Saturday, April 19, 2014

LPGA LOTTE Championship Friday: Angela Stanford Tames Ko Olina Winds, Roars into 4-Shot Lead on Michelle Wie and Hyo Joo KIm

Angela Stanford leads the LPGA LOTTE Championship by 4 shots over Michelle Wie and 2013 KLPGA Rookie of the Year Hyo Joo Kim (thanks to walkoff bogeys by each of them) and 5 shots over Cristie Kerr after firing a 6-birdie 67 on a day when many golfers struggled in the winds at Ko Olina (such as KLPGA money-list leader last year Ha Na Jang, who ballooned to an 81, not to mention Lydia Ko [74], Se Ri Pak [74], Paula Creamer [74], and Morgan Pressel [75]).

Stanford has always been one of the most reliable ball-strikers on tour, but also has been streaky with her putter over the course of her career.  Some time after a disappointing Solheim Cup run last summer, she found something on the greens--and it's carried over into 2014.  She ended 2013 on a 9-event run in which her worst finish was T21 and started 2014 by extending her top-25 streak to 12.  Right after finishing 4th in Singapore, the site her her 5th and most recent LPGA victory, she missed the cut twice in a row in the States, which lowered many people's expectations for her in Hawaii this week.  However, she's reconnected with her putter, with only 80 putts over her 1st 54 holes, and she's handled the winds better than anyone.

That said, nothing is guaranteed today.  Stanford played great enough to dominate the Manulife last summer, but a final-round charge allowed Hee Young Park to make Waterloo Stanford's Waterloo.  And Ko Olina is vulnerable to low scores if the winds die down.  Of course, someone like world #1 Inbee Park would need to find her own galactic-class putting touch to make up 7 shots on Stanford and can't afford any more double bogeys like the one on the par-5 13th that dropped her out of realistic contention.  But if players like Park, So Yeon Ryu (-6), rookie Amy Anderson (-6), or Chella Choi (-4) were to make early runs and if Stanford were to open the door, anything could happen today.  And if someone at -2 like Na Yeon Choi, Shanshan Feng, Azahara Munoz, or Ariya Jutanugarn were to play out of their minds, things would get very interesting, very fast.

Of course the biggest story would be if Michelle Wie were to learn from her struggles in the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship and make a big run for her 3rd LPGA victory right in her home state.  And Asian audiences (and her fans around the world) would be thrilled by a Hyo Joo Kim run.  Cristie Kerr's Hall of Fame clock is ticking, so she needs to make the most of her opportunities, as well.  All in all, it's enough to make me try to find a friend with Golf Channel tonight!  If only....

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