Friday, April 19, 2013

LPGA LOTTE Championship Friday: Suzann Pettersen Maintains 1-Shot Lead, This Time on Hee Kyung Seo

Couldn't we all use a Hawaiian vacation after this week?  Well, we can't all get that, but we can check out tomorrow's final round of the LPGA LOTTE Championship, which is shaping up to be one of the most compelling Saturday finishes ever on any tour.

Consider first who's in contention.  Suzann Pettersen started moving day with a roar, birdieing her 1st 3 holes and 4 of her 1st 7, then bounced back from an 8th-hole bogey with a birdie on the par-5 14th to post a 68 that brought her to -14 after 54 holes.  That was just good enough to keep her in the top spot for the 2nd day in a row, as Hee Kyung Seo just missed posting her 2nd 65 of the week when she bogeyed the 18th hole to drop to -13 for the tournament.  Seo, the 2011 LPGA Rookie of the Year, also got off to a hot start, with an eagle and 2 birdies in her 1st 7 holes, but was better able to keep the pedal to the metal on the back, with birdies in 4 of her 1st 5 holes there, marred only by a bogey on the par-3 12th and that frustrating walkoff bogey.  As both Seo and Pettersen were stalling a bit down the stretch, Ai Miyazato came alive.  Unfazed by the disappointment of following up her front-side 32 and 31 in the previous 2 rounds with a birdieless 36 to kick off moving day, Miyazato birdied the 10th and 2 of her last 4 holes to offset a bogey on the par-3 16th and finish the day at -11, still within 3 shots of the lead.

A win by any of these 3 would be a big deal.  Pettersen and Miyazato would immediately join Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Ya Ni Tseng, and Na Yeon Choi in the thick of the race for #1 in the world.  Seo would finally back up her 2010 non-member win, something she's had many chances to do since the joined the LPGA two seasons ago.

Plus, keep in mind that tomorrow is not likely to be just a 3-player race.  Chasing the lead trio are a passel of youngsters and a pair of contenders for #1 in the Rolex Rankings.  True, 17-year-old Hyo Joo Kim is 4 back after a bogey-free 32 on the back earned her a 69, 17-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn is 5 back thanks to a 5-birdie 68 that brought her even with Stacy Lewis (69) and Lizette Salas (67), and 20-year-old Jessica Korda is 6 off the pace after tying Seo for low round of the day on the strength of 6 birdies in her 1st 11 holes and catching world #1 Inbee Park (who shot a bogey-free 67 of her own) and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (who shot her 2nd-straight 68).  Still others I pegged as contenders are even further back, with Beatriz Recari at -7, In-Kyung Kim at -6, Na Yeon Choi, So Yeon Ryu, and Danielle Kang at -5, Lydia Ko at -4, and Karrie Webb at -3.  But it's hard to count any of these players out when a round in the low 60s is entirely possible from at least one of them.  Lewis hasn't gone on any of the sustained birdie barrages that she's known for yet this week.  Choi's 67 might be the taste of even more to come tomorrow.  And who knows what these kids are capable of?

That's where Hawaii's weather brings a lot of extra drama to the final round.  If the winds are blowing hard, it doesn't matter how well you have been playing.  All that matters is how you handle them that day.  As we've seen already this week, for some players it messes with their driving.  For others it wreaks havoc with their approach shots.  For others it makes putting even more bedeviling than usual.  And still others run into trouble with more than one facet of their games.  So if the top trio falters in the slightest, while others are able to go low from their lead chase pack or even further down the leaderboard, we'll see huge and dramatic swings tomorrow.

Well, I won't.  I still don't have Golf Channel.  Maybe once the semester's over....  I will say this:  I picked Ai Miyazato to win this week over at Seoul

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