Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Recommended Reading: Tony Jesselli on the Kingsmill Championship

Hey all, it's a crazy week here in Constructivist-land, so I'll rely (as usual) on Tony Jesselli's fine preview of the Kingsmill Championship!  I'll share my picks tomorrow!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

North Texas LPGA Shootout Sunday: Inbee Park Chases Down Carlota Ciganda

There are many reasons Inbee Park is the #1 player in the world of women's golf, and she showed off several of them as she chased down Carlota Ciganda to take the inaugural North Texas LPGA Shootout title tonight.  For one, Park is one of the best putters on the planet, as she proved on the weekend, taking 28 putts in the final round, her fewest of the week.  For another, she's relentless; even though she couldn't drive for show or putt for dough on Friday, she held it together that day and came back on the weekend with solid driving and no bogeys over her final 35 holes.  Finally, she never panics; even though Ciganda bounced back from a 2-shot swing on the 2nd hole to fall back to -10 and a tie for the lead with Park by making 4 birdies over her next 8 holes, Park made 2 to stay within striking range, then kept plugging along as Ciganda went bogey-double bogey on 14 and 15 and capped it off by matching Ciganda's walkoff birdie to preserve her 1-shot victory.

Even though it turned out to be a 2-player race for the win, plenty of other golfers took the "shootout" part of the tournament's title seriously, none more so than Hee Young Park, who rocketed up to T4 with So Yeon Ryu on the strength of a bogey-free 64.  Suzann Pettersen's 66 lifted her to 3rd place, 3 shots out of the lead despite opening her week with a ho-hum 70-70 start.  Where Pettersen went 68-66 on the weekend, Stacy Lewis went 69-66 to catch Na Yeon Choi, Shanshan Feng, and Karine Icher at T7.  Guilia Sergas and Jane Park also fired 66s to sneak into the top 20, while Paula Creamer's 68 almost got her into the top 10 and Ji-Yai Shin's solo effort to start the day (another 68), almost snagged her a top 20.

But those efforts, as impressive as they are, pale beside the leads Park's 3rd victory of 2013 has opened up on the money list (over $200K more than Lewis), the Player of the Year race (50 points ahead of Lewis), and putts per green in regulation (.017 less than Lewis).  Looks like the perennial bridesmaid in past years on the JLPGA and then the LPGA has figured out how to win in bunches!

Fujisankei Ladies Classic Sunday: Miki Saiki Wins Her 2nd in a Row!

Miki Saiki fired a 67 today to hold off Sakura Yokomine and Soo-Yun Kang in the final round of the Fujisankei Ladies Classic.  It's her 2nd win in a row and her 2nd season in which she's won twice--and this one isn't even close to being halfway done.  With 7 career JLPGA victories to her name, she's approaching the level of players who have won money list titles or tried making it on the LPGA.

Saiki sealed this one early with 4 birdies in her 1st 7 holes and another 2 in her 1st 5 holes on the back to reach -15 with 4 holes left to play.  Even when she bogeyed the long par-3 17th, it didn't really make a difference, as Teresa Lu had fallen from -11 to -7 with 4 bogeys between the 9th and 15th holes and Yokomine and Kang proved unable to put the kind of pyrotechnics on that Yuki Ichinose did (9 birdies in her 1st 16 holes and a 64 that skyrocketed her into the top 10).  Basically, this was the JLPGA's 1st undramatic finish of the year!  Lu and Sun-Ju Ahn ended up with even-par final rounds, Shiho Oyama shot a 75, Ji-Hee Lee ended up E for the week, Mi-Jeong Jeon finished T48 at +5.  It's looking like Saiki has picked a great time to be playing great golf.

In fact, her wins have coincided with Rikako Morita's 1st bad tournaments of the season--the former money-list leader missed the cut yesterday for the 1st time this season.  So just like that, we have a new leader of the pack on the JLPGA money list:

1. Miki Saiki ¥38.78M
2. Rikako Morita ¥35.27M
3. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥22.09M
4. Sakura Yokomine ¥20.51M
5. Natsuka Hori ¥19.93M
6. Mamiko Higa ¥19.18M
7. Teresa Lu ¥19.02M
8. Yuki Ichinose ¥18.85M
9. Ritsuko Ryu ¥18.53M
10. Na-Ri Kim ¥15.14M
11. Yukari Baba ¥13.98M
12. Miki Sakai ¥12.25M
13. Erika Kikuchi ¥11.84M
14. Junko Omote ¥11.35M
15. Soo-Yun Kang ¥11.25M
16. Harukyo Nomura ¥10.74M
17. Yumiko Yoshida ¥10.00M
18. Megumi Kido ¥9.60M
19. Na-Ri Lee ¥9.30M
20. Kaori Ohe ¥9.23M
21. Shiho Oyama ¥8.40M
22. Young Kim ¥9.09M
23. Bo-Mee Lee ¥8.88M
24. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥8.67M
25. Esther Lee ¥7.23M

Next up for the JLPGA is the Cyber Agent Ladies, where Chie Arimura got the 1st of her 3 wins last season.  She and former winner there Ji-Yai Shin will be teeing it up at Kingsmill on the LPGA next week, so we'll have no defending champion this year.  I suppose that makes Saiki the favorite, but since I haven't even seen a field list yet, I can't confirm that she's even playing next week....

Recommended Reading: Congrats to Brittany Lang and Her Fiance!

Check out Ruthless Mike's reaction to Golf Channel's catching the moment Brittany Lang's boyfriend became her fiance!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

North Texas LPGA Shootout Saturday: Can Carlota Ciganda Break Through?

Thanks to a 6-birdie 66 today, Carlota Ciganda enters the final round of the North Texas LPGA Shootout with a 2-shot lead on world #1 Inbee Park and the leader-for-the-previous-2-rounds Caroline Masson, while world #3 Na Yeon Choi fired a bogey-free 66 of her own to pull within 3 shots of the lead.

Ciganda has been bombing it (and spraying it) around Las Colinas, averaging 270 yards off the tee but averaging fewer than 5 fairways per round, yet that hasn't been stopping her from hitting a lot of greens (almost 14 per round) and making a lot of putts.  She was -11 with 6 holes left to play today and that's where she ended up after bogeying the 14th and birdieing the 17th.  Park, too has been less accurate off the tee than usual, but has missed only 7 greens in 54 holes and finally got her putter going on the back 9 today, where she fired a bogey-free 31.  Masson opened her round today with a double and when she bogeyed the par-3 6th she had played her previous 10 holes, dating back to the end of yesterday's round, in +5 (her lone birdie of that slide coming on the previous par 3)--but she showed great resilience in playing her last 12 holes bogey-free and -4 to join Park at -9 for the week.  Choi, meanwhile, is on a bogey-free run of 35 holes and counting (she's made only 2 bogeys and 1 double all week, while missing only 9 greens in regulation), a stretch in which she moved from E to -8.  If she really gets her putter tomorrow, she's going to win.

That's not to say it's guaranteed to be a 4-player race for the top tomorrow.  There are 4 players at -6, from world #6 So Yeon Ryu and Class of 2006er Jee Young Lee to low American Christina Kim and the underrated Karine Icher, all of whom fired 67s except for Ryu, who eagled the par-5 3rd and still hasn't made a bogey since the 6th hole on Thursday, but could manage only 1 more birdie the rest of the day (I have a feeling those 37 putts she took in the 1st round will have dug her too big a hole to climb out of in the last 18 holes of the tournament).  With Suzann Pettersen, In-Kyung Kim, and Shanshan Feng at -5, and Ya Ni Tseng, Brittany Lincicome, and Moriya Jutanugarn at -4, we have decent odds that someone from well back could go on a serious tear and put some big-time pressure on the 4 leaders.

There sure are a lot of American flags at -2 and -3, from Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, and Kristy McPherson to Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and Mo Martin to Moira Dunn, Jennifer Johnson, Mindy Kim, and Kathleen Ekey, but they'll need miracles on Sunday to have a hope in...uh, North Texas.

Oh, and for what it's worth, the cut line for the top 50 and ties came in at +1, which saved the likes of Ji-Yai Shin, Azahara Munoz, Momoko Ueda, and Jane Park, but left Brittany Lang, Candie Kung, Michelle Wie, Jennifer Song, Sun Young Yoo, Hee-Won Han, Beatriz Recari, and teenage amateur Taylor Coleman out in the cold.  I can't say I'm all that excited about lopping off another 20 or so players from the field.  If you want to have 50 or so golfers playing on Sunday, I don't see why you wouldn't give more people a chance to get there by letting the top 90 or 100 play on Saturday.  And if you want to preserve the normal LPGA cut of top 70 and ties after the end of Friday's round for consistency, why not make the Saturday cut more meaningful by leaving only 36 golfers for the final round, with a playoff for the last spot?  Frankly, there wasn't a whole lot of drama at the bottom of the leaderboard besides Dewi Claire Schreefel's 7-birdie 65 that brought her to -3 for the week and earned her the low round of the day today (and maybe Eun-Hee Ji's 4-birdie 68 that got her back to E).  Mostly it was people moving in the wrong direction, just less sharply than the unlucky few who got chopped....

But enough about what might improve the tournament for next year.  We've got a Sunday where a pair of Team Euro newbies face off against the top 2 South Korean golfers in the world in the final 2 pairings of the tournament.  In the final group, we have the woman who earned the most Euros on the LET last year vs. the woman who took the fewest strokes on the LPGA.  In the next-to-last, NYC spots a shot to the woman 51 slots behind her on the Rolex Rankings.  And if you keep going backward on the pairing sheet, you'll see a couple more  Euro vs. Korea groups, Karine Icher vs. Jee Young Lee and Suzann Pettersen vs. In-Kyung Kim.

If we do end up with an international player winning tomorrow, I sure hope she'll remember what Mi Hyun Kim did when she got what turned out to be the last LPGA victory of her career not all that far from Dallas and similarly close to a tragic disaster of that time....

[Update (11:54 pm):  Bangkokbobby is back blogging again, so head over to Fairways and Forehands for his usual mix of pithy observation and loads of video and photos!]

Fujisankei Ladies Classic Saturday: Miki Saiki Overtakes Teresa Lu, But Ahn, Yokomine, and Oyama Are Lurking

Teresa Lu, the LPGA Class of 2006er who's still looking for her 1st win in what is now her 4th season on the JLPGA, opened the Fujisankei Ladies Classic with a pair of 68s, but she was overtaken by last week's winner Miki Saiki, who made an eagle and 5 birdies in her last 14 holes of bogey-free golf today to get to -9. 

Meanwhile, some of the JLPGA's biggest names are lurking within easy striking distance: 
  • Sun-Ju Ahn, who seemingly could do no wrong in her 1st 2 seasons on tour and stayed in the top 5 on the money list last year but is now stuck at #42 on this year's money list, fired a 6-birdie 67 to pull within 2 of the lead.
  • Sakura Yokomine, who had been a fixture in the top 5 of the JLPGA money list for 7 straight seasons but ran into the Ahn buzzsaw the year after she finally reached #1 and fell to 11th last year, is only 3 back after a 5-birdie 68.
  • Shiho Oyama, who ended Yuri Fudoh's reign atop the JLPGA money list back in 2006 and got injured when she tried to make the transition to the LPGA a couple of years ago, continued her comeback with a bogey-free 67 to join Yokomine in a tie for 6th.
Plus we've got youngster Miki Sakai carrying the banner for the JLPGA's young guns only 1 shot off the lead, veteran Junko Omote 2 back, Soo-Yun Kang and Na-Ri Lee 4 behind, and 16-year-old Mayu Hosaka--who lost in the semi-finals of last year's Japan Women's Amateur Golf Championship to eventual winner Mamiko Higa (who missed the cut today), finished T9 in the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships last summer, played on the Japanese national team in this year's Queen Sirikit Cup (which came within 2 strokes of beating the always-powerful South Korea team), and is Japan's 7th-ranked amateur in the World Amateur Golf Ranking--still within shouting distance at -4.

At the other end of the spectrum, Mi-Jeong Jeon barely made the cut, while money-list leader Rikako Morita missed it by a single shot.  Also taking Sunday off are Shinobu Moromizato, Yuko Mitsuka, and Ayako Uehara (another top JLPGAer struggling to make the transition to the LPGA and not gaining much confidence back home).

I'd love to see Lu break through tomorrow, but it's hard to root against anyone near the top of the leaderboard.  Should be quite the finish!

Friday, April 26, 2013

North Texas LPGA Shootout Friday: Caroline Masson Maintains Slim Lead after Late Collapse, but Inbee and Ya Ni Are Lurking

Caroline Masson got it to double digits under par early on her back 9 today at the North Texas LPGA Shootout, but bogeyed 3 of her last 4 holes to open the door for a slew of some of the most impressive gunslingers on the LPGA tour.

  • Carlota Ciganda, the LET's top money-winner last year, is only 1 shot back at -6, poised to take advantage of another chance to deny Masson a #1 spot.
  • World #1 Inbee Park went from 5 back to only 2 back in less than an hour.
  • Rookie of the Year race leader Moriya Jutanugarn fired a bogey-free 66 to join Park at -5.  (What idiot said she wasn't making enough birdies to maintain her lead in that race for much longer?  Oh, yeah, that was me!)
  • Picking up on yesterday's surprises, Kathleen Ekey fired a bogey-free 32 on the back to make it a threesome in 3rd!
  • Only 3 off the lead are Ya Ni Tseng, Shanshan Feng, Jessica Korda, Hee Young Park, and Brittany Lincicome.  'Nuff said.
  • 4 back?  Only Na Yeon Choi, So Yeon Ryu, Hee Kyung Seo, and Angela Stanford.  Yikes!
  • The biggest name among those 5 off the pace?  Suzann Pettersen.  The one I'm most excited about?  My old junior golf buddy Moira Dunn!
People further down the leaderboard will need special weekends to pass all 26 golfers ahead of them, but you should never put that past the likes of Ji-Yai Shin (-1), In-Kyung Kim (-1), Lizette Salas (-1), Haeji Kang (-1), Stacy Lewis (E), Paula Creamer (E), or even Michelle Wie (E) and Lexi Thompson (E).

So while we can point to little hiccups like Masson's today or Jutanugarn's at the end of her opening round (3 bogeys in a row) and tell the rookies "it's no big deal, there's plenty of time to recover from those mistakes, you're still right at the top of the leaderboard at the halfway point of the tournament," the music playing ominously in the background while we're saying this so reassuringly is the theme of Jaws.

Speaking of land sharks, even though the cut line fell at +3, saving 16-year-old Taylor Coleman, who fell back to earth after her opening 68, it was still a nasty predator.  My pick to win this week was its worst victim (from admittedly biased my perspective), as Ai Miyazato needed to birdie her last 2 holes in a row to make it to the weekend but couldn't do it on the par-5 18th.  Yep, the cut line was no respecter of persons, for it also took out veterans Juli Inkster, Sophie Gustafson, and Catriona Matthew by a single shot, along with Caroline Hedwall and Stacy Prammanasudh, among many others.  Other notables to miss the cut included Mika Miyazato, Amy Yang, Maria Hjorth, Laura Davies, Gerina Piller, Laura Diaz, and both Pressel sisters, along with young guns I've been following like Danielle Kang, Pornanong Phatlum, Mina Harigae, and Tiffany Joh.

Those who like cut lines get a bonus this week--there's a moving-day cut to the top 50 and ties tomorrow. That means we'll see a mad rush to get to E or better, which should make for some interesting drama at both ends of the leaderboard.

You all will have to fill me in on what happens, as I'll be celebrating imoto's 7th birthday tomorrow with grandma and grandpa from Clinton and baba from Chiba, not to mention the lovely Full Metal Archivist, and we'll be capping it off with an ice show in which onechan is playing Pinky from Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs!  And then on Sunday, while the girls are at a birthday party, I'll be playing my 1st 9 holes of 2013!  w00t!!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

North Texas LPGA Shootout Thursday: Caroline Masson and Carlota Ciganda Renew LET Rivalry on LPGA

LET standout and LPGA rookie Caroline Masson opened the North Texas LPGA Shootout with a bogey-free 64 on a par-71 Las Colinas course that gave lots of top LPGA stars fits.  And how sweet must it have been for Masson to finish 2 strokes ahead of Carlota Ciganda, the only woman who finished ahead of her on last year's LET money list?  On a day when only 16 players broke 70 and 31 finished under par, these youngsters from Europe stole the show, even as 16-year-old amateur Taylor Coleman was putting together a back-9 bogey-free 31 late in the morning to post a 68 of her own.  Neither Masson nor Ciganda has made a smooth transition from LET success to even LPGA competence, so rounds like these are crucial confidence builders and signs of the vast potential these experienced but young players possess.

Other newbies to the LPGA like Mo Martin (67), Jessica Korda (69), and Haeji Kang (69) continued their fine play in 2013.  But Danielle Kang (78), Catriona Matthew (76), Ai Miyazato (75), Se Ri Pak (75), Paula Creamer (73), Beatriz Recari (73), Guilia Sergas (73), Amy Yang (73), Pornanong Phatlum (73), and Stacy Lewis (72) had much more difficulty with Las Colinas than their 2013 records would have led one to expect.  Even more surprising was the number of golfers who had been struggling--sometimes for a long time--coming up with hot starts today, from Kristy McPherson, Mi Jung Hur, and Felicity Johnson at -4 to Christina Kim and Hee Young Park at -3 to Moira Dunn and Azahara Munoz at -2.

Just to be clear, it's not like we're lacking star power high on the leaderboard.  World #1 Inbee Park opened with a 5-birdie 67, Ya Ni Tseng had a 4-birdie 69, and Na Yeon Choi doubled her final hole, the 9th, to end up with a 4-birdie 70, while Texan Angela Stanford began her campaign with a 69 and Ji-Yai Shin shook off a back injury to start with a 70, where she was joined by the likes of Suzann Pettersen, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Kyung Seo, Cristie Kerr, and Brittany Lincicome.

So we'll see which group of players will master Las Colinas over the next 54 holes.  Will it be the surprising youngsters and vets, or will the golfers who have had good 2013s thus far keep it rolling?  Check out LPGA.com's overview and notes and interviews for hints....

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Who Are Your Picks for the North Texas LPGA Shootout?

Looking at LPGA.com's, Steve DiMeglio's, Tony Jesselli's, and Ruthless Mike's previews of the North Texas LPGA Shootout, it's pretty obvious the players who will contend this week at Las Colinas must be good wind players, which to me translates to a combination of very solid ball-striking, good putting, the ability to grind, bounce back, and get on tears, and a good track record at traditionally windy events.  So who in the field meets these criteria?

Here are my picks for this week's Seoul Sisters.com PakPicker:

1. Miyazato Ai
2. Lewis, Stacy
3. Pettersen
4. Park Inbee
5. Stanford
6. Salas
7. Creamer
8. Choi Na Yeon
9. Webb
10. Kim In-Kyung
11. Kang Haeji
12. Ernst

Alts: Shin Ji-Yai, Ryu, Seo

Yes, I know many of Ai-sama's wins have come at hillier events, but I'm convinced she's very close to breaking through.  I would have put Stanford higher on my list, but even though she's putting great by her standards, she's not up to her usual stuff with the ball-striking so far this season.  I'll admit I picked Ernst not only because she's making a ton of birdies this year, but also because her first name is Austin.  Normally not a good enough reason to pick her ahead of Ji-Yai Shin, who's hitting an amazing 86% of her fairways, but I don't know the state of Ji-Yai's back, beyond the fact that she didn't play on the JLPGA as planned after the KNC.  I feel bad for leaving Catriona Matthew, Nicole Castrale, Gerina Piller, and Mo Martin off my list, but there's only room for 15.

So who are your top picks this week?

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Few Bold Predictions

Finally had a chance to look over the LPGA's stats pages, so get ready for some crazy predictions (in no particular order):

1.  Get used to fine play from Beatriz Recari, Lizette Salas, Haeji Kang, Jessica Korda, Danielle Kang, Guilia Sergas, and Pornanong Phatlum.  They aren't going away any time soon.  And they could win any given week.

2.  Look for Na Yeon Choi, In-Kyung Kim, Ai Miyazato, So Yeon Ryu, Paula Creamer, and Ya Ni Tseng to start finishing as well in tournaments as their stats suggest they should be doing.  Yes, I'm talking wins for each of them before the year is out.  Maybe in the order I listed them.  Probably not.  But wouldn't it be cool?  (Oh, and watch out for Angela Stanford, Hee Kyung Seo, and Caroline Hedwall, too.  But I'm not calling wins for them.  Just telling you not to be surprised if they do.  Cristie Kerr is closer to playing well again than it appears, too.)

3.  There is no way for Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis to keep putting as well over the next 21 events this year as they have in the LPGA's 1st 7.  NO WAY.  Or Hee Kyung Seo, for that matter.  It just is not humanly possible.

4.  Michelle Wie is showing serious signs of coming out of her slump.  She oughtta be seriously considered as an Adam Scott-style captain's pick for the Solheim Cup.  This is not a joke.

5.  Moriya Jutanugarn's ginormous lead in the Rookie of the Year race is in danger.  (She's just not making birdies at the rate an elite LPGA player should.  Right now, she's been overachieving and her top competition has been slumping.  I'm looking at you, Arimura-san!)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lizette Salas's Eagle on Youtube

It's hard to believe there's so little on youtube on Lizette Salas's final round, but let's see if we can up the hit totals on these videos of her eagle on the 10th in the final round of the LPGA LOTTE Championship:

The even more amazing thing is she made 5 birdies in a row shortly after sinking this shot!

There's even more video at LPGA.com!

Vantelin Ladies Sunday: Miki Saiki Gets JLPGA Win #6 with Birdies on 17 and 18

Miki Saiki watched Ritsuko Ryu finish birdie-birdie from the group ahead of her to get to -3 in the Vantelin Ladies, but the JLPGA veteran, who's finished in the top 20 on the money list every season since she first joined the tour in 2007 and is coming off the best season of her career, in which she won twice and finished 5th on the money list, was totally unfazed.  Not only had she birdied both of them on Saturday to take the 2nd-round lead, but she had already bounced back from a run of 3 bogeys between the 5th and 8th holes with a pair of birdies on 11 and 12, even as her playing partners Sakura Yokomine and Yuki Ichinose were collapsing around her.  Yes, she had bogeyed the short par-4 15th to fall back to -2 for the week, and she had played the last 4 holes terribly on Friday when she shot a 73, but now she had a chance to make up for that double and those two bogeys.

And she took it, finishing birdie-birdie for her 6th career JLPGA victory and extending her run of seasons with JLPGA wins to 4 in a row.  In so doing, the 28 year-old joined last week's winner, 27-year-old Na-Ri Kim, in snapping a run of wins on tour by players 21 or younger.  In fact, one of them, Natsuka Hori, was in position to win this week, but her 4 bogeys over her last 10 holes more than offset her 3 birdies in her final 8 and she had to settle for a tie for 4th with Yumiko Yoshida and Yukari Baba at -1.  And Kim herself had a slim chance to make it 2 wins in a row when she opened with a 32, but a 38 on the back ended those hopes and she fell all the way to T11.  In any case, it was nice to see one of the JLPGA's big names prevail in a week when it seemed most of the rest of them didn't have anything close to their A-games.

Saiki's win, combined with Mi-Jeong Jeon's unexpected missed cut, leapfrogged her all the way to #2 on the JLPGA money list; she made up a lot of ground on leader Rikako Morita, who had her 1st bad tournament of the season:

1. Rikako Morita ¥35.27M
2. Miki Saiki ¥24.38M
3. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥21.77M
4. Natsuka Hori ¥19.93M
5. Mamiko Higa ¥19.18M
6. Ritsuko Ryu ¥17.85M
7. Yuki Ichinose ¥16.05M
8. Teresa Lu ¥14.62M
9. Na-Ri Kim ¥13.92M
10. Sakura Yokomine ¥13.47M
11. Yukari Baba ¥13.20M
12. Erika Kikuchi ¥11.84M
13. Harukyo Nomura ¥10.74M
14. Miki Sakai ¥10.45M
15. Megumi Kido ¥9.60M
16. Yumiko Yoshida ¥8.77M
17. Kaori Ohe ¥8.71M
18. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥8.67M
19. Young Kim ¥8.57M
20. Shiho Oyama ¥8.40M
21. Bo-Mee Lee ¥7.66M
22. Junko Omote ¥6.95M
23. Hiromi Mogi ¥6.76M
24. Ji-Hee Lee ¥6.67M
25. Esther Lee ¥6.62M

Next up on the JLPGA is the Fujisankei Ladies Classic, which Kaori Ohe won last year.  I'm not spotting any big-name foreign players on the field list, which makes a lot of sense, as the LPGA is in the midst of an 8-week run in which they play 7 tournaments leading up to the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  Let's see if the late-20s JLPGAers can hold back the tour's youth movement for another week!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

LPGA LOTTE Championship Saturday: Lizette Salas Fires 62 to Force Playoff with Suzann Pettersen; Pettersen Prevails

Wow!  There were more great rounds than you could shake a stick at today at the LPGA LOTTE Championship, but in the end it came down to the two players who put together the very best of the day.  

Sure, a number of golfers beat or matched Suzann Pettersen's final-round 67, her 4th round in the 60s of the week, but few of them were near the final pairing of the day, and very few of them had to deal with playing partners who put together 8 bogeys and a double as Hee Kyung Seo (75) and Ai Miyazato (72) did.  And certainly none of them went as low as Lizette Salas, who opened with 2 birdies in her 1st 3 holes but fell back to -10 for the week after a bogey on the par-5 5th left her 5 shots behind Pettersen.  So what did she do after that but birdie the last 2 holes on the front, eagle the par-4 10th, and follow that up with 5 birdies in a row between the 12th and 16th holes (comprising 2 par 5s, 2 par 3s, and 1 par 4)?  Sure, she could "only" par out from there to go 33-29, but she was sitting pretty in the clubhouse at -19, waiting to see how Pettersen would handle the pressure she had put on her.  Pettersen, who was playing right behind Salas's group, must have known exactly where she stood, as she followed up her 2nd bogey of the day, this one on the par-5 13th, with 3 birdies in her next 4 holes to get to -20 as she teed it up on the final hole.  But she bogeyed the par 4 and had to go right back out to the 18th tee again for the playoff with Salas.

My regular readers know how much I hate to say I told you so, but, man, I told you so:  was this or was this not "one of the most compelling Saturday finishes ever on any tour," or what?  Yes, the playoff was a bit of an anticlimax, as Salas doubled 18 while Pettersen parred it for her 11th career LPGA victory and 2nd of 2013 (the other was on the LET).  But consider how many players either continued their hot play or signalled that their games are rounding into shape this spring:

  • World #1 Inbee Park's 6-birdie 67 (her 2nd 67 in a row) was good enough to leapfrog her to T4 at -13 and extend her lead in the Rolex Rankings on Stacy Lewis, who couldn't bounce back from a double and 2 bogeys today and had to settle for a T9 finish.
  • In-Kyung Kim fired a bogey-free 65 to join Park at T4 and Na Yeon Choi bounced back from 2 early bogeys with 8 birdies over her last 15 holes to go 67-66 over the weekend and catch Miyazato and Jessica Korda (69) at -11, good enough for a tie for 6th.  And they did this playing alongside living legend Se Ri Pak, who unfortunately had a cold round and fell from T12 to T28.
  • Shanshan Feng matched Kim's bogey-free 65 to post her 1st top 10 since her 1st event of the year.
  • Ariya Jutanugarn, Hyo Joo Kim, and Lydia Ko showed they are ready to make a huge impact when they join the LPGA.  Jutanugarn's 66 put her alone in 3rd at -15, Ko's 66 featured a 31 on the back and pulled her into a tie for 9th at -10 with Kim, among many others--and Kim had 4 bogeys in her final round, with 2 coming in her last 3 holes, and still finished double digits under par for the week.
  • Paula Creamer, Azahara Munoz, Seon Hwa Lee, Haeji Kang, Karine Icher, Mo Martin, and Austin Ernst also fired 66s today, but I may be the only golf writer to take note of it, given the above!
  • And forget 67s by Karrie Webb, Caroline Hedwall, Vicky Hurst, and Christel Boeljon, much less 68s by Michelle Wie, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, and Jennifer Song....
In the end, then, I can't be too sad that my favorite golfer offset her 4 birdies with 4 bogeys today.  The way everyone else played, Ai-sama would have had to shoot a 64 to get into the playoff.  She drove the ball great, but just couldn't hit enough greens or sink enough must-make putts to really be a factor.

Hats off to Salas and Pettersen.  They played phenomenal golf and put on quite a show.  Here's hoping they face each other in many Solheim Cups to come.  And many more Saturdays--and Sundays!

[Update 1 (4/22/13, 12:02 am):  Here's LPGA.com's final-round recap and notes and interviews!  Check the former out for great details on the playoff and on Pettersen's bad luck on the 13th tee.... I'm off to read the latter now!]

[Update 2 (12:26 am):  Tidbits from LPGA.com and twitter:  Pettersen putted with her eyes closed, Salas switched back to the short putter, Park feels she validated her #1 spot, Korda injured her hand on the 17th fairway; just about every famous veteran female golfer has congratulated and encouraged Salas on twitter!]

[Update 3 (12:28 am): Great to see that Seon Hwa Lee's 66 came after a bogey on her 1st hole (the 10th)--she followed it up by going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-par-birdie and parred her way out from there,  Maybe that 30 is just what she needed to finally return to the form that saw her win 4 times in her 1st 4 seasons on the LPGA!]

Awesome Match-Ups Today at the LPGA LOTTE Championship

In the final pairing of the LPGA LOTTE Championship, we have Suzann Pettersen, Hee Kyung Seo, and Ai Miyazato--'nuff said on them.  Teen pros Ariya Jutanugarn and Hyo Joo Kim will play together for the 3rd time this week right ahead of them, along with rising American star Lizette Salas.  Before them we get Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis, separated by a sliver of a hair's breadth in the Rolex Rankings, with another rising American in Jessica Korda to witness the epic clash.  Ahead of them we get possibly the hottest pairing of the day in Beatriz Recari, Hee Young Park, and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (however you want to define "hotness").  And among those with an outside chance of winning, In-Kyung Kim and Na Yeon Choi get to tee it up alongside Se Ri Pak.  How cool is that?

Oh, and earlier in the morning, Ya Ni Tseng and Paula Creamer will try to inspire each other into a charge up the leaderboard, while from the back 9 first Michelle Wie and Azahara Munoz, then Mika Miyazato and Anna Nordqvist, will try to outdo them.

Chie Arimura Misses the Cut on the JLPGA

What is it about playing on the LPGA that seemingly makes it so difficult for top Japanese female golfers to return to the JLPGA successfully?  Last week, LPGA rookie and JLPGA veteran Ayako Uehara came close to DFL in her return event to her original home tour.  This week, Chie Arimura just missed the cut by a mile at the Vantelin Ladies Open.  After a 79 today that featured 2 double bogeys, my pick for Rookie of the Year on the LPGA has reached a new low this year.  Let's hope she's not dealing with the kind of injuries that derailed ex-LPGAer Shiho Oyama's career and from which she's still trying to recover (she barely stayed on the right side of the cut line today).  Yes, Momoko Ueda has won the Mizuno as both a non-member and a member of the LPGA, Harukyo Nomura earned membership on the JLPGA with a win, and Mika Miyazato won a JLPGA major, but how long has it been since Ai Miyazato has won on home soil?  (Answer:  2009, and that lone win was her only one since winning twice on the JLPGA during her LPGA rookie season back in 2006.)

[Update (10:26 am):  To be fair to Arimura, lots of big-name players are struggling this week.  Mi-Jeong Jeon also missed the cut, while the likes of Yuri Fudoh, Sun-Ju Ahn, Ji-Hee Lee, and money-list leader barely made it.  The field is totally bunched, but Miki Saiki is on top with Sakura Yokomine and Yuki Ichinose right behind.  It's anyone's ball game tomorrow.  Just not Arimura's or Jeon's....]

Friday, April 19, 2013

LPGA LOTTE Championship Friday: Suzann Pettersen Maintains 1-Shot Lead, This Time on Hee Kyung Seo

Couldn't we all use a Hawaiian vacation after this week?  Well, we can't all get that, but we can check out tomorrow's final round of the LPGA LOTTE Championship, which is shaping up to be one of the most compelling Saturday finishes ever on any tour.

Consider first who's in contention.  Suzann Pettersen started moving day with a roar, birdieing her 1st 3 holes and 4 of her 1st 7, then bounced back from an 8th-hole bogey with a birdie on the par-5 14th to post a 68 that brought her to -14 after 54 holes.  That was just good enough to keep her in the top spot for the 2nd day in a row, as Hee Kyung Seo just missed posting her 2nd 65 of the week when she bogeyed the 18th hole to drop to -13 for the tournament.  Seo, the 2011 LPGA Rookie of the Year, also got off to a hot start, with an eagle and 2 birdies in her 1st 7 holes, but was better able to keep the pedal to the metal on the back, with birdies in 4 of her 1st 5 holes there, marred only by a bogey on the par-3 12th and that frustrating walkoff bogey.  As both Seo and Pettersen were stalling a bit down the stretch, Ai Miyazato came alive.  Unfazed by the disappointment of following up her front-side 32 and 31 in the previous 2 rounds with a birdieless 36 to kick off moving day, Miyazato birdied the 10th and 2 of her last 4 holes to offset a bogey on the par-3 16th and finish the day at -11, still within 3 shots of the lead.

A win by any of these 3 would be a big deal.  Pettersen and Miyazato would immediately join Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Ya Ni Tseng, and Na Yeon Choi in the thick of the race for #1 in the world.  Seo would finally back up her 2010 non-member win, something she's had many chances to do since the joined the LPGA two seasons ago.

Plus, keep in mind that tomorrow is not likely to be just a 3-player race.  Chasing the lead trio are a passel of youngsters and a pair of contenders for #1 in the Rolex Rankings.  True, 17-year-old Hyo Joo Kim is 4 back after a bogey-free 32 on the back earned her a 69, 17-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn is 5 back thanks to a 5-birdie 68 that brought her even with Stacy Lewis (69) and Lizette Salas (67), and 20-year-old Jessica Korda is 6 off the pace after tying Seo for low round of the day on the strength of 6 birdies in her 1st 11 holes and catching world #1 Inbee Park (who shot a bogey-free 67 of her own) and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (who shot her 2nd-straight 68).  Still others I pegged as contenders are even further back, with Beatriz Recari at -7, In-Kyung Kim at -6, Na Yeon Choi, So Yeon Ryu, and Danielle Kang at -5, Lydia Ko at -4, and Karrie Webb at -3.  But it's hard to count any of these players out when a round in the low 60s is entirely possible from at least one of them.  Lewis hasn't gone on any of the sustained birdie barrages that she's known for yet this week.  Choi's 67 might be the taste of even more to come tomorrow.  And who knows what these kids are capable of?

That's where Hawaii's weather brings a lot of extra drama to the final round.  If the winds are blowing hard, it doesn't matter how well you have been playing.  All that matters is how you handle them that day.  As we've seen already this week, for some players it messes with their driving.  For others it wreaks havoc with their approach shots.  For others it makes putting even more bedeviling than usual.  And still others run into trouble with more than one facet of their games.  So if the top trio falters in the slightest, while others are able to go low from their lead chase pack or even further down the leaderboard, we'll see huge and dramatic swings tomorrow.

Well, I won't.  I still don't have Golf Channel.  Maybe once the semester's over....  I will say this:  I picked Ai Miyazato to win this week over at Seoul Sisters.com....

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 LPGA.com'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!]

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!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Way to Go, Adam--and Inbee!

It was a great week for Adam Scott, whose clutch putting earned him his 1st major at the PGA's 1st major of 2013.  But it was also a great week for last week's champion of the LPGA's 1st major of the year, as Inbee Park leapfrogged Stacy Lewis to take the top spot in the Rolex Rankings during the LPGA's off-week.  Congratulations to them both!

And what better place to celebrate being #1 in both the Rolex and Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index than Hawaii, where the LPGA heads for the Lotte Championship this week?

Me, I'm hoping my favorite golfer finds her way to LPGA win #10 and her 1st title defense outside Japan this coming Sunday.  Ai-sama, gambatte!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Studio Alice Ladies Sunday: Na-Ri Kim Returns to the Winner's Circle

Former LPGA member Na-Ri Kim bounced back from a double bogey on the 144-yard par-3 3rd with 4 birdies and no bogeys the rest of the day to chase down Miki Saiki and outpace Yuki Sakurai and take the Studio Alice Ladies for her 2nd career win on the JLPGA and 1st since her rookie season in 2010.

2nd-round leaders Ah-Reum Hwang and Miki Sakai imploded early in their rounds and on the back 9 today, opening the door for a host of golfers.  A double on the front derailed ex-LPGAer Teresa Lu's quest for her 1st JLPGA victory, but it was her inability to respond to her fellow Class of '06er's run on the back that did her in.  Mayu Hattori was only 1 shot off the lead with a few holes to go but bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes to fall 3 shots behind Kim.  Even 14-year-old Minami Katsu was able to put herself into contention with 3 early birdies that got her to -1 with 12 holes left to play, but unfortunately she couldn't make another birdie the rest of the way and doubled 18.  Still, she ended up alone in 12th, a couple of shots ahead of money-list leader Rikako Morita, who couldn't buy a birdie and ended up with her worst finish of 2013 (T15).

The 27-year-old Kim's win breaks the streak of young Japanese golfers winning on tour this year and shakes up the JLPGA money list a bit, as she jumps into the top 10 for the 1st time this season:

1. Rikako Morita ¥34.81M
2. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥21.77M
3. Mamiko Higa ¥19.18M
4. Natsuka Hori ¥16.93M
5. Yuki Ichinose ¥15.07M
6. Teresa Lu ¥14.62M
7. Miki Saiki ¥13.58M
8. Na-Ri Kim ¥12.94M
9. Sakura Yokomine ¥12.80M
10. Ritsuko Ryu ¥12.57M
11. Erika Kikuchi ¥11.84M
12. Harukyo Nomura ¥10.74M
13. Yukari Baba ¥10.20M
14. Megumi Kido ¥9.14M
15. Kaori Ohe ¥8.25M
16. Young Kim ¥8.24M
17. Shiho Oyama ¥8.15M
18. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥8.12M
19. Hiromi Mogi ¥6.54M
20. Na-Ri Lee ¥6.50M
21. Da-Ye Na ¥6.42M
22. Miki Sakai ¥6.25M
23. Ji-Hee Lee ¥6.00M
24. Lala Anai ¥5.82M
25. Yumiko Yoshida ¥5.77M

Next up is the Vantelin Ladies, a new event on the JLPGA. No field list that I can find....

Recommended Reading: Ruthless Mike on Tiger's Drop, the Masters' Rules Committee Call, and Our Overreactions

This is the best analysis I've seen of what happened at 15, in the scorer's tent, in the committee meeting, and on teh interwebs Friday and Saturday.  Way to go, Ruthless Mike!

Tiger's 4 shots back with 18 holes to go.  He could still win this thing!  I'll admit my opinion of Tiger the person has taken a huge hit, and it's affected my admiration of Tiger the golfer, but I would still love to see him take his next major title today!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Studio Alice Ladies Saturday: Hwang and Sakai Lead, But It's Anybody's Ball Game!

Heading into the final round of the Studio Alice Ladies, there are 28 players within 5 shots of the lead held by Ah-Reum Hwang and 21-year-old Miki Sakai at -3.  Teenage amateur Nozomi Uetake is 1 shot off behind the co-leaders, tied with AXA Ladies champion Natsuka Hori, Mayu Hattori, Na-Ri Kim, and Kaori Nakamura, while Teresa Lu, Rui Kitada, Yuki Sakurai, and Da-Ye Na are only 2 behind.  Bo-Bae Song and Erina Hara are only 3 off the pace and well within striking distance of making a return to the JLPGA's elite. Money-list leader Rikako Morita is at +1 and could easily continue her top-6-or-better run to start 2013.  Ji-Hee Lee, Shinobu Moromizato, Miki Saiki, and Ritsuko Ryu are the biggest names among those 5 back.  Meanwhile, Ayako Uehara barely made the cut and Ji-Yai Shin had to cancel her scheduled appearance due to back issues.  Let's see who prevails!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Recommended Reading: HappyFan Previews the 2013 KLPGA Season

As you wait for the Masters leaderboard to refresh today, take a few minutes to check out HappyFan's preview of the 2013 KLPGA season.  It's a fantastic introduction to the established stars and up-and-comers of the tour that's helped develop the largest number of winners on the LPGA in the last 20 years.  Bangkokbobby and I do a decent job of letting English speakers know about the JLPGA, but I don't know of anyone else who does what HappyFan does for the KLPGA.  He only posts over at the Seoul Sisters blog sporadically, but every one is worth the wait.  In between, I recommend Seoul Sisters.com for interesting perspectives on the wide world of women's golf from a number of devoted fans.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Doug Ferguson of Associated Press has lost his mind

He writes a column on what he thinks are the 5 greatest shots in Masters history.
5. JACK NICKLAUS IN 1986 No list of great shots at Augusta National should exclude Jack Nicklaus, a six-time champion. His 30 on the back nine in 1986, which carried him to his sixth green jacket, was the most famous charge of all. If there was a signature moment, it happened on the par-3 16th. Nicklaus was coming off an eagle when he walked over to the 16th tee, which was playing about 175 yards. He hit a 5-iron, and as the ball was still climbing, Nicklaus stooped over and picked up the tee — partly because he couldn't see so well, partly because he knew he hit it how he wanted. His son, Jackie, was caddying for him that week and said, "Be right." Nicklaus replied, "It is." And it was. The ball landed right of the pin and trickled down, narrowly missing a hole-in-one and leaving him a short birdie putt that he converted on his way to victory. ___ 4. SANDY LYLE IN 1988 Sandy Lyle had the lead going into the final round of the 1988 Masters, but found himself in a tight battle with Mark Calcavecchia on the back nine. He was tied for the lead going to the last hole, knowing he would need a birdie to win. Hitting a 1-iron into the first of two bunkers down the left side of the fairway was probably not the best way to make birdie. That's when Lyle delivered one of the greatest shots on the closing hole at Augusta. He hit a 7-iron just over the tall lip of the bunker, and the shot covered the flag and landed beyond the pin, rolling back to 10 feet. Lyle made the birdie putt to become the first British player in a green jacket. ___ 3. TIGER WOODS IN 2005 Tiger Woods found himself in a surprising duel along the back nine in 2005 with Chris DiMarco. Woods had a one-shot lead with three holes to play, and he looked to be in trouble when he went long on the par-3 16th hole, and DiMarco had a 15-foot birdie putt. The pin was in its traditional Sunday position, and Woods was in the wrong spot. He had to play the chip away from the flag and catch the slope just right, hopefully without too much speed that it would run by the hole and leave himself a tough putt for par. After measuring the shot for the longest time, he sent his pitch up the slope, and it slowly made a U-turn toward the hole. The ball broke gently to the left and looked like it might go in, except that it was slowing to a stop. One last turn moved it an inch from the hole. Another turn left it on the on the edge of the cup. And after 2 full seconds, gravity took over and the ball disappeared for birdie. Despite such a dramatic moment for a two-shot lead, Woods bogeyed the next two holes and had to make one last birdie in a playoff to win. ___ 2. BUBBA WATSON IN 2012 The final round of the 2012 Masters produced the rarest shot in golf when Louis Oosthuizen holed out a 4-iron on the par-5 second hole for an albatross. At the end of the day, Bubba Watson hit a shot that was rare in its own right. It was a shot only Bubba could hit. Watson and Oosthuizen headed to the 10th hole for the second playoff hole, and Watson was in trouble. He hit driver deep into the woods to the right of the fairway. Watson hung his head for a moment, figuring he would have to scramble for any chance of par. He always tells his caddie, "If I have a swing, I have a shot." No one could have drawn this one up. He hit a 40-yard hook with a sand wedge, low to get under the trees, then rising to get onto the elevated green. The ball somehow landed on the green with enough side spin to turn up the hill and settle about 10 feet away. Two putts later, Watson had his par — and a green jacket. ___ 1. GENE SARAZEN IN 1935 Gene Sarazen was about the only player who didn't think the second edition of the Masters was over. Craig Wood was in the clubhouse at 6-under 282. Sarazen was in the fairway on the par-5 15th hole, three shots behind while playing with Walter Hagen. Sarazen had a 4-wood that he called his "Dodo" club, and while he didn't have a great lie, thought he should go for the green from 235 yards away. He tried to play it slightly off the toe to get a little extra distance, and the shot came off perfectly. The ball bounced just short of the green, hopped on and rolled into the cup for an albatross. Sarazen closed with three pars to force a playoff, and he beat Wood over 36 holes the next day. It remains the most important shot in tournament history because it put the Masters on the map.
Where is Larry Mize's chip-in from 140 feet to win the 1987 Masters? That or Sarazen's Double Eagle are at the top of everyone's top Masters shots list, so why isn't it on Ferguson's unless the featured Associated Press writer has lost his mind. I've picked on Ferguson's golf writing for years, most recent example here when he seemed not to know that Houston and Austin are in the state of Texas, but he wrote today is beyond belief. The Masters begins tomorrow. My not so bold prediction- Someone other than Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy wins. BTW Andy North of ESPN put Mize's shot as #1.

Neal on Neil and Neal

I know it's Masters week, but what better time to let the world know that I'm going to be teaching a summer course on Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson from May 28 through June 28 at SUNY Fredonia?

Here's how I've been pitching it on campus.

Summer Session I

Bring on the "Ne(a/i)ls":
Bruce Neal Simon Will Be Teaching Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson

ENGL 427 Major Writers: Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson

During Summer Session I, we will examine a sample of works from the major fantasy fiction writer and the major science fiction writer of their generation: Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson. We will start by pairing some shorter works that made the writers' early reputations (for instance, Gaiman's Sandman: Season of Mists and Stephenson's "Mother Earth, Mother Board" from Some Remarks). We will then pair Gaiman's (and Terry Pratchett's) Good Omens with Stephenson's Snow Crash as hugely popular and influential experiments in narrative, humor, and apocalypse. Finally, we will pair Gaiman's American Gods with Stephenson's Anathem as mature and major novels. If we have the time (and are completely insane), we will also try to pack in their most recent novels, Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Stephenson's Reamde--you know, for fun (these novels will be optional purchases)!

We will consider such questions as what makes a writer "major"? how do these very different writers speak to each other, to their own times, and to us? what connections and contrasts can we find between their characters and settings, characteristic themes and figures, central beliefs and values, writing styles and narrative strategies, and literary and political projects?

This course fulfills the "major author course" requirement for undergraduates majoring in English or English Adolescence Education.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Kraft Nabisco Championship Sunday: Inbee Park Wins the Second Major of Her LPGA Career

So Yeon Ryu put the pedal to the metal and fired the low round of the week, a bogey-free 65, while Caroline Hedwall made the turn going birdie-birdie-eagle birdie, today at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but their fireworks didn't faze Inbee Park in the least.  From the moment she birdied the 1st hole and her playing partner Lizette Salas doubled it, Park enjoyed leads of from 4 to 6 shots for most of the day today, as she cruised around Mission Hills on the way to her 5th career LPGA victory and 2nd major on tour.

It's not like there weren't a lot of fine rounds out there today. Shanshan Feng opened with a bogey-free 31 and held on for a 67 that moved her up about 25 spots to -2.  Haeji Kang birdied 4 holes in a row late on the back to post a 68 and finish at -6.  Cristie Kerr came out flying with a bogey-free 32 on the front to get to -6, but proceeded to shoot herself in both feet with a birdieless 39 on the back, allowing her playing partner Moriya Jutanugarn to finish 1 shot ahead of her thanks to 4 birdies in her last 10 holes of bogey-free golf, including 2 in a row to finish off her round in style.  Meanwhile, Catriona Matthew matched Kerr's front 9 and held on for an even-par back 9 to post a 68 of her own that got her to -5.  Giulia Sergas birdied 5 of 6 holes as she made the turn to tie Matthew for 7th.  Jennifer Johnson played her last 17 holes bogey-free and -5 to catch Jutanugarn at T13 with a great 68.  And there were tons of 69s by Jodi Ewart Shadoff, playing partners Se Ri Pak and Jane Park, low amateur Lydia Ko, Alison Walshe, Natalie Gulbis, Jee Young Lee, and Julieta Granada.

But nobody could even come within shouting distance of Inbee Park, who strung together pairs of birdies 3 times in her round, on 1 and 2, 8 and 9, and 12 and 13.  Sure, she birdied 6, 10, and 17 to "settle" for a 69 and a 4-shot victory over Ryu, but so what?  Compare that to playing partners Ai Miyazato and Carlota Ciganda, who went 76 and 78, respectively, or Ya Ni Tseng's 74 that left her at +2 for the week, or 72s by playing partners Stacy Lewis and Na Yeon Choi that kept them at -1 for the tournament.  Or worse:  Pornanong Phatlum got it to -8 late on the front, but played her last 11 holes +4 and birdieless; Jessica Korda got it to -7 midway through the back, but finished bogey-double bogey-bogey-par; Karine Icher played a bogey-free round, which sounds great until you realize she got it to -7 as she made the turn but took 2 doubles on the back; Angela Stanford got it to -6 (twice), but finished double bogey-bogey-par; Salas ended up with 2 doubles and 3 bogeys to barely break 80 from the final group of the day.  That's what majors are all about, too.  Camilla Hedberg fired a pair of 72s to make it to the weekend, but followed them up with a 79 and a 78 to take next-to-last.

But enough agony of defeat.  How about our champion Inbee Park?  By my count, this one makes it 4 wins, 12 top 5s, and 14 top 10s since last spring.  This is her 1st major since the 1st win of her career at the U.S. Women's Open.  It's her 2nd win of 2013 and 1st since the season-opener in Thailand.  Having finished 2nd 6 times on the JLPGA in 2010 and 6 times on the LPGA last season, often in heartbreaking fashion near the end of the year when the money-list title and Player of the Year race were on the line, this win has to feel particularly satisfying to Park.  If she keeps playing like this, there'll be many more to come, too!

Kraft Nabisco Championship Sunday Pairings

We've got some interesting pairings for the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Mika Miyazato and Candie Kung will get to play fast right behind pacesetter Lindsey Wright.  At 9:04, up-and-comers Jenny Shin and Mo Martin will try to build on yesterday's 71s.  At 9:39, Lexi Thompson and Morgan Pressel will try to turn around their 2013s, with Shanshan Feng and Natalie Gulbis trying to do the same right behind them.  Ai Miyazato fell back in the pack yesterday, but playing with Carlota Ciganda should psych her up.  Mina Harigae gets a front-row seat to Lydia Ko's attempt to earn low amateur honors in yet another major.  Like Tiffany Joh before her, Jane Park gets to play with living legend Se Ri Pak.  Ya Ni Tseng and Beatriz Recari can exchange notes on getting into the zone, while Amy Yang and Michelle Wie can talk about trying to live up to expectations.

And then things get really serious.  Stacy Lewis and Na Yeon Choi go off at 11:44.  Veteran Cristie Kerr and rookie Moriya Jutanugarn are at 12:11.

And then we get to the leaders:

12:29 Hee Kyung Seo and Anna Nordqvist
12:38 Hee Young Park and Sarah Jane Smith
12:47 Ji-Yai Shin and So Yeon Ryu
12:56 Paula Creamer and Caroline Hedwall
1:13 Jessica Korda and Pornanong Phatlum
1:22 Suzann Pettersen and Karine Icher
1:31 Karrie Webb and Angela Stanford
1:40 Inbee Park and Lizette Salas

Even if this ends up being a 2-player race, these games within the big game should also be interesting to track.

Yamaha Ladies Sunday: 19-Year-Old Mamiko Higa Wins Playoff, Takes 1st JLPGA Win

19-year-old Mamiko Higa's best career finish on the JLPGA before this week had been a bronze last year, but she had been playing nowhere near that well in 2013, with a couple of missed cuts and only 2 rounds under par in her 1st 4 events.  But in the JLPGA's 1st 4-round event of the season, the Yamaha Ladies, Higa hung tough while big names around her were crashing and burning.  A final-round 70, highlighted by 3 birdies and no bogeys in her last 13 holes, brought her to -4 for the week, but she needed a little luck to get into--much less win--the playoff with Teresa Lu and Kaori Ohe.  Ohe was -5 with 5 holes to play but after bogeys on the long par-4 14th and 16th needed a walkoff birdie just to get back to -4.  Lu, by contrast, suffered a walkoff bogey to drop back into the playoff.

But they were not the biggest names among those who helped Higa to the winner's circle.  Even with an early double, Miki Saiki was -4 at the turn, but 2 bogeys and a walkoff birdie later and she ended up 1 shot shy of joining the payoff.  Yukari Baba made 3 early birdies to put herself in contention, and her 3 late birdies would have been enough for the win, except for the fact that she also made 3 bogeys over her last 10 holes.  The result?  A tie with Saiki.  Ritsuko Ryu was -5 with 4 holes to play but was -2 as she teed off on the 18th--ouch!  Sakura Yokomine bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes to join Ryu 2 shots out of the playoff.  Even money list leader Rikako Morita had her struggles:  yes, she fired a bogey-free 33 on the back to leap into T6, only 2 shots out of the playoff, as well, but she opened with a 39 that featured a double on the 9th.  Yumiko Yoshida, who won for the 1st time last year, had the opposite problem:  a bogey-free 33 on the front got her into contention and she was still at -4 with 4 holes to play, but she bogeyed the 1st 2 of them back-to-back and also had to settle for a T6.  Onnarin Sattayabanphot was -4 at the turn, too, but a birdieless 39 on the back left her in T13.  Mayu Hattori made 3 bogeys in her last 11 holes and also finished 3 shots out of the playoff.

And those were just the smaller Sunday falls, as bangkokbobby noted.  Bo-Mee Lee was leading the tournament at -7 through her 1st 6 holes of bogey-free golf, so of course she made 7 bogeys in her last 12 holes to fall 3 off the pace.  Shiho Oyama was right on her tail at -6 through 5 holes today, but a bogey-bogey-double run sent her into a tailspin.  Still, after 2 birdies on the back, she was right back in the thick of the things at -4 with 4 holes to go.  So of course she finished par-double-bogey-par for yet another near-miss in 2013.  And the list goes on:  Soo-Yun Kang, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Na-Ri Lee, Yan-Hong Pan, Ah-Reum Hwang, Asako Fujimoto, even new pro Hyo-Joo Kim had their chances at the start of the day to win, but came nowhere close in the end.

Bottom line, though, is that Higa came through when the chips were down.  She made a birdie putt on the 2nd playoff hole after all 3 golfers parred the 1st.  So congratulations to another in the growing line of under-21 playoff 1st-time winners on the JLPGA:  Mamiko Higa!  Is this a changing of the guard we're witnessing or just a lucky run?

Here's how the JLPGA money list now looks:

1. Rikako Morita ¥33.97M
2. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥21.77M
3. Mamiko Higa ¥18.96M
4. Natsuka Hori ¥16.09M
5. Yuki Ichinose ¥14.82M
6. Teresa Lu ¥13.22M
7. Sakura Yokomine ¥12.80M
8. Ritsuko Ryu ¥12.10M
9. Erika Kikuchi ¥11.56M
10. Harukyo Nomura ¥10.74M
11. Yukari Baba ¥10.20M
12. Miki Saiki ¥9.98M
13. Kaori Ohe ¥8.25M
14. Young Kim ¥8.24M
15. Shiho Oyama ¥8.15M
16. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥8.12M
17. Megumi Kido ¥7.74M
18. Hiromi Mogi ¥6.54M
19. Na-Ri Lee ¥6.25M
20. Bo-Mee Lee ¥5.71M

Next up is the Studio Alice Ladies, which features Ji-Yai Shin and Ayako Uehara from the LPGA.  Let's see if defending champion Miki Saiki can shake off today's disappointment, if Rikako Morita can keep her top-6 streak going, and if the JLPGA's youth movement will keep going full team ahead.