Monday, March 31, 2014

International Crown Teams and Match-Ups Set

Check out the details on the International Crown teams and matches at!

Team USA passed Team Korea to take the coveted #1 ranking, which means that Stacy, Paula, Lexi, and Cristie's toughest competition in Pool A will most likely come from either Team Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum, the Jutanugarns, and Onnarin Sattayabanphot or the Spanish Armada of Azahara, Beatriz, Carlota, and Belen.

In Pool B, both Sweden and Australia will be riding their top 2 players, while Korea and Japan should be able to count on all 4 members of their teams.  Saturday features the showdown between the latter pair of teams, a kind of mini-version of what used to be called the Pinx/Kyoraku Cup.

This all goes down in late July!  More on it after the Kraft Nabisco Championship!

Go, Go, Hannah Yun!

The Symetra Tour's finish has been delayed till today and a Mostly Harmless favorite shot the course record yesterday to vault into the lead!  Send Hannah Yun some good vibes from 10:10 am on, if you would.  She's going for her 2nd win on tour in as many seasons.  At -8, Yun leads Katelyn Sepmoree by 1 shot, Kendall Dye by 3, Reilley Rankin by 4, Madeleine Sheils by 5, and Yueer Cindy Feng, Tracy Stanford, and Alejandra Llaneza by 6.

And if you have any good vibes to spare after that, another MH fave, Mitsuki Katahira, will be starting an hour and 10 minutes earlier on the back 9....

[Update 1 (6:30 pm):  Hannah had an up and down day, but Kendall Dye went off on the back, with 4 birdies and an eagle over her 1st 7 holes, to win by 3.  Congrats to Kendall on her 1st Symetra Tour victory and to Hannah for her best finish there since her win last year!]

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kia Classic Sunday: Anna Nordqvist Wins for 2nd Time in Last 4 LPGA Starts

Anna Nordqvist made the final round of the Kia Classic her own, as she sank 6 birdies in her 1st 16 holes to get to -14 and--despite bogeying the par-5 17th--held on for a 1-shot victory over Lizette Salas (70, -12) and a 2-shot victory over Lexi Thompson (68, -11).  Thompson birdied 4 of her last 6 holes and Salas 3 of her last 5, but it was too little, too late to stop the Swedish superstar, who went 67-67 on the weekend and took only 53 putts over her last 36 holes.  Now a 4-time winner on the LPGA, Nordqvist has 2 victories in her last 4 starts after waiting over 4 years since her 2nd career victory, way back in her rookie season.

Putting was definitely the difference this week, as plenty of golfers' ball-striking was solid enough to win.  Chella Choi closed with a bogey-free 69 to get to -10 for the week, but took 32 putts after hitting 16 greens in regulation today, so I'm guessing she left a lot of birdies back on the Aviara course.  Cristie Kerr uncharacteristically made only 1 birdie all day and got passed by Nordqvist, Salas, Thompson, and Choi.  Eun-Hee Ji hit 56 greens all week but couldn't sustain her hot putting from moving day when it mattered on Sunday.  Stacy Lewis hit 17 greens today but took 34 putts on her way to a tepid 71 that left her 5 shots off the pace.  Even Inbee Park couldn't quite get her putter in gear for the week, despite shooting a 6-birdie 68 to close it out.  Heck, Giulia Sergas shot a bogey-free 67 that included an eagle on the par-4 16th, but she still took 30 putts, just as Gerina Piller joined her at -7 for the week with a bogey-free 69, but hit 16 greens and took 31 putts.  Even worse were Azahara Munoz and Dori Carter, who both hit 16 greens and took 35 putts.  In fact, about the only player in the lead chase pack who putted really well today was Se Ri Pak, but she bogeyed 2 and 3 to fall back to -3 for the week before making 5 birdies and no bogeys the rest of the way, so she was never able to put any pressure on Nordqvist.

And then there were the players who moved backwards in a big way today.  2014 Comeback Queen Karrie Webb could never recover from a double bogey-bogey start and ended up with a 75 that dropped her back to -3.  Shanshan Feng went from bad to worse when she finished with a double bogey that knocked her down to -5.  Ayako Uehara fought back to -8 with a birdie on the par-5 5th, but it was all downhill from there and she ended up tied with Webb at -3.  Tiffany Joh fell all the way to E after being -8 over her 1st 48 holes.  Lydia Ko made 2 doubles and 4 bogeys to drop all the way to +3 for the week.  And the list goes on.  So those who couldn't quite chase Nordqvist down or get themselves into contention shouldn't feel too bad.

Nor should those who hung in there this week.  From Jenny Shin to Michelle Wie to Hee Young Park to Paula Creamer to Ai Miyazato, they laid the groundwork for hopefully stronger finishes than merely top 25 next week at the final playing of the Kraft Nabisco Championship (although hopefully not of the LPGA's opening major at Mission Hills).  By contrast, players like In-Kyung Kim, Amy Yang, So Yeon Ryu, Ya Ni Tseng, and Na Yeon Choi will need to bounce back quickly from disappointing weeks.  If they don't, even the KNC's amateur invitees could eat them alive (Su-Hyun Oh outduelled Minjee Lee as both finished better than -20 a few days ago Down Under.)  At least Kim can take solace in the fact that she secured the final spot on Team Korea for the International Crown.

But more on that soon.  For now, let's savor Anna Nordqvist's return to winning ways once again.

[Update 1 (10:49 pm):  And Laura Diaz's 2 hole in 1s and 4 eagles in the last 2 days!  Got her in the KNC, along with:
Congrats to all!]

Check out the Top Pairings for the Final Round of the Kia Classic

Pretty interesting leaderboard/pairings for the final round of the Kia Classic!

1:35 pm:  Cristie Kerr (-10), Lizette Salas (-10)
12:59 pm:  Stacy Lewis (-7), Lexi Thompson (-7)
1:26 pm:  Anna Nordqvist (-8), Ayako Uehara (-8)
1:17 pm:  Shanshan Feng (-8), Dori Carter (-8)
12:17 pm:  Se Ri Pak (-5), Paula Creamer (-5)
11:23 am:  Lydia Ko (-3), Michelle Wie (-3)
1:08 pm:  Chella Choi (-7), Eun-Hee Ji (-7)
12:44 pm:  Karrie Webb (-6), P.K. Kongkraphan (-6)
12:35 pm:  Azahara Munoz (-6), Ashleigh Simon (-6)
10:23 am:  So Yeon Ryu (-2), Ai Miyazato (-2)
9:05 am:  Na Yeon Choi (E), In-Kyung Kim (E)

Amy Yang (+1) and Mi Rim Lee (+1) are about to tee off.  They're right before NYC and Inky.  Don't check out the leaderboard or back here if you want to be surprised by Golf Channel coverage at 7 pm tonight!

AXA Ladies Sunday: 20-Year-Old Ayaka Watanabe Secures 1st JLPGA Victory with Birdie-Birdie-Eagle Finish

For most of the day today at the AXA Ladies, the final pairing and the entire final round looked like a victory lap for 28-year-old Saiki Fujita.  Her 2-shot lead on 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe through 36 holes had grown to 5 by the time the final pairing reached the 4th tee and even a double bogey on the 356-yard par-4 6th--her 1st blemish since Friday, bringing her total to 1 bogey, 1 double, and 1 eagle for the week--only seemed to spur her on to even better golf, as she birdied her next 3 holes in a row to post a 33 on the front anyway.

So what if Watanabe bounced back with 2 late birdies to return to -8 or Bo-Mee Lee birdied 3 of her last 4 holes on the front to move to -9?  Fujita was -13 and cruising, with a gigantic 8-shot lead on hometown hero and 18-year-old Asuka Kashiwabara to boot.  And after matching Watanabe's and Kashiwabara's birdies on the 178-yard par-3 13th, Fujita's lead was 5 on Lee and Watanabe and 8 on Kashiwabara with only 5 holes left to play.  The only question seemed to be whether she'd get her 1st win in almost 3 years with 3 straight 67s or not.

But then Fujita bogeyed the 379-yard par 4 14th even as Kashiwabara birdied it and she lead Lee and Watanabe by 4 with 4 to play and Kashiwabara by 6.

And then she bogeyed the 388-yard par-4 15th right after Lee had birdied it.  Now it was only 2 on Lee with 3 to play, but at least it was still 3 on Watanabe and 5 on Kashiwabara, right?

Wrong.  Watanabe and Kashiwabara cut it to 2 and 4, respectively, with matching birdies on the 162-yard par-3 16th.  Then Watanabe followed it up with another birdie, this time on the 383-yard par-4 17th, to pull within 1 of Fujita and pass Lee, who had bogeyed it just minutes earlier to fall 3 shots off the pace.  So the only player Fujita had to worry about as they came to the tee of the 505-yard par 5 was Watanabe.  All Fujita had to do was birdie it to secure her 6th career JLPGA victory.

Instead, she bogeyed it.  And Watanabe eagled it!  Watanabe had turned a 5-shot deficit into 2-shot victory in a mere 5 holes!  Now that's how to make your 1st-ever JLPGA victory memorable!

What makes Watanabe's win even more impressive is that she had missed the cut badly the week before at the T-Point Ladies.  Just 8 days later, she joined the youth movement that's been redefining the JLPGA the last couple of years.  And she leaped to the 2nd spot on the 2014 JLPGA money list:

1. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥24.11M

2. Ayaka Watanabe ¥20.91M
3. Rikako Morita ¥20.42M
4. Yuki Ichinose ¥15.25M
5. Erina Hara ¥12.35M
6. Bo-Mee Lee ¥11.89M
7. Saiki Fujita ¥10.45M
8. Mami Fukuda ¥9.53M
9. Miki Sakai ¥9.17M
10. Asako Fujimoto ¥8.51M
11. Ji-Yai Shin 
12. Bo-Bae Song ¥6.91M
13. Mamiko Higa ¥6.88M
14. Airi Saitoh ¥6.67M
15. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥6.49M

Rui Kitada, whose bogey-free 69 enabled her to catch Kashiwabara in a tie for 4th at -8, is in the next spot after Ahn, while Asako Fujimoto and Erina Hara, who finished in T7 at -6 (1 shot behind Lala Anai and 1 ahead of defending champion Natsuka Hori) bring the total to 9 Japanese players at 26 or younger in the top 15 of the money list--and 7 under 25!  One of them, Okinawa's own Mamiko Higa, will be defending her title next week at the Yamaha Ladies.  The KLPGA's Hyo-Joo Kim will be one of the visiting players in the field.  Let's see if a Korean young gun can stop the Japanese young guns from running wild in the early stages of 2014.

[Update 1 (11:10 pm):  You have to watch this video of Watanabe's finish!  Her birdie on 17 came from an awesome approach from a fairway bunker and her eagle was a chip-in!


[Update 2 (11:26 pm):  This video covers the entire final hole plus the aftermath.  Thanks to my anonymous commenter for both links!]

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Kia Classic Saturday: Cristie Kerr and Lizette Salas Last Leaders Standing on Strange Moving Day

There's something about the Aviara Golf Club this year at the Kia Classic:  it seems to let players soar for awhile and then sends them crashing down the leaderboard.

Dori Carter got to -12 with 2 to play yesterday and ended the day at -1; twice today she got to -11, but then she ran into trouble in the very same stretch she birdied 5 holes in a row the day before, bogeying 4 of her 1st 6 holes on the back.  Yet she finished birdie-par-par to salvage a 74 and is still right in the mix at -8.

Carter can thank Stacy Lewis for that gift.  Even as Carter was stumbling, Lewis was cruising, with a 15-hole bogey-free streak that started on Friday and got her to double digits under par with 5 holes left to play.  The question seemed to be, how low could Stacy go?  Instead, the question was, "how bad will Stacy finish?"  She bogeyed 14, 17, and 18 to drop back to -7 for the week.

Carter can also thank Lexi Thompson.  After bogeying her 1st 2 holes in a row today, Thompson responded with 3 pairs of consecutive birdies over the next 9 holes and was poised to go lower than -9 over her last 7 holes.  Instead, she failed to make a birdie the rest of the way and played those holes in +2.

Anna Nordqvist was also an enabler for the rest of the field.  After birdieing 4 holes in a row right off the bat and getting her 5th on the par-5 8th and 6th on the par-4 13th, she was -9 and rising.  So of course she played the last 5 holes in +1 and didn't make a birdie the rest of the way.

Heck, even a player you wouldn't necessarily to be hanging with the top players in the world had it going on for the 1st two-thirds of her round, but Tiffany Joh finished +4 in her last 6 holes right after getting to -8.  Another victim of Aviara Syndrome (or should it be Icarus Syndrome?).

In fact, the only players ahead of Carter are your co-leaders, Cristie Kerr and Lizette Salas.  But even they politely held the door open for the rest of the field, as Kerr was -11 with 8 holes to play and made 2 bogeys to more than offset her 1 birdie coming home and Salas was -10 with 4 to go and stayed there after bogeying the par-4 15th and birdieing the par-5 17th.  That may not sound that bad, but after a 50-hole bogey-free run to start the tournament, the 15th was Salas's 1st blemish of the week.

The perils of the leaders allowed those who avoided them to make huge moves up the leaderboard.  Ayako Uehara fired a bogey-free 67 and Shanshan Feng a 5-birdie 69 that included a 4-hole birdie train as she made the turn to join Carter and Nordqvist at -8.  Eun-Hee Ji's bogey-free 65 got her all the way to -7, right with Lewis, Thompson, and Chella Choi, who hung in there for a 70 that kept her 3 shots off the pace set by Kerr and Salas.  P.K. Kongkraphan also shot a bogey-free 65, which as sparked by a birdie-birdie-hole in 1 start.  At -6, she's tied with Karrie Webb (67), Azahara Munoz (69), Julieta Granada (70), and Ashleight Simon (70).  Even Mo Martin, who fired a bogey-free 67 to join Se Ri Pak (71), Paula Creamer (72), and Mariajo Uribe (73) at -5, isn't quite out of this thing just yet.

In fact, Webb probably feels that she's perfectly positioned for yet another huge come-from-behind victory in 2014.  If Salas can make it 4 rounds in a row in the 60s, however, that's going to be a tall order.  Basically nobody else has done it, although after terrible starts Hee Young Park has gone 68-68 and Jennifer Song has gone 69-69--not quite as impressive as Webb's 68-67--but not half bad.  Most likely, the winner tomorrow will go low early and blast past the leaders.  Unless Kerr figures out how to putt like herself again.

Let's just wait and see what happens--it should be good!

AXA Ladies Saturday: Saiki Fujita Shoots 2nd-Straight 67; Looking for 1st JLPGA Win in 3 Years

Saiki Fujita has made as many eagles as bogeys in her 1st 36 holes of the AXA Ladies--1 each--as she rode a bogey-free 67 today to the top of the leaderboard, 2 shots ahead of 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe and 4 shots ahead of Bo-Mee Lee, Erina Hara, and 18-year-old amateur Asuka Kashiwabara.  The 28-year-old Fujita, now in her 10th season on the JLPGA, is looking for her 6th win on tour and 1st since 2011.  She blew past her playing partner and 1st-round leader Watanabe with a pair of late birdies after Watanabe suffered a 4-hole stretch midway through the back 9 where she made 2 bogeys and no birdies.

Meanwhile, the 18-year-old Kashiwabara thrilled the home crowd as she shot up the leaderboard with a bogey-free 67 of her own, capped off by 3 birdies in her last 6 holes.  Known best for her 14-shot victory over both boys and girls at the R&A's 2012 Junior Open, the Miyazaki native finished T16 here last season, is ranked #202 in the WAGR, has played in the Japan Women's Open at least the last 3 years, and finished T47 at last year's Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship.  So don't be too surprised if she's in contention on the back 9 tomorrow.

Other players bounced back from bad 1st rounds to make the cut, but they aren't really in contention.  These include Teresa Lu (67, -2), Hye-Jin Jung (67, -1) Riho Fujisaki (68, -1), Yayoi Arasaki (69, E), Sun-Ju Ahn (70, E), Ji-Hee Lee (70, E), and Ji-Yai Shin (70, +1).  Unfortunately, Shiho Oyama, who had a chance to win here last year, missed the cut badly, as did Yuko Mitsuka, Yuki Sakurai, and Miho Mori (who went 69-78).  Others who won't be playing on Sunday include Momoko Ueda, Miki Saiki, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Na-Ri Lee, and Na-Ri Kim, as well as Yumiko Yoshida, who had to withdraw.

So the stage is cleared for Fujita, who's also being chased by a gaggle of young Japanese players,  including 21-year-olds Natsuka Hori (the defending champion), Misuzu Narita, Mami Fukuda, and Kotono Kozuma, along with 22-year-old Miki Sakai.  Let's see, too, whether 26-year-olds Erina Hara and Lala Anai can keep pace with the youngsters, and whether 25-year-old Bo-Mee Lee can beat Fujita to her 6th victory on the JLPGA.  If Fujita gets off to a fast start tomorrow, she'll be tough to catch!

Friday, March 28, 2014

AXA Ladies Friday: 20-Year-Old Ayaka Watanabe Leads with 66

20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe fired a 7-birdie 66 to lead the AXA Ladies by 1 shot over Saiki Fujita, 2 shots over last week's winner Rikako Morita, Bo-Mee Lee, and Akane Iijima, and 3 shots over Erina Hara, Mihoko Iseri, and 21-year-old Miho Mori.  Their rounds are even more impressive when you consider that some of the top players on tour struggled mightily in the 1st round, including Shiho Oyama with a 79, Yumiko Yoshida with a 76, Ji-Yai Shin and Teresu Lu with 75s, and Sun-Ju Ahn and Ji-Hee Lee with 74s.

With Saturday's action already well under way, I won't go any further than that--for now!

Kia Classic Friday: Dori Carter Bogeys Last 2 Holes for 64 and a 2-Shot Lead on Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr

Dori Carter birdied 4 of her 1st 7 holes, then birdied 5 holes in a row as she made the turn, then added 2 more for good measure after taking a break for 1 hole with a mere par.  By that point, she was -12 and running away with the Kia Classic, so of course she finished bogey-bogey to settle for a 64 and only a 2-shot lead on Stacy Lewis (7-birdie 66) and Cristie Kerr (whose bogey-free 32 on the front, her back, was sparked by an eagle on the par-4 1st).  With Lizette Salas (who's gone 36 holes and counting without a bogey and followed up yesterday's 69 with a sweet 68 today) 3 back and Tiffany Joh (no big deal, just a smooth bogey-free 69) 4 off the pace, the top of the leaderboard is proudly flying Old Glory.

Sure, sure, sure, Mariajo Uribe is tied with Joh at -6, Chella Choi's bogey-free 65 brought her into a group at -5 that includes Paula Creamer (72), Lexi Thompson (70), and Shanshan Feng (71), and Se Ri Pak, Inbee Park, Julieta Granada, and Ashleigh Simon are hanging out at -4, so the international contingent is doing just fine, thank you very much (as are 2 of the most popular Americans on tour).  And my fave Ai Miyazato is hanging in there at -3 along with the likes of So Yeon Ryu, Anna Nordqvist, and Azahara Munoz, so I have something to really look forward to on moving day.

Plus, a lot of players I really like bounced back from tough starts to their weeks.  Lydia Ko (68, -2), Karrie Webb (68, -1), Sydnee Michaels (68, E), Hee Young Park (68, +1), Mina Harigae (69, +1), and Jennifer Song (69, +1) lead the way, but it was great to see Seon Hwa Lee playing solid golf (72-72), fun to see Na Yeon Choi riding the roller coaster (eagle on par-5 8th, double on par-3 11th while going 72-72 herself), and encouraging to see In-Kyung Kim (73-70) tuning up her game, particularly because it's looking like Amy Yang (who made the cut on the number at +2) won't be passing her for the last spot on Team Korea for the International Crown.

So I have a lot to cheer me up in the face of 2 and outs for the likes of Sei Young Kim, Moira Dunn, Juli Inkster, Mariah Stackhouse, Angela Stanford, Chie Arimura, Pornanong Phatlum, Moriya Jutanugarn, Laura Davies, Ilhee Lee, Caroline Hedwall, Jeong Jang, and Danielle Kang, among many others.  Not only is winning tough on the LPGA, but also just finishing in the money sometimes....

Kia Classic Thursday: Creamer and Uribe Shine on Difficult Scoring Day

Paula Creamer and Mariajo Uribe jumped out to the lead in the 1st round of the Kia Classic yesterday on the strength of 5-under-par 67s.  Even though they started on opposite sides, both Uribe's bogey-free round and Creamer's 6-birdie round were the result of fast starts and solid finishes.  Ditto for Shanshan Feng's 5-birdie 68, Jodi Ewart Shadoff's bogey-free 68, and Cristie Kerr's and Mi Hyang Lee's 6-birdie 68s.  The common denominator was really solid ball-striking for all the top players today.

By contrast, Hee Young Park stumbled to a 77, Angela Stanford, Morgan Pressel, and Pornanong Phatlum to 76s, Karrie Webb and Caroline Hedwall to 75s, and Lydia Ko, Chella Choi, Hee Kyung Seo, and Sei Young Kim to 74s.  So you know it was tough to score out there is Carlsbad.

That makes me even happier that Ai Miyazato joined the big group at -2.  Her putter continues to let her down, but at least her ball-striking is getting more and more precise.  I'm starting to feel like she's going to start breaking 70 more regularly soon.  I get the same feeling about Inbee Park, who's looking more and more like she's going to start blitzing courses once her putter really heats up.  Her bogey-free 69 clearly could have been a lot lower.

All in all, it's a pretty fun leaderboard, with Azahara Munoz (69) continuing to ratify my pre-season trust in her, Lizette Salas (69) trying to keep Kerr honest and give her a run for her money for the last spot on Team USA in the International Crown, Lexi Thompson (69) ready to sport a "Lydia Who?" hat of her own, Tiffany Joh (69) doing her thing, Stacy Lewis, So Yeon Ryu, Michelle Wie, and Se Ri Pak only 3 off the pace, and Ya Ni Tseng (71) under par.

So there's going to be some drama around the cut line later today, as well as in the higher reaches of the leaderboard.

[Update 1 (12:36 am):  Best wishes to Suzann Pettersen on a speedy recovery from a back injury.  Having had my share, most recently this fall, I sympathize.  Wonder what it'd take for the golfy media to pay as much attention to her back as Tiger's?]

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Picks for the Kia Classic

Going with my gut for the Kia Classic--here are my picks!

1. Ko
2. Ryu
3. Webb
4. Creamer
5. Yang
6. Lewis, Stacy
7. Park Inbee
8. Munoz
9. Pettersen
10. Kerr
11. Phatlum
12. Salas

Alts: Kim In-Kyung; Hedwall; Choi Chella

How about you?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Congratulations to Karrie Webb, Sun Young Yoo, Rikako Morita, and Yueer Cindy Feng!

Lots of congratulations to go around this week!

  • To Karrie Webb, for her 41st win on the LPGA, which not only lifted Australia's spirits in the face of Adam Scott's epic Sunday fail, but also repeated to Lydia Ko what she had earlier told Minjee Lee:  "keep off my lawn, you kids!"  Yep, the Comeback Queen of 2014 has plenty of pep!
  • To Sun Young Yoo, for breaking the $4M barrier in career LPGA winnings.
  • To Rikako Morita, for proving her 4 wins and money-list title on the JLPGA last season were no fluke and most likely clinching a spot on Team Japan for the LPGA's International Crown.
  • To Yueer Cindy Feng, for graduating so quickly from 3 wins in 5 starts on the SunCoast Series to her 1st victory on the Symetra Tour.

Way to go, everyone!

Monday, March 24, 2014

LPGA International Crown Watch: Last Chance to Make the Team Coming Right Up

This week is the last chance for golfers trying to make one of the 8 teams in the International Crown. In a nutshell, you have to be in the top 4 in the last Rolex Rankings in March to make your country's team and compete in the LPGA's first broadly international team competition.  And that comes next Monday.

Following up posts from the last two weeks, here are the teams with some more or less intense competition for their last spot(s), with each contender's rank and points from last week and this week listed in parentheses after her name.  Players whose positions changed have their names underlined.  

Yesterday, Rikako Morita, Cristie Kerr, and Onnarin Sattayabanphot did a lot to secure their spots on their respective teams.  With both the JLPGA and LPGA teeing it up this coming week, there's a lot at stake for those competing for the last spots on Team Korea and Team Australia, in particular, which feature the tightest races.

Team Korea
Inbee Park (#1, 10.24--> #1, 10.17)
So Yeon Ryu (#5, 6.04--> #6, 6.11)
Na Yeon Choi ( #9, 4.83--> #9, 4.71)
In-Kyung Kim (#12, 3.96--> #13, 3.90)
Amy Yang (#17, 3.41--> #14, 3.82)
Ha Na Jang (#13, 3.85--> #15, 3.79)
Hee Young Park (#19, 3.39--> #18, 3.36)
Ji-Yai Shin (#18, 3.40--> #20, 3.34)
Chella Choi (#23, 3.07--> #24, 3.08)

Team USA
Stacy Lewis (#3, 8.23--> #3, 8.47)
Paula Creamer (#8, 5.19--> #8, 5.20)
Lexi Thompson (#10, 4.48--> #10, 4.46)
Cristie Kerr (#14, 3.80--> #12, 3.91)
Angela Stanford (#16, 3.58--> #17, 3.51)
Lizette Salas (#20, 3.21--> #21, 3.31)
Jessica Korda (#27, 2.83--> #25, 3.00)
Morgan Pressel (#35, 2.41--> #35, 2.44)

Team Japan
Mika Miyazato (#25, 2.88--> #27, 2.84)
Ai Miyazato (#28, 2.65--> #30, 2.60)
Rikako Morita (#40, 2.24--> #36, 2.43)
Sakura Yokomine (#37, 2.29--> #39, 2.27)
Shiho Oyama (#49, 1.97--> #47, 1.97)
Mamiko Higa (#47, 2.01--> #48, 1.94)
Miki Saiki (#51, 1.93--> #51, 1.86)
Yumiko Yoshida (#53, 1.81--> #56, 1.75)
Yuki Ichinose (#68, 1.46--> #70, 1.43)
Chie Arimura (#80, 1.22--> #82, 1.15)

Team Thailand
Pornanong Phatlum (#32, 2.55--> #28, 2.70)
Ariya Jutanugarn (#33, 2.53--> #30, 2.49)
Moriya Jutanugarn (#81, 1.20--> #80, 1.23)
Onnarin Sattayabanphot (#95, 1.04--> #87, 1.11)
Thidapa Suwannapura (#100, 1.00--> #103, .96)
Nontaya Srisawang (#174, .57--> #178, .56)

Team Sweden
Anna Nordqvist (#15, 3.76--> #16, 3.70)
Caroline Hedwall (#22, 3.10--> #23, 3.12)
Pernilla Lindberg (#114, .90--> #106, .93)
Mikaela Parmlid (#160, .64--> #165, .63)
Camilla Lennarth (#179, .56--> #182, .55)
Linda Wessberg (#212, .45--> #213, .46)
Karin Sjodin (#245, .36--> #248, .34)

Team Australia
Karrie Webb (#6, 5.92--> #5, 7.30)
Minjee Lee (#112, .91--> #110, .91)
Katherine Kirk (#110, .93--> #112, .90)
Lindsey Wright (#132, .77--> #129, .81)
Stacey Keating (#135, .76--> #135, .76)
Rebecca Artis (#147, .71--> #150, .69)
Sarah Jane Smith (#154, .68--> #156, .66)
Nikki Campbell (#177, .57--> #181, .56)

New World Golf Hall of Fame standards for the female golfers or what will they do about that big elephant in the room?

From Randall Mell at Golf Channel writes about the new way players can qualify for the Hall of Fame-
The LPGA’s Hall of Fame requires members to earn 27 points for induction. A player gets a single point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship victory. A player also gets one point for winning the Vare Trophy and one point for the Rolex Player of the Year Award. Players who do not meet those requirements can still be inducted via the Veteran's Committee. The new World Golf Hall of Fame’s criteria only require a woman to have 15 victories on tours that receive Rolex World Rankings points, or to have won two major championships, to be eligible for induction. A player meeting that criteria, however, must still pass a vote of the World Golf Hall of Fame Selection Commission to be inducted.
The LPGA 27 point standard was very tough to achieve and I don't think that was a bad thing. Players could get in via the Veteran's committee a bunch of wins wasn't a guarantee of that either as Randall and I will both point out below. Later in the article Mell points out the 27 point rule will still apply for the LPGA Hall of Fame, its only the WGHOF standard that's changing. Now for the eligibles.
Laura Davies, 50, outside her LPGA career has won 45 Ladies European titles, six LPGA of Japan Tour titles and eight Australian LPGA titles. Meg Mallon, 50, won 18 LPGA titles and four major championships. Dottie Pepper, 48, won 17 LPGA titles, two major championships, a Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Vare Trophy. ***** Liselotte Neumann, 47, the first Swede to win a major championship (’88 U.S. Women’s Open), instantly becomes eligible for World Golf Hall of Fame induction. She won 26 titles on Rolex Rankings tours (13 of them LPGA titles). Helen Alfredsson, 48, won 22 titles on Rolex Rankings tours (7 LPGA titles, including a major, the ’93 Nabisco Dinah Shore). Notably, Cristie Kerr, 36, Suzann Pettersen, 32, and Yani Tseng, 25, have all met the minimum victory requirements for World Golf Hall of Fame eligibility but won’t become eligible until they reach 40 years old or retire and wait five years to become eligible.
Personally I think the Hall of Fame standards should be rather high. As such the only person I'd vote for of the above is Laura Davies. There is one person Randall missed. Who is it? Jane Blalock Blalock notched 27 LPGA wins between 1970 and 1985. That's more than any female golfer but Lorena Ochoa(who also racked up 27 wins) who isn't currently in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Randall probably forgot her.(I like Randall's writing and have met him in person. He's a good guy and what I wrote isn't meant to be picking on him) There are probably some golf people from the 70's and 80's who are trying to erase Blalock from their memories. The reason? What is known as the Jane Blalock cheating controversy. Here is a link to the Wikipedia article which I happened to do most of the writing of. By May 20 1972 Blalock had already gotten 5 of her 27 LPGA wins. She had won twice early that season. Blalock was also leading the money list. On that day at a tournament in Louisville Kentucky, Blalock was disqualified It was said she had improperly marked her ball on the 17th hole. Golf's biggest ever cheating story was under way. Two weeks later, Blalock was given a one-year suspension. At that time, the LPGA didn't have a commissioner. Discipline was handed down by an executive board mostly composed of player. It was said Blalock admitted her guilt and that her ball moving in Kentucky was not an isolated instance. Blalock got a lawyer and filed a anti-trust suit against the LPGA. As part of the suit, her lawyers motioned a Federal Judge that Blalock be allowed to play while her case was being heard. The motion was granted. Blalock was only off the tour for a couple of weeks. 27 tour players signed a petition against Blalock. Players said she had cheated before the May 1972 tournament. LPGA HOFer Louise Suggs was one of Blalock's accusers. Future HOFer Judy Rankin I believe was on the executive committee that handed down the suspension. Her coach, a prominent one at the time named Bob Toski(who I once met) said Blalock needed psychiatric help. Blalock did have at least one defender- Sandra Palmer. Palmer, who won 19 times on the LPGA Tour including two majors between 1971 and 1985, said '"If you see an infraction of the rules, you should point it out immediately. You don't wait until three years later to report something. Once you've signed that card, you're as guilty as the person who committed the violation." For supporting Blalock, Palmer was put on probation by the LPGA. The suit and the controversy lingered for three years. Blalock won two more times in 1972, but narrowly finished 2nd to Kathy Whitworth on the money list. In 1973 Blalock didn't win at all. The only such year for her between 1970 and 1980. Pro golfer Dave Hill, a controversial person in his own right, wrote in his golf memoir 'Teed Off' that the suit Blalock brought the LPGA Tour came close to almost destroying it. A federal court ruled in Blalock's favor in 1974. In the summer of 1975, Blalock and the LPGA settled out of court. In the end whether Blalock cheated or not was never proven in a court of law. Her suit was about how the LPGA was run and whether players could hand down infractions against fellow players. Due to the Blalock controversy, the LPGA did hire its first commissioner. My opinion on whether Jane Blalock cheated or not- I don't know but Palmer was right. The accusations that came after the Kentucky tournament about Blalock prior to it have serious problem. If a player is cheating, their playing partners should step forward at once or they become guilty too. Blalock won 27 times on the LPGA. She also made 299 consecutive straight cuts. Repeat after me- She made 299 consecutive straight cuts. That's two times Tiger Woods best streak. After her playing days, Blalock helped to form the Legends Tour which is the equivalent of the Champions Tour. She was the Legends Tour's first commissioner. There are some holes in Blalock's record. She never won a major. She was the original winner of the Dinah Shore now known as the Kraft Nabisco, but it wasn't a major at the time. Blalock was never leading money winner nor took home the Vare Trophy. Blalock's name should come up anytime the WGHOF considers female golfers for induction. Her record is too strong to ignore. Will the Veteran's committee give Blalock consideration based on her merits or will whether she cheated or not be held against her. I think Blalock isn't well liked in some quarters due to the controversy and that this is being held against her. My opinion- I don't think Blalock will ever be inducted into the WGHOF due to the cheating controversy. IMHO she has better credentials for induction than anyone Mell listed but Laura Davies. I'm neither pro or con so far as Blalock getting into the Hall based strictly on her golf record, but I do think she deserves a fair shake. Update- In a article about LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan stating that the LPGA would stick to the 27-point requirement for Hall of Fame induction, Columnist Randall Mell pointed out Jane Blalock's eligibility, her golfing record, plus the cheating controversy. Randall's article was published 20 minutes after mine. GMTA Randall.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

JTBC Founders Cup Weekend: Can Lydia Ko Secure Her 1st Win as a LPGA Member and on U.S. Soil?

Lydia Ko fired a 67 on moving day to take the lead at the JTBC Founders Cup by 1 shot over fellow rookie Mi Rim Lee (70) and Jessica Korda (66) and by 2 shots over Sun Young Yoo (68).  Cristie Kerr shot the low round of the week to date, an 8-birdie, 1-eagle 63, to move to -11, 5 shots off Ko's pace, while Azahara Munoz and Paula Creamer put together matching 64s (although Munoz's was bogey-free and Creamer's included 9 birdies and a bogey) to pick up where they left off 2 weeks ago in Singapore and move to -13 and -12, respectively.  There are 22 golfers within 5 shots of the lead, including So Yeon Ryu, Amy Yang, Michelle Wie, and Chella Choi with Munoz, Stacy Lewis and Morgan Pressel with Creamer, and Inbee Park, Laura Davies, Lexi Thompson, Lizette Salas, Pornanong Phatlum, and Jaye Marie Green with Kerr, so you know it's not going to be easy for Ko today.  And with Karrie Webb at -10 and Hee Young Park, Hee Kyung Seo, and Mika Miyazato at -9, you know there's a slim chance one of them can put themselves into the mix, as well.

I'll be checking in on scores periodically today!  Stay tuned!

[Update 1 (11:04 am):  Hope you're remembering to check out Eye on the Tour's coverage from Phoenix!]

[Update 2 (1:04 pm):  I'm seeing a good number of birdies on the opening par 5s (2nd and 5th holes), as well as a smattering of birdies on just about every other hole on the front.  Looks like today's pin positions might be a little more accessible on the front than they were before the weekend!  So far Hee-Won Han and Jeong Jang have the lowest rounds of the day going, both at -2, Han through her 1st several holes, and Jang on the front.]

[Update 3 (7:36 pm):  Before I get into Founders Cup not-quite-live-blogging, let me offer congratulations to Yueer Cindy Feng for her victory on the Symetra Tour today!]

[Update 4 (7:43 pm):  Well, well, well!  Jang ended up posting a bogey-free 67, but Han went off and shot a bogey-free 63 to finish the week at -14!  It won't be enough to win--or even get her a top 10--but it's tied for the lowest round of the week with Cristie Kerr from moving day...and Karrie Webb today!  Yup, the Hall of Famer has most definitely put herself in the mix, as her 10-birdie 63 moved her to -19 for the week and right into 1st place....]

[Update 5 (7:47 pm):  Whereas Han shot her 30 on the front, Webb did it on the back.  And it looks like the rest of the field is having trouble catching up to her.  Pornanong Phatlum gave it the old college try with 7 birdies in her 1st 16 holes to climb to -18, but after a bogey on the par-3 17th (her 2nd in a row on that hole), she finished 2 shots behind Webb.  There are now 6 players on the course within 3 shots of Webb.]

[Update 6 (7:50 pm):  Stacy Lewis is 3 back with 2 to play, so barring a miracle finish, she's not a legitimate threat.  Amy Yang got it to -18 through 11 holes but like Phatlum made her 1st bogey of the day at an inopportune time, on the par-4 12th.  Unlike Phatlum, she has time to make up the 2-stroke deficit.  She's playing the par-5 15th now.]

[Update 7 (7:52 pm):  Lydia Ko birdied the 2nd through 5th holes to get to -20, but then went on to bogey 6, 9, and 11 to fall 2 shots behind Webb.  She's still got 6 holes to catch or pass her.]

[Update 8 (7:53 pm):  So Yeon Ryu birdied 3 of her 1st 10 holes and still has a bogey-free round going, but she's 3 down with 3 to play.]

[Update 9 (7:54 pm):  Azahara Munoz birdied 7, 10, and 13, but needs to keep her 34-hole bogey-free run going and make 3 more birdies in her last 4 holes to catch Webb.]

[Update 10 (7:56 pm):  Mi Rim Lee has had a roller-coaster round, with 5 birdies, 2 bogeys, and a double that leave her 3 back with 4 to play, as well.]

[Update 11 (7:58 pm):  Speaking of roller coasters, Jessica Korda took a quad on the par-4 7th, then bounced back by going birdie-birdie-eagle on 9 through 11 to return to -16, but just bogeyed the par-4 12th to fall 4 back with 6 to play.]

[Update 12 (8:04 pm):  What about those who are done?  Inbee Park shot a 67 to finish at -16 for the week, but 2 bogeys on the back killed her chances for victory.  Caroline Masson opened with a bogey-free 30 to get to -15, but stayed there with 1 birdie and 1 bogey on the back.  That allowed Lizette Salas (68) to catch her.  Back at -14, Jenny Shin only birdied her last 5 holes in a row and posted a 29 on the back, but her 64 got eclipsed by Han's 63!  You can play great and not come very close to winning on the LPGA....]

[Update 13 (8:07 pm):  Back to the action:  Lewis birdied 17 and needs an eagle on 18 to tie Webb; Ryu is now 3 down with 2 to play; Korda is 4 down with 5 to play; Lee and Munoz are 3 down with 4 to play; Yang is 2 down with 4 to play; Ko is 2 down with 5 to play.]

[Update 14 (8:10 pm):  In case you were wondering, Chella Choi and Sun Young Yoo are having bad days, while Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie aren't quite stuck in neutral, but it must feel that way.]

[Update 15 (8:11 pm):  Lewis birdied 18 to finish at -18, alone in 2nd.]

[Update 16 (8:12 pm):  Yang birdied the par-5 15th to catch Lewis at -18.]

[Update 17 (8:13 pm):  Ko is 2 down with 4 to play.  Ryu needs a hole in 1 on 18 to catch Webb.  Munoz birdied 15 to pull within 2 of Webb.]

[Update 18 (8:17 pm):  Morgan Pressel and Lexi Thompson both battled back from doubles to shoot even-par 72s today, but it's not what they were looking for.  They could have used something on the order of Pernilla Lindberg's bogey-free 66 or Suzann Pettersen's 6-birdie 67.]

[Update 19 (8:19 pm):  Lee failed to birdie the par-5 15th.  She's 3 down with 3 to play.]

[Update 20 (8:21 pm):  Cristie Kerr birdied 6 of her last 14 holes to finish at -16.  Her putter really woke up over the weekend!  If it weren't for that 40 she shot to open the tournament....]

[Update 21 (8:22 pm):  Yang is 1 down with 2 to play.]

[Update 22 (8:23 pm):  Ryu didn't get that hole in 1 she needed, but she did birdie 18 to tie Phatlum at-17.]

[Update 23 (8:24 pm):  Munoz birdied 16 to join Yang and Lewis at -18!]

[Update 24 (8:25 pm):  Ko birdied 15 to make it 4 at -18!]

[Update 25 (8:25 pm):  Korda also birdied 15, so she's now 3 down with 3 to play.]

[Update 26 (8:26 pm):  Lee birdied 16, so she's now 2 down with 2 to play.]

[Update 27 (8:29 pm):  While we're waiting for the leaderboard to update, it's worth noting that Eun-Hee Ji and Karine Icher posted 66s today and Katie Futcher a 67.  You know a lot of the players within 5 shots of the lead at the start of the day would have killed for rounds like those!]

[Update 28 (8:29 pm):  Yang parred 17, so she's 1 down on the 18th tee.]

[Update 29 (8:32 pm):  Munoz also parred 17, so ditto for her.]

[Update 30 (8:35 pm):  Korda's birdied 2 in a row and is now 2 down with 2 to play!]

[Update 31 (8:36 pm):  Ko parred 16 so remains 1 down now with 2 to play.]

[Update 32 (8:37 pm):  Lee birdied 17 so she's now 1 down with 1 to play!]

[Update 33 (8:42 pm):  Yang couldn't birdie 18, so she's tied with Lewis for 2nd right now at -18.]

[Update 34 (8:43 pm):  Ditto for Munoz.]

[Update 35 (8:44 pm):  Ko parred 17.  Needs birdie on 18 to force playoff with Webb.]

[Update 36 (8:45 pm):  Korda needs an eagle on 18 to get to -19.]

[Update 37 (8:49 pm):  Lee couldn't birdie 18.  Webb escapes another challenge.]

[Update 38 (8:54 pm):  If you're following this on tv or twitter, you know Ko has a putt about half the length of Paula Creamer's playoff bomb in Singapore to tie Webb.]

[Update 39 (8:56 pm):  So the answer to my title's question is "no, not this week!"  Ko couldn't get the putt to fall.]

[Update 40 (8:58 pm):  And Korda finishes with a par, as well.  Webb is your winner for the 2nd time in 2014 and 41st time on the LPGA!]

[Update 41 (9:05 pm):  With Rikako Morita winning on the JLPGA and Cristie Kerr finishing strong this weekend in Phoenix, I'd say Team Japan and Team USA are pretty set for the LPGA International Crown.  But Team Korea, Team Thailand, and Team Australia are still pretty much up for grabs.  There, that's 41 updates for 41 LPGA wins by the amazing Karrie Webb!  She's officially the comeback queen of 2014!]

T-Point Ladies Sunday: Rikako Morita Wins for 7th Time on JLPGA

Rikako Morita fired a bogey-free 34 on the back 9 to get to -8 for the week and secure a 4-shot victory over Erina Hara in the T-Point Ladies.  Morita's 7th JLPGA victory came fairly easy,  despite opening with a 37, because her playing partners and 2 nearest competitors at the start of the day, Hara and Bo-Mee Lee, failed to take advantage of it.  Lee closed the deficit from 4 to 3 shots as they made the turn, but Hara's birdie-less 38 meant that she fell 2 behind Morita.  Lee fell further off the pace when she bogeyed 3 of her 1st 5 holes on the back, and Hara dropped 3 behind Morita when she bogeyed the long par-4 11th.  Even though she birdied 13 and 14, Morita matched her shot for shot, and a walkoff bogey made the final deficit 4 shots.

The best rounds of the day came from players too far behind Morita to put any pressure on her.  Yeon-Ju Jung made 6 birdies on the back, including her last 3 holes in a row, to post a 68 a move into a tie for 5th at -2 with Sakura Yokomine (71), Saiki Fujita (69), Hiroko Fukushima (72), and Yukari Nishiyama (72).  Hye-Jin Jung fired a bogey-free 31 on the front to join Lee, Bo-Bae Song (71), Yukari Baba (72), and Kana Nagai (70) in a tie for 10th at -1.  The Daikin Orchid Ladies champion, Onnarin Sattayabanphot (70), joined Mami Fukuda (71) in 3rd.  Besides 69s by Ritsuko Ryu and Shinobu Moromizato that allowed them to sneak into the top 20 with Ji-Yai Shin, Mayu Hattori, Misuzu Narita, and Esther Lee, nobody else really had rounds to write home about.  Sun-Ju Ahn (71) barely made the top 25, Ji-Hee Lee (73) and Shiho Oyama (75) barely made the top 30, and last week's winner Yuki Ichinose (76) barely made the top 40.

So it's looking like Shin will not make Team Korea for the LPGA's International Crown and Morita and Yokomine have secured the last 2 spots on Team Japan, while Sattayabanphot is looking pretty good for Team Thailand.  Here's how the 2014 JLPGA money list looks now:

1. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥22.97M

2. Rikako Morita ¥19.27M
3. Yuki Ichinose ¥14.86M
4. Erina Hara ¥9.35M
5. Mami Fukuda ¥7.95M
6. Miki Sakai ¥7.59M

7. Ji-Yai Shin 
8. Bo-Bae Song ¥6.91M
9. Airi Saitoh ¥6.67M
10. Ayaka Watanabe ¥6.51M
11. Bo-Mee Lee ¥6.29M
12. Mamiko Higa ¥6.16M

13. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥6.05M
14. Asako Fujimoto ¥5.51M
15. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥4.69M

Next up on the JLPGA is the AXA Ladies, which Natsuka Hori won last year.  Here's the field list.  Let's see if Morita can keep rolling in Miyazaki!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

T-Point Ladies Saturday: Rikako Morita Takes the Lead

Rikako Morita fired her 2nd-straight round in the 60s at the T-Point Ladies to move to -7 and take a 1-shot lead on Erina Hara, who birdied 4 holes in a row late in her round to pass Bo-Mee Lee (-3, but +2 over her last 10 holes of birdie-less golf), Hiroko Fukushima (-2, but her 39 on the back included 3 bogeys and a walkoff double), Yukari Nishiyama (-2, but shot a 7-bogey 75), and Mami Fukuda (-2, but made 5 bogeys and a double on the way to a 75 of her own).  In fact, the 1st-round leaders struggled so much that Sakura Yokomine moved into T7 at -1 (joining Eun-Bi Jang, Yukari Baba, and Onnarin Sattayabanphot) with a 71 and Bo-Bae Song moved into T11 at E (joining Ji-Yai Shin, Shiho Oyama, and Yuki Ichinose) after following up her opening 77 with a 67.

Yup, it was a tough day out there for most of the field, and even some of the best golfers on the JLPGA succumbed to it.  Mamiko Higa (73-76), Miki Saiki (72-78), Yumiko Yoshida (75-75), and Natsuka Hori (82-75) all missed the cut, as did Da-Ye Na (68-81), Asako Fujimoto (73-76), Kaori Ohe (74-75), Lala Anai (77-72), Na-Ri Lee (77-73), Airi Saitoh (76-74), Ayaka Watanabe (75-79), Yum-Jye Wei (77-77), and Hyun-Ju Shin (78-77).

So the fact that Morita put together a 5-birdie 68 is a huge deal.  The 2013 money-list leader is hanging onto the #4 spot on Team Japan for the LPGA's International Crown by the skin of her teeth, so with 3 of her closest pursuers (Higa, Saiki, Yoshida) missing the cut, Yokomine and Oyama well back of her, and defending champion Ichinose under pressure to finish strong from well back in the pack, Morita's literally sitting in the driver's seat heading into the final round.

Hara, meanwhile, is looking for redemption of a sort.  The 26-year-old is starting her 8th season on the JLPGA, but hasn't finished in the top 25 on the money list since her 3rd year on tour in 2009 (and that had been her worst finish to date!).  With a lone win back in 2008, this former whiz kid is looking to become a comeback kid.  She's coming off 2 top 15s to kick off the 2014 season and a 2013 that was her best since 2009, thanks to her 4 top 10s and 14 top 20s.  In fact, she has top 25s in 6 of her last 7 starts.  It would be a huge story if she could turn that streak into the springboard to her 2nd career JLPGA victory.

But of course it would be even bigger if the 24-year-old Morita were to follow up her 4-win 2013 with her 7th career JLPGA victory so early in 2014.  With her biggest-name pursuers well behind her, she's in a great position to improve on last year's runner-up finish here.

[Update 1 (7:44 am):  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Bo-Mee Lee can get her 6th JLPGA victory with a great round tomorrow.  The 25-year-old KLPGA star has 3 top 10s in her last 4 starts (dating back to last season; the 4th was a T11!), so is looking to improve in 2014 on her 2nd- and 7th-place finishes on the JLPGA money-list in her 1st 2 seasons on tour.]

Friday, March 21, 2014

JTBC Founders Cup Friday: Battle of the Rookies Shaping Up! Mi Rim Lee and Lydia Ko 1-2 through 36 Holes

Mi Rim Lee and Lydia Ko apparently have a shared flair for the dramatic.  Both LPGA rookies started their rounds today kind of flat and ended them with big bangs.  In the morning wave of the JTBC Founders Cup, 1st-round leader Lee made 3 birdies and an eagle in her last 8 holes to post a 67 and get to -13 for the week.  Late in the afternoon wave, Ko responded by making 4 birdies and an eagle in her last 7 holes to fire a 66 and move into 2nd place at -11.

On a day when Sun Young Yoo (-10) and Hee Young Park (-6) rocketed their way to bogey-free 65s, Ko's 66 was matched by Se Ri Pak (-3), Becky Morgan (-5), Anna Nordqvist (-6), Jessica Korda (-9), and Chella Choi (-9), and Lee's 67 was seen by So Yeon Ryu (-9), Lizette Salas (-8), and Victoria Elizabeth (-6), the biggest rounds of the day still belonged to the 2 rookies.  Jodi Ewart Shadoff got it to -11 but finished with a double and a bogey in her last 4 holes to drop back to -8, while Michelle Wie birdied 4 holes in a row as she made the turn to get to double digits under par herself before 2 bogeys in her last 5 holes dropped her back with Shadoff, but the fact that Ko might have a challenger for Rookie of the Year put those rounds on the back burner.  Amy Yang went 35 holes without a bogey but had to settle for a 69 and a -8 total of her own when her streak ended on the par-4 18th, and Inbee Park bounced back from a double on the par-4 8th with 2 birdies and an eagle on the back to finish with a 69 and climb to -9, but these 2 world-beaters took a back seat to a couple of rookies today.

OK, in other news, we've got 12 players within 5 shots of the lead, we've got players like Stacy Lewis and Karrie Webb 6 back, we've got 74 at -2 or better, and Na Yeon Choi was not one of them--for only the 3rd missed cut of her LPGA career.  But NYC wasn't alone:  Thidapa Suwannapura also missed the cut, thereby ensuring she'll fall further behind Onnarin Sattayabanphot in the race for the #4 spot on Team Thailand in the International Crown.  Ditto for Angela Stanford, who's now in danger of losing the #5 spot to Salas, Korda, or Morgan Pressel (72, -7).  Ditto for Chie Arimura, who now has no chance to make Team Japan.  Lindsey Wright did make the cut, so should solidify her hold on the #4 spot for Team Australia.  Other big names to miss the cut:  Ya Ni Tseng, Brittany Lincicome, Carlota Ciganda, Natalie Gulbis, Pat Hurst, Danielle Kang, Moira Dunn, Cheyenne Woods....  I'm happy to report, though, that Ai MiyazatoSeon Hwa Lee, and Tiffany Joh all broke 70, so they'll be playing on the weekend.

But, yeah, Mi Rim Lee, Lydia Ko, rookies on top of the leaderboard.  Big deal.  Pass it on!

[Update 1 (9:56 pm): Katherine Kirk's missed cut could drop her from #2 to #4 on Team Australia if Lindsey Wright pours it on this weekend.  Nice to see 68s from Jeong Jang, Candie Kung, Jaye Marie Green, Karine Icher, Belen Mozo, Hannah Jun Medlock, and Alex Stewart.]

[Update 2 (10:10 pm): In fact, Team Australia is so closely bunched that Sarah Jane Smith (69-69) can make a big move this weekend from the #7 spot!  And with Ji-Yai Shin contending in Japan and her closest LPGA pursuers playing well this week, In-Kyung Kim did not need a 74 today.  But that's what she got.]

T-Point Ladies Friday: Mami Fukuda and Yukari Nishiyama Jump Out to Lead

21-year-old Mami Fukuda and 31-year-old Yukari Nishiyama fired 5-under-par 67s in the 1st round of the T-Point Ladies to jump out to a 1-shot lead on Da-Ye Na and a 2-shot lead on Rikako Morita, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, and Hiroko Fukushima.  Fukuda birdied 4 of 5 holes in the middle of her round and followed it up with a 3-hole birdie train midway through the back 9, while Nishiyama closed with 4 birdies in her last 10 holes.

They're chased by a mix of youngsters and veterans that includes Bo-Mee Lee and Erina Hara at -2, Ji-Yai Shin, Yukari Baba, and Miki Sakai at -1, Sakura Yokomine, Sun-Ju Ahn, Miki Saiki, Yuki Ichinose, Ritsuko Ryu, Saiki Fujita, and Erina Yamato at E, and Ji-Hee Lee, Mamiko Higa, Kumiko Kaneda, Erika Kikuchi, Mayu Hattori, Asako Fujimoto, and Junko Omote at +1.  Further behind are Shiho Oyama, Shinobu Moromizato, Misuzu Narita, Maiko Wakabayashi, and Kaori Ohe at +2, Yumiko Yoshida, Yuko Mitsuka, and Ayaka Watanabe at +3, Na-Ri Kim at +4, Bo-Bae Song, Phoebe Yao, and Lala Anai at +5, Hyun-Ju Shin and Megumi Kido at +6, and Natsuka Hori at +10.  Not such a fantastic showing for the under-22s I highlighted a few days ago, but that's golf.

Just to give you a taste of how diverse this leaderboard is, Eriko Tanikawa shot her 1st under-par round on the JLPGA in 3 seasons of trying to make it onto the big tour.  The 25-year-old has never made a JLPGA cut in her career, so tomorrow is a big day for her.  At the other end of the spectrum, Ji-Yai Shin, who matched Tanikawa's opening 71, is a former world #1.  She's also 25, but if she doesn't win this week, her chances of making Team Korea for the LPGA's International Crown go down the drain.  Guess who else is 25?  Last week's winner, Yuki Ichinose, who's also the defending champion this week.  Same age, 3 different career trajectories.  The leaders range from 8th-year pro Hiroko Fukushima, who's 36, to 2nd-year pro Rie Tsuji (E), who's 20, to amateur Kana Nagai (+1), who graduates from high school in 2015.

Let's see who makes a big move tomorrow!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

JTBC Founders Cup Thursday: Inbee Park and Gerina Piller Lay Down Early Gauntlet, Mi Rim Lee, Morgan Pressel, & Co. Respond

World #1 Inbee Park birdied her last 3 holes in a row to post a 7-birdie 66 early on in the 1st round of the JTBC Founders Cup, but if the rest of the field was intimidated, it certainly didn't show in their games or their scores today.

After all, Park's playing partner Lydia Ko had gotten off to a flying start with 6 birdies in her 1st 9 holes and only a walkoff bogey on the par-4 9th kept her from joining Park at -6.  In any case, Gerina Piller had already posted a bogey-free 66 from the group right before Park's--and soon after Park joined her as co-leader in the clubhouse, Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Pornanong Phatlum posted 67s from their 1st-tee starts (Shadoff's sparked by a bogey-free 30 on the back!) and Mo Martin joined them minutes later.  So those 6 golfers had quickly eclipsed the 68s posted minutes before Piller's finish by playing partners So Yeon Ryu (who hit every fairway and green), Mika Miyazato (who took 7 fewer putts than Ryu), and Jennifer Johnson (who took 6), as well as by Jenny Shin, who finished around the same time as Piller.  With those 10 golfers leading the way, players with later starting times most likely took such low scores as green lights to go for pins and try to take it to the Wildfire course.

True, not everyone from the morning wave could match those starts--although there were a bunch of 69s and many more under-par scores from them.  And it did take awhile for those from the afternoon wave to power past early 68s by Alison Walshe, Perrine Delacour, and Heather Bowie Young.  But take it to the Wildfire course they did.  First, Eun-Hee Ji and Catriona Matthew joined Piller and Park at -6 from opposite-tee starts at 12:25 pm; Ji was -7 until a walkoff bogey on the 9th.  20 minutes later playing partners Karrie Webb and Michelle Wie (both of whom hit every fairway and green) posted 66s, followed by Stacy Lewis from the group right after them.

But Morgan Pressel was stealing the spotlight from them all afternoon.  After opening with a bogey-free 29 on the back, she birdied the 1st and 2nd to get to -9 through 11 holes.  Even though she bogeyed the next 2 and couldn't make a birdie down the home stretch, Pressel still managed to take leader in the clubhouse away from the 7 players at -6.  Then rookie Mi Rim Lee sprang into action, as she followed up a bogey-free 30 on the back with a birdie on 1, a bogey on 2, a birdie on 3, and another birdie on 7 to get to -8 and take the lead from Pressel with a sizzling 64.  Lee's low round of the day just happened to eclipse Pernilla Lindberg's own 66 which concluded on the back at about the same time--not to mention earlier 67s by Harukyo Nomura, In-Kyung Kim, and Amy Yang and 68s by Meena Lee, Laura Davies, Suzann Pettersen, Azahara Munoz, and Hee-Won Han and a later 68 by Katie Futcher.

When the dust had settled, 46 players had broken 70 and 75 had finished under par.  Those who failed to take advantage of the favorable scoring conditions included Team USA International Crown hopeful Angela Stanford (76), 2014 LET winner Mi Hyang Lee (76), rookie Xi Yu Lin (76), Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak (75), Monday qualifier Jenny Suh (73), Team Korea hopeful Hee Young Park (73), world #9 Na Yeon Choi (73), and new mom and #4-on-Team-USA-position-defender Cristie Kerr (73).  But basically everybody's going to have to treat every one of the last 3 rounds like moving day.  I don't expect 64 to remain the low round of the week for long.

[Update 1 (10:45 pm):  Ouch!  Stanford finished double-double-par-bogey on the front (her back).  The Mostly Harmless jinx hit most of my faves, as well.  Sure Inky, Lydia, Mikan, and So Yeon played well, but Ai-sama had another good ball-striking/bad putting day, a late double dropped Paula Creamer from -4 to -2, a walkoff bogey on the par-4 18th dropped Mina Harigae back to -2, Mariajo Uribe bucked the trend by bouncing back from an early bogey to post a 70, while Moira Dunn, Jeong Jang, Seon Hwa Lee, and Danielle Kang couldn't get anything going (they each shot 72s) and NYC, Tiffany Joh, and Chie Arimura struggled to 73s.]

[Update 2 (10:54 pm):  Crazy stat of the day:  Delacour hit only 3 fairways and shot a 68 while Vicky Hurst hit the same number of fairways but only 5 greens and shot a birdie-less 78.]

[Update 3 (11:04 pm):  International Crown watch:  Pressel needs to keep the pedal to the medal to have a chance to catch Kerr for the last spot on Team USA; Lizette Salas and Jessica Korda opened with solid 69s but will need to make moves over the next 54 holes to make up ground on Kerr and Stanford.  Inky got her quest to stay on Team Korea off to a good start, but with Yang hot on her tail, Chella Choi off to a solid start with a 69, and the Rocket capable of going very low any given round, she also has to keep the pedal to the metal.  Thidapa Suwannapura's 71 won't go very far to helping her retake the #4 position in the race to make Team Thailand, but it doesn't hurt her very much, either.  The race to make Team Australia is tightening up, as Lindsey Wright (#4) and Sarah Jane Smith (#7, but only .09 points behind her) shot matching 69s to open the week.]

Most Interesting Pairings at the JTBC Founders Cup

The JTBC Founders Cup has a pairing for everyone!

If you want to see the top players in the world of women's golf duking it out, this tournament has more than you can shake a stick at:

10th tee, 8:00 am: Inbee Park, Lydia Ko, Jessica Korda
10th tee, 8:10 am: Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson, Ya Ni Tseng
1st tee, 12:45 pm: Suzann Pettersen, Karrie Webb, Michelle Wie
1st tee, 12:55 pm: Stacy Lewis, Azahara Munoz, Brittany Lincicome

If you want to see golfers fighting to make their country's team for the International Crown, check out the following groups:

10th tee, 12:55 pm: Angela Stanford, Hee-Won Han, Sun Young Yoo
10th tee, 8:00 am: Inbee Park, Lydia Ko, Jessica Korda
10th tee, 12:25 pm: Na Yeon Choi, Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji
10th tee, 12:45 pmAmy YangMorgan PresselHaeji Kang
1st tee, 12:25 pmIn-Kyung Kim, Catriona Matthew, Hee Kyung Seo
1st tee, 8:10 am: Se Ri Pak, Hee Young Park, Pornanong Phatlum
1st tee, 8:00 am: Chella Choi, Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Ilhee Lee
1st tee, 7:00 am: Katherine Kirk, Sarah Jane Smith, Jenny Suh
10th tee, 8:40 am: Thidapa Suwannapura, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Danah Bordner

If you're interested in following up-and-coming golfers under the age of 22, the tournament organizers have accommodated you:

10th tee, 7:20 am: Vicky Hurst, Mi Hyang Lee, Jaye Marie Green
10th tee, 1:05 pm: Ashleigh Simon, Harukyo Nomura, P.K. Kongkraphan
1st tee, 7:50 am: Pat Hurst, Carlota Ciganda, Jenny Shin
1st tee, 7:20 am: Maria (Hjorth) McBride, Ryann O'Toole, Moriya Jutanugarn
10th tee, 8:40 am: Thidapa Suwannapura, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Danah Bordner
10th tee, 12:15 pm: Ayako Uehara, Mindy Kim, Danielle Kang
10th tee, 8:30 am: Kathleen Ekey, Xi Yu Lin, Kelly Tan

And if you want to follow my favorite golfers for me, pick any of the following groups:

10th tee, 7:50 am: Ai Miyazato, Anna Nordqvist, Gerina Piller
1st tee, 7:40 am: Mika Miyazato, So Yeon Ryu, Jennifer Johnson
10th tee, 11:45 amMoira Dunn, Paz Echeverria, Jacqui Concolino
1st tee, 12:25 pmIn-Kyung Kim, Catriona Matthew, Hee Kyung Seo
10th tee, 12:25 pm: Na Yeon Choi, Lizette Salas, Eun-Hee Ji
10th tee, 7:10 am: Seon Hwa Lee, Sandra Changkija, Paula Reto
10th tee, 12:05 pm: Tiffany Joh, Julieta Granada, Heather Bowie Young
10th tee, 7:40 am: Jeong Jang, Shanshan Feng, Karine Icher
10th tee, 11:55 am: Mina Harigae, Alison Walshe, Brooke Pancake
1st tee, 12:05 pm: Mariajo Uribe, Paula Moreno, Sue Kim

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Major News Out of LPGA and USGA

By now you've probably already read about the Kraft Nabisco Championship losing its title sponsor after this April's major is contested and the USGA opening up international sectional qualifying sites for the U.S. Women's Open in England, Japan, Korea, and China.  I see a link between the changes in 2 of the LPGA's biggest majors:  the effect of globalization on the women's professional golf world.

The globalization connection is pretty obvious when it comes to the U.S. Women's Open.  Se Ri Pak's victory there has been legendary in Korea almost since the moment she took off her golf shoes and socks, so I'm curious to see how many entries the Korea site gets.  Golf is growing quickly in China and the number of entries per year will be one good index of its acceleration.  I'm thinking that more Japanese golfers will be willing to give the USWO a try if they don't have to travel to Hawaii or California to do it.  Like the KLPGA, the JLPGA has events on either side of the May 19th qualifier, so it'll be interesting to see how many members of both tours adjust their schedules--and who!  In Europe, there's an LET event in Amsterdam a few days after the USWO qualifier, so it shouldn't interfere with qualifying attempts by more of its members.

But what does the KNC have to do with globalization?  Mike Whan has publicly committed to keeping the KNC at Mission Hills and perpetuating the tradition of the winner's leap into Poppie's Pond, goals I fully endorse (I'd add a 3rd goal of bringing back "Dinah Shore" into the official title of the event, as well).  Perhaps there will be a big-time global sponsor from outside the U.S. who will want to make it happen, either a former LPGA partner like Samsung or Toyota or a new sponsor that wants to be associated with the tournament's LGBTQ-friendly history and traditions (like maybe Subaru?).  But if no international or domestic sponsor (calling State Farm! calling ADT!) steps up to the plate, I'm hoping the LPGA can get creative.  The HSBC Women's Champions event is near-major quality and worthy of an Evian-like upgrade, so there's always the option of convincing HSBC to alternate the LPGA's 1st major of the season between Singapore and Mission Hills.  Another possibility is to hook up with the LET's World Ladies Championship at Mission Hills in China and either alternate sites or link the two events (perhaps by sending better American teams to China and opening up more spots in the LPGA event to LETers).  Or the LPGA could bypass the LET entirely and create a separate relationship with the CGA or CLPGA to alternate Mission Hills sites.  The chance to keep the KNC at Mission Hills while also making it the LPGA's 1st Asian major would be almost as good an outcome as replacing Kraft-Nabisco with a different title sponsor.  Call its the LPGA's 1st transnational major and run with it!

Under Mike Whan, the LPGA has embraced its identity as a truly global golf tour.  The latest major news underscores that identity and gives the tour opportunities to take it to the next level.  Let's see what comes of it!

[Update 1 (3/20/14, 8:15 am): Ruthless Mike has some interesting observations on the KNC and other challenges/opportunities facing Mike Whan and his team!]