Friday, August 31, 2012

Recommended Reading: HappyFan on Lydia Ko

Shutting down the 1st week of classes this afternoon and have obviously been super-busy with everything that usually goes with it, not to mention a new university President, new chair of the University Senate, and new President of the campus UUP chapter.  But I couldn't let the week go by without recommending HappyFan's awesome post on Lydia Ko's LPGA win, amazing summer, and impressive career.  Do yourself a favor and watch the youtube link that he included in the post.  It includes clips of her practicing with her coach at age 8.  Don't get me started on how, well, awesome her fundamentals were even then.

It's hard not to make comparisons to your own kids.  Onechan starts 3rd grade next Tuesday, and she's already several light-years behind where Lydia was at her age, golf-wise.  No problem, as she's more into becoming a writer, starting gymnastics, and playing with her 6-year-old sister with their American Girl dolls.  Her biggest challenge is keeping up with the curriculum in her Japanese school!  Imoto, meanwhile, can't wait to start 1st grade, although she's nervous about reading more big words than ever before.  They've definitely been paying a lot of attention to all the teenage Olympians and to Lydia this summer and can't wait to get back into gymnastics, swimming, skating, and girl scouts.  The Full Metal Archivist and I are trying to give them as well-rounded a childhood as we can, while showing them many examples of girls who push themselves to achieve what no one before them has and waiting to see what inspires them.  We all went and hit balls several times this summer (well, the FMA watched) and I even played a couple of holes with the girls late one evening on the town course, but I have a feeling golf is pretty low on their totem poles right now.  I'm fine with that.  I'm just looking forward to the time when they get big enough and good enough to play 9 holes with me!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Stats & Facts - "Vol 10"

Before I get started, let me apologize for my lack of writing over the past 6 weeks or so. My wife and I have been busy following the the LPGA tour most of the summer. We have just returned from Vancouver, which is our last tournament of the year, as my wife is a teacher and starts school next week. With no more vacations planned until next spring, I will be back to writing on a regular basis.

Speaking of Vancouver, let me congratulate Lydia Ko for an amazing performance. As Suzann Pettersen said, "She made the rest of us look like amateurs." Seeing history made first hand, is something I will never forget.

The tour will now take a one week break before moving on to Virginia, for the playing of the Kingsmill Championship. This will mark the first of three consecutive tournaments, as it will be followed by the Ricoh British Open and The Navistar LPGA Classic.

The season is now two thirds complete, so let me take advantage of this break and look at the year's most important stats so far:

Rolex Player of the Year Standings: (Winner receives a Hall of Fame point)
1- Stacy Lewis - 146 points
2- Yani Tseng - 120
3- Shanshan Feng - 112
4- Ai Miyazato - 106
5- Na Yeon Choi - 105

Vare Trophy Standings: (Winner receives a Hall of Fame point)
1- Stacy Lewis - 70.44 (strokes per round)
2- Jiyai Shin - 70.47 (Jiyai will not have enough rounds played at the end of the year to qualify)
3- Inbee Park - 70.51
4- Na Yeon Choi - 70.52
5- Ai Miyazato - 70.61
Note: Yani Tseng has fallen out of contention at 71.08. That is currently 11th place.

Rolex Rookie of the Year Standings:
1- So Yeon Ryu - 931 points
2- Lexi Thompson - 458
3- Lizette Salas - 225
4- Sydnee Michaels - 212
5- Mo Martin - 211
6- Danielle Kang - 150
7- Numa Gulyanamitta - 127
8- Jacqui Concolino - 95
9- Veronica Felibert - 80
10- Maude-Aimee Leblanc - 73 (injured and out for the season, after just 8 events)

Most consecutive tournaments without a missed cut:
1- Karrie Webb - 40
2- Paula Creamer - 38
3- Jiyai Shin and Brittany Lang - 30
5- Na Yeon Choi - 28
6- Beatriz Recari and Suzann Pettersen 24

Most consecutive missed cuts:
1- Michelle Ellis and Tanya Dergal - 15
3- Stephanie Kono - 12
4- Ashli Bunch and Na On Min - 10

Most top 5 finishes:
1- Stacy Lewis - 9 (finished sixth last week at the CN Open)
2- So Yeon Ryu - 8
3- Shanshan Feng and Inbee Park - 6
5- Azahara Munoz, Ai Miyazato, and Yani Tseng - 5

Other Tidbits:
So Yeon Ryu missed her first cut as an LPGA member at the Canadian Open. She had made her first 21.

Who's Hot:
Rookie Sydnee Michaels has finished 21st (Toledo Open), 7th (Safeway Classic), and 15th (Canadian Open), in her last 3 starts. She has moved up in the Rolex Rankings from #285 to #157 over that period.

Who's Not:
Leta Lindley's best finish this year in 11 starts is T44th.

Titleholders Update:
Sydnee Michaels, Haeji Kang, and Michelle Wie qualified at the Safeway Classic. Lydia Ko, Jane Rah, and Catriona Matthew qualified at the Canadian Open.

Rolex Mover of the Week:
Amateur, Lydia Ko, moved from #185 to #45 after her victory in Vancouver.

Monday, August 27, 2012

CN Canadian Women's Open Overview: 15-Year-Old Lydia Ko Makes 1st LPGA Win Look Easy

It's a good thing that I was too busy to blog about the CN Canadian Women's Open as it was happening.  Because I totally would have made a fool of myself by repeating how wonderful it was that 15-year-old Lydia Ko was playing so well right after winning the U.S. Women's Amateur, but that there was no way that she would be able to continue hanging in there against the LPGA's top guns.

On Thursday, I would have focused on the brewing showdown between Class of 2008ers Ya Ni Tseng and Na Yeon Choi.  I would have celebrated my junior golf buddy Moira Dunn's appearance on the leaderboard (and our TV screens), emphasized that Inbee Park's 68 put her in position to take the title of LPGA's hottest golf away from Mika Miyazato (71), So Yeon Ryu (73), and Shanshan Feng (75), noted that longer hitters like Jee Young Lee, Angela Stanford, Vicky Hurst, and Amy Yang were finding Vancouver Country Club congenial to their games, and--oh, yeah--praised Ko for a fantastic start (while hinting that I didn't think it would last).

On Friday, I would have been blown away by Chella Choi's near-course record 64, ecstatic that Moira Dunn was in the hunt, excited by the prospect of recent CWO champion Suzann Pettersen moving onto the 1st page of the leaderboard, and bemoaning the fact that Ai Miyazato, In-Kyung Kim, So Yeon Ryu, Danielle Kang, Momoko Ueda, and Ayaka Kaneko had missed the cut.  I think I would have made a pretty big deal of Ko sharing the 36-hole lead in a week when Lexi Thompson and Ariya Jutanugarn both missed the cut, but again, I would have been comparing her with other young phenoms, not at all suggesting that she would play as well on the weekend in the final group as she had when she was comparatively under the radar.

On Saturday, I would have sympathized with Ko's troubles on the green (the 3 3-putts and 2 missed tiny birdie putts), praised her for holding it together with a 72 nonetheless, and quickly turned my attention to the 4 golfers right behind her.  Stacy Lewis's 66 showed what the money-list leader is capable of when she gets on a roll.  Ji-Yai Shin's 69 gave the former world #1 a chance to reclaim her "Final Round Queen" crown.  Inbee Park was rolling along with her 3rd-straight under-par round of the week and 14th in a row since her weak weekend at Blackwolf Run forced her to accept her worst finish since the Wegmans LPGA Championship in early June (that is, T9).  And Chella Choi, despite her troubles backing up her super-low Friday round, was still in great position for her 1st LPGA victory.  I would have continued to praise Moira Dunn for following up my anxious advice from last Tuesday--"She needs to back up that T20 from Alabama--and soon!"--with some very good golf.  And I would have given a lot of credit to rookie Sydnee Michaels and one of my faves, Mina Harigae, for putting themselves in the mix alongside the likes of Anna Nordqvist, Na Yeon Choi, Angela Stanford, and Suzann Pettersen.  But I would have been strongly implying that Ko had no chance on Sunday.

It would have been even worse if I had been not-quite-live-blogging the final round.  Na Yeon Choi's charge, Anna Nordqvist's hot start, Ji-Yai Shin's comeback from her early implosion, Inbee Park's steady brilliance, Stacy Lewis's struggles, Chella Choi's mid-round burst...all would have taken on added significance when Lydia Ko fluffed her little chip from the back of the green on the par-3 7th and narrowly-avoided double bogey to drop back to -9 after starting with 2 birdies in her 1st 6 holes.  That was it, I would have written.  The moment when reality set in and the best golfers in the world took center stage away from the 15-year-old phenom had arrived.  But Ko flipped the script, making 4 birdies in a row to start the back 9 and 5 in her 1st 6 holes.  She left the LPGA's finest in the dust and made it look easy.  Youngest winner on the LPGA by well over a year?  No problem!  1st amateur to win on the LPGA in my lifetime?  Piece of cake.

I'll let finer writers than me put this all in perspective and close with one of Ko's favorite words from her absolutely charming victory speech:  "Awesome!"

Nitori Ladies Overview: Sun-Ju Ahn Outguns Mi-Jeong Jeon for 10th Career JLPGA Win

While Lydia Ko was making history on the LPGA (on which more in a sec) and Mirim Lee was winning the KLPGA's 1st major of 2012, Sun-Ju Ahn was busy reminding everyone on the JLPGA why she has been the money-list leader for the past 2 seasons, as she held off a charging Mi-Jeong Jeon yesterday in the final round of the Nitori Ladies for her 2nd win of the season and 10th of her not-even-3-year career on the JLPGA.  Ahn had leaped into the lead on moving day with a bogey-free 63, but Jeon, looking for her 2nd win in a row, birdied the 324-yard par-4 6th and 502-yard par-5 7th to catch her at -9.  This year's money-list leader continued to put pressure on Ahn with 4 birdies over her next 10 holes, but unlike last week, when that kind of charge was enough for her to cruise to her 20th career victory, it wasn't this week, as Ahn kicked it into overdrive, making 5 birdies between the 8th and 14th holes, then cruised home with 4 straight pars for a 2-shot victory.

It was a great week for Rikako Morita, who closed with a 65, Soo-Yun Kang, who tied her for 3rd, and Lala Anai, who opened with a 66 and rounded out the top 5, but the big story coming out of Japan was how Ahn and Jeon have separated themselves from the rest of the JLPGA.  Jeon became the 1st to break the 100M yen barrier with her runner-up finish, but who will have the last laugh?

1. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥100.06M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥79.88M
3. Mayu Hattori ¥58.06M
4. Ritsuko Ryu ¥52.67M
5. Chie Arimura ¥52.08M
6. Miki Saiki ¥51.66M
7. Ji-Hee Lee ¥46.63M
8. Rikako Morita ¥45.64M
9. Bo-Mee Lee ¥44.97M
10. Sakura Yokomine ¥42.56M
11. Shanshan Feng ¥40.48M
12. Soo-Yun Kang ¥35.14M
13. Yumiko Yoshida ¥33.12M
14. Hiromi Mogi ¥31.36M
15. Inbee Park ¥29.62M
16. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥28.63M
17. Mihoko Iseri ¥27.18M
18. Kaori Ohe ¥26.76M
19. Yuri Fudoh ¥26.69M
20. Megumi Kido ¥22.44M
21. Esther Lee ¥22.28M
22. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥21.12M
23. Yuki Ichinose ¥20.75M
24. Shinobu Moromizato ¥20.35M
25. So-Hee Kim ¥18.84M
26. Erina Hara ¥18.68M
27. Ayako Uehara ¥18.55M
28. Airi Saitoh ¥18.35M
29. Miki Sakai ¥17.93M
30. Ji-Yai Shin ¥17.78M
31. Young Kim¥17.77M
32. Yeo-Jin Kang ¥17.50M
33. Akane Iijima ¥17.28M
34. Yukari Baba ¥17.10M
35. Erika Kikuchi ¥16.74M
36. Na-Ri Lee¥16.40M
37. Rui Kitada ¥16.17M
38. Teresa Lu ¥16.01M
39. Bo-Bae Song ¥15.63M
40. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.54M
41. Harukyo Nomura ¥14.48M
42. Kumiko Kaneda ¥14.13M
43. Na-Ri Kim ¥14.11M
44. Junko Omote¥13.80M
45. Yuko Fukuda ¥12.52M
46. Da-Ye Na ¥10.59M
47. Lala Anai ¥10.26M
48. Shiho Toyonaga ¥9.85M
49. Natsu Nagai ¥9.59M
50. Asako Fujimoto¥9.45M

Next up on the JLPGA is the Golf5 Ladies, where Li-Ying Ye will attempt to defend her title.  It appears that both Mi-Jeong Jeon and Sakura Yokomine will be sitting this one out, but Ahn will be looking to make up serious ground on the money-list leader, Chie Arimura returns to action and will be trying to insert her name into the Player of the Year dialogue, and Shiho Oyama will continue her recovery from injuries that kept her out of action most of the season.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

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

Since my last ranking at the end of June, the 1-time winners on the LPGA have lost Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu but gained Mika Miyazato.  Here's my new take on who's most likely to join Park and Ryu in the 2-win club, ranked in the order I expect them to move on (if at all)....

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2012

1. Mika Miyazato: If the LPGA were handing out medals instead of trophies in the run-up to, playing of, and aftermath of the London Olympics, Mikan would have garnered 1 gold, 2 silvers, and a bronze in her last 7 starts (none of which saw her finish outside the top 10 except for a T16 at the Evian).  She's Exhibit A in how to bounce back from a little early-season slump.  With all due respect to Shanshan Feng, who might well be having the best 2012 of anyone on the planet, I believe that Mikan is the hotter and more consistently contending golfer on the LPGA right now.

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 a Cristie Kerr/Angela Stanford/Brittany Lang-type straight shooter. So it should come as no surprise that she's contended in about half her starts this year, followed up her breakthrough win in Pittsford by almost making the playoff in Waterloo and another T4 in Evian, and is riding a 6-event top-20 streak on the LPGA. Oh, and she's 10th on the JLPGA money list with a 71.06 scoring average and two wins in only 6 starts thus far this year. With her early-season LET victory, she the most worldwide wins of any female golfer!

3. 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 So Yeon 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.  Although she broke her 5-event top-25 streak with a missed cut at the Safeway, I still believe she's very close to LPGA win #2.  All she needs to do is improve her approach shots to be a consistent contender on the top women's tour on the planet.

4. Azahara Munoz: Yes, she's had 4 of her worst 5 finishes of the year (3 MC and a T44 at the Safeway) in her last 7 starts, but she bounced back from missing 2 cuts in a row after her breakthrough win at the Sybase with a T2 at the Walmart and her performance stats this year remain very good.  So I believe she's capable of putting it all together any given week and building on her total of 5 top 5s this season.  The key for her is simply making more birdies!

5. Brittany Lang: She's riding a 6-event top-25 streak that includes her breakthrough playoff win at the Manulife, her performance stats are just what you'd expect of a classic straight shooter, and she's starting to figure out how to make more birdies and break 70 more often, plus she's entering a string of LPGA sites that I think suit her game quite well.  So watch out for her as summer turns into fall!

6. 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. 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 for any length of time in recent memory) and is also among the tour's best in greens in regulation, so you have to blame a still-unseasoned 100-yards-and-in game for the fact she's averaging only 3.60 birdies per round and taking 1.85 putts per green in regulation, has suffered 2 missed cuts in a row, and has only 2 top 10s all year.  But since both were top 5s (1 a runner-up!), I can't justify putting her any lower on this list.

The Contenders

7. 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's healthy, her performance stats are excellent, and she followed up a couple of early top 10s with a great T4 at Evian, but she's suffered a surprising number of missed cuts (4) and a garnered a surprisingly small number of top 20s (5).  If the right Natalie shows up more often--that is, if she can give herself more birdie chances and convert them more efficiently--the rest of the season, she may surprise a lot of people with win #2.

8. Sandra Gal: She's starting to turn around what's been a pretty mediocre season thus far in 2012, with a 3rd-place finish at the U.S. Women's Open and 7 finishes of  T26 or better in her last 9 starts. Her putter has been the biggest culprit, but she's not hitting as many fairways or greens as the LPGA's elite tend to do.  Taken together, that explains why she's had a good number of respectable finishes this year, but only 1 top 10.  Still, I thought her game was on the rise last ranking and I still think it is this one.

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 (1.84 PPGIR, 30.58 putts per round, and 2.80 birdies per round are well below elite standards). Hence her inability to follow up on her season-opening top 10 or her opening 68 at Locust Hill--or even capitalize on the 3 66s she shot in Evian and Toledo.  Still, she got her best finishes of the year in both places (T9) and hasn't missed a cut all season, so it's just a matter of putting it all together for the right 4 rounds in a row for her.

Quantum Leap Candidates

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. It looks like it's going to be a "make" year, but whether it's "just barely" or whether she can build on her excellent top 10 at the Manulife (which featured 4 rounds in the 60s) depends on whether she can straighten out her driver. She's putting and scrambling so well that if she can do it, she could qualify for the late-season Asian swing and go on a real tear. But if not, she's going to be scratching and clawing to stay in the top 80 on the money list.

11. Jee Young Lee: It looks to me like the once-elite '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 #131 on the 2012 Priority Status List.  Her performance stats this season aren't all that good but aren't horrible, either, and she's gotten 2 of her best 3 finishes of the year in her last 2 starts (T31 at the Farr and T12 at the Safeway to go with a T26 at the RR Donnelley).  I'd love to see Jelly get on a roll from here on out!

12. 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 #116 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.  She followed up her T19 at the LPGA's 2nd major with a fantastic T9 at its 3rd, the U.S. Women's Open, so I wonder what she has in store for us at the Women's British Open?

13. Julieta Granada: She picked up 2012 right where she left off in 2011, going from worrying about keeping her LPGA card to fighting for her 2nd LPGA win.  So far she hasn't come close to matching her T2 at the Australian Women's Open or T5 at the Sybase, but she does have 4 other top 25s this season.  Unfortunately, most of them came in the 1st half of the season and she's suffered 5 of her worst 7 finishes of the year in her last 8 starts.  It's going to take improved iron play and putting to get back on the right track for the rest of the season.

14. Jessica Korda: Well, she's reverted to mean after her surprising season-opening playoff 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.  Still, with a 1st-round match-play win at the Sybase responsible for her only other finish in the top 35 this season, that promising future may be quite a ways off.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

15. Leta Lindley: Her extreme lack of distance off the tee is putting a lot of pressure on the rest of her game and despite making 7 of 10 cuts thus far this season hasn't yet cracked the top 40.  Time is running out for her to move up from #101 on the money list and secure her card for 2013.

16. 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. So far, her experiment in dual membership isn't working out so great: she's #137 on the LET money list with only 4 starts and although her LPGA performance stats are pretty strong (excepting some horrific putting), she's only made 6 cuts in 13 starts and is fighting to stay in the top 100 on the money list.

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 #102 spot on the Priority Status List. So far this year, she's had serious problems with her putting, but is only 1 good finish away from moving into the top 100 from #110 on the money list.

18. 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 (and has since dropped to #139 in the latest reshuffle).  She's hanging around at #113 on the money list, but despite driving the ball well all year, she continues to do very little with it, with only 4 finishes in the money in 9 starts.  She needs to back up that T20 from Alabama--and soon!

19. 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 and hasn't played on tour since missing the cut at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.  I don't see her name on the LET money list, either, so I have to assume she's injured or on maternity leave or something....

On the Outside, Looking In

20. 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 #123 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....

21. 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 #15.

22. Young Kim: She joined the JLPGA in 2010 and ended up ranked 14th on tour; last season, she fell to 34th on their money list; 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!

23. 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.

24. 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.

25. 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 all 4 times, so with the reshuffle is now #247 on the priority status list.

26. 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 28 LPGA 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 fighting for the top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list (she just dropped from #12 to #16 when she followed up her silver with a MC).

Monday, August 20, 2012

OK, So Now How Long Before Augusta Hosts an LPGA Event?

Let me join in the chorus welcoming Augusta National to the 20th century and to the many voices hoping that they'll decide to enter the 21st before it ends by hosting an LPGA event!  I know, baby steps, but a guy can dream, right?

Safeway Classic Sunday: Way to Go, Mikan!

Congratulations to Mika Miyazato on her 1st career LPGA victory at the Safeway Classic!  She played near-flawless golf for 44 holes, but had to gut it out over her last 10 after some hiccups midway through her final round gave new life to those chasing her. 

Her problems started when she missed a 4-foot birdie attempt on the par-5 9th.  Had she made it, she would have gotten to -14 and extended her lead on playing partner So Yeon Ryu to 4 shots (and put together her 3rd-straight 34 on the front!).  As it was, her lead remained 3 over Ryu and Haeji Kang.  No harm, no foul, right?  It certainly seemed so when Mikan put herself in great position to get it right back with a birdie on the par-5 10th.  She had a 25-yard wedge shot from a perfect position in the fairway, but babied the pitch and left it on the fringe 25 feet short of the pin.  From there, she decided to run a wedge, but carried it too far and put it more than 10 feet by the hole.  When she missed her par save and Ryu made her birdie, all of a sudden her lead was just 1.  And it looked like it was going to disappear on the par-3 11th when she pushed her tee shot right toward the water hazard that gives the Ghost Creek course its name.  But it landed right of the creek and got a huge bounce up and left into the rough just shy of the fringe, only 20 feet from the pin.  It looked like that would be the break that turned her round back around, but she actually had a terrible lie and when she babied her chip, it didn't make it past the top of a ridge and rolled back away from the flag, ending up at least 30 feet from the hole.  That's when Mikan made the putt that saved the tournament for her, a fantastic par save that never deviated from the center of the cup, prompting the most excited reaction I've ever seen from her.

Still, even though she put those 3 terrible chips behind her and seemingly righted her ship after the roller-coaster ride of the previous 3 holes, she couldn't do more than hang in there with par after par over the next several holes.  And the sharks continued circling her life boat.  Ryu matched her par for par early on the back, staying within 1 shot of the lead.  Kang got it to -11 when she birdied the par-3 16th.  Cristie Kerr was hanging around at -9 for most of the back 9.  And Brittany Lincicome and Inbee Park were putting it into overdrive as Mikan was stuck in neutral.  But then, amazingly--some might say, impossibly--the sharks blinked.  Kang doubled the drive-able par-4 17th and even a fantastic final-hole birdie left her with a 66 for the day and a -10 total for the week.  Ryu bogeyed the par-5 16th, unable to take advantage of her distance off the tee relative to Mikan.  Kerr, one of the best putters on tour, had trouble getting her putts to drop on the back 9 and had to settle for a -10 total.  Park drove the 17th and had a 10-foot putt for eagle to leap into a tie for the lead, but this fantastic putter, who couldn't miss a thing in the final round of her win at the Evian Masters a few Sundays ago, missed this one and failed to birdie 18.  Yes, she had birdied 5 of her last 11 holes--just as Lincicome before her birdied 5 of her last 12 holes--but both just ran out of real estate and finished at -11.

So when Ryu birdied 16 to join them and give herself a great chance to win her 2nd LPGA tournament in a row, Mikan came to the 17th tee with a slim 1-shot lead on a trio of major winners.  All she did was hit a perfect hybrid right into the neck of the fairway, just to the left of the green.  And all she had to do was hit a great little wedge--exactly the kind of shot that had given her so much trouble on the 10th and 11th holes.  But this time, she put it close and she made the putt for birdie to get back to -13.  When Ryu couldn't match it, Mikan had extended her lead to 2 shots, right where it had been at the start of the day.  And when Mikan split the fairway and Ryu pushed her drive into the water hazard to the right, all she had to do was keep her approach shot away from the pond guarding the front-right side of the 18th green.  Fittingly, she faced yet another tricky chip from the rough when she hit such a solid shot that it ran through the back left fringe.  After a long wait (Ryu had hit her 3rd shot into the back-left gallery and did well to save a bogey with a great chip-in after powering her previous pitch nearly into the pond!), Mikan chipped it to within a foot and tapped in for the win.

And what a great win it was.  Mikan not only had to go from cruising--a 40-hole bogey-free run from the 7th hole Friday to the 9th hole Sunday during which she made 11 birdies--to grinding, but she also had to bounce back from some heart-stoppingly bad pitches and chips in the midst of final-9 pressure with the tournament on the line.  She missed more greens in her final 10 holes than she had in her 1st 2 rounds, but managed to limit the damage to only 1 bogey (her 2nd of the tournament).  She definitely earned the win on a day when players much more accustomed to the LPGA winner's circle just couldn't put enough pressure on her.

There were certainly a lot of other great stories this week.  It was great to see Brittany Lincicome, Ya Ni Tseng, Michelle Wie, and Jee Young Lee playing good golf again (the bombers strike back!), exciting to see Sydnee Michaels and Haeji Kang experience being near the top of the leaderboard on the weekend, difficult to watch Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer struggle with the burden of being winless since 2010 while trying to get into the hunt this week, great to see Kang, Michaels, and Lizette Salas get the best finishes of their careers, and nice to see Ai Miyazato close with a 67 to sneak into the top 20.  Stacy Lewis was flat this week, but she held onto the top spot on the money list.  Still, with 6 golfers already across the $1M barrier, Azahara Munoz poised to cross it, and Mikan and Ryu not far behind her, Lewis's lead is a slim one.  About half a stroke separates the 1st (Ai Miyazato) from the 10th (Ya Ni Tseng) player in the race for the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average.  Lewis's lead of 21 points over Ya Ni Tseng in the Player of the Year race is ample in comparison.

But the big story is that Mika Miyazato has put herself smack into the middle of all these races with her win yesterday.  She's 8th on the money list, 9th in scoring average, and 6th on the POY ranking.  Now the burden of being the best golfer on the LPGA without a win on tour falls squarely on the strong shoulders of Amy Yang.  Big hitters tend to win the CN Canadian Women's Open--maybe it'll be her turn next week?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Safeway Classic Friday and Saturday: Is This Mika Miyazato's Week to Break Through?

Mika Miyazato has been knocking on the door of her 1st career LPGA victory all summer, but to break through it she's going to need a great final round today in the Safeway Classic.  She holds a 2-shot lead on last week's winner So Yeon Ryu, a 3-shot lead on Evian Masters champion Inbee Park and 14-time LPGA winner Cristie Kerr, and a 4-shot lead on a resurgent world #1 Ya Ni Tseng, 9-time LPGA winner Paula Creamer, and rookie Sydnee Michaels.  Given that defending champion Suzann Pettersen came back from 9 down on Na Yeon Choi last year, it's impossible to count out the likes of Amy Yang and Hee-Won Han (5 back), Michelle Wie, Momoko Ueda, and Alison Walshe (6 back), Choi, In-Kyung Kim, Brittany Lang, and a host of others 7 off the pace, Karine Icher, Guilia Sergas, and Lizette Salas 8 behind, and, yes, Pettersen, again 9 down with 18 to go.

Mikan's played fantastic golf since enduring a late-spring mini-slump, which she has attributed more to mental issues and self-imposed pressures than to anything to do with her swing or her game.  And once she got her head on straight in early June, she finished T3 at the ShopRite, T2 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, T2 at the Walmart, T7 at the U.S. Women's Open, T16 at the Evian Masters, and T7 at the Farr.  With just about every aspect of her game clicking this season--she leads the LPGA in driving accuracy, is 8th in greens in regulation, and 10th in putts per green in regulation--the only thing that's been holding her back is an inability to make as many birdies as those who have finished ahead of her (her 3.35 birdies per round rate is much lower than the leaders in that category).  Well, this week, she's hitting the fairway over 92% of the time, hitting the green almost 92% of the time, and averaging 6 birdies per round.  Translation:  she's missed 3 greens and 2 fairways and made only 1 bogey all week, so is riding a 30-hole-and-counting bogey-free run heading into today's round.

Let's see how she handles playing with 2-time winner Ryu in the final group.  Scoring has not been fantastic thus far today, with Paige Mackenzie and Stacy Prammanasudh leading the way, at -4 and -3 thus far in their rounds, and -1 the next-best score by a host of golfers, including Ai Miyazato and Stacy Lewis.  Wonder if we'll see a real shoot-'em-up or a war of attrition?  The way players were finishing out 17 and 18 yesterday, we could see some real disasters and huge swings at the very end of this 54-hole tournament!

CAT Ladies Overview: Mi-Jeong Jeon Closes with 65 for 20th JLPGA Victory

Mi-Jeong Jeon fired a final-round bogey-free 64 to take the CAT Ladies by 4 shots over Mayu Hattori, Rikako Morita, and Bo-Mee Lee.  To build on bangkokbobby's summary, Jeon trailed the trio she ended up beating by 2 shots after the completion of the 2nd round, and even a 3-birdie 33 on the front left her 3 behind Hattori, 2 behind Lee, and 1 behind Morita as they made the turn.  Jeon poured it on with birdies on 10, 11, 13, 15, and 18 for a closing 32 that turned the tables on the leaders, who struggled home with a 39 (Hattori), 38 (Lee), and 37 (Morita).  Probably the biggest key for Jeon was that she birdied all 5 par 5s today, as her last 3 birdies of the day all came on par 5s.

For the JLPGA's 2012 money list leader, her 20th career victory on tour couldn't have come at a better time.  Hattori was (and remains) #3 on the money list and could have pulled within 10 million yen of Jeon with a win.  As it is, though, Jeon has now extended her lead to nearly 30 million yen over Sun-Ju Ahn, who dominated the JLPGA the last 2 seasons but who was idle this week.  With a scoring average of 69.92 and inconsistent play from most of those immediately following her this season, Jeon is now the 1st 3-time winner on tour.

1. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥91.26M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥61.88M
3. Mayu Hattori ¥57.70M
4. Ritsuko Ryu ¥52.22M
5. Chie Arimura ¥52.08M
6. Miki Saiki ¥50.21M
7. Ji-Hee Lee ¥45.57M
8. Bo-Mee Lee ¥44.56M
9. Sakura Yokomine ¥41.11M
10. Shanshan Feng ¥40.48M
11. Rikako Morita ¥39.14M
12. Yumiko Yoshida ¥31.34M
13. Inbee Park ¥29.62M
14. Hiromi Mogi ¥29.59M
15. Soo-Yun Kang ¥28.64M
16. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥28.22M
17. Yuri Fudoh ¥26.69M
18. Mihoko Iseri ¥26.56M
19. Kaori Ohe ¥24.99M
20. Megumi Kido ¥22.44M
21. Esther Lee ¥21.22M
22. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥21.12M
23. Shinobu Moromizato ¥20.35M
24. Yuki Ichinose ¥20.24M
25. Erina Hara ¥18.68M
26. Airi Saitoh ¥17.84M
27. Ayako Uehara ¥17.82M
28. Ji-Yai Shin ¥17.78M
29. Miki Sakai ¥17.10M
30. Yukari Baba ¥17.10M
31. Akane Iijima ¥16.22M
32. Erika Kikuchi ¥16.12M
33. Teresa Lu ¥16.01M
34. Bo-Bae Song ¥15.63M
35. Na-Ri Lee¥15.60M
36. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.54M
37. Rui Kitada ¥15.34M
38. So-Hee Kim ¥15.34M
39. Young Kim¥15.02M
40. Harukyo Nomura ¥14.48M
41. Na-Ri Kim ¥13.60M
42. Yeo-Jin Kang ¥13.50M
43. Junko Omote¥13.07M
44. Yuko Fukuda ¥12.19M
45. Kumiko Kaneda ¥11.38M
46. Da-Ye Na ¥10.59M
47. Asako Fujimoto¥9.45M
48. Shiho Toyonaga ¥9.34M
49. Natsu Nagai ¥8.97M
50. Li-Ying Ye ¥8.92M

On deck is the Nitori Ladies, which features the return of Sun-Ju Ahn and Ji-Hee Lee to action everyone in the top 10 except Chie Arimura (and of course Shanshan Feng), and a chance for Ritsuko Ryu to defend her title.  Jeon won it in 2010, so she's in great position to cross the 100 million yen mark next week, as well.  Should be pretty interesting!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Recommended Reading: HappyFan on Ryu, Ruthless Mike on Tseng

Just read 2 great--and very different--posts by 2 great bloggers on women's golf.  HappyFan puts So Yeon Ryu's win in Toledo in context, while Ruthless Mike puts Ya Ni Tseng's swing under the microscope.  Give them a read before you watch the coverage of the 1st round of the Safeway Classic tonight on Golf Channel, ok?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Safeway Classic Preview & Pairings

Just arrived home after spending nine days in Toledo, Ohio. First let me congratulate So Yeon Ryu for her spectacular performance at the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic. Her six consecutive birdies on Sunday left the rest of the field fighting for second place. She is very quickly becoming one of the elite golfers on the LPGA tour.

This week the tour moves to North Plains, Oregon, for the playing of the Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola. My friend and writer for CSNNW.COM, Greg Crawford, points out that the Safeway Classic is the longest running non-major event on the LPGA schedule. It started way back in 1972, as the Portland Classic. Here are some of the details of this event:

Course:  Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, Ghost Creek Golf Course
Location:  North Plains, Oregon
Defending Champion:  Suzann Pettersen
Winning Score:  69-74-64 = 207 (-6)

Final Field: 144 players
Par: 37/35 = 72
Yardage: 6,611 yards
Purse: $1,500,000

This will be one of the strongest fields of the year. My strength of field rating is 67%. The only non-major with a stronger field was the Evian Masters. Every healthy top player on the LPGA priority list will be in attendance.

Here are the pairings for the first 2 days.

Here are the television times:
Aug 17 - GC 6:30 PM-8:30 PM EST
Aug 18 - GC 6:30 PM-9:30 PM EST
Aug 19 - GC 7:00 PM-9:30 PM EST

Other Tidbits:
After missing her first 9 cuts of the year, Jane Rah finally made the cut. She finished dead last.

Meredith Duncan ended her consecutive missed cut streak at 12; she finished 59th.

Rookies Jacqui Concolino, Sydnee Michaels, and Kathleen Ekey all had their best finishes of the year at the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic.

Tour rookie and current driving distance leader, Maude-Aimee Leblanc, will miss the rest of the season. I am told that she has a "stress fracture in her spine." She is certainly one of the most interesting rookies this year. Hopefully we will get to see those 300 yard drives early next year.

Hard to Believe Fact of the Week:
Inbee Park did not have a top-ten finish in her first 9 starts of the year; she now has six in a row.

Rolex Mover of the Week:
So Yeon Ryu moved from #22 to #12.

Titleholders Update:
Jennie Lee, Jacqui Concolino, and Lindsey Wright are the latest to qualify. Catriona Matthew remains the highest-ranked player on the LPGA priority list not yet in.

I will be flying to Vancouver in a few days for the CN Canadian Open. Will have further updates when I return.

Update: Yani Tseng has fired her caddie again! After firing longtime caddie Jason Hamilton just a few short weeks ago, she has now fired new caddie Basil Van Rooyan. Her newest caddie will be Patrick Turley.

Na Yeon Choi has hired Jason Hamilton.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

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

With So Yeon Ryu joining the ranks of the LPGA's 2-time winners thanks to her dominating win in Toledo last week, it's time to update my ranking from 2 weeks ago and offer up my latest best guesses as to who's most likely to enter "Club 36" (3-to-6-time winners on tour)!

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 7 top 5s in 2012), so maybe her 7-shot victory thanks to Sunday's 62 will help put to rest the doubts she's raised during her meteoric career over her ability to close the deal.  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. Inbee Park: She's got a solid combination of distance and accuracy off the tee and can bomb it out there when she wants, but given how great a putter she's been her entire career and how well she's been rolling the ball of late, the stat I'm focusing on is her 67% greens in regulation rate. Just think if her iron play were as solid as her driving--she'd certainly be averaging more than 3.885 birdies per round (which is already 4th on tour, behind only Stacy Lewis, Ya Ni Tseng, and Ryu). In other words, if she improves in just that one area, the rest of the tour had better watch out for her week in and week out!

3. Anna Nordqvist: Hound Dog claims her rookie season in 2009 was the best by anyone in LPGA history who failed to win the Rookie of the Year award and ranks it 8th overall. What really distinguished it from her last 2 seasons was her driving accuracy that year--she declined from hitting about 77% of her fairways as a rookie to under 70% of late. It's a good sign that she's hitting almost 73% of her fairways so far this season, but her stats on the greens show where she needs to improve, with 1.81 PPGIR and only 3.321 birdies per round. The good news is she has been putting better in the summer than earlier in the season, plus she's gotten top 10s in 5 of her last 8 starts. If she continues to heat up on the greens, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see her win before summer is over.

4. Sun Young Yoo: After seeming to plateau last year, something in the California air this year must have agreed with the Class of 2006's top late bloomer. After a not-even-close runner-up finish at the Kia to Ya Ni Tseng, she took advantage of In-Kyung Kim's heartbreaking final-hole miss from about a foot and beat her with a birdie in a playoff at the Kraft Nabisco Championship for the 2nd win and 1st major of her career. A straight shooter in the Cristie Kerr/Angela Stanford/Brittany Lang mold, she's doing everything well this year but getting the ball in the hole--if she can improve her 1.84 putts per green in regulation rate, she'll start averaging even more than 3.308 birdies per round and become a more regular visitor to the top of the leaderboard. Unfortunately, she's gone in the opposite direction since my June ranking with these stats and her finishes have undergone a similar decline--she's gone from being a regular in the top 20 to falling outside the top 30 her last 2 starts. Still she's been playing better than almost everyone else on this list for most of the season, so I don't see any reason to put her lower in my ranking than this.

The Contenders

5. Meena Lee: She's been driving for show this year on the LPGA, hitting 76% of her fairways, but she couldn't capitalize on her exceptional play in Hawaii, her top 20 at Evian was her 1st since late April in Alabama, and she missed the cut last week in Toledo. Clearly, her putter has cooled off this summer, but with only a 67% greens in regulation rate and declining driving accuracy since my early-June ranking, I'm guessing that she's off in every area of her game.

6. Momoko Ueda: Her T12 at Evian was her 3rd top 20 of 2012 on the LPGA, she continues to drive the ball well, and she's hitting her irons more solidly (moving her greens in regulation rate up from 62% in early June to 66% now) of late, but her putting stats have declined during the same span (from averaging 1.79 PPGIR and 3.33 birdies per round to 1.84 and 3.20). The few times I followed her in Waterloo, I certainly saw her miss her share of makeable birdie chances. So if she can get the ball in the hole just a little faster, I'm thinking we should start seeing her contend more often on the LPGA. I'm hoping she's going to emphasize the LPGA more in the 2nd half of 2012 than she has in her previous 4 seasons as a dual LPGA-JLPGA major. I'm getting the feeling she's very close to putting it all together outside Japan for the 1st time in her career.

7. Morgan Pressel: Until the Sybase, she was on the upswing from a very flat start to 2012 and a huge falloff from her 2011 season, when she was regularly making top 20s and top 10s and had 2 top 3s in majors. Her driving had been the culprit, as one of the most accurate players on tour in a typical year was hitting the fairway off the tee only 65% of the time early in the season. Although she improved it to 71% for my June ranking, it's since fallen to 68%, most likely due to a combination of emotional scars (from her semi-final match slow play penalty at the Sybase Match Play Championship) and physical ailments (stemming from her practice routine and the rough at the Wegmans LPGA Championship). More ominously, she has 2 WDs and 2 missed cuts in her last 4 starts and her greens in regulation rate has dropped to a troubling 61%. I was surprised when I talked with her in Pittsford and in Waterloo in June how low her confidence level was; in retrospect, I can understand why. I'd love to see her turn her season around.

Quantum Leap Candidates

8. Eun-Hee Ji: In my June ranking, I concluded, "She could be a real surprise at the Wegmans LPGA Championship." And she was, getting into the final pairing for the final round and finishing T2. Since then, though, she's fallen off a cliff, missing 4 cuts in a row. Even though her putts per green in regulation rate isn't bad at all, she's averaging just under 2.90 birdies per round, which is way below what you need to be doing if you want to be an elite player on the LPGA. Given that her greens in regulation rate has fallen below 70%, I'm guessing it's a combination of her iron play and putting that's been holding her back lately.

9. Katherine Hull: For someone who plays most of the winter at home in Australia, she had a very slow start to the LPGA's 2012 season, with a lone top 20 at the KNC to give some hope, and even after glimmers of brilliance in NJ (with a top 10 at the Sybase when she made the sweet 16 and a runner-up at the ShopRite), she hasn't been able to crack the top 25 ever since. All her key performance stats are just below elite levels, although her 3.19 birdies per round rate isn't half bad given her relative struggles in her other areas.

10. Jimin Kang: She got a T5 early in the season but hasn't done much of anything since she had to withdraw from the Kia Classic. Still, she managed a T21 at the U.S. Women's Open and has a history of pulling solid and even spectacular results seemingly out of nowhere (as evidenced by her top-3 finish in Korea late last season), so let's not be counting her out just yet. Given how blah the rest of her performance stats are looking right now, her averaging over 3.05 birdies per round is pretty amazing, which suggests to me she knows how to take advantage of a hot putter. Only question is whether and when it will get hot in the 2nd half of the season.

11. Michelle Wie: OK, her 1st half of 2012 was pretty nightmarish. It's gotten to the point where I'm just happy to see her playing on the weekend, no matter how early her starting times are. Feel free to throw rotten fruits and vegetables at me in comments for putting her odds of winning over the course of the season higher than the rest of the 2-time winners!

12. Jeong Jang: It's definitely going to take her awhile to get back in the swing of things, now that she's back from maternity leave after taking all of 2011 off. Let's see if infant Seul Samantha allows her mama enough practice time to return to the form that put her regularly in contention before wrist injuries derailed her career. I got to follow both of them for awhile at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, which turned out to be her best finish in the 1st half of the season, a T15. But she's gotta improve on her dismal greens in regulation rate (59%) to have more weeks like that one in the 2nd half of the season. Her T15 at the Farr, her 3rd top 20 of the year, is definitely a step in the right direction.

13. Jennifer Rosales: She was a top-30 caliber player from 2002-2005, when she notched her 2 wins and 17 of her 20 top 10s, but she hasn't broken into the top 10 since then. Between injuries and bad golf, she's been missing more cuts than she's made, yet still hanging onto her card. The good news is, she got her 2nd top 20 of the season at the Walmart. The bad news is, her key ball-striking and putting stats have gone downhill since my June ranking, she didn't make it into either the USWO or the Evian fields, and she missed the cut in Toledo (making so few birdies that her birdies per round rate dropped from just over 3.30 to 2.70). A lot's going to ride on how well she plays in her remaining starts. Let's see how she handles the pressure.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

14. Karen Stupples: She hasn't really done anything special this season on the LPGA since getting a top 10 at the Lotte in mid-April and she's riding a 3-event missed-cut streak, but she did improve on her opening score at the Evian by 12 shots on Friday and broke 70 for the 6th time this season and 1st time since the 2nd round at the Manulife in late June, so maybe there's reason for optimism in the run-up to the Women's British Open for this veteran and mother of 2.

15. Ji Young Oh: It's looking more and more like my doubts in February 2010--"Somehow I can't believe that this Junior Mint has as promising a future on the LPGA as the other Young Guns on this list...."--were right on target. She had a disastrous 2011 and even though she's straightened out her driver in 2012 and is starting to make cuts again, almost nothing else in her game is very dependable right now. She hasn't made a top 40 all year and is coming off a T50 in Toledo, so it's hard to say things are looking up for the 2nd half of her season.

16. Laura Diaz: She'd been a regular in the top 40 and on the Solheim Cup since 2000, and even had 2 consecutive top-10 seasons early last decade, but coming back from the birth of her daughter a couple of years ago has proven quite difficult. From 2009 to 2011, she found every aspect of the game difficult and is now hanging onto her card by the tips of her fingers, at #132 on the Priority Status List thanks to a 1-time career top 40 exemption. About the only good thing you can say about her 2012 is that she's made the cut in 3 of her last 5 starts.

17. Janice Moodie: This 3-time Solheim Cupper has never lost her LPGA tour card, even when she gave birth in 2006 and played only 10 events. But she hasn't won since 2002 and has gotten only 5 of her 44 career top 10s in the last 6 seasons, so it's not like being a mom on tour hasn't taken its toll on her game. With a kindergartner and an infant, both boys, to corral, it's no wonder her putter has been suffering this season. What is surprising is that she hadn't made a cut all year since finishing near the bottom of the pack in Australia to kick off the season--until last week in Toledo, where she finished T25. Maybe it's a sign of better things to come.

18. Christina Kim: A 67 on Friday at Evian broke her 4-event missed-cut streak, but even though she continues to get the ball in the fairway with great regularity (although she did drop from 78% in early June to 76% now), she's still lost a lot of distance, and her iron play and putting continue to let her down in a big way, so it's way too soon to say she's seeing any light in the tunnel during the worst slump of her career. Regular readers of her blog know that she's been facing down much more than a terrible slump, though, including a serious back injury, depression, and thoughts of suicide the last 2 years. Here's hoping she can rediscover the fun in the game in the 2nd half of the season and use it to keep those negative thoughts in perspective on and off the course.

19. Stacy Prammanasudh: She, too, is stuck in the worst slump of her career, having made 1 cut in 8 starts so far this season (and missed her last 5 in a row), but maybe baby Ryp Walker will start giving her more practice time soon!

On the Outside, Looking In

20. Carin Koch: She notched 56 LPGA top 10s between 1995 and 2008, but only 2 wins--and at the Corning Classic and in Mexico (2 warning signs from my 1-time winners' ranking). But she moved back to Sweden in 2009 and has played only the 2 dual LPGA-LET events per season ever since. Don't get me wrong--she's often played well on the LET and is currently #23 on their money list--but she's just not giving herself many chances to add to her LPGA win total.

21. Gloria Park: She's still playing full-time at home in Korea.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Jamie Farr Toledo Classic Sunday: Move Over, Rory! So Yeon Ryu Smokes Field with Final-Round 62

So Yeon Ryu took control of the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic (otherwise known as the Se Ri Pak Shootout) as she made the turn with 6 consecutive birdies and cruised to a 9-under-par 62 that moved her to -20 for the week and secured her her 2nd career LPGA victory and 1st as a member of the tour.  Only Paula Creamer with a 60 and Eunjung Yi with a 61 have ever won with a lower score in this event. [Correction:  HappyFan over at Seoul reminds me that Se Ri Pak won in 1998 with a 61.  He also points out that in all 3 of Ryu's best LPGA finishes, she was paired with Hee Kyung Seo!]

How good was Ryu today?  Well, Angela Stanford opened and closed the tournament with 66s and ended up 7 back in distant 2nd.  Inbee Park shot 4 rounds in the 60s, including a Friday 65, and barely tied Chella Choi 8 behind Ryu.  In-Kyung Kim, Mika Miyazato, and Ji-Yai Shin were stuck in neutral after being at or within 1 shot of the lead after 54 holes and ended up barely making the top 10, getting tied or passed by Jennie Lee's solid 67.  Hee Kyung Seo did even worse and got caught at T9 by Beatriz Recari.  Stacy Lewis closed with a fine 66, but had to settle for T11.  (Blame the 17th and 18th, both par 5s, for her finish--she only made 3 birdies in 8 tries on those holes, against 3 bogeys and a double!)  Defending champion Na Yeon Choi was never a factor, as she finished T21 with Amy Yang, Sydnee Michaels, and Mo Martin, 1 shot behind 1st-round leader Pernilla Lindberg, among others.

Ryu has had several close calls since winning the 2011 U.S. Women's Open in dramatic fashion against fellow KLPGA superstar Hee Kyung Seo, so this 2nd LPGA win must be particularly satisfying to her.  Jee Young Lee, who finished T31 this week in one of her best tournaments in a long while, knows how hard it is to follow up on a non-member win--she's in her 7th season on tour and still hasn't lived up to expectations.  Now the question is, just how good can Ryu make her rookie season?  She's 8th on the money list with nearly 3/4 of a million dollars to her name, has almost lapped #2 Lexi Thompson in the Rookie of the Year Race, has leaped to 7th in the Player of the Year race (well behind leader Stacy Lewis), and is 6th in the race for the Vare Trophy (averaging .27 strokes per round more than Lewis, who just passed Ai Miyazato).  Only Lewis is averaging more birdies per round than Ryu (4.11 to 4.07), only Inbee Park and Lewis are more efficient than she is after hitting a green in regulation, and she's among the best on tour in top-10 percentage and rounds under par rate, as well.  With Ya Ni Tseng's slump deepening thanks to yet another uncharacteristic missed cut, with Lewis playing a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of late, with Ai Miyazato missing her 2nd cut of the year, with Shanshan Feng and Inbee Park dealing with the rigors of trying to be in the elite of both the LPGA and JLPGA in 2012, and with Azahara Munoz also missing the cut this week, perhaps there's an opening for Ryu to make up some ground on those ahead of her in the weeks and months to come.

Well, Ryu's next order of business is to take on the well-rested defending champion of the Safeway Classic, Suzann Pettersen, not to mention the rest of the packed field for a 54-hole sprint in Oregon next week.  Let's see if this win opens the floodgates for her!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies Sunday: Yumiko Yoshida Catches Eun-Bi Jang on 54th Hole, Wins Playoff for 1st JLPGA Victory

Eun-Bi Jang had a great chance to make the NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies her 1st JLPGA win as she stood on the final tee of the tournament.  Despite a bogey-free 67 by Yumiko Yoshida, capped off by a birdie on the 385-yard par-4 18th that got her to -11 and dropped Jang's lead to 1, the relatively unheralded KLPGA transplant just needed a par to seal the deal.  Having made 5 birdies in her 1st 10 holes and not made a bogey in her previous 45 holes, Jang was in a great position to do it.  But when she hit her approach into the rough and failed to get up and down, she opened the door for the 25-year-old from Kanagawa.  And when Yoshida walked through it with a 7-foot birdie putt on the 6th playoff hole, she turned out to be the golfer celebrating her 1st career JLPGA win.

So in the end it came down to the "rebel alliance" that I blogged about yesterday, as the JLPGA's big names either got off to slow starts or were too far back to get into contention.  Still, the leaderboard ended up packed with the JLPGA's finest.  Living legend Yuri Fudoh ended up 2 shots out of the playoff, Sakura Yokomine, Sun-Ju Ahn, and Harukyo Nomura closed with 33s to catch Junko Omote at -8, Rikako Morita fired a bogey-free 66 to catch money-list leader Mi-Jeong Jeon and a host of others (including ex-LPGAer Teresa Lu) another shot back, and Ritsuko Ryu caught Bo-Mee Lee, Miki Saiki, Kumiko Kaneda, and Na-Ri Kim at -6 to secure a top-20 finish.  Chie Arimura had to settle for a T21 another shot away from the playoff duo.

With her win, Yoshida cracked the top 15 on the JLPGA money list for the 1st time in her career

1. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥80.46M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥61.88M
3. Mayu Hattori ¥55.34M
4. Ritsuko Ryu ¥51.72M
5. Chie Arimura ¥51.45M
6. Miki Saiki ¥50.21M
7. Ji-Hee Lee ¥45.57M
8. Sakura Yokomine ¥40.60M
9. Shanshan Feng ¥40.48M
10. Bo-Mee Lee ¥40.20M
11. Rikako Morita ¥34.78M
12. Inbee Park ¥29.62M
13. Hiromi Mogi ¥29.05M
14. Yumiko Yoshida ¥28.94M
15. Soo-Yun Kang ¥28.10M
16. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥27.77M
17. Yuri Fudoh ¥26.69M
18. Mihoko Iseri ¥26.25M
19. Kaori Ohe ¥24.10M
20. Megumi Kido ¥22.44M
21. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥21.12M
22. Shinobu Moromizato ¥20.35M
23. Yuki Ichinose ¥20.24M
24. Esther Lee ¥19.75M
25. Erina Hara ¥18.30M
26. Ji-Yai Shin ¥17.78M
27. Ayako Uehara ¥17.53M
28. Yukari Baba ¥16.48M
29. Airi Saitoh ¥16.37M
30. Teresa Lu ¥16.01M
31. Bo-Bae Song ¥15.63M
32. Akane Iijima ¥15.59M
33. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.54M
34. Erika Kikuchi ¥15.49M
35. So-Hee Kim ¥15.34M
36. Na-Ri Lee¥15.32M
37. Young Kim¥15.02M
38. Rui Kitada ¥14.90M
39. Miki Sakai ¥14.10M
40. Harukyo Nomura ¥14.04M
41. Yeo-Jin Kang ¥13.50M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥13.25M
43. Yuko Fukuda ¥12.19M
44. Junko Omote¥11.60M
45. Kumiko Kaneda ¥11.38M
46. Da-Ye Na ¥10.59M
47. Asako Fujimoto¥9.45M
48. Li-Ying Ye ¥8.92M
49. Natsu Nagai ¥8.58M
50. Nikki Campbell ¥8.54M

Next up for the JLPGA is the CAT Ladies, where Chie Arimura will attempt to defend her title in Hakone.  From the field list, it doesn't look like there will be any surprise appearances by any dual LPGA-JLPGA members, except for Harukyo Nomura, who's probably looking to secure her place well within the top 50 (thus guaranteeing her a card for next season) before returning to the LPGA.  And with Sun-Ju Ahn apparently sitting this one out, the race for #2 is wide open.  Should be good!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Jamie Farr Toledo Classic Saturday: The Empire Strikes Back

Check out the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic leaderboard now that the dust has settled from moving day charges by Ji-Yai Shin and In-Kyung Kim.  Their 66s brought them to -11, tied with So Yeon Ryu (67) and Hee Kyung Seo (68) for the lead, and 1 shot ahead of Inbee Park (69), Mika Miyazato (69), and 2nd-round leader Chella Choi (70).  Choi is the only surviving rebel alliance leader that I focused on earlier today in my overview of the 1st 36 holes, although to be fair 1st-round leader Pernilla Lindberg and Jacqui Concolino are only 3 off the pace at -8, and Beatriz Recari, Karine Icher, and Jennie Lee aren't out of it at -7.  But every other player within 5 shots of the lead is a big name.  Yes, we have no Stacy Lewis, Na Yeon Choi, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, or Brittany Lang in the hunt, and Amy Yang and Natalie Gulbis will have to go super-low from -4 to be a factor tomorrow, but there's plenty of star power on the top of the leaderboard.  Who will shine brightly and who will go supernova tomorrow?  Time will tell!

NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies Setup: More Rebel Alliance/Empire Action

I had some fun with my title's Star Wars analogy in my post on the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic on the LPGA, so I was surprised to see the same Rebel Alliance/Empire shootout theme holding true at the NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies on the JLPGA.  32-year-old journeywoman Tomoko Kusakabe (-8), who's never broken into the top 40 on the year-end money list in her 1st 8 years on tour, leads a rebel alliance of young guns looking to deny the tour's biggest names a victory tomorrow, including 23-year-old Eun-Bi Jang (-7), 21-year-old Miki Sakai (-6), 22-year-old Kaori Ohe (-6), 24-year-old Teresa Lu (-6), 24-year-old Erika Kikuchi (-6), 25-year-old Yumiko Yoshida (-6), 19-year-old Harukyo Nomura (-5), 26-year-old Esther Lee (-5), and 26-year-old Na-Ri Kim (-4).  It's a tall order, as the empire is lead by living legend Yuri Fudoh at -7, flanked by Sun-Ju Ahn and Mi-Jeong Jeon at -5, and Sakura Yokomine, Chie Arimura, and Bo-Mee Lee at -4.  But Kusakabe's best career finish was a T6 here in 2009, so maybe she'll be up to the challenge!

Jamie Farr Toledo Classic Thursday and Friday: Rebel Alliance/Empire Shootout in Process

Scoring has always been low at Highland Meadows in the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic, which may as well be called the Se Ri Pak Shootout, what with her 5 wins at this event.  Paula Creamer hung on in 2008 after opening with a 60.  Eunjung Yi shocked the field with a moving-day 61 in 2009 and beat Morgan Pressel in a playoff.  In fact, the last player to win without breaking 65 was Mi Hyun Kim in 2006.

Given that history, everyone playing this week knew they'd have to go low or go home.  With the cut line at E, big names like Ya Ni Tseng, Ai Miyazato, Azahara Munoz, Anna Nordqvist, Michelle Wie, and Pressel have had to settle for the latter option, not to mention players of the caliber of Eun-Hee Ji, Mina Harigae, Jennifer Song, Mariajo Uribe, Lizette Salas, Nicole Castrale, Vicky Hurst, and Ryann O'Toole.  But plenty of other golfers have gone the former route, including many names we haven't seen in a long time near the top of the leaderboard. 

On Thursday, Pernilla Lindberg fired an 8-birdie, 7-under-par 64 to take a 2-shot lead on fellow members of the rebel alliance Meredith Duncan, Numa Gulyanamitta, Chella Choi, and Karine Icher (not to mention Mika Miyazato and Angela Stanford).  Joining them in the 60s were the likes of Ayaka Kaneko, Gerina Piller, Ilhee Lee, and Jenny Shin (and, oh yeah, Amy Yang and So Yeon Ryu) at -4, Jane Park, Jee Young Lee, Lizette Salas, Danielle Kang, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Danah Bordner, Jane Rah, Jacqui Concolino, Brooke Pancake, and Rachel Rohanna (whoops, also, Laura Davies, Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Hee-Kyung Seo, Hee-Won Han, Jeong Jang, and Janice Moodie) at -3, and a huge group at -2 that included P.K. Kongkrapham, Valentine Derrey, Cindy LaCrosse, Mo Martin, Kathleen Ekey, Sydnee Michaels, Christine Song, Samantha Richdale, Jennie Lee, Nicole Hage, and Moira Dunn (oops, forgot Ji-Yai Shin, In-Kyung Kim, Inbee Park, Brittany Lincicome, Sandra Gal, Momoko Ueda, Natalie Gulbis, Katherine Hull, Lindsey Wright, and Candie Kung).

On Friday, the empire struck back to some extent, with Mika Miyazato, Inbee Park, and Hee Kyung Seo only 1 shot behind new rebel alliance leader Chella Choi, followed by So Yeon Ryu, Hee-Won Han, Karine Icher, and Pernilla Lindberg at -7, Ji-Yai Shin, In-Kyung Kim, Angela Stanford, Beatriz Recari, and Jacqui Concolino at -6, and Stacy Lewis, Mi Jung Hur, Lindsey Wright, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Sydnee Michaels, and Kathleen Ekey at -5. 

So as moving day beckons, will we see another Eunjung Yi-like performance by a rebel alliance leader, or will a big name bring a Se Ri Pak-like Death Star blast to the hopes of the rest of the field?  I'd say "stay tuned," but between the London Olympics and Tiger in contention at the PGA Championship, the decision by the tournament organizerts to save money and not pay for Golf Channel coverage is looking pretty smart (although maddening to LPGA junkies like me!).  I'm hoping for big moves by Momoko Ueda (E), 2010 champion Na Yeon Choi (-1), Amy Yang (-2), Tiffany Joh (-2), Ayaka Kaneko (-2), Paula Creamer (-3), and Jane Park (-3), rooting for Mika Miyazato to break through for her 1st LPGA win, and expecting at least a couple of golfers to go lower than Lindberg's opening 64 on the weekend.  How about you?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Congrats to Team USA on Olympic Gold in Women's Soccer

I was working on campus yesterday but was able to leave early, so I got home just in time to see Team USA go up 2-0 on Nadeshiko Japan in the women's soccer gold metal game.  At that point, the Full Metal Archivist was so frustrated with the referees and the announcers that we turned off the volume to watch the last 35 minutes of so.  I blame myself for turning it back on right after Ogimi's goal brought Nadeshiko within 1 goal of the Americans.  Not even onechan, imoto, the FMA, and I each eating a cherry tomato from our garden could overcome that mistake. 

Seriously, what a great game!  The level of play was so high--the closest team event in the London Olympics that I've seen to rival it was the US-China semifinal match in beach volleyball--it was just a shame that one team had to lose.  In the end, we felt bad for Nadeshiko but happy for Rochester native Abby Wambach and all her teammates (at least onechan, imoto, and I did!).  It wasn't the result we wanted, but it was a great experience watching it.  Imoto was so nervous at times that she had to leave the room, while whenever Nadeshiko had a chance for a late goal (and they had so many!) the FMA, onechan, and imoto were jumping around the room yelling at the tv.

For more on the game itself, check out bangkokbobby's excellent post!  I think we'll be seeing much more of this rivalry in years to come!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

OMG! Nadeshiko Japan vs. Team USA Rematch for Olympic Gold

The Constructivist household is going nuts for Nadeshiko Japan, who held on over the last 25 minutes of their semi-final match and held off a scrappy French team to get into the gold-metal game at the London Olympics.  And when Team USA kept coming back against Canada and beat them in the final seconds of overtime, well, you know we can't wait for the rematch of the amazing 2011 World Cup finals!  We love Abby Wambach (a western NYer!), Alex Morgan, and the rest of Team USA, but there's no doubt we'll be rooting for a Nadeshiko Japan repeat Thursday afternoon (our time)!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Meiji Cup Sunday: Is Shanshan Feng the Hottest Golfer on the Planet?

Shanshan Feng was 4 behind Sun-Ju Ahn heading into today's final round of the Meiji Cup, but she made 5 birdies from the 5th through 11th holes and parred in for a bogey-free 67 that got her to -7 and gave her a 1-shot lead on JLPGA legend Yuri Fudoh (who made her only bogey of the day on the 364-yard par-4 16th to settle for a 67 of her own).  Then she could only watch as all the other golfers that had started the day ahead of her failed to match her total--until the final group.  Ahn finished with 5 straight pars after bogeying the 354-yard par-4 13th, while Shinobu Moromizato parred the entire back 9 after opening with a 33.  When neither of them could birdie the 544-yard par-5 18th, we had ourselves a 3-way playoff.

And Feng won the sudden-death playoff in style.  After tying Ahn for 4 straight tries on the par-5 18th (Moromizato had dropped out early in the playoff), Feng hit the green in 2 with a 237-yard 3-wood and sank an eagle putt of over 45 feet.  With that putt, Feng not only gave herself a fantastic birthday present--she turns 23 today--but she also laid claim to the title of hottest golfer on the planet.  With 2 wins on the JLPGA (both playoff victories!), 1 on the LET, and an LPGA major (the Wegmans LPGA Championship) to her name, Feng now has more worldwide wins than anyone else in women's golf in 2012.

More soon!

[Update 1 (10:24 am):  Overshadowed by Feng's amazing victory were strong finishes by Yuki Sakurai, an amateur phenom who's been struggling as a pro, Young Kim, an LPGA transplant who was 15th on the JLPGA money list in 2010, and Na-Ri Kim, another ex-LPGAer who was 11th on the money list in 2010.  Chie Arimura, Bo-Mee Lee, and Mayu Hattori all got top 10s, but given how close they were to the lead through 36 holes, they must be disappointed in their final rounds.  But with Sakura Yokomine and Rikako Morita finishing T22, Ritsuko Ryu T27, Mi-Jeong Jeon T35, and Ji-Hee Lee T48, they still gained ground on their closest rivals on this year's money list.

1. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥79.07M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥58.64M
3. Mayu Hattori ¥53.34M
4. Ritsuko Ryu ¥50.90M
5. Chie Arimura ¥50.82M
6. Miki Saiki ¥49.39M
7. Ji-Hee Lee ¥45.57M
8. Shanshan Feng ¥40.48M
9. Bo-Mee Lee ¥39.38M
10. Sakura Yokomine ¥37.37M
11. Rikako Morita ¥33.40M
12. Inbee Park ¥29.62M
13. Hiromi Mogi ¥29.05M
14. Soo-Yun Kang ¥28.10M
15. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥27.13M
16. Mihoko Iseri ¥26.25M
17. Kaori Ohe ¥22.71M
18. Megumi Kido ¥21.97M
19. Yuri Fudoh ¥21.79M
20. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥21.12M
21. Shinobu Moromizato ¥20.35M
22. Yuki Ichinose ¥19.85M
23. Esther Lee ¥18.36M
24. Erina Hara ¥18.30M
25. Ji-Yai Shin ¥17.78M
26. Ayako Uehara ¥17.06M
27. Airi Saitoh ¥16.37M
28. Yumiko Yoshida ¥16.34M
29. Yukari Baba ¥15.92M
30. Bo-Bae Song ¥15.63M
31. So-Hee Kim ¥15.34M
32. Akane Iijima ¥15.31M
33. Erika Kikuchi ¥14.86M
34. Teresa Lu ¥14.62M
35. Young Kim¥14.46M
36. Rui Kitada ¥14.34M
37. Na-Ri Lee¥13.93M
38. Yeo-Jin Kang ¥13.50M
39. Miki Sakai ¥12.72M
40. Na-Ri Kim ¥12.43M
41. Yuko Fukuda ¥12.19M
42. Harukyo Nomura ¥10.80M
43. Kumiko Kaneda ¥10.57M
44. Da-Ye Na ¥10.03M
45. Eun-Bi Jang ¥9.38M
46. Asako Fujimoto¥8.81M
47. Li-Ying Ye ¥8.59M
48. Natsu Nagai ¥8.58M
49. Junko Omote¥8.36M
50. Nikki Campbell ¥8.07M

Ahn has no time to be disappointed with her playoff loss, as she has a chance next week to match Feng's feat of defending her title when she rolls into the NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies.  With no Feng, Inbee Park, or Ji-Yai Shin visiting the JLPGA next week--dual members who have taken over 87 million yen away from tour regulars this year--it'll be interesting to see if Ahn, Arimura, and Fudoh can continue their strong play of late, if Jeon, Ryu, Lee, and Morita can bounce back, if ex-LPGAers Kang, Moromizato, Lu, Young Kim, and Na-Ri Kim can make like Feng, and if Shiho Oyama, #103 on the money list in only 2 starts since coming back from injury, can keep on moving up it.

[Update 2 (10:28 am):  Pretty amazing that Feng's win here last year was only her 2nd JLPGA start and that she's now won 4 times in the past 12 months on tour!]

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Meiji Cup Setup: Sun-Ju Ahn's Saturday 67 Gives Her Shot at 1st JLPGA Win since May

Sun-Ju Ahn fired a bogey-free 67 today to get to -6 overall and take a 2-shot lead over Chie Arimura, Shinobu Moromizato, and Young Kim heading into the final round of the Meiji Cup.  Ahn is gunning for her 1st JLPGA win since the 1st week of May at the Salonpas Cup, but she's going to have to keep the pedal to the metal to get it tomorrow.  Defending champion Shanshan Feng is only 4 shots back after a bogey-free 34 to close out her moving day round (as is Mayu Hattori, who's #2 on the JLPGA money list), while KLPGA star Bo-Mee Lee is 3 behind after making 4 birdies and no bogeys over her final 10 holes today.  With money-list leader Mi-Jeong Jeon stuck at T30, 8 shots off Ahn's pace (along with Sakura Yokomine, Shiho Oyama, Soo-Yun Kang, and Nikki Campbell), this is a great opportunity for the JLPGA's leading money winner in the last 2 seasons to make up some serious ground on her rival.

Sunday also represents a big opportunity for a bunch of young Japanese up-and-comers, including amateur Hikari Fujita (72, -3), ex-LET member Yuki Sakurai (73, -3), 22-year-old Rikako Morita (73, -1), 22-year-old Kumiko Kaneda (74, -1), 24-year-old Maiko Wakabayashi (71, -1), and 25-year-old Yumiko Yoshida (70, -1).  Moving day was harsher on other youngsters, including Ritsuko Ryu (#4 on the money list) and Harukyo Nomura, who fell 7 off the pace, but at least they'll be playing tomorrow.  Megumi Kido, winner of the last JLPGA event, missed the cut, as did Akane Iijima, Teresa Lu, Yukari Baba, and Yuko Mitsuka (among many others).

But all eyes will be on the last 3 threesomes tomorrow.  Ahn is paired with Moromizato and Kim, while Arimura, Bo-Mee Lee, and Esther Lee will be right ahead of them and Feng, Sakurai, and Fujita will precede them.  Should be an exciting finish!

Friday, August 3, 2012

What is going on with Yani Tseng?

It seems like just yesterday, that I was writing a post asking if anyone would step up and challenge Yani Tseng. My, how things have changed. In a few short months, Yani has gone from complete dominance to completely out of contention. Let us look at her season so far. I am going to break it down into three parts.

First 5 tournaments:
Wins: 3
Top fives: 4
Top tens: 5
Missed Cuts: 0
Broke par in: 12 of 16 rounds or 75%
Per round average: 69.15

Next 4 tournaments:
Wins: 0
Top fives: 1
Top tens: 3
Missed Cuts: 0
Broke par in: 63.6% of rounds played.
Per round average: 70.36

Last 4 tournaments:
Wins: 0
Top fives: 0
Top tens: 0
Missed cuts: 2
Broke par in: 1 of 12 rounds or 8.3%
Per round average: 74.75

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see the steep drop that has occurred. The per round average is alarming. Last year she led the tour with a per round average of 69.66.

Earlier in the year it seemed to me that just about everyone, including myself, was pointing to her as the next great golfer. We had her following in the footsteps of Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa. Did we all jump the gun?

I started to wonder if Annika or Lorena had suffered through any slumps like this after becoming the best female player in the game. Here is what I found:

You have to look long and hard to find anything resembling a slump after Annika soared to the top.
The worst period I could find was back in 1999, when over a 4-tournament span, she failed to finish in the top ten and posted a per round average of 72.80. Not up to her standards, but not all that bad either.

Lorena became the top player in the world and retired without ever having a slump. Her worst period would be in 2009, when over a  period of four tournaments she finished 16th, 6th, 40th, and had a rare missed cut. Her per round average over that period was still a stellar 70.9.

The above shows that neither of those superstars ever had to go through what Yani is going through now.

Some might say that while this makes for a good story, it is too early to draw any conclusions. I say that this bears watching. We have seen examples in all sports that when a player loses confidence, it sometimes takes a very long time to get it back. Sometimes it never comes back. Look at Song-Hee Kim, who in 2010 had more top-10 finishes than anyone on the tour. She now is a long shot to retain her playing card for next year.

One more thought on the subject. A few weeks back I wrote an article on the Americans underachieving, to which I got a huge response. The general consensus was that the Asian players are far outworking the Americans. That opinion seemed unanimous, coming from Asians, Americans, and some of the players themselves. Being around the game as much as I am, I can't disagree. But will they burn themselves out at an early age? Is that what is happening here?

I welcome all opinions on the subject.

Other Tidbits:

Inbee Park has five consecutive top-ten finishes.

The tour's next stop will be in Ohio for the playing of the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic, which I will be attending. An unusual amount of players will be skipping this event. They include Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen, Karrie Webb, Hee Young Park, Catriona Matthew, Maria Hjorth, Sun Young Yoo, Sophie Gustafson, Karen Stupples, Shanshan Feng, Juli Inkster, Caroline Hedwall and Lexi Thompson. Incredibly, there is no television broadcast for this tournament.