5: Gold Coast RACV Ladies Masters (LET/ALPG) CHRISTEL BOELJON

9-12: ISPS HANDA Women's Australian Open (LPGA/LET/ALPG) JESSICA KORDA

16-19: Honda LPGA Thailand (LPGA) YA NI TSENG
17-19: ISPS HANDA New Zealand Women's Open (LET/ALPG) LINDSEY WRIGHT

23-26: HSBC Women's Champions (LPGA) ANGELA STANFORD

MARCH 2012

2-4: Daikin Orchid Ladies Open (JLPGA) AIRI SAITOH; World Ladies Championships (LET team competition) SHANSHAN FENG; CHINA

9-11: Yokohama Tire PRGR Ladies Cup (JLPGA) BO-MEE LEE

15-18: RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup (LPGA)  YA NI TSENG
16-18: T-Point Ladies (JLPGA) JI-HEE LEE

22-25: Kia Classic (LPGA) YA NI TSENG; Lalla Meryem Cup (LET) KAREN LUNN

29-4/1: Kraft Nabisco Championship (LPGA major) SUN YOUNG YOO
30-4/1: Yamaha Ladies Open (JLPGA) RITSUKO RYU

APRIL 2012

6-8: Studio Alice Ladies Open (JLPGA) MIKI SAIKI

12-15: LOTTE Mart Ladies Open (KLPGA) HYO-JOO KIM [a]
13-15: Nishijin Ladies Classic (JLPGA) MAIKO WAKABAYASHI

18-21: LPGA LOTTE Championship (LPGA) AI MIYAZATO
20-22: Fujisankei Ladies Classic (JLPGA) KAORI OHE

26-29: Mobile Bay LPGA Classic (LPGA) STACY LEWIS
27-29: Cyber Agent Ladies Cup (JLPGA) CHIE ARIMURA; Edaily-Livart Ladies Open (KLPGA) YE JEONG LEE

MAY 2012

3-5: Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open (LET) CARLY BOOTH
3-6: Salonpas Cup (JLPGA major) SUN-JU AHN

10-13: Turkish Ladies Open (LET) CHRISTEL BOELJON
11-13: Fundokin Ladies (JLPGA) INBEE PARK

17-20: Sybase Match Play Championship (LPGA) AZAHARA MUNOZ
18-20: Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open (JLPGA) JI-HEE LEE; Woori Investment & Securities Ladies Championship (KLPGA) CHAR YOUNG KIM

24-27: UniCredit Ladies German Open (LET) ANNE-LISE CAUDAL; Doosan Match Play Championship (KLPGA) CHAR YOUNG KIM
25-27: Yonex Ladies (JLPGA) SHANSHAN FENG

JUNE 2012

1-3: ShopRite LPGA Classic (LPGA) STACY LEWIS; Resort Trust Ladies Open (JLPGA) MI-JEONG JEON; Deloitte Ladies Open (LET) CARLOTA CIGANDA

7-10: Wegmans LPGA Championship (LPGA major) SHANSHAN FENG; Suntory Ladies Open (JLPGA) HYO-JOO KIM
8-10: Ladies Slovak Open (LET) LINE VEDEL; Lotte Cantata Women's Open SBS Tour (KLPGA) HYE JIN JUNG

14-17: Deutsche Bank Ladies Swiss Open (LET) CARLY BOOTH
15-17: Nichirei PGM Ladies (JLPGA) HYUN-JU SHIN; S-OIL Champions Invitational (KLPGA) SOO JIN YANG

21-24: Manulife Financial LPGA Classic (LPGA) BRITTANY LANG
22-24: Earth Mondamin Cup (JLPGA) MAYU HATTORI; Reiffeisenbank Prague Golf Masters (LET) MELISSA REID

29-7/1: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship (LPGA) AI MIYAZATO; Nichi-Iko/Sun Engineering Ladies (JLPGA) MI-JEONG JEON

JULY 2012

5-8: U.S. Women's Open (LPGA major) NA YEON CHOI

13-15: Stanley Ladies (JLPGA) CHIE ARIMURA; South African Women's Open (LET) CAROLINE MASSON

20-22: Samantha Thavasa Ladies (JLPGA) MEGUMI KIDO

26-29: Evian Masters (LPGA limited-field event/LET major) INBEE PARK



9-12: Jamie Farr Toledo Classic (LPGA) SO YEON RYU
10-12: NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies (JLPGA) YUMIKO YOSHIDA; SBS Tour Hidden Valley Ladies Open (KLPGA) CHAR YOUNG KIM

16-18: ISPS HANDA Ladies British Masters (LET) LYDIA HALL
16-19: Nefs Masterpiece (KLPGA) CHAE YOON YANG
17-19: Safeway Classic (LPGA) MIKA MIYAZATO; CAT Ladies (JLPGA) MI-JEONG JEON

23-26: CN Canadian Women's Open (LPGA) LYDIA KO (a); Korean Women's Open (KLPGA major) MIRIM LEE
24-26: Nitori Ladies Cup (JLPGA) SUN-JU AHN

31-9/2: Golf5 Ladies (JLPGA) SUN-JU AHN; LIG Ladies Classic (KLPGA) JI HYUN KIM


6-9: Kingsmill Championship (LPGA) JI-YAI SHIN; Konica Minolta Cup (JLPGA major) CHIE ARIMURA; Hanhwa Finance Network Open (KLPGA) SO YEON RYU

13-16: Ricoh Women's British Open (LPGA/LET major) JI-YAI SHIN; MetLife Hankyung KLPGA Championship (KLPGA major) HEE WON JUNG
14-16: Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic (JLPGA) NATSU NAGAI

20-23: Navistar LPGA Classic (LPGA) STACY LEWIS; Tenerife Open de Espana Femenino (LET) STACEY KEATING
21-23: Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open (JLPGA) RIKAKO MORITA; KDB Daewoo Securities Ladies Open (KLPGA) SE RI PAK

27-30: Japan Women's Open (JLPGA major) SHANSHAN FENG


4-7: Lacoste Ladies Open de France (LET) STACEY KEATING
5-7: Rush & Cash Charity Classic (KLPGA) HA NEUL KIM

9-12: Stage II (LPGA Q-School) KATIE BURNETT
11-14: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia (LPGA) INBEE PARK; Hite/Jinro Cup Championship (KLPGA major) SUL AH YOON
12-14: Fujitsu Ladies (JLPGA) MISUZU NARITA

19-21: LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship (LPGA/KLPGA) SUZANN PETTERSEN; Masters GC Ladies (JLPGA) SO-HEE KIM

25-28: Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship (LPGA) SUZANN PETTERSEN; 2012 KB Star Tour Grand Final (KLPGA major) AMY YANG [D]
26-28: Hisako Higuchi Morinaga Weider Ladies (JLPGA) CHIE ARIMURA [D]; China Suzhou Taihu Open (LET/CLPGA) YA NI TSENG [D]


2-4: Mizuno Classic (LPGA/JLPGA) STACY LEWIS; BS Financial Group Busan Bank-Seokyung Ladies Open (KLPGA) HA NEUL KIM [D]; Sanya Ladies Open (LET/CLPGA) FRANCES BONDAD [D]

8-11: Lorena Ochoa Invitational (LPGA) CRISTIE KERR
9-11: Ito-En Ladies (JLPGA) ASAKO FUJIMOTO [D]; MBN-KYJ Golf Ladies Open (KLPGA) HA NEUL KIM [D]

15-18: CME Group Titleholders (LPGA) NA YEON CHOI
16-18: Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies (JLPGA) JI-HEE LEE [D]; ADT CAPS Championship (KLPGA) YOUNG-RAN JO [D]

22-24: Ricoh Cup (JLPGA major) MI-JEONG JEON [D]

28-12/2: Final Qualifying Tournament (LPGA Q-School)
30-12/2: Hero Women's Indian Open (LET) CAROLINE HEDWALL [D]


1-2: Korea-Japan Women's National Golf Team Championship (JLPGA-KLPGA team event)

5-8: Omega Dubai Ladies Masters (LET) LEXI THOMPSON [D]

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tim Maitland: Texan Holds 'Em

Stanford’s HSBC Women’s Champions Victory Ends 14-year Wait for American LPGA Win in Asia
Singapore 27th February
Tim Maitland
Angela Stanford ended a wait of 14 years and four months for an American victory in a LPGA event in Asia when she won a four-player play-off at the HSBC Women’s Champions at Singapore’s Tanah Merah Country Club. Stanford won with a par on the third play-off hole, finally knocking Korean teenager Jenny Shin out of the reckoning, after Korea’s world number two Na Yeon Choi and China’s Shanshan Feng had been eliminated in two previous trips up the tough 18th hole. All four had finished on 10-under-par 278 for the tournament.
Amazingly, the last victory for a US player in the LPGA’s long history of staging tournaments in Asia was Juli Inkster’s win at the Samsung World Championship of Women’s Golf, from an invitational field of 16 LPGA players, in Seoul, South Korea in October 1997. The 2012 HSBC Women’s Champions was the 39th event in the region since then.
Of the six Asian events on the LPGA’s 2012 schedule, the last to boast an American champion was the Mizuno Classic in Japan which was won by Betsy King in 1993 when it was known as the Toray Japan Queens Cup. King’s win, at the Lions Country Club in Hyogo, was the last US victory against a larger field, over 18 years ago.
“I’m the first American to win in Singapore. That’s pretty cool!” said the 34-year-old Texan, unaware at the time of how long her compatriots’ drought stretched back.
“It’s funny; sitting at the Pro-Am party (on the Wednesday before the tournament) I was thinking we haven’t had an American win this thing yet. Honestly, I thought, well, I’m an American. Might as well give it a go!”
Stanford, whose last win was in 2009, didn’t do it the easy way; only converting the fourth of the putts she had to win the tournament. The cruelest of those was in regulation play after a violent thunderstorm struck with the final group on the 18th tee and all their rivals safely in the clubhouse. After a 90-minute delay, play resumed with 19-year-old Shin leading Stanford by one shot, but the young Korean found a water hazard off the tee and made double bogey, while Stanford’s first chance for victory went begging when she missed a par putt from around five feet.
Making pars throughout the play-off, Stanford adds her name to a roll of honour that consisted only of players to have been rated the best in the world game, from defending champion Karrie Webb through Ai Miyazato and Jiyai Shin to the winner of the inaugural event in 2008, Lorena Ochoa.
“I feel extremely honoured to be in that group of players and to be the first American to get a win is pretty special. Everybody knows this is one of the premier events on tour and always has the best players,” she said.
For Shin, who won the US Girls Junior Championship as a 13-year-old in 2006, there was the whole range of emotions.
“It’s a little bit of everything; I’m very excited but I’m very disappointed at the same time. The tee shot on the 18th was all from nervousness. In the play-off I wasn’t nervous at all. I was really comfortable in the play-off. I really feel like I can do this again. I’m very surprised about how well I did. I’m happy… kind of:  happy-sad. I’m accepting it,” she revealed.
Shin’s wasn’t the only hard luck story. China’s Shanshan Feng fell a fraction short of becoming the first player from her country to win an LPGA event, the third time in her short career that she has had to settle for second place on the LPGA.
Current world number one Yani Tseng of Chinese Taipei, who was Jenny Shin’s main challenger for much of the day, finished one shot back in fifth place. She might have won had her approach shot to the 17th hole gone in for eagle rather than catching the lip of the hole as it spun back, leaving her a birdie putt that she missed.
“I do feel disappointed. I just needed a little more luck. I‘ve been very close for two years. Hopefully next year I won’t be disappointed,” said Tseng, who was aiming for back-to-back wins after her victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand the week before.

Tim Maitland: Shanshan a Shootout Short of Making History for China

Singapore 27th February 2012

Tim Maitland

China’s Feng Shanshan came within a whisker of creating a slice of history for her country at the HSBC Women’s Champions in February when she was beaten in a four-way play-off, on the same small patch of land that has witnessed two of the greatest moments for the Mainland since golf was reintroduced there 27 years ago.
In 2003 the godfather of the men’s game in China, Zhang Lianwei, became the first player from the People’s Republic to win a European Tour-sanctioned event when he snatched the Singapore Masters from under Ernie Els’s nose at the Laguna National Golf & Country Club. Four years later, in 2007, in the same event at the same course, the current Chinese number one Liang Wenchong claimed his first and only European Tour win and went on to become the first Mainland player to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit as a result.
Just a driver and wedge away from Laguna National, the other side of Junction Two of the Lion City’s East Coast Parkway, 22-year old Feng came within a whisker of becoming the first player from her country to beat a truly world-class field.
“I was pretty close, but I tried my best,” said the girl from Guangdong province, who had to settle for second place after the dramatic finale, which included a 90-minute thunderstorm delay for the final group, saw Shanshan eliminated after the first hole of the shootout won by America’s Angela Stanford. Despite the defeat, she still had the consolation of back-to-back top-five finishes on the LPGA’s Spring Swing in Asia having come in fifth at the Honda LPGA Thailand the week before.
“I wasn’t thinking of winning. I was just focusing shot by shot: if I win then I win, but if I don’t it’s OK because I know I have the ability to win. Overall, I think I did pretty well. Ten under on this course is my best score and all four days were under par. I was pretty consistent, even though my ball striking wasn’t that great.”

Feng matched her career-best results since she surprised the golfing public and media in China by winning her LPGA Tour card at the 2007 Q School as an 18-year-old amateur; she was also runner-up at the 2011 Mizuno Classic in Japan and at the 2008 State Farm Classic. While she may not have been thinking too much about winning in Singapore, in the sponsor’s Hexagon Suite overlooking the 18th green, one person was.
“I know as a sponsor we’re neutral and I’m as delighted as anyone for Angela, but I couldn’t help thinking of the enormous impact Shanshan winning her first LPGA event would have had on the girls, and boys, on the HSBC China Junior Golf Program,” said HSBC Group Head of Sponsorship Giles Morgan, who in 2009 made the unusual move of announcing there would have been a sponsor’s invite to the HSBC Women’s Champions had Shanshan needed it, because of the way her arrival on the LPGA had inspired the children in China and particularly the elite players on the seven-event HSBC National Junior Championship.
“We made good on our word in 2010 when Shanshan needed a helping hand into our tournament after her sophomore season, because seeing her competing regularly and getting so close to victory in 2008 truly did energise the girls back in China. She didn’t win this time, but surely, the way she’s playing it can’t be long before she does,” Morgan added.
Feng finished 2011 in the best form of her career, winning twice on the JLPGA–at the Y90 million (around US$1.1 million) Meiji Cup in Hokkaido in August and the Y70 million (around US$860,000) Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open in Miyagi prefecture in September–and in between finishing runner-up at one of the country’s Majors, the Japan LPGA Championship Konica Minolta Cup, before doing the same at the co-sanctioned Mizuno Classic in November after a play-off with Momoko Ueda.
The idea that a win on the world stage can’t be far away is backed up by Shanshan’s belief that her game has taken a further step forward since then.
“My putting and short game is a lot better than last year and that’s what I think the difference is. I think I gained a lot of confidence after I won in Japan. It helped me to relax. I used to be a little rushed when I was in contention and now I don’t even feel nervous,” she said.
“I feel good. Especially after two top fives in a row in my first two tournaments I’m pretty confident: I’m ready.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stats & Facts, "Vol 7"

Before I get started here, let me give a big congratulations to Angela Stanford. Angela became the first American player to win the HSBC Women's LPGA Championship. She did so by winning a four-way playoff, on the third playoff hole. The Constructivist has posted a detailed recap.

The LPGA will now take a 2 week break, and return to the United States for the playing of the RR Donnelley Founders Cup. This is a good time to look at some statistics and notes covering the first three tournaments of the year.

Rolex Player of the Year Standings (winner receives a Hall of Fame point)
1- Yani Tseng - 39 points
2- Jessica Korda - 30
3- Angela Stanford - 30
T4- Shanshan Feng, Jenny Shin, Stacy Lewis 18
7- Ai Miyazato - 17
8- 6 players tied with 12

Vare Trophy (winner receives Hall of Fame point)
1- Ai Miyazato - 68.88 (strokes per round)
2- Shanshan Feng - 69.50
3- Yani Tseng - 69.92
4- Amy Yang - 70.00
5- Na Yeon Choi - 70.38
T6- Jenny Shin, Jiyai Shin - 70.58
8- Stacy Lewis - 71.08
T9- Catriona Matthews, Se Ri Pak - 71.38

Rolex Rookie of the Year Standings
1- So Yeon Ryu - 128 points
2- Lexi Thompson - 68
3- Cydney Clanton - 32
4- Mo Martin - 26
5- Victoria Tanco - 10

Solheim Cup points
1- Stacy Lewis - 124
2- Angela Stanford - 105
3- Brittany Lincicome - 102
4- Cristie Kerr - 83
5- Paula Creamer - 75
6- Katie Futcher - 61
7- Brittany Lang - 57
8- Michelle Wie - 53
9- Morgan Pressel - 49
10-Jessica Korda - 40

Most consecutive tournaments without a missed cut:
1- Brittany Lincicome - 44
2- Karrie Webb - 27
3- Maria Hjorth - 26
4- Paula Creamer - 23
5- Jiyai Shin - 21

Most consecutive missed cuts: (must have active priority ranking)
1- Izzi Beisiegel - 20
2- Michelle Ellis - 12
3- Ji Young Oh - 10
4- Angela Oh - 8
5- Nicole Hage - 7

Rolex Rankings movers of the week:
Angela Stanford moves from #17 to #14. Jenny Shin moves from # 98 to #64.

Titleholders Update:
Angela Stanford, Na Yeon Choi, and Shanshan Feng are the latest to qualify.

Sybase Match Play Championship update:
A quick review on how to qualify for this small field of 64.
The top 48 players on the 2011 final money list have already qualified.
2 sponsor's exemptions will be announced.
The top 10 players after 2 rounds of the Mobile Bay Classic who have yet to qualify.
The top 4 players on the 2012 money list that haven't yet qualified.  The leaders for those 4 spots so far this year are as follows:
1- Jenny Shin $167, 043
2- Jessica Korda - 165,000
3- So Yeon Ryu - 90,489
4- Julieta Granada - 84,267
5- Amanda Blumenherst - 62,539

Other Tidbits:

Yani Tseng and Jenny Shin are the only golfers to have finished in the top ten all three tournaments.

Shanshan Feng has finished under par in all eight of her rounds this year.

Christina Kim has played 10 rounds of golf this year, she is 48 over par.

Song Hee Kim's scoring average this year is 77.57.

10 holes in one were made in the entire 2011 season. Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, and Karrie Webb have each recorded one already this season.

The Best on the LPGA: 3-to-6-Time Winners, February 2012 Edition

With Angela Stanford getting career win #5 in stirring fashion in Singapore, and Brittany Lincicome and Na Yeon Choi already getting great opportunities in playoffs for their 6th, I'm wondering who will be the next player to graduate from Club 36 to the 7-Up Club.

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2012

1. Na Yeon Choi (5/0): She faded on the weekend in Thailand but hung in there in Singapore and almost lucked her way into win #6.  She gave herself great chances from the fairway during the playoff, but her approach shots let her down when it counted.  Still, there's no reason to think the world #2 won't keep putting herself in position to win.  I'd just like to see her project a little more confidence and better body language when she's in the hunt.

2. Angela Stanford (5/0): Last June, I wrote, "I'm thinking that with her ballstriking coming back online, she has a chance to join the super-elite."  She's not there yet, but she's closer than she's been in the last 3 years!

3. Brittany Lincicome (5/1): I'm still waiting for her to go on a real run and put herself in contention over several events in a row.  For a bomber, she's pretty accurate off the tee, but she needs to be giving herself more and better looks at birdie to take it to the next level.

4. In-Kyung Kim (3/0):  Last time, I wrote, "As she keeps putting herself in contention so often, I'm sure she's gaining the experience to start converting more great weeks into wins."  But in her 10 top 20s (and 6 top 10s) since then, she's only broken 70 in a final round once (and that was to sneak into T18 at the Walmart last September).  It's not that she's played terrible--quite the contrary, she's been mostly under par--but that hasn't quite been good enough to push her over the top just yet.  I'm still confident win #4 is a matter of time.

The Contenders

5. Catriona Matthew (4/1):  Last time, I wrote, "she's been striking many blows for the moms on tour this season, thanks to some truly impressive ballstriking (she's #2 on tour in GIR to Suzann Pettersen). Any week she gets her putter going is a week she has a great chance to win!"  And sure enough, she contended at the Women's British Open and the Mizuno Open and won at Lorena's place.  She's off to a solid start in 2012, which would be even better if she had played better on Thursday in Thailand and Singapore.

6. Maria Hjorth (5/0): She continued to play well over the 2nd half of 2011, but had a bad case of "one-bad-round-itis" that she hasn't appeared to be able to shake during the off-season. 

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Sophie Gustafson (5/0): She contended at the Women's British Open last season, but hasn't done anything all that special since and has gotten off to a rocky start in 2012.

8. Candie Kung (4/0): Since my last update to this list, she put together 3 top 20s in majors in a row, then closed out the season with top 20s in 3 of her last 5 starts, including a Thursday and Friday during which she thrilled the home crowd in Taiwan.  But with a slow start during 2012's Asian swing, she's going to have to regroup in March.

9. Hee-Won Han (6/0): After suffering through one of the worst stretches of golf in her career over the 1st half of the season, she contended in Canada, got another top 10 in Taiwan, and found the top 25 in 6 of her last 8 starts.  But she's started 2012 with an even colder putter than during that bad spell last season and will need a serious reset when the tour returns to the States in March.

10. Seon Hwa Lee (4/0): Even with all her struggles the last 3 seasons (during which she's put together only 5 top 10s since the final McDonalds LPGA Championship in '09), she's just too good a golfer for the 1st slump of her LPGA career to last much longer. I'm looking for her to kick off 2012 with a bang at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, the site of her last top 10.

11. Wendy Ward (4/0):  Since last writing, she hasn't been able to overcome an ice-cold putter, with her best finish a T11 in Taiwan.  But really that's been the story of her career since 2006, as she's been bouncing between $200K and $400K in winnings and has failed to get below 1.82 putts per green in regulation over the last 6 seasons.  She drove the ball great in 2011 but couldn't do much with it at all.  Can she improve her iron play and putting in 2012?  Maybe, but it didn't happen on the Asian swing.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

12. Pat Hurst (6/1): Her WD in Singapore didn't garner nearly the attention of Paula Creamer's or Song-Hee Kim's, but it's part of a troubling trend since her spring 2009 win, a long stretch marked by the fact that her only top 10s have come during majors ('09 KNC, '11 Wegmans LPGA Championship)....

13. Grace Park (6/1):  At #93 on the 2012 Priority Status List, she should get into her share of events this season, but will need to do more than show flashes of her old game if she wants to keep her card in 2013.

14. Lorie Kane (4/0): At #105 on the Priority Status List, she'll get to play pretty much all the full-field events she wants to in 2012.  She found herself in contention in Australia until blowing up with a final-round 80, so, coupled with some surprisingly strong play on the LET recently, there's some room for optimism for the veteran this season.

15. Wendy Doolan (3/0): At #99(a) on the priority status list thanks to a medical exemption, she, too, will get another chance to extend her LPGA career yet further.  She missed the cut in Australia, but given that it was her 1st start since May 2010, just teeing it up was a huge victory for this breast cancer survivor.

16. Dorothy Delasin (4/0): This 2000 Rookie of the Year had been struggling to keep her card since 2006 and sits at #192 on the Priority Status List.  She's missed her last 7 cuts in a row dating back to October 2010--and has made only 1 cut in her 33 starts from October 2008 to the present.  She's hung on longer than another former ROY, '07er Angela Park, but I have to wonder if this will be her last competitive season.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

HSBC Women's Champions Sunday: Angela Stanford Prevails in 4-Way Playoff

To say that Angela Stanford won the HSBC Women's Champions in wire-to-wire fashion would be to understate the final-round drama level by several orders of magnitude.  How exciting was Stanford's 5th career win, the 1st by an American at the event known as Asia's major

Well, let's see, with nothing but spit and grit, much less her A-game, Stanford weathered a front-side charge by Ya Ni Tseng (a 5-birdie barrage that got her to -11), kept within striking distance of a cool, calm, and clutch Jenny Shin (who got to -12 with her 3rd birdie of the day on the 5th hole and twice got back to that mark thanks to great par saves and never-a-doubt birdies on 9 and 15), endured an hour-and-a-half rain delay called just as she got to the 18th tee 1 shot behind Shin, bounced back from a babied 6-footer for par on the 72nd hole that would have won her the tournament outright after Shin pulled her drive into the jungle and found herself needing to make a tough 4-footer to save a double-bogey that kept her in a playoff at -10 with Stanford, Na Yeon Choi, and Shanshan Feng (who herself had 3-putted the 18th for bogey right before play was halted--her 1st blemish in 30 holes), bounced back from an "I-can't-believe-that-didn't-drop" birdie attempt on the 1st playoff hole where Feng was eliminated by a spin-out, canned a 4-foot downhill par save to deny Shin her 1st career LPGA win right after Choi missed a slightly longer putt on the 2nd playoff hole, then, after Shin missed a 4-footer that also spun out on her, side-doored a 3-footer for the win on the 3rd playoff hole, much to the delight of friends and fellow Texans Stacy Lewis, Kristy McPherson, and Katie Futcher, who doused her with beer in celebration.  Yeah, about that exciting.

[catching my breath]

So let's review.  The LPGA's 1st event of 2012 saw then-17-year-old Jessica Korda prevail in a 6-way playoff (which would never have been necessary had Tseng been able to avoid a quad and a triple during the week at Royal Melbourne).  The tour's 2nd event saw Tseng outgun Ai Miyazato and Ji-Yai Shin over the final few holes in Thailand (after a balky putter earlier on the back allowed them to pull within striking distance of her).  And now the tour's 3rd event saw Tseng again start slowly, again pour it on (she was -10 over a 27-hole stretch on the weekend), and again come up just short (after suffering a 38 on the final 9 that included a double on the par-4 10th, a bogey on the par-3 14th, no birdies on the par 5s or the 260-ish-yard-long par-4 16th, and more missed short putts than you could shake a short, flat stick at), opening the door for the world #2 to make up some serious ground on her, for 2 Asian youngsters to get their 1st career LPGA victories, and for a tough-as-nails veteran who can be her own worst enemy when the heat is on....  Yup, it was that kind of Asian swing.

[catching my breath]

So clearly Tseng was the cream of the Asian swing, but it's just as clear that the crop is a lot closer to her than it was last year.  Stanford is less than $80K behind her on the money list, Jenny Shin has as many top 10s as her and is 4th on the money list, Ai Miyazato leads the LPGA with a 68.88 scoring average, is 2-for-2 in top 10s, and is 3rd on the money list, Jessica Korda has as many wins as her and is 5th on the money list, Shanshan Feng is 2nd on tour with a 69.50 scoring average and has been under par in each of her 8 2012 rounds, is also 2-for-2 in top 10s, and is 6th on the money list, Stacy Lewis and Ji-Yai Shin already have 2 top 10s and are next on the money list, Na Yeon Choi rounds out the list of players who have already won more than $100K this season, and Amy Yang's scoring average is only .08 behind Tseng's.  Yes, Tseng leads the money list and the Player of the Year race, has the most birdies (with 11 more than Ji-Yai Shin) and highest birdie rate (leading Ai Miyazato 4.92 to 4.88) on tour, is tied for the most rounds in the 60s (at 5 with Ai Miyazato and Amy Yang), and will pass Betsy King at #14 on the career money list sometime in March (at this rate).  But she's not invincible.  If Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, and Lexi Thompson can cure themselves of that case of one-bad-round-itis, if In-Kyung Kim and Hee Young Park can build on their 1st top 10s of the season, if Brittany Lincicome, Hee Kyung Seo, and So Yeon Ryu can keep putting themselves in contention (each of them, you'll recall had short putts to win the Women's Australian Open), if Paula Creamer returns to action playing like she did late Thursday and early Friday (when she strung together 5 birdies in a row)....  Well, you can multiply the ifs to your heart's content, but the bottom line is that the gap Tseng has opened up on the rest of the LPGA is beginning to close.  Heck, when the likes of Vicky Hurst, Julieta Granada, Kristy McPherson, Chella Choi, Anna Nordqvist, and Azahara Munoz are regularly hanging around the top 30 and even breaking into the top 10 at times, you know the list of hot golfers that Tseng has to beat each week is getting longer and longer.

[off to find an oxygen tank!]

[Update 1 (2/27/12, 7:46 am):  Here's bangkokbobby's take on the final holes and round, with his usual assortment if awesome photos.]

Saturday, February 25, 2012

HSBC Women's Champions Saturday: Tseng Pulls within 3 of Stanford, Futcher, and Shin

Ya Ni Tseng found her "#1 in the world gear" during moving day today at the HSBC Women's Champions, firing a 6-birdie 67 that pulled her within 3 shots of the trio that was on top of the leaderboard after 36 holes, Angela Stanford, Katie Futcher, and Jenny Shin.  Futcher was the 1st and so far only player in the field to get to -10, but her bogey on the final hole, only her 2nd all week, cost her solo possession of the lead heading into the final round, as Stanford extended her bogey-free run to 17 holes and counting (after making only her 2nd bogey of the week on the very 1st hole) and Shin birdied 18 to join them at -9. 

Jenny's better-known namesake, Ji-Yai Shin, shot her 3rd-straight 70 of the week to join Tseng and Na Yeon Choi at -6, but all 3 of these big-name players got passed by none other than Shanshan Feng, who snuck into solo 4th at -7 by making birdies on 4 of her last 10 holes of bogey-free golf to post a 69 today.  Feng didn't have the most impressive closing charge--that belonged to Vicky Hurst, who bounced back from an awful start (5 bogeys in her 1st 6 holes) with 6 birdies in her last 10 holes of bogey-free golf to join Mika Miyazato, Ji-Hee Lee, and Sun Young Yoo at -3, probably too far back to get into contention tomorrow--but the only Chinese golfer on the LPGA will be playing alongside Taiwan's Tseng and Korea's Ji-Yai Shin, in the penultimate pairing on Sunday.  With In-Kyung Kim at -5 and So Yeon Ryu at -4 playing alongside Choi, and Ai Miyazato and Hee Young Park at -4 alongside Mika-chan, the winner will most likely come from someone in the last 4 threesomes.

Further down the leaderboard, there's plenty of disappointment to go around.  Sure, Maria Hjorth broke 70 for the 1st time all week, and Stacy Lewis bounced back from yesterday's awful 75 with a sizzling 68 to claw her way back to -2 through 54 holes.  But Suzann Pettersen and Cristie Kerr both blew up (in a bad way), Amy Yang is still stuck in the middle of the pack after wasting a great 1st round, Karrie Webnb can't get anything going this week, and Michelle Wie, Mina Harigae, and Tiffany Joh continue to play ugly golf.

But let's focus on the big questions that only tomorrow's play can answer.  Will Tseng make it 2 in a row?  Will Jenny Shin join Jessica Korda as teen titans on tour?  Will Angela Stanford finally get LPGA win #5?  Will Katie Futcher break through?  Will Shanshan Feng translate last year's winning ways on the JLPGA into her 1st LPGA victory in Singapore?  Will Ji-Yai Shin fight her way back into the winner's circle and reestablish herself as the top Korean on tour, or will Na Yeon Choi or In-Kyung Kim put in their own claims with a win of their own?  Will So Yeon Ryu or Hee Young Park make a huge statement tomorrow?  Or will the fightin' Miyazatos feed off each other's energy and draft their way to the front of the pack?  Can't wait to find out!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Paula Creamer Withdraws from 2012 HSBC Women's Champions

Hope it's just a momentary illness and not another injury that's lead to Paula Creamer withdrawing from the HSBC Women's Champions today.  Will update when I find out more!

[Update 1 (2/25/12, 5:44 pm):  Well, google (probably via the AP) is telling me it's for "family reasons."  Glad it's neither illness nor injury, but hope it's not worse news for a family member.  Anyone heard more?]

HSBC Women's Champions Thursday and Friday: Unsung Trio Leads at -8

Angela Stanford, Katie Futcher, and Jenny Shin took the halfway-point-lead at the HSBC Women's Champions at -8, opening up a 3-shot margin on 2010 champion Ai Miyazato, 2010 money-list leader Na Yeon Choi, and recent winner Hee Young Park at Tanah Merah's Garden Course. 

With Ji-Yai Shin, In-Kyung Kim, Ji-Hee Lee, Azahara Munoz, Sun Young Yoo, and Shanshan Feng only 4 back, So-Yeon Ryu 5 behind the leaders, Suzann Pettersen, Mika Miyazato, Inbee Park, and Brittany Lang 6 off the pace, and Ya Ni Tseng, Cristie Kerr, Amy Yang, Anna Nordqvist, and Momoko Ueda lurking 7 shots back, this is still anyone's ball game, but there's a good chance the run of wins by world #1-caliber golfers at this event might end in 2012.  Shin, after all, is off to a sizzling start in 2012, coming off 2-straight top 10s, and doesn't sound at all surprised by her great play thus far this week.  Futcher, who was overlooked for the 2011 Solheim Cup team in favor of flashier youngsters, is showing that she's no flash in the pan, adding a little sizzle to her game this season.  And Stanford is the most accomplished of the leaders with 4 LPGA victories to her name and loads of experience in contention.

So far Shin and Futcher are the only players in the field of 62 (after Song-Hee Kim's withdrawal) to break 70 both rounds.  Contrast that with Michelle Wie, who's struggled to break 80, Mina Harigae, who hasn't broken 75, and Hee Kyung Seo, who's struggled to break 75, and you can see what kind of pressure the Garden Course can put on even the most promising players.  Christel Boeljon, Jimin Kang, and Amanda Blumenherst came into this week playing very good golf in 2012, and they're 1 for 6 so far when it comes to going under par (Kang's Thursday 71 is the best of the bunch).  So there's a lot that can happen over the last 36 holes.  Remember, Ji-Yai Shin won in 2009 by going 66-66 over the weekend to pass (among others) none other than Stanford....

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Best on the LPGA: 7-Up, February 2012 Edition

With Ya Ni Tseng getting LPGA win #13 to kick off the tour's new season in Thailand, it's time to update my July 2011 ranking of the active 7-Up Club members, arranged as usual by their likelihood of winning this season.

Before I unveil the new list, I have to mention again that it's totally pitiful that the career bio pages I'm linking to here don't actually cover the entire careers of the veterans and are still fairly error-prone (though much-improved) for the last few seasons. They're mostly accurate when it comes to career wins and majors (I list the correct figures below in parentheses after each player's name), but they're hit-and-miss when it comes to things like top 10s--check the players' individual performance charts for more accurate figures.

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2012

1. Ya Ni Tseng (13/5): She won so many times last season I gave up even updating her wins/majors totals!  And the way she won last week was amazing: from a solid start on Thursday to 3 bogeys in her last 5 holes that left her in tears of frustration at the end of the day, to a great comeback on Friday (and Saturday morning), capped off by a walkoff eagle that kicked off a 28-hole run that ended as she finished the front 9 on Sunday in which she was -14 and bogey-free, to a 7-hole stretch down the home stretch where she had difficulty saving pars or getting birdie putts to fall, to back-to-back birdies to close out the tournament with a 1-shot win over Ai Miyazato that left her with tears of relief and happiness.  This one had it all.  [Update 1 (3/26/12, 6:22 am):  Whoops, Ya Ni's alread up to 15 wins!  Will she get major #6 this week?  Let's see!]

2. Ai Miyazato (7/0): For her to come so close to winning in Thailand when her iron play was so bad on Friday and when she made so many mistakes over her 1st 12 holes on Sunday has to be a huge confidence boost heading into 2012.  Could I have been a year early in my prediction at the start of the 2011 season?

3. Ji-Yai Shin (8/1): Her new swing looked a lot smoother in Thailand than it did all last season and her distance control and putting were much improved, as well.  I'd say she's getting really close to putting it all together.

4. Cristie Kerr (14/2): 2011 was her 1st season without a win since 2003.  I don't see that happening again for a long time.  So far, she's been steady but not brilliant in 2012.  Maybe the prospect of getting caught by Tseng in wins will give her some extra motivation in the coming weeks!

5. Suzann Pettersen (8/1): Even though she's as physically fit in 2012 as I've ever seen her, her game has been all over the place--from very very good to horrid--in both her starts, as have her mood and focus.  I think she just needs some more starts to back into game shape on emotional, mental, and psychological levels.

6. Karrie Webb (38/7): During her 1st 11 seasons on the LPGA, she was a consistent threat for the money-list title (which she took 3 times), Player of the Year award (twice), and Vare Trophy (3 times, the lowest scoring average of the 3 coming in 1999, at 69.43). In her 16-plus-year LPGA career, she's never finished outside the top 30 on the money list, only once had a scoring average above 72, only twice failed to make the top 20 on the money list (once when her scoring average rose above 71.50 for only the 3rd time in her career), and only 3 times failed to enter the winner's circle (in 2 of those seasons, her best finish was 2nd; for the other, it was 4th). She's coming off a 2-win 2011, but seeing as she got both of them around this time last year, and seeing how badly she dropped out of contention last Sunday, I'd say she'll be coming in to Singapore to defend her title with a real chip on her shoulder.  She's definitely got the game to get past 40 career wins and 10 career majors and although she still has plenty of time, given how well her game has held up thus far, there's no time like the present to put together another year like 2006.

7. Paula Creamer (9/1): Right now I think the world rankings overrate her just a bit, and she hasn't gotten off to a great start in 2012 (except for that 1-hop hole-in-one on Thursday in Thailand!), but she's too good to be kept out of the winner's circle or million-dollar club another year.

The Contenders

8. Se Ri Pak (25/5): From 1998-2004, she was one of the 3 best players in the world of women's golf, racking up 22 golds, 14 silvers, 6 bronzes, and 83 top 10s in all. She won the Vare Trophy in 2003 with a 70.03 scoring average, but not in 2002 with a 69.85 one or in 2001 with a 69.69 (thanks, Annika!). She was a 4-time silver medalist on the money list and 2-time bronze medalist during this stretch. She hasn't been nearly that dominant since then, but she won her 5th major in dramatic fashion at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship and became a 5-time winner of the Farr in 2007, the year she was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  She's shown flashes of brilliance already this year, but her best chance to pad her victory total in 2012 will most likely be at the Farr!

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Mi Hyun Kim (8/0): First it was knee surgery, then pregnancy, and lately it's been motherhood for my fave among the old-school Seoul Sisters. She was a regular on the top 10 for her 1st 9 seasons on tour, but the last few have been struggles, at least on the course.  She's still young enough to bounce back, though.  She got back to making cuts with regularity last year.  Can she take another step forward this year?

On the Bottom, Looking Up

10. Laura Davies (20/4): Those last 2 points she needs to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame must be weighing on her, as she's been winning everywhere but the LPGA in recent years, but is off to a terrible start in 2012. Given her international record and commitment to growing the game around the world, there's no doubt she'll be voted into every golf HOF on the planet once she decides to retire, but given how competitive she is I'm sure she'd love to win 1 more major and do it herself! The odds are decreasing each year, and they haven't been good in a while, but they're better than getting 2 non-major LPGA wins and I wouldn't put anything past her over 72 holes!

11. Helen Alfredsson (7/1): Her scoring average in 2009 was her 4th-lowest ever, even better than some from 1992-1995, when she was a fixture on the top 20 of the LPGA money list. But she's played a limited schedule ever since, and--with no made cuts in her last 6 starts dating back to the 2010 WBO and no starts at all since the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship--has been calling more shots than she's been taking lately. I really enjoyed listening to her on Golf Channel midway through 2011 and on LET events at the end of last season and start of this one, but I'd love even more to see her playing great golf again.  At #82 on the Priority Status List, it looks like she'll get plenty of chances in 2012.  This is probably her last shot, so enjoy it while it lasts!

On the Outside, Looking In

12. Juli Inkster (31/7): After recent elbow surgery, she's hoping to come back sometime this summer.  Here's hoping we haven't seen the last of her on the LPGA!

13. Liselotte Neumann (13/1): She hasn't completed an event in her last 19 starts dating back to 2008 (and only 3 made cuts in her other 13 starts that season), so although she's in Category 19 and #175 on the latest Priority Status List, I'm not looking for her to return to competitive golf, at least on the LPGA.

14. Sherri Steinhauer (8/2): She called it quits on a great LPGA career at the 2011 Canadian Women's Open, in honor of her 1st LPGA win, which also took place in Canada. Best of luck to her in everything she chooses to do! This is the last time I'll include her in this ranking....

What Happens in Thailand Stays in Thailand?

If the most dominant golfer in the world, bar none, barely pulls out a victory in Thailand over 2 former world #1s, but nobody makes a big deal of it, has it really happened?  Well, of course.  But what does it say about the U.S. golfy media that Ya Ni Tseng's dramatic win over Ai Miyazato and Ji-Yai Shin barely flickered across its collective consciousness?

Seriously, with the exception of 5 things from Julie Williams at Golfweek, 30 seconds from the SI guys (plus Stephanie Wei), and a background 3-paragrapher from Randall Mell at Golf Channel, every other major golf web site simply relied on the AP.  The only site (besides this one) to put Tseng's win in some kind of context is Golf Observer, but because they're now subscription-based, once their story goes off their main page it's not easily accessible.  So let me quote the key part here:
With the win is all of the talk that Tseng could be the all-time best player in LPGA history. We saw this happen to Tiger Woods a decade ago when he won the Masters and then went wild winning eight events in 1999 and nine times in 2000. For Tseng she has won 13 times and is 75 wins away from Kathy Whitworth, 69 wins away from Mickey Wright and 59 wins away from Annika Sorenstam. But at 23 years, 27 days old she is light years ahead of these three. For Whitworth she was 23 years, 17 days old when she won the 1962 Phoenix Thunderbird Open, her second career victory. For Mickey Wright she was 23 years, 128 days old when she won the 1958 LPGA Championship, her sixth LPGA Tour victory. For Annika Sorenstam, she was 24 years, 281 days old when she won for the first time at the 1995 U.S. Women's Open. So you can she that Yani is light years ahead of the top-three but still has a lot to prove. To show you how really insane her game has been, she now has 33 wins around the world.

Tseng also is just six points away from qualifying for the World Golf Hall of Fame, she now is at 21 of the 28 points needed to get into the Hall. So there is a good chance that she could qualify this year, only problem because of the antedated rules of the LPGA she couldn't enter the hall until 2017. With the win she increases her LPGA career earnings to $7,776,083 - passing Betsy King to move into 14th on the LPGA Career Money List and is just $14 and a half million to catching Sorenstam's $22 and a half million dollar total. Now to show that Tseng is winning at a record pace, this was her 4th win in last 9 starts dating back to Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in September 2011. For Tseng's career she has 103 starts so that means she has a 12.6% of her starts or one every 12 and a half starts. This isn't even close to Tiger Woods who we all thought was the best, in 275 starts Tiger has won 71 times for a 26.1% or winning once in every 26 starts.
Yeah, the prose isn't deathless (seeing all the run-ons and wrong or left-out words, I assume it's by Sal Johnson), but the points made through it are valid. 

What's even more impressive is that Tseng beat a pair of golfers who are just about as accomplished as she is, and by some measures, more so.  Ai Miyazato has 7 LPGA wins to go with 15 wins on other major tours, mostly on the JLPGA (because 2 of them came at the LPGA-LET co-sponsored Evian Masters, I believe she has 20 big-time worldwide wins).  Ji-Yai Shin has 8 LPGA wins, including a major, to go with 28 wins on other major tours, mostly on the KLPGA (when you don't double-count co-sponsored wins, I believe she has 24 big-time worldwide wins).  By my count, Tseng has 13 LPGA wins, including 5 majors, but only 8 wins on other major tours, mostly on the LET, and hence only 18 big-time worldwide wins when you don't double-count her 3 co-sponsored victories.  (I'm assuming that oft-cited 33 total adds in wins from such developmental tours as the ALPG, LAGT, CN Canadian Women's Tour, and so on--and probably major amateur events, for that matter.)

I'm sure the showdown at Riviera between Phil and young guns Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, and Bill Haas, coupled with Sergio's amazing run at the top of the leaderboard, made for some gripping golf.  But remind me again how many career wins Haas, Bradley, and Johnson have...?  Or the highest they've ever been ranked...?  Or how they've proved themselves by dominating on another major tour...?

Look, I'm not saying Tseng is better than them, I recognize that live golf is a lot more compelling than tape-delayed coverage from half a world away, I understand that Phil is a much-more-established American star, and I'll even acknowledge that the men's game can be more fun to watch on tv than the LPGA.  Heck, I even found myself watching the Knicks on Sunday afternoon for awhile to see what all the fuss about Jeremy Lin was about (this from someone who never enjoyed watching the NBA and lost touch with the NCAA not long after graduating from college a couple of decades ago).  The only point I'm trying to make is that golf journalists have a job to inform and educate their audience, and part of that job involves assessing the historical significance of a tournament.  With all due respect to the guys involved last week, nothing they've done merits such an overwhelming lack of attention on the Tseng-Miyazato-Shin throwdown.  Maybe something like a Tiger-Donald-[Phil/Rory/Westwood/take your pick] shootout would be comparable....

Well, what's done is done.  I just hope the Showdown in Singapore gets a little more attention from the U.S. golfy media....

[Update 1 (2/24/12, 2:54 pm):  Should have realized that Brent Kelley would put Tseng's win in perspective, too!]

Monday, February 20, 2012

HSBC Women's Champions Preview

It didn't take Yani Tseng long to remind us that she is still going to be the player to beat in 2012. Yani's remarkable approach shot on the 72nd hole sealed her 13th LPGA victory. Ai Miyazato and Jiyai Shin, who finished second and third respectively, played their best golf since the 2010 season. I think both Ai and Jiyai have put the message out there that Yani is going to have to be at her best to duplicate last year. The Constructivist, as usual, has posted an excellent recap.

With the exciting finish this week coming on the heels of last week's 6-way playoff, the LPGA season could not have gotten off to a better start. What do they have in store for us this coming weekend?

HSBC Women's Champions Preview:
The tour moves to Singapore this week, here are some details:

Course: Tanah Merah Country Club, Garden Course
Location: Singapore
Defending Champion: Karrie Webb
2011 Winning Score: 70-66-70-69=275 (-13)

Final Field: 63 players
Par: 72
Yardage: 6547 Yards
Purse: $1.4 Million

In spite of the limited field of 63 players, this is a very strong field. The only name players missing are Lexi Thompson and Caroline Hedwall. Lexi chose not to play, and as I write this, Caroline is the 3rd alternate. Strengthening the field is the return this week of So Yeon Ryu, and Melissa Reid has been given a sponsor's exemption. Korean Superstar Ji-Hee Lee, ranked number 15 in the world, will be making a very rare LPGA appearance. My strength of field is a season high 64%, up from 62% last week.

Here is the television schedule:
Feb 23 9:30-1:30 PM ET GC
Feb 24 9:30-1:30 PM ET GC
Feb 25 2:00-6:00 PM ET GC
Feb 26 1:30-6:00 PM ET GC

Once again I remind you, because of the 13-hour time difference, the telecast will not be live. If you are going to be watching, I suggest you not look at the LPGA website, as the results will already have been posted. I will hold off posting any spoilers until after the telecast. At the completion of this tournament the tour moves to the United States, so this will no longer be an issue.

Titleholder Update:
Yani Tseng, Ai Miyazato, and Jiyai Shin have now qualified.

Hard-to-believe stat of the week:
I post lots of statistics on here, but this one is truly remarkable. Yani Tseng is #1 in the Rolex Rankings with a rating of 16.63. Na Yeon Choi is #2 with a rating of 8.88. Way down the list Alison Walshe is ranked #129 with a rating of 1.15. Na Yeon Choi at #2 is closer to #129 than she is to #1.

Rolex Ranking Movers of the week:
There are no big moves among the top named players this week (although it is worth mentioning Ai Miyazato's return to the top 10 at #9), so let us look a bit further down the list:
Jenny Shin moves from #124 to #98. Lindsey Wright, winner of last week's L.E.T. tournament, moves from #141 to #104. Pornanong Phatlum moves from #101 to #90, and Amanda Blumenherst moves from #131 to #113.

Extra Stuff:
Stacy Lewis is the only player to finish in the top five in each of the first two LPGA tournaments. Yani Tseng and Jenny Shin (not Jiyai) both finished in the top 10 twice.

The struggles of Song-Hee Kim have reached a new level. After missing the cut in Australia, you would think it couldn't get any worse. It did. Kim shot 74-76-77-79=306 to finish dead last. The tournament did not have a cut.

TJ's 2012 Player of the Year Update:
1- Yani Tseng - 31.28
2- Jessica Korda - 19.20
3- Stacy Lewis - 18.25
4- Jenny Shin - 14.95
5- Jiyai Shin - 13.70
6- Ai Miyazato - 12.40
7- Amy Yang - 11.16
T8- Jimin Kang - 9.61
T8- Shanshan Feng - 9.61
T8- Amanda Blumenherst - 9.61
11- Caroline Hedwall - 9.49
T12-Brittany Lincicome - 8.64
T12-Julieta Granada - 8.64
T12-So Yeon Ryu - 8.64
T12-Hee Kyeong Seo - 8.64

Honda LPGA Thailand Saturday and Sunday: Ya Ni Tseng Prevails in Clash of World #1s

Ya Ni Tseng successfully defended her title at the Honda LPGA Thailand this past weekend in one of the most dramatic battles between current and former world #1s that I can remember seeing. 

Tseng roared back into contention on moving day with her 2nd-straight 65 to enter the final round 1 shot behind 2010 champion Ai Miyazato, 1 shot ahead of Ji-Yai Shin and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, 2 shots ahead of blossoming star Amy Yang, and 3 shots ahead of 2007 champion Suzann Pettersen.  And she made a statement on the very 1st hole with a chip-in eagle that pulled her into a tie with Miyazato at -15.  By the time they hit the 8th tee, however, much had changed, as Tseng went -5 over her 1st 7 holes to get to -18 for the week, Miyazato was looking to make her 2nd birdie in a row to offset her 2 consecutive bogeys just earlier and try to get back to -15, Shin had passed her with her 3rd birdie in her 1st 8 holes to actually get to -15, Webb was flabbergasted by a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 7th and was out of contention, Yang had also birdied the 8th to get to -13, and Pettersen was done, having opened with 2 straight bogeys and followed it up a few holes later with a double.  When the leaders hit the turn, Tseng had a commanding lead on everyone except Shin.

1st/-18 Tseng (having gone -14 over a 28-hole stretch of bogey-free golf going back to Saturday morning when she finished her 2nd round with a walkoff eagle after the rain delay that had stopped play on Friday)
2nd/-16 Shin (having just gotten her 3rd birdie in the previous 4 holes on the par-5 10th)
3rd/-14 Miyazato (having offset her birdie on the 8th with a bogey on the 9th)
4th/-13 Yang (in the middle of a run of 4 pars in a row as she made the turn)

At that point, I was wondering by how many strokes Tseng would break the Pettersen/Miyazato tournament record of -21.  But then she ran into some unexpected trouble, missing the fairway off the tee, leaving her lay-up in a divot, leaving her wedge barely on the front of the green, running her 15-foot birdie attempt 20 feet by the hole, making a bogey, and enduring a 2-shot swing when Miyazato canned her 8-foot birdie attempt.  The world #1 dodged another 2-shot swing on the very next hole, the par-4 11th, when she hit her approach shot long and left but made a brilliant chip to tap-in range to save par and watched Miyazato just miss her 10-footer for birdie.  Even though she bounced back on the par-3 12th by getting her approach shot within tap-in range right on top of Miyazato's great approach to 10 feet (which she again missed), Tseng's struggles weren't over, as she made an ugly bogey on the par-4 13th and just barely missed on great birdie chances on the next 3 holes after that.  Because from the 13th hole on Miyazato refused to miss another putt, making amazing par saves and great birdies, Yang came alive with back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14, and Shin kept giving herself easy pars and good birdie chances.  So when the leaders left the 15th green, the leaderboard looked like this:

1st/-17 Tseng
T2/-16 Shin, Miyazato
4th/-15 Yang

And that's when the world #1s showed what they're made of.  Yang, looking for her 1st win on the LPGA, bogeyed the par-4 17th and failed to birdie the par-5 18th to end the day at -14, alone in 4th.  In the group behind her, Shin hit an amazing hybrid from the 17th fairway that landed on the middle left of the green and followed a ridge straight toward the front-right pin, then followed that up with a clutch 12-footer to catch Tseng at -17.  Miyazato then proceeded to better Shin's approach with a hybrid of her own that she thought she had pulled but which instead rolled to within 9 feet of the flag.  And Tseng outdid them all with a short iron that hit the ridge and spub straight toward the hole, stopping about 4 feet away.  Although Miyazato sank her putt to put the pressure squarely on Tseng's shoulders, she responded with a dead-solid-perfect putt to get to -18 and take a 1-shot lead on the former #1s into the final hole, where theoretically she could take advantage of her length to reach the par-5 in 2 while Shin and Miyazato would need to play it as a three-shot hole.

However, while Shin was leaving her approach shot outside easy birdie range--maybe 15 feet above and to the right of the back-left pin, both Miyazato and Tseng were pulling their drives way left.  Miyazato ended up semi-blocked by what looked like the same tree from which Tseng's ball had caromed back toward the fairway, but both players were able to lay up to around 100 yards out and get a front-row seat on Shin's just-missed birdie attempt.  Miyazato continued to put pressure on Tseng by sticking her wedge about 7 feet left of the pin, in a spot I hadn't seen any of the leaders attempt to hit (most were bailing out long right and hoping that their wedges wouldn't spin off the narrow back ledge the pin was tucked away on).  Given the disasters the undulating 18th green had caused over the previous few days--a 10 by 2011 Rookie of the Year Hee Kyung Seo midway through her 3rd round, an 8 by Stacy Lewis back on Thursday, a 7 by Na Yeon Choi on Saturday that sent her into a tailspin from which she would never recover, and, just a few minutes earlier, a 7 by amateur superstar Ariya Jutanugarn--and given the amount of spin Tseng usually puts on her wedges, I was holding my breath, wanting Ai-sama to get into a playoff with Tseng but not wanting Tseng to have to endure a final-hole disaster.  Well, all the world #1 did was hit the shot of the year, softly landing her wedge 6 feet above the hole and gently spinning it back and almost in to end up about 3 inches left of the cup.  Amazingly, Miyazato was able to make what I believe was her 6th 1-putt in a row to take solo 2nd, and Tseng was able to finally breathe a huge sigh of relief after making her tap-in to finish 1 shot ahead of her at -19.  Wow!

Tseng's 13th career LPGA victory somehow managed to out-drama the 6-way playoff that Jessica Korda played her way into and prevailed in last week in Australia.  I can't wait to see what happens this week at the Showdown in Singapore.  Not only does defending champion Webb have something to prove next week (not to mention Pettersen and Choi), but so do 2009 champion Shin and 2010 champion Miyazato.  On top of that, Tseng shot a final-round 67 there to just miss her 5th win in her 5th start of 2011!  Plus, there have been some encouraging signs early this year from the likes of Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall, Lexi Thompson made 7 birdies in her last 13 holes yesterday to match Tseng's 66 for low round of the day, Cristie Kerr broke 70 for the 2nd time this young season to snag her 1st top 20 of the year, and Mika Miyazato broke 70 (with 7 birdies that offset a double and 2 bogeys) for the 1st time this season, so it's looking like the games of some of the best golfers in the world are starting to come alive.  And let's not forget the fantastic 67 by Jimin Kang, sweet 68 by Shanshan Feng, and solid 69 by Amanda Blumenherst yesterday that garnered them their 1st top 5s of the year, much less Jenny Shin's 2nd-straight top 10 to kick off 2012.  Can't wait to see who can keep it going at the Garden Course at Tanah Merah Country Club.  Only wish more of the top JLPGA players than Ji-Hee Lee had to decided to tee it up there the week before their season opener in Okinawa.

[Update 1 (11:27 am):  Here's bangkokbobby on Tseng's dramatic win.  Where's everyone else?]

Friday, February 17, 2012

Honda LPGA Thailand Thursday and Friday: Karrie Webb Takes Lead as Storms Interrupt Play

Picking up from bangkokbobby's overview of the 1st round of the Honda LPGA Thailand event, in which Ai Miyazato shot a bogey-free 67 and took a 1-shot lead on Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Na Yeon Choi, Anna Nordqvist, and Amy Yang, I'm disappointed to report that Ai-sama was one of the few players not to take advantage of the Old Course before storms rolled in and stopped play today.  Not long after just missing an eagle after a fantastic approach shot into the 2nd hole, she ended her bogey-free run on her 24th hole.  And even though she bounced back with a new bogey-free run of 7 holes and counting and got it to -6 before she had to leave the course, she was left in the dust by a host of golfers who went super-low today.

Ya Ni Tseng and Caroline Hedwall lead the way with matching 65s and eagles on the par-5 18th and par-5 10th, respectively, while Ji-Yai Shin fired a bogey-free 66 and Suzann Pettersen, Amanda Blumenherst (who shot a 5-birdie 31 on the back and hasn't made a bogey over her 1st 36 holes), and Pornanong Phatlum matched Miyazato's 67 from the day before, but the round of the day has to belong to Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, who birdied her last 4 holes on the front in a row, missed a great chance to make it 5 in a row on the par-5 10th, and followed it up with a hole-in-1 on the par-3 12th.  A bogey on the very next hole cut off her 30-hole bogey-free streak, but she bounced right back with a birdie on the par-4 14th to get back to double digits under par.

Here's how the leaders stand right now:

1st/-10 Karrie Webb (68, -6 through 14)
T2/-8 Ji-Yai Shin (70-66), Amy Yang (68, -4 through 14)
T4/-7 Caroline Hedwall (72-65), Suzann Pettersen (70-67)
T6/-6 Ya Ni Tseng (73-65), Amanda Blumenherst (71-67), Pornanong Phatlum (71-67), Ai Miyazato (67, -1 through 13)
T11/-5 Stacy Lewis (70, -3 through 17), Christel Boeljon (69, -2 through 15)

Lower down the leaderboard, but moving quickly up it, Cristie Kerr, Mina Harigae, Belen Mozo, and Michelle Wie posted sweet 68s, while Chella Choi, Ariya Jutanugarn, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Azahara Munoz, Angela Stanford, and Karen Stupples rounded out the list of players who broke 70 before play was stopped.  Despite making a hole-in-1 herself on the par-3 12th yesterday, Paula Creamer was just the best among the big names stuck in neutral or reverse this week.  Here's the list of thus-far disappointments:

+1 Creamer, Stanford, Catriona Matthew, Sandra Gal, Inbee Park
+2 Stupples, Lexi Thompson, Shinobu Moromizato, Tiffany Joh
+3 Momoko Ueda
+4 Hee Kyung Seo, Ryann O'Toole
+5 Morgan Pressel, Sun Young Yoo
+6 Song-Hee Kim, Eun-Hee Ji
+7 Beatriz Recari
+8 Hee-Won Han
+9 Laura Davies
+13 Christina Kim

Gotta go; Webb's hole-in-1 is about to show up on the DVRed 2nd round coverage!  More this weekend!

[Update 1 (2/18/12, 11:21 am): bangkokbobby notes Webb took a 3-shot lead into the weekend and adds his usual selection of fantastic photos!]

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Best on the LPGA: 1-Time Winners, February 2012 Edition

So how does Jessica Korda's incredible win at the LPGA's 2012 season opener place her among the LPGA's 1-time winners?  Check out this update of my May 2011 list, ranked in part by career achievements and mostly by what I expect from the players on it over the rest of the 2012 season.

Most Likely to Win in 2012

1. Stacy Lewis: She still gets really excited when she's in contention and really hard on herself mentally, but that's a product of her being such a fighter. I love her chances for graduating from this list early this season, joining the rest of her top peers in the Class of 2009.

2. Hee Kyung Seo: She won as a non-member at the 2010 Kia Classic, easily won the 2011 Rookie of the Year race despite her failure to secure her 1st LPGA major at the U.S. Women's Open, and has been near or at the top of the leaderboard for a good portion of her 1st 2 starts of 2012.

3. So Yeon Ryu: She had great chances to kick off 2012 with back-to-back wins, but couldn't convert either time. Will the close calls give her even more confidence or play into doubts she's raised throughout her meteoric career over her ability to close the deal? I'm thinking it'll be the former for my pick for Rookie of the Year this season!

4. Lexi Thompson: She won once on the LPGA and once on the LET at the end of the 2011 season, but hasn't found the magic yet in 2012. Still, only Ryu and Cydney Clanton lead her in the Rookie of the Year race and she hasn't even hit her stride yet. Plus, don't you think that Korda's win just before her 19th birthday will fire up this now-17-year-old?

The Contenders

5. Sandra Gal: I'm very curious to see how she deals with raised expectations this season.

6. Inbee Park: It'll be interesting to see if she decides to continue splitting her time between the LPGA and JLPGA roughly evenly like Momoko Ueda or will privilege the LPGA, as Ji-Yai Shin, Ai Miyazato, and Mika Miyazato tend to do. Last year, she seemed to hit a wall on both tours.  I'd like to see her focus more on the LPGA and really put up a fight for best golfer in the Class of 2007.

7. Sun Young Yoo: I still believe the sky's the limit for this late-blooming '06er. She's got a classic straight shooter game (think Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lang, and so on), and even though she's plateaued a bit over the last 2 seasons, that's a measure of how high she has already climbed.

Quantum Leap Candidates

8. Beatriz Recari: Her 1st top 10 in a long while this past week makes me think that this LET transplant is on the comeback trail. As a member of the rising Spanish Armada on the LPGA, I have a bit more confidence in her than the rest of the players below her on this list right now.

9. Jessica Korda: If she can keep up the "1 win every 16 starts" pace that she's just set for herself , this '11er will have a really good LPGA career, but given that her 1st win was also her 1st top 10, let's wait and see before we anoint her the tour's new "It" girl.

10. Julieta Granada: Wow, she picked up 2012 right where she left off in 2011. She's gone from worrying about keeping her LPGA card to fighting for her 2nd LPGA win. Not bad!

11. Natalie Gulbis: Recurring back problems since her 2007 Evian Masters playoff victory over Jeong Jang have dropped her back where she was in her 1st 3 seasons on the LPGA--a player who makes her share of cuts but has trouble cracking the top 10. In fact, 24 of her top 10s and all 7 of her top 3s came between 2005 and 2007, when she was a regular on the top 20 of the money list. It seems like every season since then starts with a lot of optimism about the state of her back, but fails to live up to expectations. As her closest calls the last 2 seasons to getting back into the top 10 have come in Southeast Asia, a lot is riding on her performance this week in Thailand.

12. M.J. Hur: Her struggles since getting her 1st LPGA win as a rookie in 2009 are one big reason I'm not jumping on the Korda bandwagon just yet. This may be a make-or-break year for Hur, who went from so-so to worse last season, but still managed to hang onto full membership for this one.

13. Jee Young Lee: It looks to me like the '06er got hurt in fall 2010 but whatever the reason she's been in free fall ever since. She's too good not to pull out of it, in my view, and soon, even from #130 on the 2012 Priority Status List.

14. Shi Hyun Ahn: Like Jee Young Lee, her only LPGA win comes with an asterisk, as she got it as a KLPGA member in 2003, but since then she's played roughly 20 events on the LPGA each year, garnering 27 top 10s in the process, with only 3 of them coming since the end of the 2007 season. Until last year, that is, when she fell off a cliff. It may have been injuries, but maybe it was love. The golfer known as "Cinderella" got married to Argentine-Korean star Mario last November. What that means for her golf career remains to be seen. She's #122 on Priority Status List, so she should be able to play just about whenever she wants to this season....

On the Bottom, Looking Up

15. Meaghan Francella: She shocked the golf world with a win over Annika Sorenstam on the 4th playoff hole at the 2007 MasterCard Classic, but Annika's announcement a little later that season that she had been suffering significant back and neck injuries for some time put a little asterisk by that victory. To make matters worse, Francella had to deal with injury issues of her own over the next season and a half, but the '06er bounced back in 2009 by getting her 5th and 6th top 10s on tour, breaking the 73 barrier in scoring average for the 1st time in her career, and returning to the top 50 of both the money list and my Best of the LPGA ranking. She continued her comeback in 2010 with a top 10 at the LPGA Championship and stayed in the top 60 of both the money list and my ranking, despite her approach shots and expecially her putting holding her back. But she fell out of the top 70 last season and will be fighting to keep her card this one from her #99 spot on the Priority Status List.

16. Leta Lindley: Let's see if she can add to her total of 33 career top 10s this season.

17. Heather Bowie Young: She won at the Farr in 2005 and has collected 26 top 10s since joining the LPGA in 2000. 2011 was her 3rd season in a row without one, however, leading her to seek (and gain) dual LPGA-LET membership at LET Q-School last month.

18. Eunjung Yi: Her playoff victory over Morgan Pressel at the Farr in 2009 remains her only LPGA top 10 since her LPGA career began in 2008. She won Hound Dog's fluke victory of the year award that year, a dubious distinction. The only way things could be worse for her prospects in 2011 would be if her defeat of Pressel had come in a U.S. Women's Open (see Kim, Birdie, below). Seriously, it remains to be seen how she fares in 2012 as she plays off a medical exemption into the top 85 on the Priority Status List.

19. Nicole Castrale:  Her comeback from her 2010 shoulder surgery was derailed last season and she's back this one on another medical exemption.

20. Moira Dunn: Her 2004 win at the Giant Eagle Classic was the high point of an LPGA career that dates back to 1995, but her best season was probably in 2001. My junior golf buddy's been struggling to keep her card each year since the 2006 season, and once again in 2011 she failed to add to her 23 career LPGA top 10s.  But whereas she was a regular in the top 80 for most of her career, she dropped all the way down to #105 on the money list last season, so enters this one at #136 on the Priority Status List.

21. Silvia Cavalleri: She's only had 10 top 10s in an career that started back in 1999 and in that span has only cracked the top 50 on the money list once--in 2007, when she won the Corona Championship. She had finished outside the top 100 on the money list the previous 3 seasons, and only improved to #96 in 2011.  From #120 on the Priority Status List, she has as much chance as anyone in this category to escape from Hound Dog's fluke victories list, which may not be saying much.

On the Outside, Looking In

22. Young Kim: She joined the JLPGA in 2010 and ended up ranked 14th on tour; last season, she fell to 34th on their money list. Whether she'll return to the LPGA remains to be seen, but provided she does, if anyone on this list is going to follow in Jimin Kang's footsteps in breaking the Corning Classic jinx, I would expect her to be the next to do it!

23. Soo-Yun Kang: Her win at the Safeway Classic in 2005 was part of the best season of her career, where she got 6 top 10s and ended up #14 on the money list. But it was also the last season her stroke average dipped under 72. Of her 17 career top 10s since she started on the LPGA in 2001, only 2 have come after 2005.  Now she's playing full-time on the JLPGA, where she finished #38 on the money list last season.

24. Jin Joo Hong: After playing 3 seasons on the KLPGA, she won the jointly-sponsored event with the LPGA and switched tours for the next 3 seasons, ending 2009 ranked #10 among the '06ers. Since then, she's decided to focus on the KLPGA.

25. Joo Mi Kim: She came to the LPGA in 2005 with 3 KLPGA victories under her belt and made a lot of cuts in her rookie season, then followed it up with a playoff win at the SBS Open (over Lorena Ochoa and Soo Young Moon) and 4 top 10s in all the next season, where she ended up 27th on the money list. She stayed in the top 50 for the 3rd-straight season the following year, but saw her starts go down and her scoring average go up over the next 3 seasons.  Since the fall of 2010, she's been focusing her efforts on the KLPGA.

Over and Out

26. Kris Tschetter: Her rookie season was 1988; she won the Northgate Computer Classic in 1992. Even though 2002 was her last solid season, her 50 career top 10s show that she's got the talent to bounce back, now that her kids are older. She wrote a moving account of her friendship with Ben Hogan in 2010, but missed the cut in all 3 of her starts in 2011. At #219 on the Priority Status List, though, she might get into another few events this season.

27. Birdie Kim: I had wanted to put her higher on this list, feeling that she had been coming back from the U.S. Women's Open jinx after her stunning 2005 win from the sand over then-amateurs Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang. But no, she's only made 6 cuts in her last 27 starts dating back to 2009, hasn't added to her career total of 4 top 10s in that span, and has never broken the 73 barrier in scoring average since she started on the LPGA in 2004.  Now she finds herself at #237 on the Priority Status List for the 2012 season.

28. Kelli Kuehne: She got a medical exemption in 2010, but didn't come close to returning to her 1999-2004 form, when she won at the Corning Classic at the start of that run and notched 24 of her 26 career top 10s over the course of it. From 2005-2009, though, she hasn't broken the 73 barrier in scoring average in any season and has made only 33 of 86 cuts. And she went 0 for 10 in 2010 and didn't play in 2011. She's #222 on the Priority Status List, but I have to wonder if she's going to play at all in 2012.

29. Kate Golden: Her win at the State Farm Classic in 2001 was part of a run from 2000-2004 when she averaged in the mid 72s in scoring and mid-$200Ks in winnings, but since then she hasn't made more than half her cuts in any season and has only added 1 top 10 to her career total of 14. In 2010, she got into 2 events and missed the cut in both of them in what may well turn out to have been the last year of an LPGA career that started in 1992. She's still listed at #230 on the Priority Status List, for what that's worth, but she had similar status last year and didn't play at all.

30. Marisa Baena: Her LPGA career started in 1999, but after a terrible 2004, it looked like it was in jeopardy. She bounced back in 2005 with a win in the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship from the 60th seed. Although she failed to get her 14th career top 10 and 2nd since 2005 the last season she teed it up on tour, she finds herself at #220 on the Priority Status List, even though she hasn't played in the last 2 years.

31. Sung Ah Yim: Like Joo Mi Kim, she joined the LPGA in 2005 and got her 1st win in 2006, at the Florida's Natural Charity Classic. But from 2007 to 2009, she neither added to her career total of 8 top 10s nor broke the 74 barrier in scoring average. And in 2010, she didn't get a single LPGA start from #227 on the priority status list. With no LPGA status in 2012 for the 2nd year in a row, she won't be getting any chances to play her way out of the #6 spot on Hound Dog's fluke victories list.

32. Louise Friberg: Her dramatic come-from-behind rookie win at the MasterCard Classic in 2008 was the high point of what turned out to be a short career in competitive golf.  With 3 top 10s and a slew of missed cuts, she's

33. Hilary Lunke: She may never be knocked from the top spot in Hound Dog's fluke victory list.  She's now listed at #245 on the Priority Status List, but hasn't teed it up since late August 2008.