Saturday, February 15, 2014

ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open Saturday: Chella Choi's 62 Leads South Korean Charge

I didn't have time to comment on this pattern yesterday, but it was striking to me when I listed the 17 nations that had golfers in contention at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, South Korea, the most dominant force in women's golf in the last decade or so, barely made it onto the bottom of the list.  Sure, Australian amateur Minjee Lee and New Zealand wunderkind Lydia Ko are of Korean descent, but where were the Korean flags?

Well, Chella Choi answered that question today.  Her course-record 62, which featured 3 birdies and an eagle in her 1st 12 holes and a birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle finish, catapulted her into a tie for the lead with Minjee Lee at -13.  Lee's 5-birdie 68 was nothing to sneeze at, of course, but it was completely overshadowed by Choi's brilliance, much like her great play last week was overshadowed by Cheyenne Woods's extended birdie barrage.  But Choi isn't the only Korean national with a chance to win tomorrow.  Jenny Shin fired a bogey-free 66 to move to -9, tied with 2014 ALPG champion Mi Hyang Lee, whose 5-birdie 68 wasn't as good as the closing 63 she fired to secure that win over Lydia Ko on her home turf, but was good enough to move her into a tie for 5th with 7 other golfers (on whom more in a second).  And yes, Lydia Ko is in the hunt, too, after her eagle on the par-5 17th salvaged a 69 and lifted her 1 shot past Suzann Pettersen (who bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes) and 2 behind Choi and Lee.

So Koreans and players of Korean descent made the most of moving day, but other nations are by no means out of this thing.  Pettersen is joined near the top of the leaderboard by fellow Norwegian Marianne Skarpnord, whose bogey-free 68 was her ticket to the logjam at -9.  Amelia Lewis (68) and Morgan Pressel (70) are the low Americans in this group, while Sweden's volatile Caroline Hedwall made 7 bogeys but salvaged a 74 to stay in the mix, France's Karine Icher continued her quest for her 1st LPGA victory with a 4-birdie 70, and England's Holly Clyburn played a game of 1 step back, 2 steps forward on her way to a 71 that kept her hopes alive.

And let's not count out host country Australia, whose own Karrie Webb leaped into a tie for 13th with countrywoman Jessica Speechley on the strength of 3 birdies and an eagle.  Even Australian amateur Su-Hyun Oh isn't out of it completely, as her walkoff eagle capped off a fine 66 that brought her to -7 with America's Jessica Korda, Germany's Caroline Masson, the Netherlands' Dewi Claire Schreefel, Japan's Harukyo Nomura, Canada's Rebecca Lee-Bentham, and China's Jing Yan.

It's probably too much to ask everyone else in the field to come from any farther behind such a strong group of leaders.  So Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Carlota Ciganda, and Cheyenne Woods at -6, Anna Nordqvist (whose double and 2 bogeys as she made the turn were her Achilles heel) and Azahara Munoz at -5, Ayako Uehara and Tiffany Joh at -4, Lee-Anne Pace and Pornanong Phatlum at -3, and Ya Ni Tseng, Hee Young Park, and Sandra Gal at -2 will probably need to challenge or surpass Choi's course record tomorrow to have a chance to win.

Realistically speaking, I'd be surprised if anyone not already double digits under par didn't win this thing.  Pettersen will have fire in her eyes as she tries to turn Melbourne into Sochi, Ko will be trying to win one for New Zealand on their closest rival's home turf, fellow teenager Lee will try again to win one before the home crowd, and Choi will try to win one for her dad, who's pledged to keep caddying for her until she gets her 1st LPGA victory.  No time like the present, Chella!


Colin N.Z said...

Bruce you may be able to confirm this as the LPGA has take down Lydia's results last year but I am sure the last time Lydia hit a round over par was last years British Open (August 2013)so if she maintains that record the winner will have to be closer to the leaders than you think. Also Lydia's best round lately has been her last round. Last time Lydia and Suzann were paired together was Evian last year so there is a challenge to see who wins this one. Normally a player who hits 4 rounds in the 60's wins so that only leave 2 choices but if the trend continues someone will go extra low but will they be close enough to win or will it be Suzann's or Lydia's turn to go low which of course will blow the other away.

The Constructivist said...

That turned out to be quite an "if," there, Colin! I don't think anybody could have predicted what actually happened, though!