Friday, April 19, 2013

LPGA LOTTE Championship Thursday: Suzann Pettersen Is First to -10, Leads Ai Miyazato by 1

Suzann Pettersen battled fierce Hawaii winds yesterday afternoon and evening, making 3 birdies in her last 8 holes to become the 1st player in the field to get to double digits under par and the only player to leapfrog defending champion and leader in the clubhouse for most of the day Ai Miyazato at the halfway point of the LPGA LOTTE Championship.  Miyazato, who tied Jodi Ewart Shadoff for low round yesterday, struggled in the early morning with 3 bogeys in her 1st 5 holes on the back 9, but bounced back with a bogey-free 31 on the front (where she had fired a bogey-free 32 on Wednesday to start the tournament) and ended up at -9 through 36 holes.

Pettersen's playing partner Beatriz Recari had pulled even with Miyazato after making 5 birdies in her 1st 12 holes, but dropped 2 shots over her final 6 holes of birdieless golf to fall back into a tie for 3rd with Hyo Joo Kim, a teenage pro and amateur winner on both the JLPGA and KLPGA in 2012, and Hee Kyung Seo, who won the 2010 Kia Classic and the 2011 LPGA Rookie of the Year award.  A walkoff bogey dropped recent #1 Stacy Lewis to -6, while current #1 Inbee Park came back from a double on 18 with 3 birdies in a row on the front (her back), but suffered a walkoff bogey of her own on the 9th to settle for a 70-71 start that left her 7 shots off Pettersen's pace and 2 shots ahead of former #1 Ya Ni Tseng, who endured a birdieless closing 38 on the back capped off by--wait for it--a walkoff bogey of her own.

If that doesn't give you a sense of how tough it was out there, try this on for size.  1st-round leader Ariya Jutanugarn went from a 64 Wednesday to a 75 Thursday, but at least her ballooning score didn't result in a huge plunge down the leaderboard (she's T7 with Se Ri Pak, So Yeon Ryu, Haeji Kang, Austin Ernst, and Jane Rah).  Sister and LPGA Rookie of the Year race leader Moriya, along with Mariajo Uribe and Mi Hyang Lee, turned 1st-round 69s into 2nd-round 79s, missing the cut--which yesterday had looked like it might get to -1 or -2, but dropped all the way to +2--by 2 shots.  Brittany Lang went 69-77 to make the cut  on the dot, while Danielle Kang's (66-76) and Rebecca Lee-Bentham's (67-76) falls were even more precipitous.  Let's put it this way:  on Wednesday, 26 golfers broke 70; on Thursday, 5 did.  Sandra Gal's 69 moved her 69 spots up the leaderboard into the top 30, while Pak's was worth a 20-spot leap.  Or how about this?  Only 23 out of 144 players scored lower on Thursday than they did on Wednesday, and 10 of them missed the cut anyway.

With Na Yeon Choi and Angela Stanford languishing at E, Karrie Webb falling to -1 (joining, among others, Paula Creamer), and Lydia Ko holding steady at -2, many of the really solid ball-strikers I thought would contend this week have gotten off to slow starts.  So far, it's been all about the putting and the scrambling:  Pettersen leads the field with only 50 putts over 36 holes, while Kim at 56 has the most among the top 5 and nobody except Jutanugarn in the top 12 has more putts than Lewis's 58 and So Yeon Ryu's 57 (Ariya took 34 putts in the winds yesterday, a phenomenally bad day on the greens for a professional).

It'll be interesting to see what the weather has in store for the field today.  For more on the 2nd round, check out's notes and interviews; to look ahead to the 3rd round, check out their pairings sheet.  If Pettersen, Miyazato, and Recari can feed off each other's strong play today, they have a good chance to distance themselves from the field.  Let's see if they can do it!

[Update (4/20/13):  It's great to see Ruthless Mike noting the significance of this week on the LPGA!]

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