Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sizing Up the Sunday Singles Showdowns at the International Crown

Here are the final singles match-play showdowns at the International Crown:

1. Caroline Hedwall vs. Inbee Park
2. Pornanong Phatlum vs. In-Kyung Kim
3. Ariya Jutanugarn vs. Pernilla Lindberg
4. Carlota Ciganda vs. Na Yeon Choi
5. Sakura Yokomine vs. So Yeon Ryu
6. Beatriz Recari vs. Mikaela Parmlid
7. Mamiko Higa vs. Anna Nordqvist
8. Belen Mozo vs. Moriya Jutanugarn
9. Mika Miyazato vs. Onnarin Sattayabanphot
10. Ai Miyazato vs. Azahara Munoz


Let's break down each of the matches:

Caroline Hedwall:  #33 Rolex Rankings (2.57), #34 Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (71.00), #32 Mostly Harmless Career Ranking (-10.7%).  Don't let the numbers coming into this match fool you.  Hedwall is a match-play demon.  She made 3 birdies on day 1, 2 eagles and 3 birdies on day 2, and 3 birdies on day 3.  Given her aggressive style of play, she was out of a lot of holes over the 1st 2 days, but was in every hole on day 3.  If she can take advantage of her power, she'll be a force to be reckoned with.  She and Nordqvist earned 5 points for Team Sweden in pool play.  Can she get any more against the former world #1?
Inbee Park:  #3 RR (9.54), #5 GSPI (69.32), #5 MH (+4.3%).  If anyone can be the ice to Hedwall's fire, it's one of the most unflappable (least flappable?) players I've ever seen.  She made an eagle and a birdie on day 1, an eagle and 3 birdies on day 2, and 4 birdies in regulation on day 3, with another in the playoff.  (Never mind day 1, when she was shaking off the effects of a long flight from Korea back to the States.)  If putting is going to make the difference today, my money's on the world's best putter.  Hedwall's already gotten 1 win against Park on day 2, which limited Inbee and So Yeon Ryu to only 4 points thus far this week.  I don't see it happening again, especially without Nordqvist to back her up.

Pornanong Phatlum:  #28 RR (2.84), #25 GSPI (70.64), #42 MH (+14.9%).  This is one of the most even matches on paper, despite the fact that Phatlum came into the week pretty hot and Kim pretty cold.  Phatlum made only 2 birdies on day 1 and 3 on day 2, but she was heroic on Saturday, making 7 birdies to help Sattayabanphot take down Lewis and Creamer.  Only question is whether she can keep rolling the ball so well without her partner backing her up.
In-Kyung Kim:  #23 RR (3.23), #27 GSPI (70.83), #12 MH (-4.1%).  Inky's been streaky in recent weeks, going low to win on the LET the week before missing the cut at the Women's British Open.  But she's been pretty darn great this week, making 3 birdies in a losing effort against Webb and Lee on day 1, going off for 7 birdies on day 2 in the epic battle she and NYC won against Lindberg and Parmlid (who shot a team 62 and lost!), and dropping 6 birdies in a valiant but losing effort against an inspired Sakura Yokomine and Ai Miyazato.  Basically, pretty much everybody has played their best round of the week against her.  So she's ready for anything from Phatlum.  This one's a toss-up and it ought to be dramatic.

Ariya Jutanugarn:  #43 RR (2.16), #56 GSPI (71.41), n.r. MH.  On paper she looks to have a big advantage here, but she got carried by sister Moriya the 1st 2 days and has made only 2 birdies each on days 1 and 2, improving to 3 on day 3.  She just hasn't really ever gotten it going this week.  Maybe she's due.  Or maybe her nerves will be worse on day 4.  Hard to say.
Pernilla Lindberg:  #135 RR (.86), #88 GSPI (72.06), n.r. MH.  She and partner Mikaela Parmlid have been on fire the last 2 days.  After making only 2 birdies on day 1, she bounced back with 4 on day 2 and 5 in only 13 holes on day 3.  Only thing is, she's been feeding off even better play by Parmlid (on whom more soon), so how she'll respond to going it alone will also be a bigger question than it ought to be for more seasoned and accomplished players.  This one is anyone's game.

Carlota Ciganda:  #63 RR (1.67), #75 GSPI (71.79), #48 MH (-26.6%).  She's having a Jekyll and Hyde year, playing just fine on the LET and in match play, but not doing much of anything in stroke play on the LPGA thus far this season.  Good thing for her she's going up against NYC in match play.  Like Hedwall against Park, Ciganda's going to have to harness her aggressiveness without her more consistent partner to back her up.  The funny thing is, she hasn't made all that many birdies this week.  She got 2 on day 1, 2 in her and Munoz's only loss this week, and 3 birdies in 13 holes on day 3.  So maybe she'll actually have to ramp up her aggressiveness against NYC?
Na Yeon Choi:  #18 RR (3.73), #13 GSPI (70.19), #7 MH (-4.8%).  After a cold day 1 (only 1 birdie), she's really heated up, making 8 birdies against Lindberg and Parmlid on day 2 and 4 against Yokomine and Ai-sama on day 3.  This should be another very interesting fire-and-ice match for Team Korea, who can make an early statement and force everyone else to play catch-up if they play to their potential.

Sakura Yokomine:  #38 RR (2.35), #22 GSPI (70.57), n.r. MH.  It's fitting that the 2 hottest players for Team Japan and Team Korea get to go mano a mano in Korea's last match of the day.  Nobody's made more improbable shots--and more of them--than Yokomine this week, but does she have any more left in the bag?  She's been a really streaky player this week, as she birdied 2 of her 1st 4 holes on each side on day 1, made 2 birdies in a 5-hole stretch during day 2's amazing comeback, and went eagle-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie as she and Ai Miyazato took over the match on the back 9 on day 3.  So if she can go on one of her runs, she might be able to hang with Ryu and get Japan's day off on the right foot.  She's got to look at this as a nothing-to-lose match (given Team Japan's 2-point advantage in pool play on Team Korea) and freewheel it against one of the best players in the world.
So Yeon Ryu:  #9 RR (5.81), #7 GSPI (69.51), #8 MH (-3.2%).  Ryu not only looks good on paper, she made 4 birdies and an eagle on day 1, 4 birdies (all on the back) on day 2, and 6 birdies in 15 holes of regulation golf on day 3, along with her playoff-winning birdie on 16.  If she can win this match, she erases the 2-point lead Team Korea spotted Team Japan in pool play.  This is a HUGE one, a true must-win.  If she can handle the pressure of batting clean-up for her team, it might be just what she needs to find her way back to the winner's circle in stroke play, too.

Beatriz Recari:  #37 RR (2.39), #118 GSPI (72.70), #27 MH (-8.2%).  She's been playing solid this week, building on her recent upswing in stroke play with steady improvement from 1 birdie on day 1 to 2 on day 2 to 3 on day 3.  But if Parmlid can keep the birdie barrage going for one more day, Recari will have to be able to respond in kind!
Mikaela Parmlid:  #236 RR (.43), #253 GSPI (74.45), n.r. MH.  On paper, this ought to be no contest, but consider that Parmlid has been on fire the last 2 days, with 6 birdies and an eagle on day 2 and 3 birdies in 13 holes on day 3 after managing only 1 on day 1.  And yet, if she can keep it going against Recari, I'll be super-impressed--almost as impressed as I was by Catriona Matthew's WBO victory right after giving birth!

Mamiko Higa:  #68 RR (1.60), #73 GSPI (71.74), n.r. MH.  Last year's JLPGA Rookie of the Year surprised me by playing really good golf this week, despite missing the cut in 3 of her last 6 starts in Japan heading into this week.  Teaming up with fellow Okinawan Mika Miyazato, she was probably the leading half of a giant-slaying duo in pool play.  She made 2 birdies on day 1 against Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall to help Mikan tie the Solheim Cup Vikings, 6 birdies in 16 holes on day 2 as she and Mikan took down Karrie Webb and Minjee Lee, and 3 birdies in a valiant but losing effort against Ryu and Park on day 3.  Now she's got to do it on her own against a formidable opponent with lots more international and match-play experience.  But she's gotta be used to being the underdog by now....
Anna Nordqvist:  #11 RR (4.98), #14 GSPI (70.22), #14 MH (+16.0%).  She's playing with great authority and confidence this year and she has the results this week to go with that mindset:  3 birdies against Mamiko and Mikan on day 1, 2 birdies in a mostly supporting role with Hedwall against Park and Ryu, and 6 birdies in only 15 holes on day 3 against Webb and Lee.  She's on a roll and knows she needs to win 2 points in Team Sweden's final match of the week, particularly against a player from Japan, the only team with more points than Sweden after pool play.

Belen Mozo:  #112 RR (1.03), #108 GSPI (72.39), n.r. MH.  It's between her, Parmlid, and Higa to see who will be the Cinderella of the week.  She's coming off an eagle and 5 birdies on day 3 and made 4 birdies against the Jutanugarns on day 1, so we know she can make birdies in bunches on this course.  Only question is whether she can do it on day 4 all by herself.
Moriya Jutanugarn:  #120 RR (.96), #141 GSPI (73.03), #60 MH (-26.0%).  This may be the week she looks back on and sees her sophomore slump come to an end.  She carried younger sister Ariya in pool play, making 4 birdies each day.  If she can keep it going on day 4, Mozo's going to have her hands full against her.

Mika Miyazato:  #51 RR (1.95), #63 GSPI (71.53), #25 MH (-6.9%).  On paper, she's having the worst year of her LPGA career.  But for someone averaging 2.86 birdies per round and 1.86 putts per green in regulation thus far this season, she's been getting the ball in the hole quickly this week.  She made 4 birdies on day 1 against Nordqvist and Hedwall, made 5 birdies in only 16 holes as she and Higa beat Webb and Lee, and made 4 birdies in that valiant but losing effort against Park and Ryu on day 3.  She's birdied the 1st hole every single day of pool play.  If she can keep it up, she'll earn Team Japan a much-needed pair of points.  I hate to say it, but Team Japan are the underdogs in their 1st 2 matches of the day.  It may be up to Mikan to keep hope alive on day 4.
Onnarin Sattayabanphot:  #88 RR (1.25), #62 GSPI (71.48), n.r. MH.  She's played great despite coming into this week among the coldest golfers in the field.  She could manage only 1 birdie on day 1, but made 4 on day 2, including the game-winner against Ya Ni Tseng and Phoebe Yao on the 18th hole, and also sank 4 on day 3, getting Team Thailand off to a fast start against Stacy Lewis and Paula Creamer and making key shots and putts down the home stretch to preserve the 1-up victory that ended up helping eliminate the Americans from Sunday competition.  It's kind of funny that the Japanese player in this match isn't a JLPGA member while the Thai player not only is but also speaks Japanese.  This should be a comfortable setting for Sattayabanphot, but she's in a must-win situation, batting clean-up for Team Thailand.  Expect a hard-fought match between 2 golfers with a lot to prove.

Ai Miyazato:  #58 RR (1.81), #76 GSPI (71.81), #10 MH (-5.1%).  Like Mikan, Moriya, and Belen before her, Ai-sama has a great chance to turn her 2014 around this week.  She's no stranger to match-play heroics, as she lost in the HSBC World Match Play finals in a heartbreaker to Seon Hwa Lee back in 2007.  But frankly, she's been mostly riding Yokomine's coattails in pool play this week, making only 1 birdie each on days 1 and 2.  Still, she bounced back with 5 on day 3 (and not all of them were due to concessions after Yokomine heroics!).  It's all going to depend on how well she putts, I think.  Although holing out more shots from the sand would be welcome, too!
Azahara Munoz:  #20 RR (3.48), #15 GSPI (70.35), #18 MH (+5.1%).  Aza's 2014 just keeps on getting better, as she opened this week with 3 birdies on day 1, made 4 on day 2, and closed pool play with 5 in only 13 holes on day 3.  So she's the obvious favorite in this match.  If she can draw on her Solheim Cup experience and her victory at the Sybase Match Play Championship back in 2012, she should be able to handle the pressure of being Team Spain's clean-up batter with perhaps a chance to win the crown in the final match of the week!


I'm not going to bother forecasting who's going to win this thing.  Any of the 5 teams can.

[Update 1 (11:54 am):  Here's Ruthless Mike's thoughts on the Saturday shockwaves!]


Colin N.Z said...

I think the biggest surprise is Team Japan has led this tournament from day 1 and have answered almost everything thrown at them. I would not be surprised to see some changes for the next Crown although I do think RR is a fair way to determine players and teams. I've found it quite entertaining so far and all teams have played some good golf.

The Constructivist said...

Thing about RR is it measures a lot of weeks of golf. That plus the early one individual qualifying cut-off date rewards the most consistently excellent but not necessarily the hottest golfers. cf Sun-Ju Ahn, Misuzu Narita, Michelle Wie. The playoff format is in keeping with the team match play nature of pool play and promotes fast results. Good for TV and keeps it fair for the wildcard team. So what would you change? I can't see going smaller than 4-player teams, can you??

Anonymous said...

So far, the only thing "wrong" with this tournament is the fact that the US team could not make it to Sunday, which of course is the point of sports. Everything else has been great. I could hardly breathe down the stretch yesterday, rooting on the US team; greatly disappointed, but enjoyed the great drama. Another bonus is the joy of listening to Judy Rankin, the best commentator in golf.


Jim Coulthard said...

It must be really disappointing for many people that the Americans had their worst performance ever in team competition--and they cannot blame it on Michelle Wie.