Thursday, April 18, 2013

LPGA LOTTE Championship Wednesday: Ariya Jutanugarn's 64 Sets the Pace, But Dozens Off to Flying Starts

If the 1st day of the LPGA LOTTE Championship is any indication, we are in for a very special week for the LPGA.  A threesome of teenage nonmembers shot the lights out, with LETer Ariya Jutanugarn leading the way with a sizzling 64, KLPGAer Hyo Joo Kim opening with a 66, and amateur Lydia Ko bringing up the rear with a "mere" 71.  A threesome of LPGA veterans and a rising star shone almost as brightly, with Suzann Pettersen leading for most of the day on the strength of an early 65, Beatriz Recari shooting a 67 of her own, and Angela Stanford having to settle for a 71.  At the end of the day, LPGA newbies took center stage, with Danielle Kang firing a 66, Gerina Piller a 67, and Jessica Korda a 72.  Or would have, except that prime-time players like Stacy Lewis and Ai Miyazato duelled with matching 67s as their playing partner, rookie Moriya Jutanugarn, tried to keep up with a 69.  And how about Hee Kyung Seo surpassing former KLPGA rival So Yeon Ryu's earlier 66 by a shot and leapfrogging her way into a tie for 2nd?  Or Jane Park and Jane Rah and Rebecca Lee-Bentham opening with 67s?

On a day when the top 15 players shot 67 or better, when 26 broke 70, and when an even-par round left you tied for 78th, opening scores like new #1 Inbee Park's 70, not-yet-#1 Na Yeon Choi's 70, and former #1 Ya Ni Tseng's and Cristie Kerr's 71s were fairly uninspiring.  And it's too soon to tell whether 70s by long- or recently-struggling golfers like Seon Hwa Lee, Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel, Christina Kim, Sun Young Yoo, and Shanshan Feng are good signs or bad signs, much less 69s by Vicky Hurst, Mina Harigae, Brittany Lang, and Hee Young Park, who have also gotten off to slow starts this year, as many of them were at some point in their rounds much lower under par than where they finished.  Certainly Moira Dunn clawing her way to a 71 after opening with a double bogey is a good sign for the veteran, as are Paula Creamer's 3 birdies in her last 6 holes to bounce back from a +2 start to her day over the previous 12.  But they still have a long way to go to follow the leaders and still risk being sliced by tomorrow's cut line.

Me, I'm keeping an eye on Karrie Webb, who hit 13 fairways and 15 greens yesterday on her way to an opening 69.  I think she's ready to go super-low this week.  But I'm rooting for Ai Miyazato to defend her title, for Jane Park and Lizette Salas to keep it going, for Mika Miyazato to get her game in gear, for Tiffany Joh to turn it around, and for Hannah Yun to get it together.  Should be an interesting 54-hole sprint to the finish!

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