After a 90-minute weather delay, the players who survived the cut line at the Evian Championship were off to the races, trying to get 54 holes in before the heavens opened once again. Anyone who's concerned about slow play in golf should note that over half the field has already completed their rounds. Some big names with no chance to win clearly valued speed over quality, as Inbee Park (76, +8), Amy Yang (76, +8), Lee-Anne Pace (76, +6), Brittany Lang (74, +6), Michelle Wie (76, +4), Na Yeon Choi (75, +4), Anna Nordqvist (75, +4), and Ji-Yai Shin (73, +4) played well below their usual standards. Their job was to clear the stage quickly for those with good chances to win.
And no doubt those who struggled from higher up the leaderboard can also console themselves with awareness of the extra-difficult conditions: Paula Creamer shot a 74 to fall back to E. Lindsey Wright has fallen from -4 to +4 by going +8 through 17 today, while 3rd-round leader Mika Miyazato opened with 3 bogeys and a triple on the par-5 7th to fall from -8 to -2, before fighting back with birdies on 9 and 10 and falling back with a bogey on 14. In-Kyung Kim opened with 3 bogeys and a double in her 1st 6 holes to fall from -4 to +1, before fighting back to E for the week with 1 hole left to play.
That's not to say that there are no good rounds out there. Angela Stanford, who's been playing too great to stick to her plan of sticking to golf in the States, posted a final-round 69 to finish at -4, despite 2 bogeys in her last 5 holes. Shanshan Feng had a roller-coaster 6-birdie 69 to finish at -2, even though she suffered 3 bogeys in her final 7 holes. Ai Miyazato fired a bogey-free 33 on the back to break 70 for the 2nd day in a row and fight back to -1 for the tournament. Ai-sama's playing partner Cindy LaCrosse had an even better round going until she doubled the 18th and had to settle for a 69/-1 finish. And hats off to the 70 club, which currently includes Lizette Salas, Ilhee Lee, and Rebecca Lee-Bentham at -2, Katherine Hull-Kirk at -1, Mi-Hyang Lee at E, and Mina Harigae at +1. Congrats to all--and to Hee Young Park, who's -3 and bogey-free in today's round with 2 holes to play.
But the most entertaining subplot of the week has to be Caroline Hedwall, who continued to evoke the heyday of Laura Davies and Pat Hurst by turning Evian into a giant roller coaster. After going bogey-par-birdie-birdie-bogey-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie for a 31 on the back yesterday after starting her day going birdie-double-double (that's a 68 for those keeping score at home), she was -2 and bogey-free through 10 holes today, but finished bogey-birdie-birdie-bogey-bogey-par-birdie-double to end the week where she started at E!!!
OK, so on to the main event, which doesn't hit NBC for awhile yet (they were showing an infomercial when I started writing this post). If Okinawa is going to be hugely disappointed today (Bo-Mee Lee beat 19-year-old Mamiko Higa in a 3-hole playoff in the JLPGA's 2nd major when the final round got washed out over in Hokkaido), who will be the champion when the golf is done?
How about Se Ri Pak, who's looking to capture a Career Grand Slam (wins in 4 different majors) today? She opened with 2 bogeys in her 1st 6 holes to fall to -3 for the week, but has fought back on the back with 3 birdies (and a bogey) to stand at -5 with 1 hole left to play. Not going to happen.
Will it be Lydia Ko, who's trying to become the youngest winner of an LPGA major? Well, she started out birdie-bogey-birdie, then made a bunch of pars until she bogeyed the par-5 13th and birdied the par-5 15th. She's -8 with 2 to play and handling the pressure of being in the final group much better than Mikan.
How about Stacy Lewis, who's trying to win her 2nd major in a row? She opened well from the next-to-last group with 2 birdies and no bogeys in her 1st 5 holes to get to -8, but then bogeyed the par-4 6th and doubled the par-3 8th and with one bogey and one birdie on the back thus far is still -5 with 2 holes to play. Not going to happen.
How about So Yeon Ryu, who was robbed of a KLPGA victory last week when someone made 2 eagles from the fairway in her last 10 holes and beat her in a playoff? Playing with Lewis and Chella Choi, she's made 3 birdies and a bogey to get to -7 with 2 holes to play. She's still in this thing.
How about Lexi Thompson, who's been overshadowed by Ko and Charley Hull in recent weeks? She's made 5 birdies and only 2 bogeys to fight to -6 with the 18th left to play. If she can make up for her pair of bogeys there in the opening rounds with something special, she'll be the leader in the clubhouse with a low enough score to give the leaders pause.
How about Chella Choi, who's looking to make her 1st LPGA victory a major? She was playing well, with 3 birdies and a bogey to get to -7 with 3 holes to play. But a disaster on the par-3 16th--a triple--has ended her title run.
That leaves your leader Suzann Pettersen, who's been playing probably the best golf of her life in recent weeks. She made 3 birdies and a bogey on the front to pass Mikan as she was crashing and burning, then made her way to -10 for the week by matching Ko's birdie on the par-5 15th and maintains a 2-shot lead on her and a 3-shot lead on Ryu with 2 holes left to play.
Look's like this will be all done before NBC goes on air. Stay away from here if you don't want the ending spoiled!
[Update 1 (11:42 am): Oh man, Mikan doubled the 16th! I feel awful for her!]
[Update 2 (11:44 am): Lexi parred 18 to post the low round of the day thus far (a great 68), but -6 won't scare Pettersen in the slightest, especially after she got past the treacherous 16th with a par. She's now tied with Ryu (who bogeyed 17) in 3rd. Great week for the American teenager!]
[Update 3 (11:47 am): Wow! The Rocket birdied the par-5 9th for a bogey-free 67 that brought her back to E for the week. Looks like Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall are twins separated at birth. Just take a look at the Rocket's back 9 before today!]
[Update 4 (11:49 am): Pak parred 18 to finish at -5 for the week. A great finish for the wounded warrior, but not what she wanted.]
[Update 5 (11:50 am): Ko parred 17. Still -8.]
[Update 6 (11:51 am): So did Pettersen. 2-up with 1 to play!]
[Update 7 (11:54 am): Realized I never mentioned Beatriz Recari. She birdied her 1st hole to get to -5 for the week, but never went lower than that as she made 3 bogeys and a birdie the rest of the way to end up at -3 for the week. Good enough for a top 10, but not to contend.]
[Update 8 (11:56 am): Inky was another player who rode the Evian roller coaster this week. After a final-round 75, she also ended up at E overall.]
[Update 9 (11:58 am): In case you're wondering how Jennifer Johnson got her top 10, she made an early birdie to get to -3, immediately bogeyed back-to-back holes, then birdied the 2 par 5s on the back to fight back to -3 for the week.]
[Update 10 (12:03 pm): Ryu finished bogey-bogey to end up T4 with Pak at -5. Not the finish either wanted, but still pretty darn good.]
[Update 11 (12:05 pm): So they didn't quite finish before NBC's coverage started, but close. I'm going to watch now.]
[Update 12 (10:41 pm): Finally finished watching the last few holes after lots of family time, and Pettersen's serenity, ability to hit clutch shots from 100 yards and in, scrambling and putting touch, and confidence were so wonderful to see. The look on her face when Ko's pitch from behind the 18th green almost trickled in was priceless. And speaking of Ko, it's hard to imagine how she could be more lovable or a tougher competitor. Yes, she couldn't get those birdie tries on 16 and 17 to drop, but almost everything else she did was awesome and just a little bit goofy at the same time. When you can charm Suzann Pettersen, you know you have a lot of charisma. Back to Pettersen, it was also heartwarming to see her smiling so much on 18, even before she made that great 2-putt for a 68 and to stay double digits under par for the week. Sure, I was hoping for a Miyazato, Ko, or Pak win, but my respect and admiration for Pettersen went up several notches in the brief time she and Ko shared center stage on network tv. Here's hoping for much more from both!]