Saturday, June 30, 2012

Final-Round Pairings at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

They're going off the front and back in threesomes tomorrow for the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.  If weather is a factor--and the pairings indicate the LPGA and tournament organizers are concerned it will be--someone going off early and putting up a number may have a better-than-usual chance of winning the tournament. (Although with tee times compressed into a 2-hour span, it'll take some fast-moving systems to affect different players really differently.)

Moira Dunn starts on the 10th tee at 11:55 am with Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome.  Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas get to start on the 1st tee with Amy Yang at 11:11 am.  The power trio of Stacy Lewis, Na Yeon Choi, and Suzann Pettersen goes off the 1st tee at 11:33.  Tiffany Joh goes off #1 with Momoko Ueda and Anna Nordqvist at 11:55.  Maybe we'll see some early fireworks from some of these golfers?

Here are the final groups going off the 1st tee:

12:06 pm:  Azahara Munoz, Hee Kyung Seo, Jin Young Pak
12:17 pm:  So Yeon Ryu, Gerina Piller, Catriona Matthew
12:28 pm:  Ryann O'Toole, Shanshan Feng, Dewi Claire Schreefel
12:39 pm:  Brittany Lang, Katie Futcher, Ai Miyazato
12:50 pm:  Veronica Felibert, Mika Miyazato, Inbee Park

Should be an exciting finish!  2nd week in a row we're ending with a short par 5....

Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Saturday: Staying Cool in the Afternoon

Rookie Veronica Felibert is looking great in the early evening at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, making birdies and par saves like it's nothing and becoming the 1st golfer in the field to reach double digits under par.  What's even more impressive is that some excellent golfers have been turning up the heat on her:  Mika Miyazato hit every fairway and 15 greens on her way to a bogey-free 65 that brought her to -7; Inbee Park joined her with a 68 she salvaged with 2 birdies in her last 3 holes; Azahara Munoz got it to -5 with a 68, bringing the total number of players within 5 shots of the lead right now to 13, with Tiffany Joh, Jin Young Pak, and Lizette Salas still making big moves on the course.  In fact, a lot of the players currently under par are pretty young or at least young in LPGA experience:  Danielle Kang, Cydney Clanton, Danah Bordner, Mo Martin, Lisa Ferrero.  More when their rounds are complete!

[Update 1 (6:57 pm):  Nice par save by Felibert on the par-5 14th after getting too aggressive on her birdie putt.  Salas ended up with a 67 and Kang a 68 to get to -2.  Pak is -6 on her round, -5 overall, and still has the par-5 18th ahead of her....]

[Update 2 (7:01 pm):  Check out Lisa Ferrero's scorecard:  she erased 2 early birdies with back-to-back bogeys but roared back for a 66!  Golf Channel's going into bonus coverage to follow the youngsters still on the course.  Great to see T-Joh getting some tv time!]

[Update 3 (7:19 pm):  Great to hear that Bordner's 5 months pregnant!  Even better birdie from Felibert at #15.  Pretty clutch par save at 17 to stay at -3 on the day and E overall.  Looking like the cut line will stay at +1, what with Ji Young Oh sticking it at 18.  Nice job by Kyeong Bae, hitting the flagstick at 17 and just missing a hole in 1.]

[Update 4 (7:21 pm):  Tester for Felibert to bring her bogey-free run to 30 holes and counting....]

[Update 5 (7:24 pm):  Good birdies by Oh and Bae.  Nice par save by Felibert.  Numa Gulyanamitta is another youngster under par right now as she finishes up on the front.]

[Update 6 (7:32 pm):  Jin Young Pak finished bogey-par but still shot a fine 66!]

[Update 7 (7:33 pm):  Nice birthday serenade for Felibert as she approached the 17th green.  She's 27, Ai Miyazato's age.]

[Update 8 (7:36 pm):  Big charge by Duke's Jennie Lee to fight back to +1 with the 9th left to play.  She's birdied her last 2 holes in a row to bounce back from a double on the 4th.  1 more par or better and she plays tomorrow.]

[Update 9 (7:44 pm):  With the cut line staying at +1, the list of big names missing it is a long one, including Cristie Kerr, Kristy McPherson, Jane Park, and Belen Mozo at +2, Laura Davies, Michelle Wie, Jeong Jang, and Eun-Hee Ji at +4, Ya Ni Tseng, In-Kyung Kim, Vicky Hurst, Maria Hjorth, Karen Stupples, and Janice Moodie at +5, Juli Inkster, Hee-Won Han, Mina Harigae, and Christina Kim at +6, and Song-Hee Kim at +11.  With Morgan Pressel WDing to rest an injured thumb, and lots of youngsters on tour struggling this week after doing well last week, what Felibert is doing is even more impressive.]

[Update 10 (7:48 pm):  Felibert will have to make a long twister to match her opening 65....]

[Update 11 (7:51 pm):  Clanton and Gulyanamitta ended up at -1 through 36 thanks to a 68 and a 69, respectively.  Martin had to settle for a 70, but ended up 1 shot ahead of them.]

[Update 12 (7:53 pm):  Pretty good putt from Felibert, with less than 3 feet to go for a 66.  She makes it and there are only 8 players within 5 shots of her lead and none closer than 4!]

[Update 13 (7:55 pm):  Felibert's bogey-free run is 32 holes and counting after she calmly sinks her par putt on 18.]

Se Ri Pak Withdraws from Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

Uh-oh!  Se Ri Pak is the 3rd player to withdraw from the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship (joining '06ers Seon Hwa Lee and Jee Young Lee).  Let's hope she's ok for the U.S. Women's Open next week at Blackwolf Run, the site of her historic win....

[Update 1 (6:36 pm):  Here's what Say_You_SeRi said at Seoul  "She started the round birdie, bogey, birdie, bogey and then was gone before posting a score on 14."]

[Update 2 (7/1/12, 6:28 pm):  Heard on Sunday's Golf Channel coverage that Se Ri cited "exhaustion."  Glad she's not hurt.]

Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Saturday: Morning Movers

The morning wave swept over Pinnacle Country Club and left a ton of great scores in its wake on moving day at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.   Hee Kyung Seo fired a scorching 65, with 4 birdies and an eagle on the par-4 4th, that got her to -4.  Dewi Claire Schreefel matched it with a 6-birdie, no-bogey round of her own to move to -5.  Hannah Yun bounced back from a Friday 79 with a Saturday 66, a huge moral victory even though at +3 she's unlikely to make the cut.  Katie Futcher (-6), So Yeon Ryu (-5), Natalie Gulbis (+1), and Alena Sharp (+1) all shot 67s to move way up the leaderboard.  Hee Young Park is heading into the par-5 18th hole with a -5 round going today.  But the round of the morning will most likely belong to Brittany Lang, who's -8 today with only the 9th hole left to play.

[Update 1 (3:03 pm):  Lang and Park both parred their final holes, Lang for a 63 that brings her into a tie for 1st at -6 with Futcher, Ai Miyazato (68), Ryann O'Toole (68), and Shanshan Feng (who came back for a 70 thanks to 3 birdies in her last 4 holes).]

[Update 2 (3:10 pm): Add Gerina Piller to the list of 67-shooters from the morning!]

[Update 3 (6:18 pm):  And So Yeon Ryu!]

The Best on the LPGA: 1-Time Winners, June 2012 Update 2

Wow, seems like I last updated this future-looking ranking of the LPGA's 1-time winners only 11 days ago!  Here's my new take on who's most likely to graduate into the 2-win club, ranked in the order I expect them to go....

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2012

1. So Yeon Ryu: She had great chances to kick off 2012 with a pair of wins, but couldn't convert either time. She's playing really good golf this year (with only 2 finishes outside the top 25) and has given herself other chances to win (with 5 top 5s already in 2012), but she hasn't yet been able to put to rest the doubts she's raised during her meteoric career over her ability to close the deal. Still, given her combination of accuracy and distance off the tee to go with strong putting, I'm thinking my Rookie of the Year pick has a great chance to win just about any week she plays.

2. Shanshan Feng: Her final-round bogey-free 67 on Sunday at Locust Hill to win the Wegmans LPGA Championship was the single most impressive round of the week--and it shows what she's capable of when her putting comes close to keeping up with her ball-striking. She's got good distance and great accuracy even for the Cristie Kerr/Angela Stanford/Brittany Lang-type straight shooter. So it should come as no surprise that she contended in just over half her starts this year and followed up her breakthrough win in Pittsford by almost making the playoff in Waterloo. Oh, and she's 14th on the JLPGA money list with a 71.33 scoring average and a win in only 5 starts thus far this year. With her early-season LET victory, she has as many wins in 2012 as the world #1 Ya Ni Tseng!

3. Inbee Park: Like Feng, she's a dual LPGA-JLPGA member, a multiple winner on the JLPGA, and and a major winner on the LPGA. Currently 10th on the JLPGA money list with a win and a 70.50 scoring average in only 6 starts, she's not hitting her irons as precisely on the LPGA and has been paying for it with merely solid starts this season, until she contended in her last 2 starts, getting a top 10 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and finishing 3rd in the playoff at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. 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 Ai Miyazato, Ji-Yai Shin, and Mika Miyazato tend to do. Last year, she seemed to hit a wall on both tours at the end of the season. I'd like to see her focus more on the LPGA and really try to stake a claim as the best golfer in the Class of 2007. The way she putts, all she needs is a solid week with her irons to graduate from this list!

4. 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 (where she lost in a playoff to Ryu), and has already put herself in contention a number of times this year, including at its 1st major. It looks like she's starting to bounce back from the disappointment of her Sunday back-9 travails at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, getting her accuracy with her approach shots and putting back in Waterloo and having several putts to win in regulation and in the playoff. Let's see if she can keep turning it around this summer!

5. 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, she's on the comeback trail from a mediocre start to the season and is starting to perform well on courses that don't seem to suit her game. She's surprisingly accurate off the tee for a full-fledged bomber (very close already to the kind of "straight-up bomber" moniker that only Annika and Lorena have achieved in recent memory), so if she can get her putter to heat up this summer, watch out for her! She could yet make this ROY race interesting....

6. Azahara Munoz: Yes, she's missed 2 cuts in a row, but her performance stats this year remain very good, and I fully expect her to bounce back in a big way in Arkansas and beyond.

7. Brittany Lang: Although her performance stats aren't quite as impressive as her peers in this category, she's still a classic straight shooter in the Cristie Kerr mode who would make a heck of a lot more birdies if she was half as good a putter as Kerr.  Hopefully her prevailing in the playoff against 2 golfers I rank above her helps her realize just how good she could be!

The Contenders

8. Sandra Gal: She's been playing pretty mediocre golf so far in 2012. Her putter has been the biggest culprit, but she's not hitting that many fairways or greens by elite standards, either. She's hung around and made a lot of cuts, but will need to improve her all-around accuracy if she wants to do better the rest of the season. Still, she figured out Locust Hill and Grey Silo for 3 of her 4 rounds this year, and has 3 top 20s in her last 4 starts, both of which say to me her game is on the upswing.

9. Beatriz Recari: As a member of the rising Spanish Armada on the LPGA, she is playing with a lot of precision with every club this year except her putter. Hence her inability to follow up on her season-opening top 10 or her opening 68 at Locust Hill a few weeks ago.

10. Mi Jung 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. So far, her ball-striking has been awful but her scrambling and putting have been wonderful. This year can still go either way for her, but it's gotta be encouraging to her that she shot a 69 a couple of Fridays ago to make the cut at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and followed it up with 4-straight rounds in the 60s to contend at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.

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.  This season, she raised my hopes with a couple of early top 10s, but needs to bounce back from a couple of missed cuts in a row to stay in this category next ranking.

Quantum Leap Candidates

12. Jessica Korda: Well, she's reverted to mean after her surprising season-opening win, but if she can get her putter going, her combination of distance and relative accuracy for a bomber off the tee bode well for her future on the LPGA.

13. Nicole Castrale: Her comeback from her 2010 shoulder surgery was derailed last season, so she started this one on another medical exemption, earning enough to move to #115 on the current priority status list. It's looking like everything is pretty much back on-line for her except her putting, and even that seems to be coming around, as you can't go 70-70 over the weekend at Locust Hill without putting very well.

14. 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! It's going to take improved iron play and putting to get it. Let's see what she can do this week.

15. 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. At least her performance stats this year aren't horrible, although the WD this week in NW AR isn't encouraging....

16. 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. Which, so far, is not at all....

On the Bottom, Looking Up

17. 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. So far this year, she's either been solid or terrible; while she's super-accurate off the tee, her putter has been very temperamental in 2012.

18. 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. So far, her experiment in dual membership isn't working out so great: she's #108 on the LET money list and although her LPGA performance stats are pretty decent, she's only made a handful of cuts so far.

19. Leta Lindley: Her extreme lack of distance off the tee is putting a lot of pressure on the rest of her game and she hasn't had enough starts in 2012 to get into any kind of rhythm. If she couldn't crack the top 75 at Seaview, she's in trouble for the near future, even though she's made the cut in both subsequent events.

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 entered this one at #136 on the Priority Status List. With the recent reshuffle, she moved up to #134, but is having a typical spring for an upstate NYer: good driving and not doing much with it.

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 #121 on the reshuffled 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. She's only made 1 cut in 2012.

On the Outside, Looking In

22. 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 and is currently #17.

23. 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; this one, she's down to #40 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!

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.

26. 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 2012 would be if her defeat of Pressel had come in a U.S. Women's Open (see Kim, Birdie, below). She got some starts early in the season on a medical exemption, but missed the cut every time, so with the reshuffle is now #242 on the priority status list.

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 #230 on the reshuffled Priority Status List for the 2012 season and struggling on the Symetra Tour.

Over and Out

28. 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 #213 on the reshuffled Priority Status List, though, she might get into some events this season.

29. 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 #216 on the reshuffled Priority Status List, but I have to wonder if she's going to play at all in 2012.

30. 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 #223 on the reshuffled Priority Status List, for what that's worth, but she had similar status last year and didn't play at all.

31. 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 #217 on the reshuffled Priority Status List, even though she hasn't played in the last few years.

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. She did get into 1 event this season from #241 on the reshuffled Priority Status List, but I'm pretty sure she's not planning to make a habit of it..

33. 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.

34. Hilary Lunke: She may never be knocked from the top spot in Hound Dog's fluke victory list. She's now listed at #236 on the reshuffled Priority Status List, but hasn't teed it up since late August 2008.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Friday: Comeback Stories

Yes, Juli Inkster's return to the LPGA from elbow surgery was nothing like what she hoped for today in Rogers at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, but many other players had much more satisfying comebacks. 

Ai Miyazato and Ryann O'Toole bounced back from disappointing missed cuts in Waterloo last week with very solid opening 68s at Pinnacle Country Club, putting them 3 shots behind leader Veronica Felibert and 2 shots behind Shanshan Feng.  Like Yuki Sakurai, a top-notch Japanese amateur who's had a very tough transition to professional golf but who Monday-qualified this week and opened with a 69, both players started out with an early bogey but came back with bogey-free golf the rest of the way.  Azahara Munoz, who's missed her last 2 cuts after being one of the hottest golfers on tour in the spring, bounced back from a couple of early bogeys to go -3 over her last 10 holes of bogey-free golf and match Sakurai's 69.  Sun Young Yoo, who was +2 after 4 holes, went -3 and bogey-free over her last 14 holes to post a 70.

Other players had even bigger comebacks today.  Paula Creamer bogeyed 4 holes in a row very early in her round today, but went bogey-free and -4 over her next 10 holes and followed up a bad bogey on 17 with a walkoff birdie to fight back to E.  Tiffany Joh bounced back from 3 early bogeys on the back (her front) with a 3-birdie, no-bogey run over her next 6 holes and also ended up at E.  Angela Oh showed a lot of grit in 100-degree heat, too, as she erased her early birdies with 3 bogeys in her 1st 10 holes, but still ended up with a 6-birdie 69.  Na Yeon Choi bounced back with 2 birdies in her last 4 holes after making 3 bogeys in a 4-hole stretch earlier on the back 9.  Brittany Lincicome also made 3 bogeys midway through her round, but bounced back to E with 2 birdies in her last 3 holes. And Sandra Changkija birdied 4 of her last 8 holes to grind out a tough 72 today.

Karine Icher (67), Mi Jung Hur (67), and Laura Diaz (69) continued their much-improved play of late after tough starts to the season.  Meredith Duncan, who's struggling to keep her card, birdied 2 of her last 3 holes to secure an even-par 71.

Players like Inkster needing comebacks tomorrow after tough starts include 2-time defending champion Ya Ni Tseng (who actually salvaged a 73 with 2 birdies in her last 4 holes today), last week's playoff rivals Brittany Lang and Hee Kyung Seo (whose 73s matched Cristie Kerr's, Se Ri Pak's, Kristy McPherson's, and Lizette Salas's), Mina Harigae and Ayaka Kaneko (75s), In-Kyung Kim, Natalie Gulbis, Jeong Jang, and Jennifer Song (76), and Morgan Pressel and Hannah Yun (79).  Let's hope they can turn it around on Saturday!

Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Friday: Rookie Veronica Felibert Pulls a Sandra Changkija

Veronica Felibert posted a 7-birdie 65 in the 1st round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship today, taking a 2-shot lead on Mi Jung Hur.  Inbee Park, who opened with a 31 on the front, has slipped back to -4, also 2 shots behind Felibert, with 2 holes left to play in her round.  Like Sandra Changkija last week in Waterloo, Felibert, a Venezuela native and 2008 USC graduate, is holding up the flag for the 2012 LPGA rookie class.  Even more surprisingly, this was the 1st round on the LPGA in her professional career.  Felibert's previous low round as a professional was a 67 at the 2011 Teva Championship.  Although she made the top 25 on the Futures Tour money list last year, she hasn't made the cut in 2 starts on the Symetra Tour thus far in 2012, which makes today's round even more impressive.  Congratulations, Veronica!

[Update 1 (6/30/12, 5:35 pm):  Correction, Golf Channel has Felibert playing in 4 previous LPGA events this year, with 1 made cut.  In my defense, her page at didn't have any results for her yesterday.]

Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Friday: Inbee Park Opens with a 31

Inbee Park has birdied her last 4 holes in a row on the front 9 to get to -5 halfway through her 1st round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.  She currently leads rookie Veronica Felibert by a shot and Mika Miyazato and Catriona Matthew by 2.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is Paula Creamer the Nicest Player on the LPGA?

David Li and I got amazing access at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic last week.  I wasn't with him while he interviewed Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson, but he and I (along with another member of the Canadian media) got an exclusive post-round interview with Paula Creamer.  When I caught up with them behind the 18th green, Paula was in the middle of answering a question about how overall experience during the week.

PAULA CREAMER:  I love coming to Canada.  We've had such a great turnout [note:  over 66,000!] and for a first-time event, uh, it's been pretty special.   And, you know, I can't say enough about all the volunteers, too.  I mean, they've just, they've been out here and all of them have just been troupers.  It's pretty exciting.

CANADIAN REPORTER:  I notice you've been tweeting a bit about your love of Tim Hortons. 

PC:  Yes!

CR:  What are some other things you like about Canada? [laughs]

PC:  You know, honestly, there's not one bad thing.  I really do like it here a lot.  I always seem to play pretty well, too.  Like I said, it's nice to play in front of a big gallery.  You know, every day I've had, you know, a lot of people out there watching, which is just special. 

DAVID LI:  Um, you're one the most successful players on tour.  What does it mean for the LPGA to have tournament likes this playing outside the U.S., in Canada?

PC:  No, I mean, like I said, anywhere that embraces women's golf and whatnot is special for us to go to, and, you know, you take time and you sign autographs, as much as you can, afterwards.  And it's nice to be able to come to it and see a new place.

DL:  And on the topic of Canada, you know, there's two young Canadian rookies out there, Rebecca Lee-Bentham and Maude-Aimee Leblanc.  Your thoughts on the two rookies?

PC:  I mean, it's totally different.  I think, you know, they're learning how to deal with a lot, just the life out on tour.  They're learning and I'm sure they'll get used to it and, you know, have a heck of a season, and hopefully many more years to go.  They represent Canada very well.

DL:  And one last question, what would be your advice to the young players out there, to reach your level of success?

PC:  I mean, it's hard.  I feel, I still feel like I'm young, but, uh, I guess 25 isn't that young  anymore. [everyone laughs]  You know, it is what it is, and, you know, you just have to embrace things like this.  I mean, a lot of people want to finish their rounds and go, go home, but you just can't.  It's for the fans.  And you have to stay positive about yourself because it's golf, it's a marathon, not a sprint. 

THE CONSTRUCTIVIST:  You seem to go the extra mile for your fans.  You were trying to win a major in Rochester, and you gave a ball to my six-year-old on the 8th tee--

PC:  Uh-huh.

TC:  --you were acknowledging my 8-year-old when she was following you around, you have all these girls waiting for you....  I mean, it just seems like you go the extra mile.  Why do you do that?

PC:  Well, I love it.  I really do.  Um, you know, it's...I've had the best fans ever since I started coming out here, when I was 18 years old, and everybody's been so supportive of my golf.  And they take the time out of their day to come and watch and cheer you on, good times and bad times.  I mean, I know I'm pretty far off the lead and we had a lot of people out there wearing pink, and it's things like that, just, you know, that keep you coming and motivate you.  And, uh, I'm trying to do my best that I can.  And I want to win not only for myself but for everybody else as well. 

TC:  Sweet, so the Open's coming up.  Are you gonna play in Arkansas or are you going to skip it?

PC:  I'm playing Arkansas, yes.  It's better for me to keep playing, keep the competitiveness going, and, you know, we'll see what happens.

TC:  Sweet, good luck.

PC:  Thanks, guys!


It's not just what she says, but how she says it.  No doubt she's heard questions like these millions of times, but she handles each one as if she's hearing it for the first time.  Even if she's repeating familiar answers, it sure doesn't sound like it.  She's just very patient with her interviewers, very laid back, and very upbeat.  (It probably helped that she had just shot a 67, her lowest round of the week, to sneak into the top 15.)  And after talking with us for longer than most of the players we interviewed, she immediately turned and engaged her fans for even longer.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Preview & Pairings

Before I get started with this week's tournament, let me give a big congratulations to Brittany Lang for winning the Manulife Financial Classic. Brittany ended a four-way playoff with a birdie on the 3rd extra hole. This was the 3rd first-time winner in the last 4 tournaments and fourth first-time winner this year.

This week the LPGA will move to Arkansas for the playing of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.  This is a 54 hole event, that will lead us to the U.S. Women's Open the following week.

Here are some details:

Course:  Pinnacle Country Club
Location: Rogers, Arkansas
Defending Champion: Yani Tseng
Winning Score:  66-67-68-201 = (-12)                           

Final Field:  144 Players
Par: 36/35 = 71
Yardage: 6274 Yards
Purse: $2.0 Million

My strength of field rating is 66%, making it the second-strongest field of the year. The only notable players missing are the injured Jiyai Shin and Karrie Webb. This tournament will also mark the return of Juli Inkster who has been out all season with an injury.

Here are the first round pairings.

Here are the television times:
June 29 - GC 6:30-8:30 PM EST
June 30 - GC 5:00-7:00 PM EST
July 1     - GC 5:00-7:00 PM EST

Other Tidbits
Hee-Won Han missed the cut this past weekend for the first time in 22 events. Ai Miyazato's streak of 18 consecutive cuts also ended, as her +7 score was 6 shots too many.

Izzy Beisiegel, who had missed the cut in every tournament she played in dating back to 2005, actually made the cut this past week. She had missed 20 consecutive cuts.

Titleholders Update:
Brittany Lang, Inbee Park, and Chella Choi are the latest to qualify.

Rolex Ranking Mover of the Week:
Brittany Lang moved from #35 to #24.

Who's Hot:
Stacy Lewis has now finished in the top five in five consecutive contests.

Who's Not:
Tiffany Joh missed the cut for the third consecutive time, giving her 6 missed cuts already this season.

I would also like to mention that Melissa Reid won this week on the Ladies European Tour. As some of you might have read, Melissa's mother was killed in an automobile accident three weeks ago. Her father was also badly injured. This was Melissa's first tournament back and had to be a very special win for her. As the current number 48 ranked player in the world, and one of Europe's top players, Melissa will be playing next week in the U.S. Open. 

I will not be posting here for awhile, as my wife and I will be flying to Kohler, Wisconsin at the end of the week for the Women's United States Open. I am sure that the Constructivist will keep everyone updated on the LPGA's most important event. I will update everyone on my experience upon my return.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Manulife Financial LPGA Classic Sunday: Brittany Lang Breaks Through in 4-Way Playoff

The sun came out for the first time all day as Brittany Lang and Hee Kyung Seo approached the 18th green for the 4th time in a row, the last survivors of a 4-way, 3-hole playoff from which Chella Choi and Inbee Park had previously bowed out.  When Lang gutted out a 6-foot sliding downhill-sidehill birdie putt to win the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, she ensured that the sun will set tonight on the infamous "Duke curse" that purportedly blocked players from Duke University from winning on the LPGA Tour.  And when the sun rises tomorrow, it may start to sink in to Lang that she has joined fellow Texans Angela Stanford and Stacy Lewis as winners in 2012.

As storm clouds were brewing over Grey Silo about 2 and a half hours earlier in the afternoon, it didn't look like Lang would be part of any playoff picture, much less win the tournament.  Park and Seo had been trading birdies all day and each got to -17 at different points early on the back.  Although Lang hadn't made a bogey in her 1st 14 holes, she still found herself 1 shot behind her playing partners when her tee shot found some gnarly left rough while they had put themselves squarely in the 15th fairway.  With the pin tucked behind the front-left trap, she needed to hit a perfect shot just to stay in contention.  Not only did she do it, getting her ball almost pin high about 15 feet to the right on the hole, she followed it up with a fantastic birdie putt to pull even with the leaders.  She gave herself another good look for birdie on 16, but her downhill putt slid by the hole.  After all 3 players parred the 17th, Lang must have been thinking that she needed to make birdie or eagle to have a chance to win the tournament.  Seo had birdied 18 twice before, Park 3 times. Lang had put herself into contention on moving day with a birdie-birdie-eagle finish, so she knew she had it in her.  Plus, with a very accessible pin on the front-right quadrant of the green on this short par 5 and huge cheers from the gigantic crowd surrounding the green erupting every few minutes (it seemed), it was do-or-die time.  Little did anyone expect that Chella Choi, the leader in the clubhouse following her bogey-free 63 that got her to -16 (eclipsing Stacy Lewis's walkoff eagle for a 29 for the back, a 64 for the day, and a -15 total for the week), would have a ghost of a chance to make it into a playoff, but that's what happened when the easy pin to reach from the fairway turned into a nasty hole to try to get the ball to fall into.  Both Seo and Lang had short putts to win the tournament outright with a birdie, and both missed them low.

In the playoff, Seo hit the green in 2 twice in a row, giving herself difficult but makeable 10-foot eagle putts, but she couldn't get either to fall.  Lang stayed alive with birdies on the first 2 playoff holes while first Choi and then Park failed to get up and down from right of the green in 2.  On the third hole, both Seo and Lang put their approach shots in the front-right bunker.  Park's explosion stayed about 10 feet below the hole, while Lang's spun to about 6 feet above it.  After Park's putt wouldn't fall, the stage was set for Lang to get her 1st LPGA win.  As Lang put it after the round, "I was so nervous on that first putt in regulation.  I couldn't see what I really wanted and I just kind of putted up there.  But those two birdie putts to stay in the playoff, I was getting better at being nervous and knowing that just because I was nervous didn't mean I was going to miss it."  And she didn't, winning with her 3rd-straight birdie on the final hole.

As the sun's setting here in Waterloo, I have to hit the road for Hamburg.  Got lots of interviews with a bunch of players today, so look for a lot of material here over the next few days!

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Sunday Pins at Grey Silo for the Final Round of the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic

All right, building on my scouting reports on the front and back 9 here at Grey Silo, here are my observations on the Sunday pins for the final round of the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.

#1:  They brought the right traps into play on the opening hole with a front-right tucked pin position.  This also forces players looking for an opening birdie to play their 1st tee shot of the day further to the left and closer to the left fairway bunkers.  The course set-up people upped the ante on this hole today.

#2:  Very accessible pin in the front-middle of the green.  Big birdie op if you can put your tee shot in play.

#3:  It's tucked back left, but this is probably the easiest position to bounce it into with a slight draw.  Go too long, though, and you'll need great touch to save par.

#4:  Last night, I wrote, "Wonder if they'll go back left Sunday? There's a little mound there that can make things interesting...."  Well, that's where they put it!

#5:  They picked a back-right pin location that I think is in a little valley, the most accessible spot for those going for this short par 5 in 2!  Should also provide interesting choices for chips and pitches and little wedges in....

#6:  Last night, I wrote, "I didn't see many players take advantage of the bailout area past the right trap and to the right of the green; most chose instead to get as close to the left traps as possible on Saturday, despite the fact that the pin was cut front left, right under another back-left-quadrant mound (this one steeper than the one on the 5th).  But I think if the pin is back-left Sunday, you'll see more players going there."  Well, they went back-left shelf.  Let's see if the players adjust!

#7:  Last night, I wrote, "So far they've kept the pins to the front and right/back-right of the green to bring that front-right trap into play. Wonder if they'll give them a break on Sunday after a nasty one right behind the trap today?"  Well, they did--it's just past a third of the way back smack in the center of the green.

#8:  The back-left pin position brings some mounding in that quadrant into play on both putts and chips.  Key to stay below this one.

#9: Sucker pin toward the right side of the green about halfway back.  Just go left of the trap unless you absolutely need a birdie.

#10: Middle-left spot will test your accuracy with your wedges!  There's a mound and a ridge near that pin.

#11:  Back right may allow players to use a little backstop....

#12:  It's way left, just past halfway back, bringing that big bunker into play big-time!

#13:  Last night, I wrote, "Oh, and you have to hit it to the right tier, which, although not as severe as the one on 15, can be very difficult when the pin is tucked on the back one, as it was on Saturday. I'm thinking we'll see it front left Sunday to bring the left trap more into play...."  Well, I was right about the front part.  But it's more in the middle of the green than the left.  Good chance to see some backstop action on this hole, too.

#14:  This looks like it'll be atricky one, tucked a bit on the back tier or right under it.  Can't tell exactly where it is till I see it....

#15:  Well, I was looking for front right or back right today, but they went severely front left, bringing the huge trap left into play on both the tee shot and the approach shot.

#16: Back and middle-right spot should be a little easier to see from the fairway, maybe?  Should be right under the tier, so players should be able to do interesting things with spin for the grandstand.

#17:  They put the pin back left, which does bring trouble over into play but probably eliminates the wetlands right from being a factor in the final round unless someone does something Furyk-on-16-like (in the reverse direction)....

#18:  w00t!  Last night, I wrote, "I'd love to see an easy front-right pin position here to open up the possibility of a walkoff eagle winning the tournament!"  And that's exactly what they did!

OK, so far Meena Lee is -4 through 11 and there are a bunch of players -3 already behind her, so I'd say the set-up may be the easiest yet and the wind is not up.  Let's see how the leaders respond!  Time to head to the course!

Earth Mondamin Cup Overview: Mayu Hattori Beats Sakura Yokomine and Chie Arimura

For awhile, it looked like the run of non-Japanese winners on the JLPGA would extend to 8-straight events, as Sun-Ju Ahn was playing well through the 1st 10 holes of the Earth Mondamin Cup, maintaining her 1-shot lead on Chie Arimura by matching her opening 33 and birdieing the 10th holes while opening up a 3-shot lead on 2nd-round co-leaders Sakura Yokomine and Mayu Hattori.  But she faltered with 2 bogeys and no birdies over her last 8 holes, leaving the door open for the Japanese trio to fight it out for 1st place.  Arimura maintained a 2-shot lead on Yokomine and Hattori heading into the last 2 holes, but could only par them both.  Yokomine birdied both to tie her, and Hattori birdied the 17th.  So she needed a birdie to force a playoff.  Instead, she eagled the 485-yard par 5 to take her 1st JLPGA victory of 2012 and 4th of her career.

More to come after the completion of the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic!

[Update 1 (6/25/12, 11:07 pm):  Here's how the updated JLPGA money list now looks!

1. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥59.76M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥50.79M
3. Ritsuko Ryu ¥47.79M
4. Mayu Hattori ¥46.52M
5. Ji-Hee Lee ¥45.19M
6. Miki Saiki ¥42.39M
7. Sakura Yokomine ¥35.25M
8. Bo-Mee Lee ¥35.16M
9. Chie Arimura ¥34.58M
10. Inbee Park ¥28.27M
11. Soo-Yun Kang ¥26.78M
12. Hiromi Mogi ¥26.07M
13. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥24.42M
14. Shanshan Feng ¥24.28M
15. Rikako Morita ¥23.72M
16. Mihoko Iseri ¥23.16M
17. Kaori Ohe ¥22.49M
18. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥19.80M
19. Yuki Ichinose ¥18.19M
20. Airi Saitoh ¥16.10M
21. Yukari Baba ¥15.44M
22. Ayako Uehara ¥15.09M
23. Ji-Yai Shin ¥13.88M
24. Yuri Fudoh ¥13.84M
25. Akane Iijima ¥13.45M
26. Teresa Lu ¥13.30M
27. Esther Lee ¥13.19M
28. Na-Ri Lee¥12.66M
29. Erina Hara ¥12.30M
30. Shinobu Moromizato ¥12.09M
31. Rui Kitada ¥12.05M
32. Miki Sakai ¥11.98M
33. Erika Kikuchi ¥11.33M
34. Yumiko Yoshida ¥11.23M
35. Young Kim¥10.63M
36. Bo-Bae Song ¥10.20M
37. So-Hee Kim ¥10.15M
38. Megumi Kido ¥10.09M
39. Na-Ri Kim ¥9.93M
40. Yuko Fukuda ¥9.71M
41. Kumiko Kaneda ¥9.65M
42. Harukyo Nomura ¥8.79M
43. Da-Ye Na ¥7.89M
44. Li-Ying Ye ¥7.68M
45. Nikki Campbell ¥7.25M
46. Shiho Toyonaga¥7.04M
47. Junko Omote ¥6.70M
48. Eun-Bi Jang¥6.35M
49. Yuko Mitsuka ¥6.32M
50. Asako Fujimoto ¥6.28M

Up this week is the Nichi-Iko Ladies Open (also known as the Sun Engineering Ladies!), which Ayako Uehara won last year.  The usual cast of JLPGA members will be there, although Shiho Oyama's start to the 2012 season remains delayed.  She wrote in her blog in late April that she could only practice with 3/4 swings.  I'm wondering if it's a flare-up of her elbow problems that required surgery awhile back or a new injury entirely.  Just wanted to wish her a full and speedy recovery and best of luck during her rehab.]

Impressions of Grey Silo: The Back 9

Barring Seaview, where the ShopRite is held, and Locust Hill, where I've attended the Wegmans event the last several years, Grey Silo is the only LPGA venue I know from personal experience.  Unfortunately for this post, I've spent a lot more time on its front 9 than its back.  Part of that's due to routing issues, as there's no way for spectators following a group to leave the 11th green, be barred from the bridge the players take to get to the 12th tee, cut across the 18th fairway just past the tee box (often waiting for another group to tee off), pass behind the 18th tee, and wait for the 15th tee to clear so they can backtrack on 15 and curl around the 14th green in time to watch them putt.  At least I haven't had the time.  So I've usually ended up heading back to the 3rd green or 4th tee after leaving a group that's just hit their drives on 10 instead of dealing with the frustration of logjams, or going from the 10th green backwards up the 18th fairway and backtracking from the 16th green to find a group I wanted to follow.  But part of the reason is that I really like the stretch from the 3rd through the 9th holes.  Bottom line is, I know 13 through 18 pretty well, but the 3 birdie holes that start the back, not so much.  So take this continuation of my earlier scouting report with a grain of salt, check what I've written against what you see on Golf Channel, and feel free to write me corrections in comments!

#10 (par 4, 342 yards):  Like #1, this has a fairly intimidating tee shot visually, what with the wetlands in all your sightlines right and just in front of you and little of the fairway to see except what's right near a huge bunker, but this straightaway par 4 with a fairway tilted from from 7 o'clock to 1 o'clock actually gives you plenty of room to the left and all you need to do is not hit it too far.  Only thing is, the closer you cut it to the junk on the right, the better your angle to the green, the 1st one without a single bunker near it since the 2nd hole.  Don't take it for granted, though, as mounds at 8 o'clock and 1 o'clock help define a tier that tilts away from the players in the back-left third of the green and there's another little mound at about 5 o'clock, as well.  So far the pins have been toward the back of the green, Friday's tucked well back left and Saturday's very close to the 1 o'clock ridge.  If Mike Davis were setting up the course Sunday, you'd see the players moved up to the front tee and the pin put in the front right of the green to encourage some bombers to take the risk of trying to drive the green.

#11 (par 4, 355 yards):  There's a cluster of bunkers to the right that extends all the way to the green, but the fairway bulges out a little to the left to help you avoid them off the tee, which also gives you a good angle into the green, although no matter what angle you're coming in from you need to avoid the deep front-left bunker and make sure you carry the mound that helps make what's already an uphill slope to the green a severe elevation on its left side.  They already used the front left pin position that's in a little valley defined by that mound and the ridge that runs from roughly 5 o'clock to roughly 10 o'clock that shoots balls back toward the mound, but otherwise kept it back near another severely sloping mound that's a great backstop.  So I'm thinking the Sunday pin is likely to be front right, near a little false-front type depression and severe dropoff to the closest rightward trap to the green.  This is another one that could move up from the back of the tips if they wanted to make the longer players think about drawing one over the traps and trying to run it up to the green, but maybe the course would have to build a more forward tee box.

#12 (par 3, 154 yards):  Haven't seen it in person or on tv, so tell me all about it in comments.  The big bunker on the left can't be the only difficulty on this short par 3, right?

#13 (par 4, 414 yards):  This is the 1st tough hole on the back in my book, but since the wind tends to be with the players on it, it's possible for even the shorter hitters on tour to bomb it out there.  I saw Ai Miyazato play it twice; on Thursday she was 150 out, which I thought was a long drive for her, until I caught up with her on Friday afternoon, when she almost reached cart path that's just over 100 yards from the green.  Suffice to say that there's a downslope in the landing area!  Of course, if you tend to pull it when you try to bomb it, watch out, as there's water way left from about 160 yards from the tee all the way to the green.  And the green is protected by a huge trap with an island mound of grass inside it that runs all along the left side and even curls around the back, plus there are 2 tiny bunkers right of it.  Oh, and you have to hit it to the right tier, which, although not as severe as the one on 15, can be very difficult when the pin is tucked on the back one, as it was on Saturday.  I'm thinking we'll see it front left Sunday to bring the left trap more into play....

#14 (par 4, 402 yards):  They're not playing the tips on this one, although they probably should, as the back measures only 3,082 yards (that's what having the shortest par 3 and the shortest par 5 on the course will do to you.  Sure, the wind is usually against the players, but why not force the longer players to thread the needle (to the extent that phrase makes sense at Grey Silo) between the shorter left-side fairway bunker and the longer right-side fairway bunker while at least allowing the shorter players, who will have to deal with a longer shot in, not to worry about that right-side bunker?  Be that as it may, the fairway goes uphill after those traps, although there's a shallow valley in it from about 120 out to about 40 out, when it climbs slightly uphill again.  The back half of the green pitches sharply left to right, there's a ridge that defines 2 tiers running roughly from 8 o'clock to 2 o'clock, and there are mounds at 6 o'clock and 12 o'clock that complicate things yet further, but no bunkers!  That won't happen again until the final hole....

#15 (par 4, 378 yards):  A huge bunker on the left guards the direct approach to the green off the tee and is long enough to protect its front left quadrant, but the fairway is cut to produce a slight right-to-left dogleg effect, the more so the shorter the tee box used.  The LPGA would do well to use every one of them, but I wouldn't know whether they have, as I've never made it back to that corner of the course near the 12th green (as explained above).  All I know is that the wetlands creek behind and to the right of the 17th green never seem to both the players, who have generally hit the fairway.  That's good for them, as the green features the most severe tiering on the course, with a huge slop separating the front and back tiers.  It would be neat to see either a front right or back right pin on Sunday.  The former would bring the back trap into play, but they've already used the back tier twice, so my bet is the front right quadrant, as it brings what look like (from the course map) a pair of tiny pot bunkers into play (although I don't recall them from the few times I've been back near that green).

#16 (par 4, 383 yards):  The players are basically hitting into an island fairway here, as there's wetlands all the way up the right and circling around on the left all the way to a creek that cuts off the fairway about 100 yards from the green.  Even though it's a very wide island, I've seen Stacy Lewis flirt with huge trouble left on Thursday and Maude-Aimee Leblanc right on Saturday.  Most players, though, have no trouble hitting it and giving themselves a short or mid-iron to the green, which is guarded by a tiny pot bunker short right and surrounded by a kind of apron-like fairway that extends well to the right for very little reason I can see.  But hey, it allowed the tournament organizers to set up grandstands there.  What would make it an even more exciting hole than usual would be if they moved the tees Sunday way up from their usual next-to-back tee box to tempt the longer hitters to challenge the creek and go for the green.  (Of course, if they couldn't do this for every hole on the back for which this is possible and if they had to pick just one, I'd say 10 is the better bet for a Sunday in terms of crowd reaction, although this one would be great for tv and come at an even more dramatic time in the action.)  In any case, there's a kind of crescent moon-shaped tier on the left side of the green, so there's plenty of chances for backstop action with just about any pin.  But don't miss left!  After pushing her tee shot between the cart path and the hazard line on Saturday (something I didn't think was even possible) and not getting relief, Leblanc pulled her approach just past pin-high to a front-left tucked pin (hey, better that than duffing it right into the creek, which was entirely possible), played a great lob from deep rough, and sank a 10-footer for the 2nd-best par save I witnessed all week.  But that's the exception that proves the rule....

#17 (par 3, 183 yards):  This is #9's mean older sister.  There have probably been more double bogeys on this hole than all the rest combined.  Right is death!  Don't be fooled by the small bunker that looks like a catcher's mitt:  it's counteracted by the ball magnet that's been placed deep in the wetlands right of the green.  And, oh, by the way, don't go long, either.  Did I mention this is the narrowest/shortest green on the course?  Just fade one in off the left trap, do what it takes to use the crescent-shaped backstop on the left side of the green.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT flirt with any pin to the right of the left-center of the green.  You won't win a tournament here, but you can lose one.  Or you can miss the cut by doubling it in the dark, as Hannah Yun did.  Guess where her tee shot went....

#18 (par 5, 471 yards):  This hole would be even more fun if the bombers didn't have to lay up off the tee, thanks to a silly creek/wetlands area that cuts across the fairway and adds nothing to the hole, unless you somehow find the right trap, as Danah Bordner did on Saturday, and then it's a risky shot to try to carry it (hers made it by about 10 feet), or get into trouble with the mounds and rough to the left of the fairway, as Stacy Lewis did on Thursday when she duffed one into it from a particularly gnarly sidehill-downhill lie.  OK, so maybe the creek is a good idea.  But it wouldn't hurt to build another tee further back and to the right (out of danger from the 15th tee while still keeping the 11th green safe) to bring the right bunker more into play and force some to fade it off the tee.  That and not put a beer tent right by this tee.  And build a spectator bridge from the 11th green to the 12th tee so that players and fans don't have to get in each other's hair all the time.  Anyway, the drive isn't really the big deal on this hole; the 2nd shot is.  Everyone goes for it, and anything can happen.  Numa Gulyanamitta's approach was swallowed by the bleachers to the far right of the green, and the far-left ones are too close to the green for my comfort.  Speaking of the green, the back-left quadrant of it is like the Bermuda Triangle.  I've never seen so many short putts missed as back there, and there's no clear explanation for why it's so hard to read right.  It's funny, because I've also seen great 60-foot lags from the front-right to the back-left....  That said, I'd love to see an easy front-right pin position here to open up the possibility of a walkoff eagle winning the tournament!

So that's it for my take on Grey Silo.  It's a great change of pace from Locust Hill, even though it's not my cup of tea as a player.  I'm sure I'm missing all kinds of nuances, as playing the course is infinitely different from walking it outside the ropes, and I've heard from various golfers this week that the variability of green speeds and firmnesses takes some getting used to.  But as a general rule of thumb, it seems the higher the green is, the firmer and faster it is.  Except going up the 1st 1/3 of #4.  Everything there is fast except for that, as Ai Miyazato found when she left a 30-foot putt 11 feet short seconds before play was suspended on Thursday. 

If tournament organizers wanted to make the course longer, they could certainly use the back tee boxes on #4 and #7, in addition to the one on #14 I mentioned above.  They could also let thr rough grow out more in certain places that would increase the penalty for errant shots when it mattered, like to the right of #5, among the left traps on #8, behind #9 and #17, and to the left of #16.  But it's not the length of the course or the wideness of the fairways or the depth of the rough that's the issue; it's how relatively quiet the wind was on Saturday.  If we get it howling on Sunday, anything can happen, including an early leader in the clubhouse putting pressure on the last few groups.  Sure, nobody's putted better than Inbee Park or Hee Kyung Seo, and only Brittany Lang, Karin Sjodin, and Mi Jung Hur have joined them with 3 rounds under 70, but if someone like Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, Sun Young Yoo, or Amy Yang gets their putter going on the front 9, watch out!  And if we get weather delays, all bets are off....

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Impressions of Grey Silo: The Front 9

OK, I've put in about 25 hours on Grey Silo over the 1st 3 days of the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, so I'm starting to feel like I've got a feel for the course.  It's one of those links-style upscale public courses you often find in upstate or western NY or southern Ontario, not so different from, say, the Turning Stone courses in Vernon, NY, Ravenwood in Victor, NY, Harvest Hill in Orchard Park, NY, or Seneca Hickory Stick in Lewiston, NY (all of which I've played).  It's not my favorite style of course design, as I grew up playing more tree-lined courses and am not a big fan of so many undulations in the fairways and greens, the combination of wide fairways and super-severe wetlands very close to their edges, and the too-manicured feel compared to real links courses (which, for those who are into 18th-century aesthetic and landscape design, can attain the sublime rather than remaining merely picturesque, as so many faux-links courses tend to be).  Still, like all links courses, Grey Silo depends as much on the wind as on any design features to protect it, even more so from the highly-skilled golfers you find on the LPGA.  So here are a few things to keep in mind as you watch final round tomorrow, first about the front 9 and in my next post the back.

#1 (par 4, 377 yards):  This usually plays as the 18th hole, but the routing of the course makes it impossible to play it that way; along with the usual #1/current #2, it's way out in the boonies, equally far from the clubhouse as from the bulk of the course, so it would be impossible for spectators to get from the usual #17/current #18 to it, not to mention they'd have to destroy a lot of wetlands to accommodate everyone who'd want to see the closing hole.  Even though it was designed as a closing hole, I think it works really well as an opening hole (and I love having a short par 5 as the closing hole, but more on that later).  It's a slight dogleg right with a creek cutting across the fairway about 275 yards out there and wetlands all down the right side, very close to the fairway, and cutting into it near the tee complex, as well.  With wetlands surounding the hole on the left, too, and 2 mounded traps guarding the left neck of the fairway, the effect is to be hitting almost a blind shot into a near-island fairway.  From the creek, it's fairly sharply uphill, especially near the green, which is guarded by a big mound and a deep trap on the left and a pair of traps on the front and middle right.  The green is at a 45-degree angle from the fairway, with the left side closer to the players than the right side.  You can divide it into 3 sections, including a middle tier that's sharply downhill in the very back of the green and can send wayward shots at the middle of the green either to the front-left or back-right lower tier.  Even though it's a visually intimidating drive for an amateur, it's a driver or less for the LPGAers I watched play the hole on Friday.  Most everyone I saw put themselves in good position to go for the pin, which was cut front left that day, but nobody tried to get too cute and bring the left bunker into play.  Most ended up in the very front of the green, just left of the right trap.  Maybe they were hoping for a kick left, but it wasn't happening.  They used a back right pin on Saturday, which to me is the toughest spot.  Wonder where it'll be Sunday!

#2 (par 4, 379 yards):  This is usually the 1st hole and it turned out to be the 1st hole I saw on Thursday, when Ryann O'Toole birdied it, Hannah Yun parred it, and Christine Song doubled it.  This one has junk all down the left side after the 1st 100 yards (which Song found), the fairway bulges out to the right in the usual landing area for many of the LPGAers (a driver or 3-wood typically), and there's a nice little upslope there if you don't mind risking the cart path (which Yun found that day) or skipping over it into more junk that protects the 1st tee.  Some players opted to go for the neck past the bulge to give themselves a shorter shot in (Ryann O'Toole and Ai Miyazato did so on Thursday).  It's definitely a green you can be aggressive on your approach shot to, as it's the only one besides 10 and 18 not to be bunkered and one of the flatter ones on the course, although you have to be careful of mounds on the front and back left and front right that can repel your ball and be aware of a small ridge in the middle-right of the green that can send it a little left toward the middle of the green.  I saw 2 disasters, 2 bogeys, and 3 birdies from the 15 players I saw play it on Thursday and Friday, so I'd count it as one of the easier holes on the course.

#3 (par 3, 170 yards):  This is a tough hole to birdie and I saw a lot of good par saves here, most notable a sweet 10-footer from Anna Nordqvist on Friday when she missed the green pin-high right and short-sided herself from tougher rough than is usually found at Grey Silo.  Christine Song played it the best of anyone I saw, making a good 2-putt par from 40 feet on Thursday and sticking her approach to Friday's front-right pin for a birdie, but Ryann O'Toole followed up Thursday's birdie with a bogey and both Ai Miyazato and Kirby Dreher bogeyed it Thursday.  What makes it so hard?  Well, the green kind of curls around a big, deep trap on the left and, as is typical at Grey Silo, is built up near it so that it forms a big mound in the middle of the green, with the back half of the green sloping pretty hard to the back.  As a result, it's very easy for a shot hit to the middle of the green to kick hard to the back or over if you fly it too far or bring it in too hot (as happened to Yun and Miyazato on Thursday), for shots missed just a little right to be pushed further right when they land (although a little mound 3/4 of the way back on the right might keep you from bounding off the green entirely), and for short shots to stay short.  As hard as it is for players, it's a great hole for spectators, with an amphitheatre-style hilly area behind the green.  It's also the last time you'll see larger trees on the course for a long time, although unlike on 2 these should never come into play.

#4 (par 4, 402 yards):  Even with a helping wind, this is one of the toughest holes on the course.  By my count, 8 of the 21 players I've seen play the hole bogeyed it.  The fairway isn't as wide as many on the course and it's guarded by a nasty little pot bunker on the left (which Ai Miyazato found on Thursday a few minutes before play was called) and framed by wetlands all the way down the right, so you have to be accurate off the tee.  You also have to be a bit lucky, as the generally left-to-right sloping fairway's undulations are particularly severe in the usual landing areas for the players (between 240 and 270 out from what I saw) and you could easily end up with a sidehill or sidehill-downhill lie.  From the fairway, which is protected by a ridge all the way down the left, it can also be difficult to gauge what the wind is doing over the last half of your approach shot.  On Saturday morning, which was generally calm, a lot of players couldn't figure out that there was a decently-strong wind helping them and hence went to the back or over the green.  What's more, even though the last 100 yards or so of the fairway slope gently uphill, the green kind of funnels toward its back-right quadrant, except for a diagonal running across the 1st 1/3 of the green that's still uphill.  With pins in the middle and right of the green the 1st 3 days, the course set-up hasn't even brought the 2 traps guarding the left side of the green into play.  Wonder if they'll go back left Sunday?  There's a little mound there that can make things interesting....

#5 (par 5, 503 yards):  As I mentioned before, this hole begins a make-or-break stretch on Grey Silo, where you'll find a lot of birdie opportunities.  I saw Hannah Yun and Mina Harigae hit this par 5 in 2, but I also saw some pretty big mistakes, including Ryann O'Toole losing her momentum on Thursday when it took her 3 shots to get the ball in the hole from 25 feet away from the pin and bogeys from a previously-flawless Anna Nordqvist on Friday and from Na Yeon Choi and Hanna Kang on Saturday.  What makes this short par-5 dangerous is a huge pond that comes into play on the drive and 2nd shot.  The closer you get to it, the shorter your attempt to reach it in 2 is (and the designers encourage you to go for it by having the fairway bulge out just past a trap that's an easy carry for most players), but if you try that, your angle to the green on this sharp dogleg left is much tougher.  Plus, you're hitting uphill to a green that's protected by a trap on the right and a pair of terraced traps on the left that are well below the raised surface of the back-left quadrant of the green.  With a small mound in its front-right quadrant, as well, there's a kind of valley that runs diagonally through the middle of the green, wider at the front and back than in the very middle of it.  So it's easy to make the 2nd shot to this par 5 a big risk-reward decision, as the course set-up people did on Saturday by sticking the pin in the middle of that back-left tier and forcing most players to try to play a draw that threads the needle between the front-right and front-left bunkers that guard the green and chase it toward the pin.  Even though this is an easy par 5 if you play it safe, most players I saw decided the reward was worth the risk and I did see a lot of birdies on this hole.

#6 (par 5, 522 yards):  This is another neat little birdie hole, with another trap you can aim over to a speed slot into another leftward bulge in the fairway that cuts into the pond and wetlands that run to the end of the 1st half of the fairway (which is separated from the 2nd half by a 10-yard-thick strip of rough that the longest hitters on tour might have to worry about).  Even if you're not long enough or accurate enough to challenge that trap off the tee, you can aim right of it and still get a kick forward, although the righter you go, the more your ball will kick to the right instead of forward.  From there, it's all uphill to a green that's protected by a trap about 50 yards short right of it and a trio of traps just to the left of it, so you have to decide if you want to lay back short of that right trap or try to put it into the neck between the traps.  I didn't see many players take advantage of the bailout area past the right trap and to the right of the green; most chose instead to get as close to the left traps as possible on Saturday, despite the fact that the pin was cut front left, right under another back-left-quadrant mound (this one steeper than the one on the 5th).  But I think if the pin is back-left Sunday, you'll see more players going there.  This is another great hole for spectators, with another hilly amphitheatre-style viewing area behind the green, but it can be tough for players, as there's a lot of foot traffic near the nearby 7th tee and 12 green because that's where spectators enter the course, plus there are sounds of construction and loud trucks off to the right, as well.

#7 (par 4, 417 yards):  The longest par 4 on the course is one of the trickiest, too, as the main landing area for the players is guarded on the right by a huge, deep trap with a mound that's too far for all but the longest on tour to blast it by and narrows down to a real bottleneck on the left with a trio of traps that come into play despite being overshadowed visually from the tee by a pot bunker on the left side of the fairway well short of the closest one.  We're talking a 20-yard needle to thread at about 260 yards out (which might seem like nothing to golfers just coming off of Locust Hill, but is quite a contrast to most of the driving holes at Grey Silo).  But just about everyone I watched challenged it, and most made it.  It's easy to find the left rough past it, though, and with an uphill shot to a green that's guarded by a deep bunker to its front right and has a back-left to front-right ridge running through it that kicks shots leftwards, even a 130-yard shot can be a real challenge.  So far they've kept the pins to the front and right/back-right of the green to bring that front-right trap into play.  Wonder if they'll give them a break on Sunday after a nasty one right behind the trap today?

#8 (par 4, 328 yards): This is a neat-little risk-reward hole.  You can lay up with a 5-wood or hybrid, staying away from the pond on the left, the wetlands to the right, and trap that defines the end of the fat part of the fairway.  Or you could take a 3-wood or driver and try to get it past that trap into the sharply-uphill neck of the fairway just to its right--or be even bolder and trust that your draw off the right wetlands will find the right-bulging area of the fairway that runs all the way up to the right side of the green.  I don't see the point of it, and most players saw it my way, but on Friday Stacy Lewis put it in the neck and Kirby Dreher just missed it (neither made birdie, although Ai did when she layed up--the only birdie I saw in 21 tries, even with a very accessible position right in the middle of the green on Saturday and no position that's particularly tough).  I saw one of the best pars of the week on this hole, as Na Yeon Choi pulled her lay-up into the pond and got up-and-down from the rough.  What made her shot so impressive was what made it difficult for everyone else to stick their approaches:  a highly-elevated green that's much more affected by the wind than you can feel from the fairway and nothing nearby to help you figure out what it's doing up there.  I don't know why players have had so much difficulty making putts on this green, as there are small mounds at 9 o'clock and 12 o'clock but not too much undulation otherwise.  Maybe having the first fairly flat green in a long while throws them off?  Or is it crowd noise from the 4th green?

#9 (par 3, 174 yards):  This is a less-nasty preview of #17 (on which more later), with a kidney-shaped green like #3 with the mounded trap in front rather than to the left.  The wind definitely affects your tee shots in a big way and you might have to deal with some crowd noise from the 4th fairway.  There is a little bit of a kind of crescent-moon-shaped backstop near the back of the green, but it's the big mound off that deep front bunker that will affect approach shots the most.  Missing long or right isn't death, but it's close.  There's no need to take a huge risk on this hole with so many birdies elsewhere on the course.  Amy Yang came into it having birdied 4 of her 1st 8 holes, lost her approach right of the green, made bogey, and lost all her momentum, turning what could have been a super-low round into a disappointing 68 today.  Looking ahead to the final round, I wonder if we'll see a front left pin on 9?  That would be the most accessible quadrant, and it hasn't been used yet....

I know Brittany Lang thinks the back is easier than the front (and for her it is, as she's torn up the last 3 holes every day, going -6 over those 9 holes already!), but I think if you're on, you can go even lower under par on the front than the back (Exhibit A: Sandra Changkija's 30 on Thursday; Exhibit B: So Yeon Ryu's 31 on Friday).  Lexi Thompson is -6 on 5 and 6 alone this week, for crying out loud!  But it can also hurt you badly, as 38s by Shanshan Feng and Suzann Pettersen today show.  All in all, a very interesting side!

Manulife Financial LPGA Classic Friday: Going Low and Going Home

It was truly the best of times and the worst of times at Grey Silo during the 2nd round of the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, which only ended a few minutes ago this morning, thanks to Thursday's big storm and Friday's big race to the finish, which saw all but 7 players complete their rounds as play was called for darkness at 9:22 pm. 

On the bright side, many golfers had great rounds Friday, including from the morning wave (when conditions were a bit easier) Stacy Lewis (bogey-free 64), Brittany Lang (65), and Nicole Hage (65), from the afternoon wave leader Inbee Park (64, -9), So Yeon Ryu (bogey-free 65), Karrie Webb (65), and Victoria Tanco (bogey-free 65).  In all, 13 players have gone sub-70 twice already, 28 have 2 sub-par rounds in a row, and 58 are under par for the tournament thus far.  There are 27 players within 5 shots of Park's lead, including Shanshan Feng, who's looking to make it 2 wins in a row, Hee Kyung Seo, who's looking to come back from the disappointment of giving up a 3-shot lead with 5 holes to play at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Brittany Lang, who's looking to turn her 2012 around, and huge names like Lexi Thompson (-7), Lewis (-6), Paula Creamer (-5), Suzann Pettersen (-4), and Amy Yang (-4), and Angela Stanford (-4).  Heck, Michelle Wie even made the cut!  (I'm particularly pleased to see one of my favorite golfers, Seon Hwa Lee, in the top 20 after 2 rounds, along with Jeon Jang!)  Even for those not tearing up Grey Silo as of yet, the cut line, which had been bouncing between E and +1 all day, ended up at +1, letting 79 golfers play into the weekend.  Among those saved were 3 Canadians, Lorie Kane, Alena Sharp, and Rebecca-Lee Bentham!

On the down side, many of my favorite golfers missed the cut, chief among them Ai Miyazato (74-75), Tiffany Joh (73-72), Hannah Yun (70-75), and Moira Dunn (69-76).  Moira took a quad and a triple on Friday and left the 9th green so frustrated she didn't even recognize me.  The normally voluble and upbeat T-Joh could barely bring herself to shake my hand before heading back to the clubhouse with her group on the long cart drive back to the clubhouse after averaging 32.5 putts per round at Grey Silo and failing to birdie a single par 5.  (More on Ai-sama's and Hannah's rounds a little later.)  Other players for whom Waterloo turned out to be their Waterloo included Azahara Munoz (despite a Friday 68), Hee-Won Han, Pat Hurst (who opened with a 68), Christina Kim, Caroline Hedwall, Ryann O'Toole, Pernilla Lindberg, Jenny Shin, Mitsuki Katahira, and Samantha Richdale.  (More on O'Toole and Katahira later.)

OK, so I want to get to the 1st tee by 9:20 am to follow Na Yeon Choi, Mina Harigae, and Hanna Kang.  If I'm jinxing them, I can drop back to Momoko Ueda, Meena Lee, and Angela Oh behind them, or Morgan Pressel, Mindy Kim, and Anna Grzebien after them.  The key later group I want to follow is the Amy Yang, Seon Hwa Lee, and Angela Stanford trio at 11:30.  Given the state of my back and blisters and the fact that I've taken in enough sun the last 2 days to be radioactive--not to mention I need time to write up, like, a thousand posts--I'm going to be heading back to the media center to watch Golf Channel's coverage from 3-6 pm.  So:  another long day.  Got to get ready to face it now!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Long Day at Grey Silo...and It's Not Over!

Just spent 12 hours on the course at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.  So much to report--great leaderboard, spills and thrills from the players I followed, cute animal moments, interviews with Ai Miyazato and Mitsuki Katahira--but I'm heading out to the back 9 again to see if Hannah Yun can stay on the right side of the cut line.  Won't be decided until tomorrow am, but have been really enjoying seeing her play good golf!  More later....

Manulife Financial LPGA Classic Thursday: Ryann O'Toole's Big Rally Kill

Ryann O'Toole got off to a bad start on the back 9 in her 1st round yesterday at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, but she had a chance to turn it all around as she made the turn with a birdie on 18 that got her back to +1 and back-to-back birdies on the 2nd and 3rd holes to get into red figures for the 1st time all day. I didn't see the birdie on 18, but I did get to see her play the 2nd and 3rd perfectly, splitting the fairway on the former and sticking her approach, then sticking another one on the latter. Even though she missed a 15-foot uphill birdie attempt on the long par-4 4th, which was playing short because the wind was behind her, she still had plenty of mo' heading into the short par-5 5th and 6th holes, which were playing even shorter than their yardages because the fairways were running out and the wind was still helping her.

But O'Toole squandered it all when she failed to get up and down for birdie from the back fringe on the 503-yard 5th after hitting a great drive and a fantastic approach from about 200 yards out. When it takes you 3 shots to get the ball in the hole from less than 25 feet away from it, it's hard to recover. And it was hard for Ryann: when she put her drive on the 522-yard 6th in the left rough, she had to play the hole conservatively and couldn't sink a 15-footer for birdie. Then things went from bad to worse when she charged her 12-foot birdie putt on the longest par 4 on the course, the 417-yard 7th, and failed to get her comebacker par save attempt to drop. Finally, her problems migrated from her putter to her irons, when she left herself with very long birdie putts on the short par-4 8th and medium-length par-3 9th.

In the end, O'Toole shot an even-par 71, which she probably would have taken after she bogeyed 3 of her 1st 7 holes, but which can't feel nearly so good after standing on the 5th tee having played her previous 5 holes in -3. She's going to get a lot of time to stew about that finish, as she isn't scheduled to tee off until 4:39 pm today. At least she gets a chance to get revenge right away, as she starts on the 1st!