Monday, October 29, 2012

Mizuno Classic Preview & Pairings

Let me start off by giving a big congratulations to Suzann Pettersen for winning the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship. This was Suzann's second consecutive victory on the LPGA Tour. Suzann held off challenges from Inbee Park and Yani Tseng to win by 3 strokes.

The tour moves to Japan this week for the playing of the Mizuno Classic. It is the final stop on the current four-stop Asian swing.

This is tournament number 25 of 27 this year. Here are the key details:

Course:  Kintetsu Kashikojimo Country Club
Location:  Shima-shi, Mie, Japan
Defending Champion:  Momoko Ueda
Winning Score:  67-64-69=200 (-16)

Final Field:  78 players
Par 36/36=72
Yardage:  6506 yards
Purse:  $1,200,000

This tournament is only 54 holes.

I will post the pairings as soon as they become available.

My strength of field rating is 53%, making it the eighth most weakest field of the year. Most Americans and Europeans have chosen to skip this event. Some of the bigger names missing include: Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome, Ai Miyazato, Catriona Matthew, Michelle Wie, Sandra Gal, Azahara Munoz, Sun Young Yoo, Meena Lee, Mindy Kim, Natalie Gulbis, Katherine Hull, So Yeon Ryu, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and Katie Futcher.

With that many players missing, you may be wondering why the field rating isn't lower. It is because so many highly ranked non LPGA players are playing in this event. These highly Rolex ranked players include: Sun Ju Ahn, Chie Arimura, Yukari Baba, Mayu Hattori, Sakura Yokomine, Miki Saiki, Rikako Morita, and Ritsuko Ryu.

There is no television broadcast in the United States for this event.

Other Tidbits:
Inbee Park's second place finish earned her 12 player of the year points. Stacy Lewis's lead, for that very importatnt Hall of Fame point, has been cut to 28 points. A first place finish is worth 30 points.

Jiyai Shin who did not play, is also skipping next week's tournament in Mexico. This will eliminate her from winning the Vare Trophy for the tour's lowest scoring average. It now will be a 3 way race between, InbeePark (70.27), Stacy Lewis (70.39), and So Yeon Ryu (70.42). A Hall of Fame point will be awarded to the winner.

Rolex Mover of the Week:
LPGA rookie Carlotta Ciganda, won for the second time this year on the Ladies European Tour. She jumps from #84 to #58 in the world.

Titleholders Update:
Belen Mozo, Mariajo Uribe, and Mo Martin are the latest to qualify.

Who's Hot: 
Catriona Matthew has now finished in the top ten in five consecutive tournaments.

Who's Not:
Sophie Gustafson has finished no better than 55th in her last eighth tournaments.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship Preview & Pairings

Now that we have completed another exciting tournament, let me congratulate Suzann Pettersen for her win at the HanaBank Championship. Suzann came out victorious, defeating Catriona Matthew on the third playoff hole. It was Suzann's first win of the 2012 season.

The tour moves to Taiwan this week for the playing of the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship. It is stop number three on the current four-stop Asian swing. It will conclude next week in Japan.

This is tournament number 24 of 27 this year. Here are the key details:

Course:  Sunrise Golf & Country Club
Where:  Yang Mei, Taoyuan, Taiwan
Defending Champion:  Yani Tseng
Winning Score:  68-71-67-66=272 (-16)

Final Field:   78 players
Par:  36/36=72
Yardage:  6,390 yards
Purse:  $2,000,000

Here are Thursday's pairings.

My strength of field rating is just 46% which makes it one of the weakest fields of the year.
Some of the stars sitting it out this week include: Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, Angela Stanford, Amy Yang, I.K. Kim, Karrie Webb, Brittany Lang, Hee Kyung Seo, Mika Miyazato, Sun Young Yoo, Shanshan Feng, and Hee Won Han. Natalie Gulbis and Morgan Pressel have recently pulled out due to injuries.

Here are the television times:
Oct 25 - GC 1:00 PM-3:00 PM EST
Oct 26 - GC 1:00 PM-3:00 PM EST
Oct 27 - GC 1:00 PM-3:00 PM EST
Oct 28 - GC 1:00 PM-3:00 PM EST

Once again, because of the 12-hour time difference, this will be shown on tape delay. At least this week it is being shown at a decent hour.

Other Tidbits:
Inbee Park's consecutive top ten streak came to a halt this past weekend. She finished tied for 15th.
Yani Tseng finished in the top ten for the first time in twelve tournaments.
Beatriz Recari is the only member of the LPGA to play in every round this year. She has played in every tournament, and made every cut.

Titleholders Update:
Karen Sjodin, Jennifer Johnson, and Nicole Castrale are the latest to qualify. Sophie Gustafson remains the highest-ranked player on the priority list yet to qualify. It seems to me to be a little unfair that a player like Nicole Castrale can get in with a 45th place finish this week, while a player like Jimin Kang who had a 5th-place finish early in the year is not in. I guess no system is perfect.

Rolex Movers of the week:
Catriona Matthew moves from #22 to #15. Suzann Pettersen moves from #9 to #7.

Who is hot:
Catriona Matthew has finished in the top ten in each of her last four tournaments.
Se Ri Pak, in spite of only teeing it up 9 times this year (she had to withdraw on two other occasions because of injuries), has not finished outside the top 25 all year. She has 5 top tens in those nine starts.

Who is not:
Hee Kyung Seo has failed to finish in the top 25 in her last six tournaments.
Sun Young Yoo has failed to finish in the top 10 in her last 13 tournaments.

10/24/12 -UPDATE - Jiyai Shin has dropped out of this tournament. That coupled with the fact that she is not playing at the Lorena Ochoa event, eliminates her from winning the Vare Trophy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

LPGA Hana Bank Championship Preview

Congratulations goes out to Inbee Park for winning the Sime Darby Malaysia Championship. It was Inbee's second win this year on the LPGA tour, and she has moved into second place in the Player of the Year race. Stacy Lewis still holds a 40-point lead, but with 5 tournaments still to be played it is not over yet.

The tour moves to South Korea this week for the playing of the LPGA Hana Bank Championship. It is stop number two on the current four-stop Asian swing. Stops in Taiwan and Japan will follow.

This is tournament 23 of 27 this year. Here are the key details:

Course:  Sky 72 Golf Club Ocean Course
Where:  Incheon, South Korea
Defending Champion:  Yani Tseng
Winning Score:  65-70-67 = 202 (-14)

Final Field:  69 players
Par:  36/36=72
Yardage:  6,364 yards
Purse:  $1,200,000

Here are the first-round pairings.
My strength of field rating is 64% which is a pretty strong field. It will include many KLPGA stars who usually don't tee it up in LPGA events but are highly ranked in the Rolex Rankings. On the other hand, many LPGA stars have chosen to skip the event this week. Those not competing this week include Paula Creamer, Karrie Webb, Mika Miyazato, Sophie Gustafson, Momoko Ueda, Candie Kung, and Natalie Gulbis. Some other players that are playing very well, including Sydnee Michaels and Lizette Salas, didn't get into this limited field.  This is a 54-hole event.

Here are the television times:
Oct 19 - GC 7:30 PM-9:30 PM EST
Oct 20 - GC 7:30 PM-9:30 PM EST
Oct 21 - GC 7:30 PM-9:30 PM EST

Once again, because of the 12-hour time difference, this will be shown on tape delay. At least it is being broadcast a few hours earlier this week.

Other Tidbits:
Inbee Park has now finished in the top ten in 10 consecutive tournaments.

It is no surprise that So Yeon Ryu and Lexi Thompson are the top two rookies this season. They were established winners and huge stars before their rookie season even started. So much attention has been given to them, that two other fine rookie seasons are almost going unnoticed. Lizette Salas, who got her card by earning it at qualifying school, had her best finish this week when she tied for 9th at the Sime Darby Championship. She has five top-25 finishes this year. Sydnee Michaels, who finished 19th this week, now has eight top-30 finishes this year and five top-25 finishes in her last 7 starts. Sydnee was Rookie of the Year last year on the Symetra Tour. These two ladies are both true rookies and should be recognized for the excellent season that they are having.

Titleholders Update:
Lizette Salas, Momoko Ueda, and Mina Harigae are the latest to qualify.

Rolex Movers of the week:
Paula Creamer moves from #13 to #11 and Karrie Webb moves from #19 to #15.

Who is hot:
Paula Creamer has finished 2nd, 3rd, and 6th in her last 3 tournaments.

Who's not:
Neither Michelle Wie nor Sophie Gustafson have a top-ten finish this year.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

LPGA Q-School Stage II: The Katie Burnett Show

Georgia native and University of South Carolina standout Katie Burnett tore up the Plantation Golf and Country Club over the past 4 days, breaking par every round and finishing at -15 in Stage II of the LPGA's Q-School, 6 shots ahead of LET superstar Melissa Reid.  Burnett, who garnered 3 top 20s and 6 made cuts in 7 starts on the Symetra Tour after graduation, had broken 70 only twice on the LPGA's developmental tour, but she opened with 3 straight rounds in the 60s this week and held on with a final-round 71.  Given that only 15 golfers in the field of 157 broke par over the 72-hole tournament--and that even from that group, Lee-Anne Pace, Felicity Johnson, and Giulia Molinaro finished 9 shots behind her, Ashleigh Simon and Lisa McCloskey were 12 back, and Austin Ernst and Stephanie Na ended up 14 off the pace--it's pretty clear that Burnett dominated the field.

Other notables who lived to fight another day included Moriya Jutanugarn and Caroline Masson at E, Brooke Pancake, Ginger Howard, and Garrett Phillips at +1, Natalie Sheary, Emily Talley, and Jessica Speechley at +2, Jean Reynolds, Brianna Do, Candace Schepperle, Caroline Westrup, and Selanee Henderson at +3, Chie Arimura, Frances Bondad, Taylore Karle, Marina Alex, Paz Echeverria, Seema Sadekar, and Tracy Stanford at +4, Kayla Mortellaro, Cathryn Bristow, and Kim Welch at +5, Ayako Uehara, Anna-Lise Caudal, Michelle Shin, Shasta Averyhardt, Alejandra Llaneza, and Justina Yu at +6, and Briana Vega, Anya Alvarez, Inhong Lim, Kitty Hwang, Vanessa Brockett, and Victoria Alimonda-Lovelady at +7.

Meanwhile, Jaye Marie Greene, Line Vedel, Marcela Leon, Joanna Coe, Joy Trotter, Benedikte Grotvedt, and Renee Skidmore all missed the cut by a single shot.  Rachel Rohanna, Kendall Dye, Vikki Laing, and Angela Buzminski finished 2 shots away from making it to the final stage.  Others heading to the LET, Symetra Tour, or other tours next year included Hye-Min Kim, Carling Coffing, Lisa Meldrum, Marta Silva, Katie Kempter, Callie Nielson, Stacy Bregman, Pei-Yun Chien, Ashleigh Albrecht, Dawn Shockley, Blair O'Neal, Hwanhee Lee, Ki-Shui Liao, Michele Low, Saehee Son, Lili Alvarez, and Libby Smith.

So a Burnett upstaged the big names in the Stage II field.  Now we'll have to wait until the end of November to see how she and they fare against the likes of Tiffany Joh, Kyeong Bae, Ji-Young Oh, Christina Kim, Stacy Prammanasudh, Sandra Changkija, Seon Hwa Lee, Hannah Yun, Victoria Tanco, Cydney Clanton, Angela Oh, Anna Grzebien, Danah Bordner, Janice Moodie, Christine Song, Maria Hernandez, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Harukyo Nomura, Na On Min, Ayaka Kaneko, Kathleen Ekey, Song-Hee Kim, Birdie Kim,  Mitsuki Katahira, Jenny Suh, Sara Brown, Leah Wigger, Jaclyn Sweeney, Jean Chua, Olivia Jordan-Higgins, Megan McChrystal, Kristie Smith, Misun Cho, Lauren Doughtie, and Hannah Jun.  Too bad there aren't 80 cards at stake in the Final Qualifying Tournament.  Probably about 3/4 of the folks I've mentioned are going to walk away from LPGA International deeply disappointed in early December.  It's a tough sport to love, eh?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

LPGA Q-School Stage II: Enter Arimura, Uehara, Reid, Simon, Pace...

Here are the 1st-round pairings for the 2nd stage of the LPGA's Qualifying Tournament.  Unlike the 1st stage's mildly controversial 36-hole cut, this one has no cut.  It's 72 holes to decide which of the 157 golfers in the field make it to the top 70 and ties.

There are plenty of LETers trying to make it to the 3rd and final stage at the end of November, including Melissa Reid, Ashleigh Simon, Lee-Anne Pace, Anne-Lise Caudal, Caroline Masson, Line Vedel, Frances Bondad, Felicity Johnson, Stacy Lee Bregman, Vikki Laing, and American Dawn Shockley.  ALPGers Cathryn Bristow, Stephanie Na, and Jody Fleming have entered the mix, as well.  But the players I'm most excited about are Chie Arimura and Ayako Uehara of the JLPGA.  Yes, we have no Sakura Yokomine or Sun-Ju Ahn, but the 28-year-old Uehara is a 3-time winner on tour who's been solidly in the top 25 on their money list over the last 6 seasons (including this one).  And the 24-year-old Arimura is one of the top players on tour, a 13-time winner who's currently #3 on the money list and has hovered within the top 6 the last 4 seasons.  Both are playing their 1st event since the brutal Japan Women's Open, so let's hope they've recovered from its uber-windy conditions!

It'll be very interesting to see how these seasoned and in some cases stellar professionals stack up against hotshots like Moriya Jutanugarn, Brooke Pancake, Austin Ernst, Natalie Sheary, Jaye Marie Greene, Marta Silva Zamora, Ginger Howard, Emily Talley, Taylore Karle, Kayla Mortellaro, Guilia Molinaro, Rachel Rohanna, Brianna Do, Lisa McCloskey, Marina Alex, and Michelle Shin.  And to see how those hotshots do against much more experienced Symetra Tour (and sometimes LPGA) regulars like Jean Reynolds, Candace Schepperle, Katie Kempter, Briana Vega, Kim Welch, Angela Buzminski, Renee Skidmore, Tracy Stanford, Libby Smith, Garrett Phillips, Kendall Dye, Lisa Meldrum, Selanee Henderson, Shasta Averyhardt, Blair O'Neal, Shayna Miyajima, Carling Coffing, and Seema Sadekar.

It's nice to see how the LPGA continues to attract diverse players from all over the world and across the United States.  Check out a small selection of names and places that stood out to me:  South Korea's Saehee Son, Jacey Chun, Hye-Min Kim, and Hye-Joo Han, Taiwan's Ki-Shui Liao, Pei-Yun Chien, and Wei-Ling Hsu, China's Jiayun Li, Australia's Inhong Lim, Jessica Speechley, Justine Lee, and Breanna Elliott, Sweden's Caroline Westrup, Canada's Victoria Thompson, Nicole Vandermade, Jessica Wallace, and Sue Kim, Denmark's Theresa Koelbaek, Norway's Benedikte Grotvedt and Marita Engzelius, South Africa's Ulrika Van-Niekirk, Mexico's Marcela Leon, Lili Alvarez, and Alejandra Llaneza, Ecuador's Kitty Hwang, Chile's Paz Echeverria, Brazil's Victoria Alimonda-Lovelady, Paraguay's Andy Jun, the Philippines's Mia Piccio, France's Isabelle Boineau and Fiona Puyo, Germany's Leigh Whittaker, California's Hwanhee Lee, Moah Chang, Joy Trotter, and Vanessa Brockett, New Jersey's Joanna Coe, Hawaii's Britney Choy and Xyra Suyetsugu, Kansas's Tara Goedeken, New York's Michele Low, Tennessee's Callie Neilson, Wisconsin's Carly Werwie, Texas's Tanya Wadhwa, Colorado's Kristin Walla, Oklahoma's Sydney Cox, and Nevada's Justina Yu!  (Not to mention more Floridians than you could shake a baby alligator at!)

Still, it is a little bit troubling that of the 216 available spots, only 157 players entered Stage II this year.  Makes you wonder if an alternate list from Stage I should be developed or reconfigured....  Seems to me that stage's initial cut, whether it comes after 36 or 54 holes or both, should be generous enough that the Stage II field could be filled out with the best from that B-list--following, of course, all those who didn't make the 72-hole cut.  If fewer international players than expected or hoped for enter Stage II, why not give the best of those who struggled in Stage I a second life?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Preview & Pairings

The LPGA resumes its schedule this week with the playing of the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Championship. It is the first of four consecutive tournaments to be played in Asia. Tournaments in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan will follow. All four of these tournaments will be limited-field events.

This will be tournament 22 of 27 scheduled this year. Here are the key details:

Course:  Kuala Lumpar Golf and Country Club
Where:   Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia
Defending Champion:  Na Yeon Choi
Winning Score:  66-68-67-67=269 (-18)

Final Field:  72 players
Par:  71
Yardage:  6208 yards
Purse:  $1,900,000

Here are the first round pairings.

Don't let the fact that this is a limited-field event fool you; only the major championships have had a stronger field. Hee Kyung Seo is the only top-named player who qualified and is not playing. Others not making it into the field include: Maria Hjorth, Karen Stupples, Juli Inkster, and M.J. Hur.

Here are my predictions for this week:

1- Paula Creamer
2- Na Yeon Choi
3- Jiyai Shin
4- Shanshan Feng
5- Azahara Munoz
6- Yani Tseng
7- Stacy Lewis
8- Suzann Pettersen
9- Lexi Thompson
10- Ai Miyazato
11- Hee Young Park
12- So Yeon Ryu

Here are the television times:
Oct 11 - GC 9:30 PM-11:30 PM EST
Oct 12 - GC 9:30 PM-11:30 PM EST
Oct 13 - GC 9:30 PM-11:30 PM EST
Oct 14 - GC 9:30 PM-11:30 PM EST

All the rounds will be shown on tape delay some 17 hours after the actual finish. If you are planning on watching the broadcast, I would stay away from any golf boards that might include spoilers. I will not post any results until after the broadcast.

Other Tidbits:
Michelle Wie did not earn her way into this event, but was given a sponsor exemption. There is no cut in this event, but any money she earns will not be added to her 2012 earnings. The LPGA rules stipulate that any money earned by a player entering a tournament as a sponsor exemption on foreign soil does not count as official earnings.

Round two of qualifying school will be played this week starting on Tuesday 10/9/12 and finishing on Friday 10/12/12. Top first-round qualifiers including Moriya Jutanugarn, Brooke Pancake, and Jaye Marie Green, will be joined by the likes of European stars Melissa Reid and Lee-Anne Pace. The field will be 216 players with no cut. The top 70 move on to the final phase in December.  [Update:  Check out my preview post. Other big names include Chie Arimura and Ayako Uehara from the JLPGA! --TC]

Friday, October 5, 2012

Esther Choe Leads Largest Pack Ever from Symetra Tour to LPGA for 2013

Esther Choe, having finished the 2012 Symetra Tour season atop their money list in 2012, earned Player of the Year honors and led 9 other players to full status on the LPGA for 2013, among them Rookie of the Year Mi Hyang Lee.  Paola Moreno, who played twice as many events as Choe, finished 2nd, a little less than $5K behind Choe.  Daniela Iacobelli used a final-round 68 to propel her to her 1st-ever victory in the final event of the year and jump from 22nd place on the money list to 5th, right behind Victoria Elizabeth and Thidapa Suwannapura.  Rounding out the top 10 were Jenny Gleason, Julia Boland, Nicole Smith, and Sara-Maude Juneau.  Congratulations to them all for earning their 2013 LPGA cards, and apologies for the late notice!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Stats & Facts "Vol 11"

The LPGA was idle last week and will be idle again this week. The tour will resume next week and that will be the start of six consecutive tournaments without a break. The first four of those tournaments will be held in Asia, followed by one in Mexico, and then the LPGA will have its finale; The Titleholders Championship, in the state of Florida.

There is still a lot at stake these coming weeks, so let us look at some statistics as the top players will be fighting for some pretty important awards:

Rolex Player of the Year Award: (Winner will receive a Hall of Fame point)
1- Stacy Lewis - 184 points
2- Jiyai Shin - 128
3- Yani Tseng - 120
4- Inbee Park - 114
5- Shanshan Feng - 112

Player of the year award points are awarded as follows:
First Place - 30
2nd - 12
3rd -  9
4th -  7
5th -  6
6th -  5
7th -  4
8th -  3
9th -  2
10th -1

It appears that Stacy Lewis has all but wrapped this up. It would take someone listed above to win twice, coupled by a complete collapse on Stacy's part, to knock her out of the top spot.  Considering the fact that she leads the tour with 14 top tens, that would appear unlikely. A Stacy win would be the first time an American player has won this award since 1994.

Vare Trophy Standings: (Winner receives a Hall of Fame point)
1- Jiyai Shin - 70.14 (strokes per round)
2- Stacy Lewis - 70.33
3- Inbee Park - 70.60
4- So Yeon Ryu - 70.63
5- Ai Miyazato - 70.71

This race is up for grabs. A good finish for any of the above could vault them to the top. Jiyai Shin is still 19 rounds short of the minimum qualification requirement. With a total of 6 tournaments and 22 rounds still to be played (two of the events are 3 rounds only), Jiyai must play them all to qualify.

Rolex Rookie of the Year Award:
1- So Yeon Ryu - 1117 points
2- Lexi Thompson - 652
3- Lizette Salas - 268
4- Sydnee Michaels - 260
5- Mo Martin - 236

This race appears to be over. It would take two Lexi wins and a So Yeon immediate retirement announcement to change this result.

Solheim Cup Points: (Top 8 qualify automatically, 2 captain's picks, 2 highest Rolex-ranked players not already in)
1- Stacy Lewis - 457 points
2- Paula Creamer - 239
3- Cristie Kerr - 214
4- Angela Stanford - 209
5- Brittany Lincicome - 161
6- Brittany Lang - 143
7- Lexi Thompson - 107
8- Katie Futcher - 97

On the outside looking in:
9 -Vicky Hurst - 89
10-Michelle Wie - 85
11-Natalie Gulbis 74
12-Morgan Pressel - 70

Most consecutive tournaments without a missed cut:
1- Karrie Webb - 41
2- Paula Creamer - 40
3- Jiyai Shin - 32
4- Na Yeon Choi - 29
5- Beatriz Recari - 27

Most consecutive missed cuts:
1- Stephanie Kono - 15
1- Michelle Ellis - 15
3- Na On Min - 12
4- Ashli Bunch - 11
5- Elisa Serramia - 10

Other Tidbits:
There have been 12 holes in one on the LPGA tour this year; only 10 were made all of last year.

Rolex Mover of the week:
Shanshan Feng, who won the Japan Women's Open (a major on the JLPGA), moves from #4 to #3.

Who's Hot:
Beatriz Recari, who always seems to fly under the radar, has 3 top-ten finishes in her last 7 starts.

Who's Not:
Amanda Blumenherst has failed to crack the top 30 in any of her last 19 tournaments.

The End of an Era: Mi Hyun Kim Joins Grace Park in Retiring This Year

Read all about Mi Hyun Kim's decision to retire from competitive golf after the Hana Bank Championship over at Seoul  Between the push of a severe left ankle injury resulting from her huge swing and, no doubt, the pull of motherhood and a new chapter in her life, she's decided it's time to hang up her softspikes this month. 

She was always one of my favorite players on the LPGA--and not just because I'm obligated to pull for short athletes (Spud Webb, Muggsie Bogues, Joe Morris, and so on).  In her prime, she could beat anyone on tour, as her 8 career wins attest.  I'll sure miss seeing and interviewing her at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. Whether her fans will remember her as Kimmee, Peanut, or Super-Peanut remains to be seen, but we'll all treasure the fierce competitiveness, great generosity, and warm spirit she brought to the game.

[Update (10/10/12):  Here's bangkokbobby's tribute to Kim!]