Monday, July 30, 2012

Evian Masters Weekend: Inbee Park Putts for Dough, 2nd Career LPGA Victory

Inbee Park was not the best ball-striker over the weekend at the Evian Masters, but she put on a putting and short game clinic the likes of which hasn't been seen in a long time on the LPGA.  When the dust settled, Park ended up at -17, having taken only 98 putts over 72 holes, for a 2-shot victory over Stacy Lewis and Karrie Webb, who hit 15 and 19 more greens in regulation than Park did for the week, respectively, but just couldn't get the ball in the hole as quickly or as consistently as the now-2-time-LPGA winner.

Lewis was -12 through her 1st 25 holes, but went +1 over her next 43 before finishing birdie-birdie-par-eagle.  Webb, meanwhile, missed only 9 greens all week, but wasn't putting the ball as close to the pin as consistently as Lewis was.  Even though she, too, put on a great final charge, going -4 over her last 7 holes, it was just too little, too late to put enough pressure on Park.  The 2008 U.S. Women's Open champion went through troubles of her own, taking 15 holes to return to -12, after having gotten there with a birdie on the 10th hole on Saturday, but once she got there, with a birdie on the par-5 7th on Sunday, she never looked back, going -5 over her last 11 holes to knock a lot of golfers playing really well back on their heels.

Like Paula Creamer, who really got her putter going this week.  Sure, just like Lewis and Park, she endured a rough patch on Saturday, ending her 36-hole bogey-free run on the very 1st hole, then negating her 2 birdies on the back with back-to-back bogeys.  And she was +1 through her 1st 6 holes Sunday, falling all the way back to -7 for the week.  But then she made 4 birdies in a row, including a 40-footer on the 10th, to fight back to -11.  Even though she couldn't buy a birdie the rest of the way and had to settle for T9 at -10, it must have been fun to be back in the hunt at different times this week.  I think it's a sign of things to come the rest of the season.

Or how about Cristie Kerr, who was putting with a lot of confidence all week.  A 6-birdie 67 on Saturday got her into the mix, and when she birdied both closing par 5s on the front, she was -10 heading into her final 9.  Sure, she faded, too, but it was a great ball-striking week and a better week with the putter than her stats indicated.

How about players closer to the top of the leaderboard than Creamer and Kerr?  Let's start with Natalie Gulbis, who started off the season playing really well, endured a mini-slump in her last several starts, but came back with a bang at the site of her 1st and only LPGA victory.  After a 69-69-68 start, it looked like the altitude (double digits under par, high up the leaderboard, as near to the final pairing on Sunday as she was to Lake Geneva) was getting to her at the start of her final round, as she bogeyed 2 of her 1st 3 holes and needed great scrambles for most of her 1st 6 just to keep the damage to that.  But then she birdied 7 and 8 and just missed a birdie on 9 and boom, she was back in the mix at -10 heading into her final 9.  Unlike Creamer and Kerr, she finished strong, with 3 birdies in a row early on the back and 2 in a row to close out the tournament.  Except for failing to birdie the par-5 15th and bogeying the short par-4 16th (just like Creamer), she played great on the back.  Just not well enough to beat Park.

What about the winner of the Wegmans LPGA Championship, Shanshan Feng?  She seemed to have knocked herself out of the tournament when she went on a 3-hole bogey train late in her 2nd round, but she went 68-66 over the weekend, highlighted by a hole-out for eagle from the back trap on her 72nd hole, to force everyone still on the course to really buckle down over their closing holes.  Great effort and maybe even a little better Sunday round than the one that got her her 1st LPGA win and major, but not enough to stop her fellow dual-LPGA-JLPGA member.

Speaking of golfers who have played great on multiple tours this year, how about that 17-year-old amateur Hyo-Joo Kim?  She hit the ball well enough to win this week--something she's already done on the KLPGA and JLPGA.  She put together 4 rounds in the 60s (something only Gulbis was also able to achieve) and took only 102 putts all week.  If the birdies had started dropping sooner for her on Sunday than over her last 4 holes (where she made 3, including her last 2 in a row), she really could have given Park a run for her money.  Of everyone in the field, she probably was closest to having the speed of the greens down as well as Park did.

How about Anna Nordqvist, who fist-pumped her way to 6 Sunday birdies that brought her to -12, good enough to finish alone in 7th?   She was fantastic over her final 3 rounds, going 67-69-68, but she wasn't quite fantastic enough, making 4 bogeys and a double despite hitting 11 more greens than Park during the week.

Other players had their chances--Se Ri Pak at -11 was steady but never spectacular, Beatriz Recari and Ilhee Lee at -10 bounced back nicely from Saturday collapses that cost them a chance to win, Momoko Ueda fired 3 69s, including 2 over the weekend, to finish T12 with Kerr, Guilia Sergas, and Karine Icher and take low Japanese player from Mika Miyazato (-8, T16 with Azahara Munoz, Meena Lee, Lindsey Wright, and Lee-Anne Pace) and Ai Miyazato (-7, T21), Hee Young Park was doubled digits under par with 4 holes to go using the long putter for the 1st time this week, but finished with 3 bogeys in a row and a mere par on the final hole to finish tied with Ai-sama and Julieta Granada--but they couldn't put it all together the way those who finished ahead of them did.

But they certainly have more positives to take away from the week than Suzann Pettersen, Ji-Yai Shin, and Carlota Ciganda, who closed with 74s, So Yeon Ryu, who went 72-73 over the weekend, and Cheyenne Woods, who played great for 3 rounds but stumbled to a Sunday 78.  In-Kyung Kim, Amy Yang, and Hee Kyung Seo had fewer downs, but also fewer ups, as they, too finished in the middle of the pack.  Perhaps the biggest surprise (and disappointment) was U.S. Women's Open champion Na Yeon Choi, who opened with a 75 and failed to break 70 the rest of the way (although she did beat Kraft Nabisco Championship winner Sun Young Yoo, who closed with a 75, by a single shot).

All in all, though, with so many players from all around the world in the mix heading into the final 9, and so many spills and thrills from so many of them, the final playing of the Evian Masters as a regular-season event before it becomes a major next year had an Olympics-like feel to it.  Hats off to Inbee Park!  She deserves a week off before playing in the Jamie Farr the 2nd week of August.  (Apparently, Shanshan Feng feels differently, as she's headed to Japan to defend her Meiji Cup title!)

Surprises & Disappointments 2012 - "Part 2"

It has been more than three months since I last took a look at the surprises and disappointments on this year's LPGA Tour. Many things have changed since then, so I think it is time to take another look.

Biggest Surprises:

1- So Yeon Ryu - She was my Rookie of the Year pick before the season started. I think we all expected her to have a good year, but even I didn't think it would be this good. She currently leads the Rookie of the Year standings by quite a big margin and shows no signs of letting up. Although she has not won this year, she has six top-five finishes and seven top tens. She has yet to miss a cut in her 19 career starts.

2- Stacy Lewis - She was ranked #10 in the Rolex Rankings at the start of the year, so I expected more progress from her as she gained more experience. This much progress I didn't expect. She has moved all the way up to #2 in the official world rankings. She is currently #1 on the money list and #1 on the Rolex Player of the Year standings. She not only has won twice this year, but has 3 second-place finishes, nine top fives, and ten top tens. With Yani Tseng in the midst of a horrific slump, Stacy has taken over as the tour's most dominant player.

3- Azahara Munoz - The 2010 Rolex Rookie of the Year winner just keeps getting better and better. She won her first tournament this year, at the Sybase Match Play Championship. Azahara has showed no signs of slowing down as she now has five top-five finishes this year. She started the year #40 in the Rolex Rankings; she is now #14.

4- Natalie Gulbis - Back problems the last few years had derailed her career. Now healthy, Natalie has come up big in some very big golf tournaments. Her eighth-place finish at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the year's first major, was her first top ten in quite awhile. She followed that up with a ninth-place finish, and finished fourth at the Evian Masters this past weekend.

5- Jenny Shin - Has cooled a bit after her strong start, but her top-five finish and four top tens tell me she has a bright future.

6- Karin Sjodin - This is Karin's 7th year on tour and she has never done anything to get excited about. That has changed this year as she has finished in the top ten in three tournaments.

7- Jodi Ewart - Jodi has only missed 2 cuts this entire season. Two top-ten finishes tell me she is someone to watch. Let's see if she can maintain her improved play and make my year-end list.

8- Giulia Sergas - Giulia fell off the end of the earth last year, missing seven consecutive cuts at one point. This year she has played her best in big tournaments. She finished 9th at the Kraft Nabisco, 4th at the U.S. Open, and 12th this past weekend at the Evian Masters.

9- Se-Ri Pak - Why do I have a Hall of Famer on here? She has been playing hurt almost all year. She announced she is shutting it down for what could be the rest of the season. Why is she a surprise? She has made all 8 cuts this year (she did have one withdrawal due to injury), and has four top tens. Her worst finish was 25th. Imagine if she were healthy.

10- Hyo-Joo Kim - Yes, I know she is an amateur and also know this 17-year-old is not an LPGA member. But how can I leave her off this list? She has only 2 starts on the LPGA this year, finishing 12th at the Lotte LPGA Championship, and 4th this past weekend at Evian. She became Japan's youngest winner when she won the Suntory Ladies Open at 16 years old. She also has a victory on the Korean Tour. The next superstar? Sure looks that way.

Biggest Disappointments:

1- Song-Hee Kim - She has owned this spot for 2 years in a row. She will not be on it next year as I have no more expectations for her whatsoever. How quickly she has fallen is totally unexplainable. She has only made 3 cuts the entire season. Her best finish this year is 33rd place. Her 76.86 scoring average ranks her 144 of 146 players ranked. She currently is #135 on the money list and retaining her LPGA card for next year is looking bleak.

2- Christina Kim - She has been just plain awful for the better part of two years now. Christina has made only 5 of 14 cuts, with her best finish 49th. Her 74.54 scoring average ranks her 120th. She is currently #106 on the money list. She must turn it around quickly or we won't be seeing much of her at all next year.

3- Michelle Wie - I am through making excuses for her. I have used youth, school, and anything else I could come up with to defend her. I give up. It has all unraveled this season. She is having trouble with every phase of her game. Her best finish in a stroke-play event was 35th place at the U.S. Open. Her per round average last year was a solid 71.96, ranking her 24th. This year it is 74.81, ranking her 126th. The only thing she has going for her is that she has earned six paychecks this year, and her current #86 spot on the money list shouldn't put her playing time in jeopardy.

4- Mindy Kim - It has all gone wrong for Mindy this year. She has missed her last 3 cuts, 4 of the last 5, and 9 in all this year. Her scoring average of nearly 74 is by far the worst in her career. She needs to step it up some to maintain her full playing privileges for next year.

5- Tiffany Joh - Her successful rookie season last year led us to expect some good things from Tiffany this year. That has been far from the case. She has missed the cut in 5 of the last 6 tournaments and 8 times already this year. Her best finish this year is 43rd. Her 74.38 scoring average ranks 116th on tour and she is currently #96 on the money list. She better step it up very quickly, or playing time will be an issue next year.

6- Morgan Pressel - Morgan has slipped out of the top 20 in the Rolex Rankings for the first time in quite awhile. Although she finished third at the Sybase Match Play Championship, her best stroke-play finish is 20th place. She is not having a terrible season, but her 50th-ranked 72.62 scoring average is not what we are accustomed to seeing. With her upcoming wedding, maybe her concentration is divided.

7- Amanda Blumenherst - Amanda started the year with a bang, finishing 5th at the Honda Classic. Her entire game seems to have fallen apart since. In her last 13 tournaments she has failed to finish higher than 31st. She has also missed the cut in 7 of the last 9 events she has played in. Her 74.18 scoring average ranks her 107th. Fortunately for her, that early top 5 finish assures her full-time status next year. Like Pressel, she is also getting married at the end of the year and her attention may be divided.

T8 - Sophie Gustafson and Maria Hjorth - No playing cards in danger here, but wouldn't you expect that one of these veteran stars would have at least one top ten? Neither has been in contention all season.

10- Ryann O'Toole - As is the case with Tiffany Joh, you have to question whether last year was a fluke. Ryann has missed the cut in 8 of her 15 tournaments this season. Though her numbers are much better than Tiffany's, her 73.57 scoring average could be better. She has made enough money to retain her card, but her inconsistent play leads me to question her long-term future.

I will review this again at the season's end.

Other Tidbits:
Stacy Lewis's eagle on the final hole of the Evian Masters this past weekend was her 7th of the season, which leads the tour.

Stacy Lewis's 2nd-place finish this past weekend was her 9th top-5 finish this year. No other player has more than 6.

Titleholders Update:
Natalie Gulbis, Beatriz Recari, and Paula Creamer are the latest to qualify. Catriona Matthew is now the highest-ranked player on the LPGA priority list yet to get in.

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Week:
Inbee Park moves from #21 to #15. Hyo-Joo Kim (a) moves from # 83 to #60. Natalie Gulbis moves from #88 to #69.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Evian Masters Friday: Stacy Lewis Gets to -12 Early, Then Stalls, Opening Door a Bit

Stacy Lewis started yesterday's round at the Evian Masters just as hot as she ended Thursday 's, with a birdie on the par-4 4th and an eagle on the par-5 7th to get to -12 for the week, but she cooled off after that, needing 2 birdies in her last 4 holes just to get back there.  Still, she holds onto a slim 1-shot lead over Ilhee Lee, who followed up yesterday's 66 with a bogey-free 67 yesterday.  Lewis has had a hot putter so far this week, but Lee has been incandescent, taking only 49 putts over her 1st 36 holes.  Only Julieta Granada, who put up a 65 today with only 20 putts, has taken as few strokes on the greens as Lee. 

But lots of golfers have their putters working for them in Evian, most notably Paula Creamer, who's only 3 shots off the lead on the strength of a 36 hole-and-counting bogey-free run in which she's gone 68-67 with only 55 putts, a particularly impressive number given that she's hit 28 greens in regulation.  Inbee Park, who shot the low round of the day, a bogey-free 64 with only 24 putts, joined her at -9; she's hit 23 greens so far and taken only 51 putts in all.  Mika Miyazato, one of the very few players in the field to be hitting the ball and putting as well as Lewis and Creamer thus far, is alone at -8 after a bogey-free 69 today; she's hit 29 greens and taken 57 putts.  Hee Young Park, who got it to -10 with 7 holes to play, responded with 4 bogeys in that stretch but got it back to -7 with a walkoff birdie; despite her hiccups, she's got the same GIR and putting stats as Mikan, even though she has hit fewer fairways.  Ditto for Beatriz Recari, who put up a 66 on Friday.  Teenage amateur Hyo-Joo Kim, meanwhile, also has her putter working for her, with 52 putts thus far, but she's hit only 26 greens in regulation, so joins the group at -7 for the week after a 68 yesterday (which, by the way, included an eagle on the par-5 9th!).  So Yeon Ryu, who matched Granada's Friday 65, has taken 60 putts with 29 greens in regulation, so she's another shot back at -6.  Ji-Yai Shin, who shot her 2nd-straight 69 in her 2nd tournament back after a long layoff due to hand surgery, has been hitting the ball as well as anyone (25 fairways, 31 greens in regulation), but has taken 61 putts.  Azahara Munoz, Meena Lee, and Natalie Gulbis have been hitting the ball a little worse than Ryu and Shin, but have putted a bit better, and they, too, are half a dozen shots off the pace.

Even those more than 6 shots back are still in this thing, given how many eagles are out there on the course.  Both Amy Yang and Cristie Kerr both finished birdie-eagle to climb to -4, tied with the likes of fellow eagler Hee Kyung Seo (hers came on the par-5 15th from the fairway with a little wedge), Suzann Pettersen, Shanshan Feng, Brittany Lang, and Cheyenne Woods.  Anna Nordqvist didn't get an eagle, but she did shoot a 67 to join Granada and a pair of Hall of Famers (Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak) at -5.  Brittany Lincicome and Christina Kim bounced back from opening 73s with fine 67s, as well.  Jessica Korda made an even more impressive comeback, improving 10 shots on Thursday's 77 yesterday.  So you're never quite out of it at Evian.  Me, I'm hoping defending champion Ai Miyazato can get her ball-striking to the level of her putting over the weekend, as she's hanging around at -3 with countrywoman Momoko Ueda, Kraft Nabisco Championship winner Sun Young Yoo, and KLPGA star Ha-Neul Kim, among others.

Correction:  you are out of it if you fail to make the cut.  And that's just what happened to Ya Ni Tseng, Angela Stanford, Vicky Hurst, Morgan Pressel, Tiffany Joh, Lexi Thompson, Melissa Reid, Candie Kung, Ryann O'Toole, and many others.  But I was glad to see promising young players like Mina Harigae, Jennifer Song, and Danielle Kang hang in there and live to play the weekend.

Moving day action has already started, so once again, I'll warn you not to click onto links for the players' scorecards if you do click on the link above, which takes you to the 2nd-round scoreboard only.  Golf Channel coverage starts at 1 pm today, so take a break this afternoon from the Olympics and see if Stacy Lewis and Paula Creamer can continue to lead the way for Team USA!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Evian Masters Thursday: Stacy Lewis's 7-Hole Birdie Run Lifts Her to 2-Shot Lead after Opening 63

Bad 1st rounds have been holding back America's top female golfer this summer, but yesterday at the Evian Masters Stacy Lewis rode a 7-hole birdie train midway through her round and closed it out with 2 more in a row to get that particular monkey off her back and send it packing with a bogey-free 63 that gave her a 2-shot lead over Hee Young Park and a 3-shot lead over Ilhee Lee.  With Mika Miyazato and Mariajo Uribe at -5 and Paula Creamer and Shanshan Feng at -4, there are very few golfers within 5 shots of Lewis heading into today's round. 

Among the big names hoping to make up some ground on them are Suzann Pettersen, Ji-Yai Shin, In-Kyung Kim, Momoko Ueda, Natalie Gulbis, and Sandra Gal at -3, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Azahara Munoz, and Ha-Neul Kim at -2, and Juli Inkster, Helen Alfredsson, Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato, Hee Kyung Seo, Inbee Park, Brittany Lang, and Cheyenne Woods at -1.  Given how low scoring tends to be, anyone at par or worse needs to be aware of where the cut line will be.  That includes Amy Yang and Anna Nordqvist at E, Laura Davies, So Yeon Ryu, Sun Young Yoo, Brittany Lincicome, Michelle Wie, Melissa Reid, Jennifer Song, and Carlota Ciganda at +1, Catriona Matthew, Kristy McPherson, Vicky Hurst, Lexi Thompson, Katie Futcher, Shin-Ae Ahn, and Kaori Ohe at +2, Na Yeon Choi, Eun-Hee Ji, Mina Harigae, Ryann O'Toole, and Danielle Kang at +3, and Ya Ni Tseng, Morgan Pressel, Angela Stanford, and Miki Saiki at +4.

Sorry to hit you with the list of names, but if you watched Golf Channel's coverage last night, they never once showed even the 2nd page of the leaderboard, much less a crawl of everyone's scores.  If you're hesitant to click on the above link because you hate spoilers, don't worry, it goes only to the 1st-round results.  But don't click on any player's name, because her individual scoring page includes details about today's round, too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

LPGA Denies Ariya Jutanugarn's Q-School Petition

Ariya Jutanugarn's petition to enter Q-School this year has been denied by the LPGA. Jutanugarn, who is 16 years old, will turn 17 on November 23rd. The LPGA rule states that a player must turn 18 years old by January 1 to be eligible for the qualifying process.

Ariya's primary reason for filing this petition was that her sister Moriya Jutanugarn, 17 and turning 18 on July 28, is going to Q-School and the younger sister wants to play alongside her older sister.

"I feel sad because they tell me I'm too young," Jutanugarn said. "I think I have a chance to qualify at Q-School for the LPGA, I just want to try."

Lexi Thompson, who filed at the same age as Ariya, was granted permission last year by the LPGA.  Lexi went on to win the first phase of Q-School by 10 shots. She then won the LPGA Navistar Classic and was given her LPGA card by commissioner Michael Whan.

My Opinion:

Ariya is a very good player, already better than her older sister. In her two starts on the LPGA this year, she finished T12 at the Honda LPGA Thailand Championship and T22 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

That said, I still agree with the decision. The LPGA will still be there for her a year from now.
Lexi Thompson was an exception to the rule, as she proved by setting a record in winning on the LPGA at 16 years of age. If Ariya had won on the LPGA Tour, then the commissioner would have been forced to do the same.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Evian Masters Preview & Pairings

After a two-week break, the LPGA resumes its schedule this week with the playing of the Evian Masters Presented by Societe Generale. This is tournament number 15 of 27 on this year's schedule. Next year this tournament will be the tour's fifth major championship.

Here are some details:

Course: Evian Masters Golf Club
Location: Evian-les-Bains, France
Defending Champion: Ai Miyazato
Winning Score:  68-68-67-70 = 273 (-15)

Final Field: 111 Players
Par: 36/36 = 72
Yardage: 6,334 yards
Purse: $3.250 Million

My strength of field rating is 75%, making it the second-strongest field of the year. The top 33 golfers on the LPGA priority list are all teeing it up this week.

Here Re the Pairings and Tee Times for the first 2 Rounds:

Here are the television times:
Jul 26 - GC 6:30 PM-8:30 PM EST
Jul 27 - GC 6:30 PM-8:30 PM EST
Jul 28 - GC 1:00 PM-6:00 PM EST
Jul 29 - GC 6:00 AM-11:00 AM EST

For all those who are interested in watching the telecast, I would advise not going to any websites for results the first 3 days of the tournament, as the final day's results will be posted before the television broadcast. It appears Sunday's final round broadcast will be live. I will not post results (and I am asking The Constructivist to hold back also), until after the broadcast is complete.

Other Tidbits:
Cheyenne Woods, once again, has received a sponsor exemption this week.
The tour's next stop, the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic, has announced that their sponsor exemptions will go to University of Alabama graduate Brooke Pancake and Duke University junior Lindy Duncan.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Esther Choe in Playoff to Make It 3 Wins on Symetra Tour in 3 Starts

Former teen prodigy Esther Choe has been playing great this year on the Symetra Tour, winning the 1st 2 events she played on it this season, and pretty decently on the Ladies European Tour, where she's 50th on their money list in only 7 starts.  Well, this week, she was the only player to shoot 3 rounds under par in Concord, New Hampshire, and as a result of a late bogey barrage from veteran Jenny Gleason, she now finds herself in a playoff with a "battlefield promotion" to the LPGA at stake.  Stay tuned!

[Update 1 (5:16 pm):  The twitterati are congratulating Jenny Gleason!  Gleason has 6 LPGA starts in which she's won less than $7K and 2 previous Symetra Tour starts in which she's won less than $4K, so this is a big deal.  Gleason was 6th on the Symetra Tour money list in 2005 and 9th last season.   Too bad for Choe, but at least she extended her lead on Leah Wigger on the money list with her runner-up finish....]

Samantha Thavasa Ladies Sunday: Megumi Kido Seals 1st Win with Bogey-Free Final-9 32

Things were looking bad for 22-year-old Megumi Kido as she made the turn today at the Samantha Thavasa Ladies.  The golfer who had gone 66-66 in the 1st 2 rounds on the strength of a 35-hole bogey-free run had just double-bogeyed the 143-yard par-3 9th hole to drop back to -10 and into a tie with former world #1 Ji-Yai Shin (playing in the group ahead of her) and JLPGA legend Yuri Fudoh (one of her playing partners), who both fired bogey-free 33s on the front to chase her down.  1 shot behind her was her other playing partner, 2012 money-list leader Mi-Jeong Jeon, who had just birdied the 9th.  On top of that, Eun-Bi Jang had already posted a 66 to finish at -9.  She was in danger of going from a 4-shot lead with 18 to play to falling out of the top 10 if she didn't bounce back quickly--a big deal for someone who had made the top 50 on the JLPGA money list for the 1st time in 4 tries just last year, who was struggling to stay in the top 40 this season.

Then Fudoh and Jeon both birdied the 355-yard par-4 10th.  Kido responded with a birdie of her own.

Then Jeon birdied the 506-yard par-5 11th.  Kido matched it to stay 1-up on both golfers.

Then Jeon made her 4th birdie in a row on the 163-yard par-3.  Kido parred.

After everyone in the hunt parred the 372-yard par-4 13th, Kido started applying some pressure of her own with a birdie on the 394-yard par-4 14th.  And when 1st Shin and next Fudoh could only par the 524-yard par-5 15th and Jeon bogeyed it, a Kido par extended her lead to 2.

And that's where it stayed, with Kido adding a birdie on the 386-yard par-4 17th to get to -14, Shin and Jeon a birdie on the 367-yard par-4 18th and Fudoh a bogey to finish at -11, -12, and -10, respectively.  Yes, So-Hee Kim had earlier posted a bogey-free 66 to get to -11, but the big story was that Kido held off the best players in the field (besides Sakura Yokomine who finished at -6, Na Yeon Choi who settled for -5, and Chie Arimura who needed a 69 today to get to -4) on the strength of a bogey-free back-9 32.

Oh, and she moved 20 spots up the JLPGA money list from last week!

1. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥78.46M
2. Mayu Hattori ¥51.62M
3. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥51.53M
4. Ritsuko Ryu ¥50.18M
5. Miki Saiki ¥49.39M
6. Chie Arimura ¥48.12M
7. Ji-Hee Lee ¥45.19M
8. Sakura Yokomine ¥36.54M
9. Bo-Mee Lee ¥36.23M
10. Rikako Morita ¥32.57M
11. Inbee Park ¥29.62M
12. Hiromi Mogi ¥28.33M
13. Soo-Yun Kang ¥27.67M
14. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥25.42M
15. Mihoko Iseri ¥25.04M
16. Shanshan Feng ¥24.28M
17. Kaori Ohe ¥22.71M
18. Megumi Kido ¥21.97M
19. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥21.12M
20. Yuki Ichinose ¥18.94M
21. Ji-Yai Shin ¥17.78M
22. Erina Hara ¥17.58M
23. Yuri Fudoh ¥16.84M
24. Esther Lee ¥16.64M
25. Airi Saitoh ¥16.37M
26. Ayako Uehara ¥16.34M
27. Yukari Baba ¥15.92M
28. Bo-Bae Song ¥15.63M
29. Akane Iijima ¥15.31M
30. Teresa Lu ¥14.62M
31. Yumiko Yoshida ¥14.62M
32. So-Hee Kim ¥14.62M
33. Erika Kikuchi ¥14.03M
34. Na-Ri Lee¥13.93M
35. Shinobu Moromizato ¥13.24M
36. Rui Kitada ¥13.13M
37. Miki Sakai ¥12.72M
38. Yeo-Jin Kang ¥12.30M
39. Yuko Fukuda ¥11.57M
40. Young Kim¥10.86M
41. Na-Ri Kim ¥10.71M
42. Harukyo Nomura ¥10.08M
43. Kumiko Kaneda ¥9.65M
44. Da-Ye Na ¥9.42M
45. Eun-Bi Jang ¥9.38M
46. Asako Fujimoto¥8.81M
47. Natsu Nagai ¥8.58M
48. Junko Omote¥7.81M
49. Shiho Toyonaga ¥7.77M
50. Li-Ying Ye ¥7.68M

With the top JLPGA golfers headed over to the Evian Masters this coming week, the tour won't return to action until the following week at the Meiji Cup.  So Megumi Kido has a long time to celebrate her 1st JLPGA win!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bogey-Free 33 Pulls Ji-Yai Shin Within 3 of Lead on JLPGA

Ji-Yai Shin was 5 back with 18 holes left to play in the Samantha Thavasa Ladies, but after firing a bogey-free 33 on the front, she's only 3 behind Megumi Kido with 9 holes left to play.  Can the Final Round Queen earn her crown back tonight?  With only JLPGA legend Yuri Fudoh, who's -4 through 8 and 2 shots out of the lead, between her and Kido, it's shaping up to be a photo finish!

[Update 1 (11:18 pm):  Wow, turns out Fudoh was only -3 and that Kido went bogey-par-double to close out the front, which means Shin is now tied with them for the lead at -10!!  With a bunch of people at -9, this just became anyone's ball game!]

Megumi Kido Leads Samantha Thavasa Ladies; Ji-Yai Shin Trails by 5

Megumi Kido's 35-hole bogey-free streak ended on the final hole of the inaugural Samantha Thavasa Ladies today, but she still shot her 2nd-straight 66 to take a 4-shot lead on JLPGA money-list leader Mi-Jeong Jeon (66) and a 5-shot lead on a large group that included former world #1 Ji-Yai Shin (68), the legendary Yuri Fudoh (66), and #4 Ritsuko Ryu (69).  Na Yeon Choi moved backward today with a 1-over-par 73 that left her 9 shots out of the lead, tied with Sakura Yokomine (73) and Harukyo Nomura (69), among others.

Kido, who had top 10s in 2 of her last 3 starts but hasn't won off the Step-Up Tour, could transform her career tomorrow.  Jeon, who already has a huge lead on #2 Sun-Ju Ahn (who had to pull out this week with a thumb injury), is looking to extend it.  And Shin, in her 1st event back from hand surgery, is looking to regain her title of "Final Round Queen."  Should be an interesting Sunday on the JLPGA!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Na Yeon Choi and Ji-Yai Shin Off to Good Starts in This Week's JLPGA Showdown

Na Yeon Choi opened the Samantha Thavasa Ladies with a 6-birdie 68 and Ji-Yai Shin a 5-birdie 69, putting themselves in good position to chase leaders Megumi Kido and Eun-Bi Jang, who set the pace with sweet 66s, heading into the weekend.  Also in the hunt are money-list leader Mi-Jeong Jeon (70), #3 Mayu Hattori (71), #4 Ritsuko Ryu (68), #5 Miki Saiki (71), #6 Chie Arimura (72), #9 Sakura Yokomine (68), #10 Rikako Morita (71), #13 Soo-Yun Kang (68), and living legend Yuri Fudoh (71).  They've already started the 2nd round in Ibaraki, Japan.  Will try to get a 2nd-round post up here tomorrow morning before we leave for the 1st round of the Utica City Amateur.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Stats & Facts - "Vol. 9" (Yani Tseng Fires Caddie)

The LPGA will be idle this coming week, the second of a two-week break. The tour will resume the following weekend in France with the playing of the Evian Masters. After the completion of that tournament, the tour will have another week off and then will begin a stretch of six tournaments in seven weeks that will include the year's final major, The Ricoh Women's British Open.

I think most will agree that the first fourteen tournaments of the season have certainly brought us many exciting finishes. We have seen 4 playoffs, 4 first-time winners (Jessica Korda, Azahara Munoz, Shanshan Feng, and Brittany Lang), and winners from 6 different countries--the United States (5), Taiwan (3), Japan (2), South Korea (2), China (1), and Spain (1).

With 13 more tournaments still to be played, I am looking forward to a very exciting second half of the season. For now let's look at the most important statistics for the first half of the year:

Rolex Player of the Year Standings: (Winner receives a Hall of Fame point)
1- Stacy Lewis - 129 points
2- Yani Tseng - 120
3- Ai Miyazato - 106
4- Shanshan Feng - 105
5- Na Yeon Choi - 92

Vare Trophy Standings: (Winner receives a Hall of Fame point)
1- Ai Miyazato - 70.35 (strokes per round)
2- Na Yeon Choi - 70.53
T3-Shanshan Feng 70.60
T3-Stacy Lewis 70.60
5-  Jiyai Shin  70.68

Rolex Rookie of the Year Standings:
1- So Yeon Ryu - 692 points
2- Lexi Thompson - 458
3- Lizette Salas - 161
4- Mo Martin -149
5- Danielle Kang - 140
6- Numa Gulyanamitta - 97
7- Sydnee Michaels - 84
8- Veronica Felibert - 75
9- Maude-Aimee Leblanc - 73
10- Sandra Changkija - 60

Solheim Cup Points:  (Top 8 qualify automatically, 2 captains picks, 2 highest Rolex ranked players not yet in)
1- Stacy Lewis - 329 points
2- Cristie Kerr - 168
3- Paula Creamer - 165
4- Angela Stanford - 150
5- Brittany Lincicome 141
6- Brittany Lang - 133
7- Morgan Pressel - 70
8- Lexi Thompson - 69
9- Katie Futcher - 69
10- Vicky Hurst - 66
11- Michelle Wie - 53
12- Natalie Gulbis - 52

Most consecutive tournaments without a missed cut:
1- Karrie Webb - 37
2- Paula Creamer - 34
3- Jiyai Shin, Brittany Lang - 26
5- Na Yeon Choi, Anna Nordqvist - 24

Most consecutive missed cuts:
1- Michelle Ellis - 14
2- Meridith Duncan, Tanya Degal - 12
4- Stephanie Kono, Jane Rah - 10

Most top-five finishes: 
1- Stacy Lewis - 8
2- So Yeon Ryu - 6
3- Yani Tseng, Ai Miyazato, Azahara Munoz, Shanshan Feng, Inbee Park - 5

Other Tidbits:
Caroline Hedwall made the first 15 cuts of her career, but now has missed her last 4.

Yani Tseng fired her caddie Jason Hamilton after 16 wins together. Jason will be moving over to the PGA Tour, where his new employee will be Danny Lee from New Zealand. No word yet on who Yani's new caddie will be.

Who's Hot:
After a sluggish start, Paula Creamer has 3 top tens, and 4 top fifteens, in her last 5 tournaments.

Who's Not:
Amanda Blumenherst has missed five consecutive cuts.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Na Yeon Choi and Ji-Yai Shin Tuning Up for Evian Masters on the JLPGA This Week

Fresh from her U.S. Women's Open victory and a blitz of South Korea, Na Yeon Choi will be playing in the Samantha Thavasa Ladies this week on the JLPGA.  She's going to get the full J-Pop experience, as the tournament will be augmented by fashion and talk shows, live concerts, and more.  Not only will she be facing off against the 9 of the top 10 on the JLPGA money list, from leader Mi-Jeong Jeon to the blazing-hot Chie Arimura, from young guns Mayu Hattori, Ritsuko Ryu, and Rikako Morita to wily veterans Miki Saiki and Ji-Hee Lee, from looking-to-find-their-A-games Sun-Ju Ahn and Sakura Yokomine to former LPGAers Soo-Yun Kang, Na-Ri Kim, Teresa Lu, and Young Kim, but she'll also get to test herself against Ji-Yai Shin, who's making her return from hand surgery this week.  This is shaping up to be a fantastic debut for this new event on the JLPGA.  Wouldn't it be cool if Choi and Shin, the top 2 Korean golfers in the world, made it to the final pairing on Sunday?

[Update 1 (10:39 pm):  Happy Fan reports over at Seoul that the Korean media has been anticipating this showdown for weeks and that KLPGA young gun Char Young Kim is also in the field.]

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lee-Anne Pace Goes from Missed Cut at U.S. Women's Open to Runner-Up in South African Women's Open

I thought Inbee Park getting a top 10 on the JLPGA just one week after competing in the U.S. Women's Open would be the most impressive defiance of jet lag I'd witness today, but Lee-Anne Pace may have outdone her!  The South African flew home right after missing the cut at the U.S. Women's Open to compete in a new LET event, the South African Women's Open, and bounced back from an opening 75 with a 71 and a 70 on the weekend to just miss catching winner Caroline Masson.  In very windy conditions, Masson, Pace, and Danielle Montgomery were the only players  in the entire field to finish at par or better for the week.  Lindsey Wright and Ashleigh Simon finished in a group tied for 6th at +2, while South African Melissa Eaton-Jackson, who's had some success on the Futures Tour in the past, fired the round of the week, a 68 that snagged her a top 10.

Pace was the LET's money-list leader in 2010 on the strength of her 5 wins between June and October.  She fell to 5th last season and will probably crack this year's top 10 on the strength of this week's play.

Stanley Ladies Overview: The Fog of Golf; or, How to Defend Your Title in Only 27 Holes

Chie Arimura defended her title today at the Stanley Ladies and she only had to play 9 holes to do it.  Dense fog delayed the start of the final round for so long that the tournament organizers ended up turning the planned 54-hole event into a 27-hole sprint.  1st-round leader bogeyed 2 of her 1st 3 holes and couldn't make a birdie coming in, opening the door to a charging Bo-Bae Song, who birdied 10 and 11 and 15 and 16 to get to -5, 1 shot behind Arimura, who made a lone birdie on the 14th to get to -6.  But a walkoff bogey by Song gave Arimura some margin for error, so even though she bogeyed the 17th and Tao-Li Yang birdied her final hole from the group ahead of her to get to -4, Arimura was able to avoid a playoff and seal her win in regulation with a par on the 536-yard par 5.

With such a shortened tournament, there was a lot of volatility on the leaderboard.  A 33 from Esther Lee, a 34 from money-list leader Mi-Jeong Jeon, and a 35 from Yeo-Jin Kang lifted them into a tie for 5th at -3 with Miki Saiki, who shot a 37.  Inbee Park's birdieless 37 dropped her back to a tie for 9th with Erika Kikuchi (34), Yuko Fukuda (34), Hiromi Mogi (35), and Akane Iijima (35).  A 40 by Erina Yamato and a 38 by Shiho Oyama dropped them all the way back to a tie for 14th with Shinobu Moromizato (36), Harukyo Nomura (36), and Ayako Uehara (37).  With Sun-Ju Ahn withdrawing, Mayu Hattori shooting a 37 to drop back to T24, and Sakura Yokomine shooting a 35 to move up to T34, Jeon extended her lead on the money list on her closest competitors.  More on that after I play some golf of my own this morning!

[Update 1 (7:35 am):  Good thing I checked before I hit the course--I've been so used to hot and dry conditions here that the idea of an early-morning cell moving through Hamburg didn't cross my mind, except that the morning was grayer than usual and a breeze was coming up, so my golf senses must have been tingling or something.  Anyway, while the rain does its part to alleviate our drought, I'll update my list of the top 50 on the JLPGA money list:

1. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥73.18M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥51.53M
3. Mayu Hattori ¥51.29M
4. Ritsuko Ryu ¥49.10M
5. Miki Saiki ¥48.30M
6. Chie Arimura ¥47.64M
7. Ji-Hee Lee ¥45.19M
8. Bo-Mee Lee ¥36.23M
9. Sakura Yokomine ¥35.71M
10. Rikako Morita ¥30.92M
11. Inbee Park ¥29.62M
12. Hiromi Mogi ¥27.93M
13. Soo-Yun Kang ¥27.34M
14. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥25.42M
15. Mihoko Iseri ¥24.46M
16. Shanshan Feng ¥24.28M
17. Kaori Ohe ¥22.71M
18. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥20.54M
19. Yuki Ichinose ¥18.46M
20. Erina Hara ¥17.58M
21. Ayako Uehara ¥16.34M
22. Airi Saitoh ¥16.10M
23. Esther Lee ¥15.81M
24. Yukari Baba ¥15.44M
25. Akane Iijima ¥15.31M
26. Bo-Bae Song ¥15.15M
27. Teresa Lu ¥14.04M
28. Yumiko Yoshida ¥14.04M
29. Ji-Yai Shin ¥13.88M
30. Yuri Fudoh ¥13.84M
31. Shinobu Moromizato ¥13.24M
32. Erika Kikuchi ¥13.19M
33. Na-Ri Lee¥13.10M
34. Rui Kitada ¥12.73M
35. Miki Sakai ¥12.32M
36. Yeo-Jin Kang ¥11.90M
37. Yuko Fukuda ¥11.57M
38. Megumi Kido ¥11.17M
39. So-Hee Kim ¥10.72M
40. Young Kim¥10.63M
41. Na-Ri Kim ¥10.38M
42. Kumiko Kaneda ¥9.65M
43. Harukyo Nomura ¥9.60M
44. Da-Ye Na ¥9.42M
45. Junko Omote¥7.81M
46. Li-Ying Ye ¥7.68M
47. Shiho Toyonaga ¥7.49M
48. Nachiyo Ohtani ¥7.25M
49. Nikki Campbell ¥7.25M
50. Asako Fujimoto¥7.16M

Next up is the Samantha Thavasa Ladies, a new event on the JLPGA at Eagle Point Golf Club in Ibaraki.  I don't see a field list for it yet....]

[Update 2 (11:13 am):  Here's bangkokbobby's take on the final results!]

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Inbee Park, Chie Arimura, Shiho Oyama in the Hunt at the Stanley Ladies

Neither wind nor rain nor jet leg can slow down Inbee Park, apparently, as she's -3 and only 3 shots behind leader Rikako Morita heading into the final round of the Stanley Ladies.  Park bounced back from a +1 start with 4 birdies in a 5-hole stretch and hung on the rest of the way for a 69 in a 1st round that took 2 days to play.  With the tournament shortened to 36 holes, anything can happen, especially with the quality of golfers in the mix.  Park is tied with Shiho Oyama, who's playing in her 1st tournament of the season due to injury.  They trail Miki Saiki and China's Tao-Li Yang by 1 shot, while Chie Arimura and 22-year-old Erina Yamato are only 1 off the lead.  With 31 golfers within 5 shots of the lead--including the likes of money-list leader Mi-Jeong Jeon, Mayu Hattori, Soo-Yun Kang, Harukyo Nomura, Bo-Bae Song, Shinobu Moromizato, and Mina Nakayama at -1 and Ritsuko Ryu, Ayako Uehara, Saiki Fujita, Kaori Aoyama, and Yumiko Yoshida at -2--it should be a real shootout tomorrow!

[Update 1 (9:46 pm):  bangkokbobby has more on the 1st round!]

Friday, July 13, 2012

Recommended Reading: Happy Fan and bangkokbobby on Na Yeon Choi

Did a lot of work inside and outside the house today, getting ready for the return of the Full Metal Archivist, onechan, and imoto in a couple of Mondays, so no time to blog today.  However, I couldn't help but notice that both Happy Fan and bangkokbobby did posts on U.S. Women's Open champion Na Yeon Choi (bkb actually did two!)  I've been saying over and over on this blog that it's important to recognize the individuality of each player on the LPGA, from superstars to journeywomen to newbies.  When golfers start to distinguish themselves like NYC did last week, it's great to see an extra spotlight on them.  Enjoy!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Can You Believe It?!" Files: Inbee Park Playing on JLPGA Right After the U.S. Women's Open

Inbee Park must really believe in striking while the iron is hot, because while every other dual LPGA-JLPGA member took the week off to recover from a grueling test at Blackwolf Run in last week's U.S. Women's Open, she jumped on a plane and got to Shizuoka, Japan, in time for the JLPGA's Stanley Ladies.  She must really want to stay in the top 10 on their money list or something!  Early in the 1st round, Park is +1 through her 1st 4 holes.  Let's see if she can stay awake for the rest of her round and maybe even get under par!

[Update 1 (7/13/12, 7:19 pm):  Talk about the Friday the 13th luck for Park--the 1st round was stopped because of "poor track conditions" (gotta love google translate!) and now the planned 6:30 am starting time Saturday morning has been pushed back to 9 am (at least).]

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are Americans Underachieving on the LPGA Tour?

I have just returned home after spending nine days in Kohler, Wisconsin. I will elaborate on that in a future post. Congratulations goes out to Na Yeon Choi for her remarkable performance in winning the 2012 United States Open.

It seems that whenever the subject of the LPGA comes up, the conversation always drifts to the fact that the American players are being dominated on their own tour by the Asian players. Is this actually a fact, or is this just a lot of talk by the casual American fan who wants to turn on their television set and see three hours of Natalie Gulbis and Paula Creamer?

Let us look at some key statistics:

No American has won a Major Championship since Stacy Lewis won the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year. The six winners since then have come from the following countries:

South Korea (3) -  So Yeon Ryu, Sun Young Yoo, Na Yeon Choi
Taiwan (2) -  Yani Tseng (2)
China (1) -  Shanshan Feng
Score: Asia 6, U.S.A. 0

You say that is too small a period of time? Let us look at the major championships since the beginning of the 2010 season.

Taiwan (4) -  Yani Tseng (4)
South Korea (3) - So Yeon Ryu, Sun Young Yoo, Na Yeon Choi
U.S.A. (3) - Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis
China (1) -  Shanshan Feng
Score: Asia 8, U.S.A. 3

That doesn't look much better for the Americans, winning only 27.2 %.

Is this just a fluke? Are the Americans doing better if we count all the tournaments, and not just the majors?  Let us find out. Here are the 2012 results:

U.S.A. (5) -  Jessica Korda, Angela Stanford, Stacy Lewis (2), Brittany Lang
Taiwan (3) - Yani Tseng (3)
Japan (2) - Ai Miyazato (2)
South Korea (2) - Sun Young Yoo, Na Yeon Choi
China (1) -  Shanshan Feng
Spain (1) - Azahara Munoz
Score: Asia 8, U.S.A. 5, Europe 1

You say that is much better? I say not that much. Where it is true that the U.S.A. has more victories than any single country, winning just five of fourteen tournaments is nothing to brag about. That is a 35.7 % victory rate.

Still not convinced?  You say this is too small a period to make any definite conclusions? Let us go back to the beginning of 2010 for this also.

South Korea (14) - Hee Kyung Seo, Se Ri Pak, Sun Young Yoo (2), Na Yeon Choi (4), Jiyai Shin (2), Jimin Kang, So Yeon Ryu, Hee Young Park, I.K. Kim                        
Taiwan (13) - Yani Tseng (13)
U.S.A. (13) - Cristie Kerr (2), Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Stacy Lewis (3), Lincicome (2), Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lang
Japan (9) - Ai Miyazato (8), Momoko Ueda
Australia (3) - Karrie Webb (2), Katherine Hull
Sweden (2) - Maria Hjorth (2)
Spain (2) - Beatriz Recari, Azahara Munoz
Norway (2) - Suzann Pettersen (2)
China (1) -  Shanshan Feng
Germany (1) -  Sandra Gal
Scotland (1) - Catriona Matthew.
Score: Asia 37, U.S.A. 13,  Europe 8, Australia (3)

The picture is not getting any brighter here for the Americans, winning a dismal 21.3 percent of the time.

Not that I think you need any more convincing at this point, but I will now point out the following from this week's Rolex Rankings:

American Players in the top 100 = 16
South Korean Players in the top 100 = 34
Japanese Players ranked in the top 100 = 20

Here are some opinions on why the Asians are playing better than the Americans:

Course owner Herbert Kohler Jr., essentially called out the American women, saying their lack of success is because of their work ethic. "These Asians have done so well because they know the meaning of work," Kohler told the Associated Press. "They work and they work. And that is starting to have an impact on the Americans. The Americans have now seen what the Asians can do, and they are starting to work harder."

It has become quite obvious that the Asian players, namely the Koreans, have gained the reputation of being the first to the range and the last to leave. " Maybe I should spend a week with one of them and kind of figure out what they do," said American Brittany Lincicome on Sunday. "Obviously they practice unbelievably hard. They're not fishing on their weeks off like I am."

South Korea's last 10 major titles have been won by 10 different players. Same with the U.S.A.: the last 10 American major champions have all been different players.

The Koreans have certainly had the edge of late, but with such talented young players as Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie, and a number of others, the tide could turn quickly. But until that happens, they will have to keep answering the question of why they have been underachieving.

Other Tidbits:
Paula Creamer's 7th-place finish this week moves her up to #7 on the all time money list. She passes Meg Mallon.

Titleholders Update: 
Sandra Gal, Giulia Sergas, and Ilhee Lee are the latest to qualify.

Rolex Rankings Movers of the week:
Na Yeon Choi moves from #5 to #2. Amy Yang moves from #13 to #7, despite never having won a single LPGA tournament. Sandra Gal moves from #39 to #29.

Hard to believe fact of the week:
Ai Miyazato's major championship winless streak has now reached 30. She has certainly replaced Paula Creamer, whose victory at Oakmont was in her 25th major, as the best player in the world without a major victory.