Hall of Famer Karrie Webb closed out her 39th career LPGA victory today at the ShopRite LPGA Classic by getting out to a hot start (par-birdie-eagle) to put some pressure on 2nd-round leader Shanshan Feng, who started out with 2 doubles in her 1st 5 holes, then grinding out par after par on the firm and fast Seaview course as the rest of the leaders saw their hopes blown away in the high winds of the Jersey Shore. Haeji Kang made 3 doubles in a row on the front on her way to an 82, Moriya Jutanugarn ballooned to a 78, Karine Icher to a 77 (including a 40 on the back), Anna Nordqvist to a 76, and Amanda Blumenherst to her 2nd-straight 75, leaving the stage clear for only a few golfers.
For awhile, Chie Arimura looked like she might turn her rookie year on the LPGA around with a bang, as she held steady at -3 with Webb and Feng for most of the front, but a double on the par-5 9th followed by 2 bogeys in her 1st 4 holes on the back dropped her back into a tie for 5th with Gerina Piller (69), Jeong Jang (70), and In-Kyung Kim (72). Fellow Japanese star Mika Miyazato, who's also had a slow start to 2013, watched the leaders come back to her as she hung tough at -1 throughout the front, but she closed with a 5-bogey 38 to fall out of the top 10. Hee Young Park was also in the mix for a long time, but every time she got to -2, she fell back with a bogey soon later. The 4th time this happened, on the 17th hole, it was too late for her to recover, but she did finish alone in 3rd at -1, 1 shot ahead of Jenny Shin, who birdied 4 holes in a row early on the back after bogeying 4 of her 1st 10 holes to take solo 4th.
In the end, then, it came down to Webb and Feng. While Webb stayed at -3 from the 6th through 17th holes, Feng continued to ride the roller coaster, with a birdie on the 8th to fight back to -4, then bogeys on 11 and 13 to drop to -2, then a tough birdie on the par-4 16th to get to -3. But when Webb birdied 18 and Feng bogeyed 17, Feng needed an eagle on 18 to force a playoff, but could manage only a par 5.
And just like that, Webb had her 1st LPGA win since going back to back in 2011 at the HSBC Women's Champions and the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. She was the only player in the field to break 70 both weekend rounds and her Sunday 68 tied Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr for low round of the day. In a year in which her performance stats were already looking quite impressive, she kept the ball in the fairway on the weekend, got up and down when she missed Seaview's small greens, and basically reminded the world why she's a Hall of Famer. I wouldn't be surprised if win #40 weren't too far away!
A few other performances are worthy of note: Jeong Jang's top 5, her 1st since (get this!) 2008; Michelle Wie's top 10, her 1st since last August; and Ayako Uehara's top 10, her 1st as an LPGA member. With Jutanugarn dropping to T18 and Arimura and Uehara finishing well ahead of her, the Rookie of the Year race is starting to get interesting, while Wie kept her Solheim Cup hopes alive this week (as did Gerina Piller with her top 5). In fact, Wie was -4 past the halfway point of the tournament, but a combination of innaccuracy off the tee and inconsistent putting brought her down over her last 29 holes. Let's see if these players can build on this week's results.
It was a terrible week for the #1 and #2 golfers in the world, but I expect Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis to bounce right back in Pittsford next week at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. I plan to head up there for Tuesday's practice round to scout Locust Hill and see who I can get interviews with. I'll be rooting for 1st alternate Mitsuki Katahira to get into the field! But with Ariya Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko, and Melissa Reid joining the LPGA's best golfers, there's no lack of interesting stories to pursue.