Pornanong Phatlum's opening round of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational illustrates how hard it is to win on the LPGA these days. My 10th-ranked player from the Class of 2009 and 12th-ranked player among the LPGA's winless started her day with 7 birdies in her 1st 13 holes of bogey-free golf. You'd think that she was on her way to a huge lead by the end of day, right? Well, you'd be wrong. After bogeying the par-4 14th and parring out, Phatlum had to "settle" for a 66, only 3 shots better than previous leader in the clubhouse Jenny Shin and 2 shots better than the previous leader in the clubhouse Inbee Park, both of whom had put together bogey-free rounds.
OK, so maybe Phatlum's lead turned out to be smaller than she may have expected on the 14th tee, but at least there aren't that many players close to her, right? Wrong. So Yeon Ryu makes 6 birdies in her last 13 holes, including 2 in a row to close out her round after making her only bogey during that stretch on the par-4 16th. Anna Nordqvist makes 5 birdies in her last 11 holes as part of a streak of 14 bogey-free holes (and counting) to close out her round. They join Park at 68. Then Michelle Wie shoots a 69 despite bogeying 2 of her last 3 holes. Then Amy Yang, who had cooled off after birdieing 4 of her 1st 5 holes and had fallen back to -4 after erasing her birdie on 11 with a bogey on 15, all of a sudden makes a walkoff birdie to finish at 67. Now there are 6 players in Phatlum's lead chase pack.
And is a 4-shot lead over 54 holes on Suzann Pettersen, In-Kyung Kim, Ai Miyazato, Lizette Salas, and Karine Icher all that safe? How about 5 on Azahara Munoz, Brittany Lang, and Gerina Piller? Or even 6 on Stacy Lewis, Beatriz Recari, Lexi Thompson, Carlota Ciganda, Jessica Korda, or Sandra Gal?
The problem is, any of these players can shoot a 66 or lower over the next 3 rounds--and so can Caroline Hedwall at +1 and Paula Creamer or Chella Choi at +2. Maybe if Phatlum had kept the pedal to the medal and gotten into the low 60s she could have given herself some breathing space. But now she'll probably have to break 70 again just to stay near the lead. Yeesh!
[Update 1 (10:44 pm): bangkokbobby is clearly trying to rein in his excitement in an effort to avoid jinxing Phatlum. Whatever works--my own strategy is to bring the umbrella to scare away the rain! I followed Phatlum in Syracuse on the Symetra Tour a few years ago and would love to see her win an official LPGA event....]