Sunday, March 25, 2007

Not-Quite-Live-Blogging II: PGA and LPGA Tune-Up Edition

You know you love it! (But if you don't, head over to Citizen of Somewhere Else for more BerubeWatch and daddy blogging, or just scroll down for baseball and bad music, and we'll pretend this post never happened.)

While we wait for the contenders to get to the first tee, let's flag two big stories lazy LPGA journalists need to start covering.

Who's going to be the best of the LPGA Super Sophs this year? There was a lot of attention paid last year to the Rookie of the Year race, what with Ai Miyazato running away with the Q-School tournament, Morgan Pressel turning pro, Julieta Granada winning the million-dollar paycheck in the inaugural ADT Championship, and Seon Hwa Lee outlasting all of them to win the title. Well, so far this year, 7 of the top 14 money winners are members of that class of 2006. As of 4:00 am today (Japan time!) in the Safeway International, Jee Young Lee and Teresa Lu are in a race to see who can crack the top 10, Julieta Granada, Brittany Lang, and Morgan Pressel are fighting to eke out top 20s (Lu has joined them as of 5:00 am), and Seon Hwa Lee, Ai Miyazato, and Kyeong Bae are struggling to pass Veronica Zorzi and Nina Reis and make it into the top 50 (they couldn't do it by 5:00 am, although by 6:00 it looks like Lee may get into the top 50 if people ahead of her keep faltering). And at the end of the day they'll all still be chasing last week's winner Meaghan Francella on the 2007 money list. That's 11 sophs in all, seven of whom are already super by any standard. Who's afraid of the Sophomore Jinx?

Who among the LPGA's big names of the past decade who have struggled the last few years will get back on track in 2007? I'm talking Grace Park, Mi Hyun Kim, Laura Davies, Carin Koch, Sophie Gustafson, and Laura Diaz in particular. And will Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Juli Inkster, and Pat Hurst be able to build on their successes in 2006? Add Annika Sorenstam to the mix and it'll be interesting to see how the stars who started in the 1990s will stack up in 2007 against all the now-seasoned competitors who started their careers between 2000 and 2005 as well as all the young 'uns.

All right, the last groups have started at Superstition Mountain--and Suzann Pettersen has cut Lorena Ochoa's lead to one stroke after only 3 holes, and has caught her after 5. (Looks like that 100-Yen Nishijin Crystal Ball is as reliable as ever--Jeong Jang is hanging in there, too, injured wrist and all. [Whoops, cancel that as of 6:15 am--she ballooned to a 39 on the front--maybe that crystal ball is better than I thought.]) At Doral, nobody among Saturday's top 10 has made a run at Tiger yet--looks like a race for second from here. I'll be back with updates as interesting things happen.

[Update 1 (6:42 am): Suzann Pettersen, Mi Hyun Kim (T11), and Brittany Lang (T16) have the rounds of the day thus far, all at five-under, although Pettersen, with 5 birdies in her first 7 holes, the lowest 9-hole score of the tournament (31), and a 1-shot lead over Lorena Ochoa through 12, is clearly the biggest story. Unlike Lorena, Tiger has a comfortable 5-shot lead after his front nine.

In other stories I've been following this week, Irene Cho took top rookie honors, shooting a solid 70 to finish at -3, with a chance to get in the top 20 if people still on the course falter. Angela Park did a free-fall down the leader board after double-bogeying the tenth for the second day in a row, although a late birdie pulled her within a shot of Paige Mackenzie. Among the Super Sophs, a costly bogey on 17 brought Jee Young Lee back to four-under on the day and -7 for the tournament (T6); Morgan Pressel fired a 68 to give herself a chance for a top-10 finish; Julieta Granada shot a 69 to tie Lang at -4 and guarantee herself a top-20 finish; and Teresa Lu is grinding her way back into a chance for a top-20 finish after a rocky start to the day. Among the vets, Laura Diaz is leading the way at four-under through 14 to bring her to -9, alone in 3rd, followed by Sophie Gustafson at -7 (T6); Laura Davies shot a 69 to put her even with Kim and Pressel; and Annika Sorenstam and Grace Park are getting left in the dust while Pat Hurst is going backwards fast, although they can't be as disappointed as defending champ Juli Inkster, who finished at the back of the pack.

BTW, if you want to read more about Korean LPGA stars and rookies, check out Seoul Sisters 5.1 (14 March 2007).]

[Update 2 (8:36 am): What a finish! Lorena Ochoa birdied 4 of her final 5 holes to hold off Suzann Pettersen, who did everything she could to win--firing the low round of the day (66), tying Ochoa as the only two players with all four rounds in the 60s, and beating Ochoa by being under par for each of her 8 9-hole rounds (Ochoa was at par for two of hers)--yet nevertheless lost by two shots to the soon-to-be world #1.

Laura Diaz (-10, T3 with Jeong Jang, who showed me that crystal ball of mine is flawed, after all) and Jee Young Lee (-8, alone in 7th) ended up joining today's 67 club. Vets Catriona Matthew, Sophie Gustafson, and Rachel Hetherington all posted 69s to join Annika Sorenstam and Shi Hyun Ahn in the top 10. Paula Creamer and Hee-Won Han finished one shot out of the top 10 at -6.

See why the LPGA is more exciting than the PGA this year? Tiger faltered a bit down the stretch but still won by two. Ho hum.]

[Update 3 (4:53 pm): Lorena Ochoa, in an interview after her victory: "It's very nice to see people that you know and especially to the workers here. When I went and talked to them on Tuesday, I think, I was spending time with them, and I told them, ‘Feel free to come and celebrate with me,' because this trophy is for all of you. It was very nice to see the reaction and to see them close. Hopefully they enjoy the day as much as I did. I'm very proud to be Mexican, and thank you to all of them for being here and, just working so hard throughout the year." Geoff Ogilvy, after Tiger's victory at Doral, commenting on the fact that "Woods has won 27.5 percent of his tournaments": "He only wins 30 percent of the time he tees it up," Ogilvy said. "I probably only play 13 or 14 tournaments that he plays in a year. I've got seven or eight chances he's not going to win. It's kind of inspiring." The power of hope through statistics, PR?]

[Update the Last (3/27/07, 7:35 pm): Time to get excited for the LPGA's first major of the year! As you can see from this week's Rolex Rankings, Lorena is as close to Annika as she's ever been. Once the LPGA updates its money list, I'll link to it here.]

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