Thursday, July 31, 2008

Women's British Open Thursday: London Calling

London's been calling to the world's best women golfers and they've responded with a hail of birdies and eagles in the 1st round of the Women's British Open. Momoko Ueda eagled the par-4 9th and par-5 10th holes to get to -7 through her 1st 11 holes and ended up with a 66. But Hall of Famer Juli Inkster matched her eagle on the 10th and made no bogeys in her tournament-leading 65. The best of the KLPGA, JLPGA, and LET came ready to play, as well. Ji-Yai Shin and Yuri Fudoh made 8 birdies each on their way to their matching 66s, while Johanna Head (66) and Rebecca Hudson (67) made 7 each.

Other players didn't respond to London's call as brilliantly or as consistently as the morning leaders. #3 on the JLPGA's money list Ji-Hee Lee was -4 through her 1st 3 holes, but a bogey and double bogey late in the front brought her down to a 33 and she could only manage 2 more birdies on the way to her 68. World #1 Lorena Ochoa was -5 through 14 but bogeyed 2 consecutive holes down Sunningdale's difficult stretch run and had to settle for a 69. After an eagle on the 10th, Evian Masters champion Helen Alfredsson was -6, but also ended up with a 69. Christina Kim was -3 through 3, Seon Hwa Lee was -3 through 4, and Cristie Kerr was -3 through 5, but they all finished with matching 71s. Grace Park was -3 through 10 but ended up with a 72. Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak was +4 over her final 4 holes to fall back to a 74.

Others made good comebacks to get where they finished. #4 on the LET order of merit Amy Yang was +3 through 8 but played her last 10 in -4 for a solid 71. Annika Sorenstam had an even worse start--+3 through 6--but fought back to E thanks to consecutive birdies on the par-5 14th and par-3 15th. U.S. Women's Open champion Inbee Park had perhaps the worst start of all the favorites, going +5 through 11, but an eagle on the 14th and a birdie on the 17th salvaged a 74 for her.

I'll report back after the afternoon pairings have gotten further into their rounds. There are a lot of good rounds in progress, but a lot can happen on the Old Course's final 4 holes.

[Update 1 (11:11 am): Check out Ryan Ballengee's mid-1st-round update. Some nice numbers from some top young guns have come in, but many of them could have been better. Super Soph Kristy McPherson bogeyed the 18th for a 67. Rookie of the Year race leader Na Yeon Choi bogeyed the 17th to fall back to a 69. 2004 Rookie of the Year Shi Hyun Ahn bogeyed the 17th to close with a 68. By contrast, Junior Mint Minea Blomqvist birdied the 18th and Super Soph Eun-Hee Ji held steady down the stretch for their matching 68s. And Super Soph Jane Park birdied the 16th and 18th for a 69, while Junior Mint Jee Young Lee birdied the 17th for a 71.]

[Update 2 (11:39 am): Some more evidence that the last 4 or 8 holes can ruin your round has come in: Candie Kung was -4 through 10 but finished with a 72. On the other hand, rookie Hee Young Park was -4 over her last 10 holes, including 3 straight birdies to close out the back after doubling the par-4 5th, to post a 69.]

[Update 3 (11:42 am): Wow! Coming off tonsillitis that forced a withdrawal from the Evian Masters, defending Sunningdale Open champion Karen Stupples fired a 32 on the back to end up with a fine 67!]

[Update 4 (11:48 am): Oh, man! Suzann Pettersen had been making a furious comeback from a 3rd-hole double bogey, getting to -5 with 2 holes to play, but she just tripled the 17th. Ouch!]

[Update 5 (12:09 pm): Last update for awhile. Ai Miyazato was -4 over her last 10 holes on the way to her 68. She was joined by Catriona Matthew, who was -3 after 2 holes, struggled a bit, then finished -3 over her last 10. Sakura Yokomine birdied her last 2 holes for a nice 71. Pettersen ended up with the coulda-would-shoulda 70 of the day. Paula Creamer could only manage a 72 after starting off -2 through 10. Some very good chances for very good rounds by Stacy Prammanasudh, Laura Diaz, Sherri Steinhauer, Ji Young Oh, and Bo-Bae Song, provided they can handle the closing holes. More later!]

[Update 6 (4:25 pm): The closing holes took their toll on most of the hottest golfers on the course when I left for a quick 18 of my own, but some finished strong. Among them were Oh (66 with a 31 on the back that included 5 birdies in her final 6 holes), Diaz (66, -5 over her last 10), Steinhauer (67, -2 over her last 5), Marianne Skarpnord (68, -1 over her final 5 holes), and Maria Hjorth (69 with a bogey-free 33 on the back). Hanging in there were Prammanasudh (who shot a 31 on the front but limped in with 2 birdies and 2 bogeys in her final 5 holes for a 67), Song (68, with a birdie and bogey over her closing 5 holes), and Natalie Gulbis (69 with a birdie and a bogey in her last 5). But the more common story was players' struggles on the last 8 holes. Jimin Kang, Reilley Rankin, and Felicity Johnson were -4 through 10 but could only manage matching 69s; Brittany Lang finished bogey-bogey for her 70, while Ya Ni Tseng doubled the par-4 16th for hers; Maria Jose Uribe was -3 through 10 but could only post 1 71, while H.J. Choi fell to 72 from the same low-water mark; Song-Hee Kim was +3 over her final 6 holes for her 73, while a double on the par-4 17th put Sun Young Yoo back with her at T80. And it got worse....

The bottom line is, nobody's going to break 70 all 4 rounds here. The players who take the most advantage of the 1st 10 holes and hang on the best over the last 8 will be in contention on Sunday. With 79 golfers at E or better, 65 under par, 37 under 70, and 12 under 68, we can expect to see another double-digits-under-par winning score. The only question that remains is how deep into double digits will the leaders need to go to separate themselves from the chase pack. If the weather toughens up, not that far under -10. But if it stays this relatively benign, between -15 and -20....]

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Women's British Open Preview/Predictions/Pairings

This week, the Women's British Open returns to Sunningdale, which has crowned Karrie Webb (1997), Se Ri Pak (2001), and Karen Stupples (2004), the latter 2 since the event became an LPGA major in 2001. The field is one of the strongest of the year and the Old Course one of the more interesting parkland layouts in the UK. With a good mix of short and long par 4s, par 5s that are reachable for most of the field, and great strategic challenges, Sunningdale has given up a surprising number of low scores over the years, as Hound Dog points out. If the weather stays benign outside London this week, expect more of the same this year.

Because many of the WBOs have been played on links-style courses, Golf Observer's historical stats aren't as useful as they could be. In any case, a lot has changed in the world of women's golf even since 2004! With players from the class of 2003 and younger outclassing the LPGA's veterans (although Annika Sorenstam and Helen Alfredsson have combined for 4 wins), one of the LPGA's big subplots has been youth versus experience. Another has been health: coming back from injuries (Sorenstam, Alfredsson, Ai Miyazato, Michelle Wie...), playing with pain (Mi Hyun Kim, Jeong Jang, Ya Ni Tseng...), and coming back from pregnancy and delivery (Karen Stupples, Hee-Won Han...). As a result, there are some stark choices facing those playing in this week's Pakpicker at Do you go with the players with the proven track record on the Old Course who can withstand Open pressure despite recent injuries or inconsistency? Or do you load up on Young Guns? Here's what I decided, for what little it's worth!

1. Ochoa
2. Creamer
3. Lee Jee Young
4. Miyazato Ai
5. Kerr
6. Sorenstam
7. Lee Seon Hwa
8. Choi Na Yeon
9. Jeong Jang
10. Shin Ji-Yai
11. Pressel
12. Stupples

Alts: Park Angela, Ji Eun-Hee, Yoo Sun Young

As is traditional in British Opens, everyone goes off the 1st tee, so the field could be facing very different conditions over the course of a single day. Let's bunch the Thursday and Friday pairings by starting time, then.

6:41 am/11:26 am: Jang
6:52 am/11:37 am: Inkster, Pak, I. Park
7:03 am/11:48 am: Saiki, Davies
7:14 am/11:59 am: Fudoh, Ochoa, Pressel
7:25 am/12:10 pm: Ueda, Webb, Sorenstam
7:36 am/12:21 pm: Kerr
7:47 am/12:32 pm: Alfredsson, Gustafson
7:58 am/12:43 pm: Shin, A. Park, Castrale
8:09 am/12:54 pm: C. Kim, Stanford
9:15 am/2:00 pm: Yang, J.H. Lee
9:26 am/2:11 pm: Gr. Park
9:37 am/2:22 pm: Kung, Y. Kim, Hurst
9:48 am/2:33 pm: Gl. Park, Moira Dunn!
9:59 am/2:44 pm: S.H. Lee, M.H. Kim
10:32 am/3:17 pm: J.Y. Lee, N.Y. Choi
10:43 am/3:28 pm: E.H. Ji

11:15 am/6:30 am: J. Park, S.H. Ahn
11:26 am/6:41 am: I.K. Kim
11:48 am/7:03 am: Stupples, Baba
11:59 am/7:14 am: Yokomine, Gulbis, Pettersen
12:10 pm/7:25 am: Miyazato, Creamer, Matthew
12:21 pm/7:36 am: Diaz, Hjorth
12:32 pm/7:47 am: Steinhauer, Tseng
12:43 pm/7:58 am: Prammanasudh
12:54 pm/8:09 am: Icher, Oh, Feng
1:05 pm/8:20 am: S.H. Kim, Song
1:16 pm/8:31 am: H.J. Choi, Yoo
1:27 pm/8:42 am: M. Lee, Han
1:38 pm/8:53 am: Stahle, Uribe
2:22 pm/9:37 am: Hetherington
2:44 pm/9:59 am: Lu

With pairings like that, who needs Michelle Wie? Ron Sirak reports some of the tour vets are upset with Michelle Wie for skipping the European swing, but I think some of their anger is misplaced. With the Open pre-qualifier coming right in between 2 key LPGA events for Wie that counted toward the $125K or so she needs to win to get her card this season, a quick jaunt across the pond would not have been the best way to prepare for the State Farm Classic. Turning down Evian's sponsor exemption is a much more serious error of judgment, in my opinion, as a good finish there could have earned her a wild card for the WBO. Given that she turned down the European swing and turned her back on the Futures Tour, I guess option 3--hoping that a smackdown with David Duval will help prepare her for the pressure of the make-or-break Canadian Women's Open--is the best decision she could have made.

[Update 1 (3:15 am): Here's Daniel Wexler's own odds on the top contenders, Average Golfer's commentary on the actual odds and predictions, and Mulligan Stu's WBO poll.]

[Update 2 (9:15 pm): Ron Sirak focuses on the youth vs. experience angle and gives a weather report. Steve Elling does the former, as well.]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Best of the Young Guns: Top Junior Mints, July 2008 Edition

It's time again to check in on the LPGA's Junior Mints. I'm curious to see how the 15 3rd-year players in the year's last major respond to the summer heroics of the Super Sophs and rookies. Among the elite in this class, only Seon Hwa Lee has seriously stepped up her game, but there's been a lot of movement lower in the ranks. Let's take a look.

Simply the Best

1. Seon Hwa Lee: In late May, I mentioned that despite Lee's so-so start in 2008, "she could turn it around any week now." Lo and behold, she's won 2 events since then, broken the million dollar barrier in season winnings, and crossed the 3 million dollar rubicon in career winnings. Not bad for a player who still hasn't hit her stride. If history repeats itself, she'll get hot after the European swing. But I wonder if it isn't her time to step up in a major....
2. Morgan Pressel: For awhile there she was neither driving for show nor putting for dough, but she hasn't finished outside the top 25 in her last 7 starts. Could major #2 come this week? Like Lee she doesn't have a good history on the European swing, but she's put in extra preparation this year. Don't put it past her!
3. Jee Young Lee: Hasn't finished outside the top 20 in her last 7 events--oh, except for those 2 missed cuts. That's the story of her season--i-n-c-o-n-s-i-s-t-e-n-c-y! But here's the thing--she has a very good record in the European swing, especially in the WBO. And she's just broken the two million dollar barrier in career winnings. So she's gotta be one of the real favorites this week.

The Contenders

4. Ai Miyazato: Ai-chan is back. I expect her to get her 1st LPGA win before the season is out. Can it come this week? I'm going to sound like a broken record, but the answer is yes. She was playing hurt this time of year last season, but she's healthy now and making birdies at her normal rate. She's got the game and the mindset to make her 1st LPGA win a major.
5. Brittany Lang: She's on pace to outdo her results from her strong rookie season, but the European swing has not been kind to her in the past and she's not coming into the WBO with the kind of momentum she had in late spring.

Quantum Leap Candidates

6. Sun Young Yoo: Should start to get some recognition for her elite-level stats this season. Once she gets more comfortable in the mix, she should start seeing even better results. But even though she has some very good momentum coming off her last 2 events, I don't see the WBO being her coming-out party.
7. Teresa Lu: She's having her best season ever, inspired by Ya Ni Tseng's emergence and Candie Kung's resurgence, but the European swing is fairly new territory for her, so don't expect too much from her this year. However, she did get a top 10 at the U.S. Women's Open, so we know she's capable of playing big in big events.
8. Kyeong Bae: The birdie machine is back! But even though she rocked the State Farm Classic, I don't see that momentum carrying her that far forward this week. The rest of the season, though, should be good.
9. Julieta Granada: She didn't qualify for the WBO for the 1st time in her professional career, so I'm demoting her, as I did Francella last ranking. Isn't it about time for her sophomore jinx to run its course?
10. Meaghan Francella: Continues to struggle despite being healthy for the 1st time in over a year. Made the cut in Evian but didn't make the field for the WBO. Thanks to her win last season, she has time to play her way through this slump, though.
11. H.J. Choi: She's finally turned the corner this season and put her almost-year-long slump behind her. Hopefully that final-round 65 at the Evian Masters will start a run of more consistently great play.
12. Minea Blomqvist: Cooling off after a fast start this season. The bad holes have been outweighing the good ones--and believe me, for a player this inconsistent, we're talking hole-by-hole swings in Sophie Gustafson/Maria Hjorth/Suzann Pettersen territory. If they all could harness their talent, I have no doubt Minea can, too, but it's sure hard to watch while I wait for it!
13. Linda Wessberg: Got a top 10 at the WBO last year, after an indifferent performance in Evian, so she's right on track this season in her 1st-ever full-time LPGA schedule. The WBO will be her 4th LET event of the season and if she does well will improve on her #68 standing, but don't expect her to look back if she can get that 1 more good result she needs to secure her 2009 LPGA card.
14. Katie Futcher: She's already secured her card for 2009 and is on a bit of a run coming into the WBO. If she can improve her iron play to match the other strengths of her game, she has a very bright future on tour.
15. Allison Fouch: Played her way into the WBO this season, her 1st full one on the LPGA. Just in time for her 1st summer-time mini-slump, but who cares? She has her card for next year and can continue working on all aspects of her game as she fights to qualify for the LPGA's Asian swing.
16. Karin Sjodin: Maybe the WBO will help boost her out of slump this season. She needs something good to happen in a season in which she hasn't cracked the top 25 on the LPGA thus far.

On the Bottom Looking Up (exempt, barely)

17. Kim Hall: This Stanford grad keeps hanging onto her LPGA card by her fingernails--all she needs is 1 or 2 more good finishes this summer to get it yet again, despite her terrible overall stats.
18. Danielle Downey: She needs a great rest of the summer to avoid having to repeat her 2007 Q-School feat of snagging a card.

On the Outside Looking In (non-exempt and struggling)

19. Virada Nirapathpongporn: Getting into a good number of events this season and putting up half-decent stats, but the scoring isn't happening and the results aren't pointing in the right direction. Looks like it's back to Q-School unless lightning strikes late this summer.
20. Nina Reis: Not playing in the WBO this season, hasn't made a cut since April, struggling about as much on the LET in her 7 events there this season (#84 n their order of merit): this split-season thing isn't working out for her. She should stick to the LET until she gets her game back.
21. Na Ri Kim: Since the U.S. Women's Open has gotten into another 3 events and made the cut in all of them, including her 2nd-career top 20, but she'll need to get into even more and play even better if she wants to avoid Q-Schol. (The Futures Tour hasn't been kind to her this season, either.)
22. Louise Stahle: Last season's LET rookie of the year has climbed to #14 on their order of merit this season, but she returns to the LPGA this week for the WBO. Expect her to stay in Europe the rest of the season.
23. Veronica Zorzi: Playing in her 1st LPGA event this week, as she's been concentrating on the LET (not that it's done her a whole lot of good, as she's languishing at #37 on their order of merit).
24. Ashley Johnston: Hasn't yet used her medical exemption for 2008--guess she's still not healthy.


For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the July ranking.

2008 LPGA Money List (rank), scoring average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on four key indicators of how well someone is playing this season--how much money they've made, how they've scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, and how many greens they've hit in regulation on average per round, plus how they rank in each category. (I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I won't include putts per green in regulation here.) Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future.

1. Seon Hwa Lee, $1.01M (#6), 71.24 (#15), 3.03 (#22), 70.6% (#14)
2. Jee Young Lee, $475.5K (#22), 71.56 (#24), 3.56 (#9), 68.8% (#31)
3. Teresa Lu, $433.8K (#24), 71.97 (#43), 2.81 (#48), 67.8% (#42)
4. Morgan Pressel, $429.7K (#26), 71.54 (#23), 3.25 (#41), 67.8% (#39)
5. Sun Young Yoo, $424.9K (#27), 71.38 (#19), 3.56 (#2), 70.3% (#16)
6. Brittany Lang, $389.0K (#32), 71.78 (#35), 2.97 (#24), 69.7% (#20)
7. Minea Blomqvist, $334.1.9K (#40), 72.30 (#58), 3.30 (#46), 63.8% (#99)
8. Ai Miyazato, $305.4K (#42), 72.02 (#44), 2.85 (#46), 66.7% (#53)
9. Alison Fouch, $227.8K (#52), 72.83 (#83), 3.06 (#72), 62.9% (#113)
10. H.J. Choi, $185.5K (#57), 72.68 (#75), 2.68 (#41), 64.3% (#93)
11. Kyeong Bae, $158.5K (#59), 72.59 (#69), 3.17 (#27), 63.2% (#109)
12. Katie Futcher, $141.8K (#65), 71.69 (#30), 3.50 (#45), 69.6% (#22)
13. Linda Wessberg, $113.7K (#76), 72.90 (#88), 3.10 (#52), 63.3% (#108)
14. Karin Sjodin, $85.1K (#91), 73.31 (#111), 2.89 (#85), 66.0% (#65)
15. Julieta Granada, $71.0K (#103), 73.35 (#115), 2.27 (#89), 57.8% (#151)
16. Kim Hall, $69.0K (#105), 73.13 (#107), 2.35 (#109), 63.8% (#100)
17. Meaghan Francella, $66.6K (#107), 73.96 (#142), 2.22 (#109), 63.6% (#105)
18. Danielle Downey, $54.2K (#119), 73.20 (#109), 2.85 (#104), 65.4% (#78)
19. Na Ri Kim, $34.2K (#138), 72.42 (#?), ?, ?
20. Nina Reis, $33.9K (#139), 75.18 (#158), 2.53 (#161), 53.9% (#162)
21. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $27.4K (#146), 74.31 (#146), 2.69 (#127), 61.1% (#129)
22. Louise Stahle, $23.0K (#151), 74.88 (#?), ?, ?

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events entered/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/cuts made (made cut rate): About the only thing these stats are useful for is comparing people who entered the LPGA in the same year (although if you count generations by 3 years, it can be interesting). Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately the Junior Mints haven't been at this all too long, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to people who have not been exempt every year or who have chosen to focus more on other tours. What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now. In any case, I include these other ways of seeing how the Junior Mints finished relative to their competition in the tournaments they entered because they reveal a lot about how well someone is able to compete at every level, from just making cuts to grinding out top 20s and top 10s to contending for wins. So here's how they stand:

1. Seon Hwa Lee, $3.02M (#54), 76/0/4/9/21/41/72 (.947)
2. Julieta Granada, $2.12M (#81), 77/0/1/5/10/20/53 (.688)
3. Jee Young Lee, $2.02M (#86), 68/0/0/5/19/37/64 (.941)
4. Morgan Pressel, $1.87M (#94), 65/1/1/5/21/36/56 (.862)
5. Ai Miyazato, $1.63M (#103), 63/0/0/4/16/25/52 (.825)
6. Brittany Lang, $1.28M (#129), 73/0/0/3/12/27/53 (.726)
7. Sun Young Yoo, $.78M (#202), 70/0/0/1/5/17/52 (.743)
8. Kyeong Bae, $.75M (#208), 72/0/0/2/7/12/53 (.736)
9. Teresa Lu, $.69M (#218), 59/0/0/1/5/14/42 (.712)
10. Meaghan Francella $.58M (#239), 48/0/1/1/4/8/27 (.563)
11. Minea Blomqvist, $.50M (#256), 50/0/0/1/3/7/30 (.600)
12. H.J. Choi, $.49M (#259), 47/0/0/0/5/10/32 (.681)
13. Karin Sjodin, $.41M (#277), 57/0/0/0/3/9/34 (.596)
14. Katie Futcher, $.34M (#295), 57/0/0/0/3/5/36 (.632)
15. Linda Wessberg, $.28M (#328), 31/0/0/0/4/5/20 (.645)
16. Alison Fouch, $.24M (#353), 15/0/0/1/1/2/9 (.600)
17. Kim Hall, $.23M (#355), 49/0/0/0/2/3/20 (.408)
18. Nina Reis, $.23M (#358), 52/0/0/0/3/4/28 (.538)
19. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.21M (#365), 52/0/0/0/1/4/25 (.481)
20. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#464), 16/0/0/0/0/1/13 (.813)
21. Na Ri Kim, $.09M (#468), 33/0/0/0/0/2/13 (.394)
22. Danielle Downey, $.07M (#487), 27/0/0/0/0/1/8 (.296)
23. Louise Stahle, $.05M (#517), 22/0/0/0/0/1/10 (.455)
24. Ashley Johnston, $.05M (#532), 13/0/0/0/0/0/6 (.462)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 7/28/08) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 7/27/08) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2007 season): This is a way of seeing how those Junior Mints who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, and Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. Seon Hwa Lee, 5.11 (#8), 70.57 (#15), 3
2. Jee Young Lee, 4.36 (#15), 70.73 (#20), 2
3. Morgan Pressel, 4.24 (#17), 71.41 (#37), 0
4. Ai Miyazato, 2.94 (#37), 72.68 (#89), 14
5. Brittany Lang, 2.12 (#49), 71.45 (#38), 0
6. Teresa Lu, 1.98 (#56), 71.46 (#39), 0
7. Minea Blomqvist, 1.68 (#67), 71.87 (#54), 5
8. Meaghan Francella, 1.49 (#75), 73.85 (#178), 0
9. Julieta Granada, 1.39 (#81), 73.52 (#148), 0
10. Sun Young Yoo, 1.35 (#83), 71.38 (#36), 0
11. H.J. Choi, 1.27 (#87), 73.06 (#117), 1
12. Linda Wessberg, 1.24 (#88), 72.30 (#78), 6
13. Kyeong Bae, .95 (#112), 72.69 (#91), 3
14. Allison Fouch, .93 (#115), 73.26 (#133), 0
15. Karin Sjodin, .81 (#132), 73.67 (#162), 1
16. Katie Futcher, .68 (#149), 72.51 (#83), 0
17. Louise Stahle, .63 (#159), 72.80 (#97), 0
18. Kim Hall, .55 (#182), 73.60 (#156), 0
19. Veronica Zorzi, .39 (#225), 74.12 (#191), 2
20. Na Ri Kim, .26 (#273), 74.05 (#181), 0
21. Nina Reis, .26 (#277), 74.88 (#277), 5
22. Virada Nirapathpongporn, .24 (#285), 74.43 (#226), 0
23. Danielle Downey, .27 (#272), 74.18 (#200), 0
24. Ashley Johnston, .09 (#433), n.r. [not in database], 0

So there you have it. I'll be checking back in on these rankings on the following schedule:

February: Junior Mints
March: Super Sophs
April: both
June: Super Sophs
August: Super Sophs (post-Safeway)
September: both (post-Navistar)
October: Junior Mints (pre-Korea Championship)
November: Super Sophs (post-ADT)
December: the Young Guns, including the Rookies (post-Q School)

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Best off the LPGA: JLPGA, July 2008 Edition

Since Hound Dog hasn't yet updated his first JLPGA Top 10, this functionally illiterate expert will update his May rankings by combining the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the current JLPGA money list, and the final 2007 money list to identify the Best of the JLPGA. This is of particular interest to Women's British Open fans, as Yukari Baba, Yuri Fudoh, Ji-Hee Lee, Eun-A Lim, Miki Saiki, Bo-Bae Song, and Sakura Yokomine will be teeing it up this coming week at Sunningdale.

There's a new #1 in town, but it's getting more and more crowded at the top....

1. Mi-Jeong Jeon: #2 2008 money (¥60.65M), #31 RR (3.27) [3], #59 GSPI (71.93) [9], #3 2007 money (¥110.9M). This past week she nabbed her 2nd win in her last 5 events, during which she's finished no worse than 7th, to up her 2008 totals to 5 top 5s, 10 top 10s, and 12 top 20s. She's the hottest golfer on tour right now--and perhaps over the past 3 seasons, with 9 wins in that stretch--so I'm moving her to the top of the list. That's a big jump from #12 a couple of months ago, but you'll see why she's moved so far so fast in a second.

2. Sakura Yokomine: #6 2008 money (¥46.99M), #24 RR (3.56) [2], #29 GSPI (71.12) [1], #2 2007 money (¥114.9M). Even though she has yet to win in 2008, she's still made more money than anyone else on the JLPGA over the past 2 seasons (except Momoko Ueda, who's only played twice on tour this season, and Jeon). With 6 wins in the past 3 seasons, 7 top 5s, 10 top 10s, and 12 top 20s this season, not to mention the lowest scoring average on tour this year, Yokomine is this close to retaining her #1 standing, but her inability to seal the deal early in the season and comparative coolness of late has done her in, for this ranking, at least.

3. Akiko Fukushima: #1 2008 money (¥73.88M), #35 RR (3.02) [4], #35 GSPI (71.29) [2], #11 2007 money (¥51.6M). Let's see: 6 wins the past 3 seasons, 6 top 5s, 9 top 10s, and 12 top 20s this one, as well as being the tour's 2nd repeat winner and having the 3rd-lowest scoring average.... It's hard to keep her #3, but I can't justify putting her ahead of Yokomine just yet.

4. Miho Koga: #5 2008 money (¥47.16M), #46 RR (2.39) [8], #49 GSPI (71.70) [4], #4 2007 money (¥94.3M). With 5 wins the past 3 seasons, along with 6 top 5s, 9 top 10s, and 15 top 20s this one, she's pretty evenly matched with Fukushima, but because of her recent missed cut I'm moving her back this ranking, despite the fact that she's made more money the past 2 seasons.

5. Yuri Fudoh: #13 2008 money (¥36.37M), #22 RR (3.66) [1], #45 GSPI (71.63) [3], #6 2007 money (¥87.1M). Somehow the 1st player to win twice in 2008 and to break the billion-yen barrier in career winnings is having problems with consistency this season. She only has 3 top 5s, 4 top 10s, and 8 top 20s against 2 missed cuts and 3 finishes outside the top 30. But she has won 6 times in the last 3 seasons, so she's still among the JLPGA's best. The only question is what kind of season this one will end up being--like 2 of the last 3 seasons, when she was barely in the top 15, like last season, when she almost made the top 5, or like 2005, when she won 6 times and was #1 on the money list for the 6th straight year? So far, her #20-ranked scoring average suggests the 2nd option is the best she can hope for, but there's a long way to go before 2008 is in the books.

6. Shiho Oyama: #11 2008 money (¥37.42M), #39 RR (2.83) [5], #50 GSPI (71.77) [5], #8 2007 money (¥71.7M). It's amazing that someone with 7 wins in the 2 previous seasons would have none thus far in this one, but her 7th-ranked scoring average suggests there are more in her future, as do her 5 top 5s, 8 top 10s, and 11 top 20s.

7. Miki Saiki: #17 2008 money (¥33.52M), #42 RR (2.60) [6], #53 GSPI (71.84) [6], #9 2007 money (¥62.6M). The other shoe's dropped for this former member of the JLPGA's Big 4 who still hasn't won in 2008. She's gone from being one of the JLPGA's hottest golfers to one of the coldest, missing 4 cuts in her last 6 events and having trouble breaking 75. So despite her 6 top 5s and top 10s and 10 top 20s this season, I'm dropping her a few spots in this ranking. If my suspicion is correct that she's trying to play her way through an injury, expect her to drop still further by September's ranking.

8. Shinobu Moromizato: #21 2008 money (¥25.16M), #50 RR (2.11) [10], #56 GSPI (71.89) [8], #7 2007 money (¥85.3M). Another winless but highly-ranked player, due to her 3 top 5s, 9 top 10s, and 12 top 20s this season. She's missed 2 cuts in her last 6 events, though, so her position in the Elite 8 is quite vulnerable.

Closing in on them is a quintet with a top 5 and/or 2 top 10s:

9. Ji-Hee Lee: #3 2008 money (¥59.03M), #57 RR (1.97) [12], #66 GSPI (72.07) [12], #38 2007 money (¥23.4M). She's been a top-10 player 5 of the last 8 seasons, so last year was something of a glitch. She's won 4 times the last 3 seasons and put herself in the mix more often than anyone else this one--9 top 5s (6 of them top 3s), 12 top 10s, and 15 top 20s. With the 2nd-best scoring average on tour, she should get her 2nd win soon. Those ahead of her had better watch out--the world rankings have definitely not caught up to Lee's meteoric rise this season.

10. Ayako Uehara: #4 2008 money (¥47.73M), #79 RR (1.45) [20], #101 GSPI (72.88) [21], #25 2007 money (¥32.9M). This 2007 Lexus Cupper is definitely coming into her own in 2008, with a win, 5 top 5s, 6 top 10s, and 11 top 20s. Again it's a case of the rankings lagging behind her performance.

11. Yuko Mitsuka: #7 2008 money (¥42.96M), #48 RR (2.13) [9], #79 GSPI (72.32) [15], #14 2007 money (¥45.3M). She's got 3 top 5s, 7 top 10s, and 12 top 20s to go with her win this season, but she's also failed to finish 4 events (2 missed cuts and 2 WDs or DQs), so I'm putting her behind the healthy players with a top 5 somewhere. As she's moved up 7 spots since May, I don't think she'd complain.

12. Bo-Bae Song: #10 2008 money (¥38.52M), #60 RR (1.87) [13], #60 GSPI (71.94) [10], #16 2007 money (¥44.4M). After winning the 1st event of the season and then running off 7 straight top 20s (including 4 straight top 10s) in its middle stretch, she's cooled off a bit in her last 2 events (including 1 missed cut), but she still has 3 top 5s, 7 top 10s, and 10 top 20s.

13. Na Zhang: #26 2008 money (¥16.13M), #43 RR (2.58) [7], #77 GSPI (72.28) [14], #5 2007 money (¥92.1M). Her back injuries seem to be back. She's missed 3 cuts in her 12 starts this season, and has failed to break into the top 30 in the rest except for one brief stretch where she got 2 straight top 5s. Once Hound Dog updates his JLPGA rankings and I stop counting 2007 winnings, expect her to drop sharply.

Next is a big group of up-and-coming players with 1 top 10 and/or 3 top 20s:

14. Chie Arimura: #12 2008 money (¥37.17M), #70 RR (1.65) [16], #84 GSPI (72.53) [17], #13 2007 money (¥47.6M). Until she missed the cut this past week, she had 8 straight top 20s, including her win and 2 other top 5s, bringing her top 10 total to 9 and top 20 total to 11, so it's no surprise that she moved up 10 spots since the last ranking.

15. Yukari Baba: #9 2008 money (¥38.80M), #76 RR (1.48) [18], #96 GSPI (72.75) [20], #28 2007 money (¥27.9M). She's been a consistent top 30 player for most of her career, but seems to be making a quantum leap this one, with a win, 3 top 5s, 8 top 10s, and 13 top 20s. She's cooled off a bit since the May ranking, with 2 missed cuts in her last 6 events, but as she's otherwise stayed in the top 20, I can't see putting her any lower than this.

16. Hiromi Mogi: #15 2008 money (¥35.03M), #78 RR (1.46) [19], #55 GSPI (71.87) [7], #15 2007 money (¥44.9M). I'm putting her right behind Baba on the strength of her win, 2 top 5s, 8 top 10s, and 14 top 20s this season.

17. Akane Iijima: #14 2008 money (¥35.40M), #66 RR (1.68) [15], #81 GSPI (72.49) [16], #10 2007 money (¥60.3M). Her 3rd-place finish this past week was her best since her win 8 events earlier, bringing her totals to 3 top 5s, 5 top 10s, and 12 top 20s. With 4 wins in the past 3 seasons, however, she's due to start moving up these rankings by the end of September.

18. Hyun-Ju Shin: #16 2008 money (¥34.25M), #53 RR (2.07) [11], #63 GSPI (72.02) [11], #12 2007 money (¥48.5M). With a win, 3 top 5s, 5 top 10s, and 8 top 20s, she's sliding down these rankings and will slide faster once I no longer consider the 2007 money list--unless she returns to her early-season form.

19. Eun-A Lim: #8 2008 money (¥41.78M), #65 RR (1.71) [14], #85 GSPI (72.55) [18], #86 2007 money (¥5.1M). She's only had 1 good result since her win 7 tournaments ago--a T2--but has 3 top 5s, 5 top 10s, 8 top 20s in all this season. Her winnings are slightly inflated due to her better performance in richer events than many of her peers, so with a 22nd-ranked scoring average, she may be due for a fall.

20. Erina Hara: #19 2008 money (¥30.62M), #72 RR (1.60) [17], #90 GSPI (72.69) [19], #19 2007 money (¥39.7M). With her fine play of late, she's brought her top 5 total to 3, her top 10 total to 5, and her top 20 total to 12. She's still looking for her 1st career win....

And here are the best of the rest:

21. Hiroko Yamaguchi: #18 2008 money (¥33.32M), #90 RR (1.19) [22], #75 GSPI (72.25) [13], #24 2007 money (¥33.1M). The only one of this bunch with a win this season. Yes, she won early, but has only garnered 1 top 10 (her 2nd top 5 of the season) and 4 top 20s in the 14 events since then.

22. Ji-Woo Lee: #20 2008 money (¥26.76M), n.r. RR, #102 GSPI (72.89) [22], #47 2007 money (¥16.7M). Hot, hot, hot! Has posted 6 top 10s in her last 7 events, half f them top 5s. The only thing lacking is her 1st career JLPGA win....

23. Esther Lee: #22 2008 money (¥22.68M), n.r. RR, #150 GSPI (73.56) [31], #46 2007 money (¥17.1M). Has sandwiched 7 top 20s--including 4 top 5s in 5 events in that stretch--between 4 missed cuts in her last 13 events, after a horrific start to her season.

24. Midori Yoneyama: #23 2008 money (¥19.10M), #93 RR (1.16) [23], #123 GSPI (73.12) [26], #21 2007 money (¥35.3M). With 2 top 5s, 4 top 10s, and 9 top 20s, she's been hanging around this season without doing anything all that special thus far.

25. Yun-Jye Wei: #25 2008 money (¥16.95M), #85 RR (1.32) [21], #140 GSPI (73.41) [28], #29 2007 money (¥12.0M). Back from the brink with 2 top 20s and only 1 missed cut in her last 4 events after a terrible middle stretch to the season when she missed 3 cuts and never cracked the top 25 in 8 events. Can she return to the form that got her 4 straight top 20s to start the season, including a runner-up and 7th-place finish?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Evian Masters Sunday: Duel or Melee?

There are low scores to be had out there in the final round of the Evian Masters. Hee-Won Han and H.J. Choi fired 65s to get under par for the tournament, while Karrie Webb and Giulia Sergas shot 66s to move into the top third of the field. A 67 by Christina Kim and 68s by Seon Hwa Lee, Becky Brewerton, and Wendy Doolan show the eventual winner what she has to do.

That may well be Na Yeon Choi. The rookie has fired a 31 on the front to get to -14, good enough for a 1-shot lead on Angela Park (+1 through 8), a 3-shot lead on Candie Kung (+2 through 8), Shi Hyun Ahn (-2 through 9), and Helen Alfredsson (-1 through 8), and a 4-shot lead on 6 golfers, including Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, and Juli Inkster.

Will this become a duel between last year's Rookie of the Year and the top contender to Ya Ni Tseng for this year's? Or a melee between the 11 players (so far) to get to double digits under par?

[Update 1 (9:24 am): Or maybe this will be a blowout by Choi? She's -6 through 11 after her 7th birdie of the day on the 10th hole and now has a 3-shot lead on Park and Alfredsson. But Annika Sorenstam may well be a cautionary tale for the streaking rookie. Sorenstam was -6 through 12 and got to -9 for the tournament before she bogeyed 3 holes in a row and finished with a 68 (-7). But even if she makes consecutive bogeys on the back like Ji-Yai Shin, maybe she'll come back with birdies on 4 of her last 5 holes--as the KLPGA superstar did to fire a 67 and move to -8 for the tournament--and run away with the tournament.]

[Update 2 (9:33 am): Wow! Choi has birdied 8 of her 1st 12 holes! But Park is beginning to respond--she got her 1st birdie of the day on the 11th to remain 3 back. Could this still become a duel? Nice 68 today by In-Kyung Kim to get to -9 for the tournament and replace Shin as the new leader in the clubhouse.]

[Update 3 (9:45 am): Make that 9 birdies in 13 holes!!!! Park's only hope is that she has played the last several holes the best of anyone else in the tournament....]

[Update 4 (9:54 am): Another great finish for Sun Young Yoo--a 67 that makes her the new leader in the clubhouse at -10. Too little, too late this week, but she may not be far away from her 1st win.]

[Update 5 (10:18 am): A bogey on the par-5 15th drops Choi to -7 on the day and her lead to 3 over Park and Alfredsson. How will she handle the tricky final 3 holes? If she does it as well as classmate Hee Young Park, who closed with a 67 to become the new leader in the clubhouse at -12, she should be just fine.]

[Update 6 (10:27 am): Correction: Park actually shot a 68 (-11). Her stay as leader in the clubhouse was brief, as Lorena Ochoa passed her with a 68 of her own to get to -12. The par 5s killed Ochoa this week, however. Her birdie on 18 was her first of the tournament and brought her to E on the par 5s Sunday, 1 worse than each of the 3 previous days.]

[Update 7 (10:31 am): Uh-oh! Choi bogeyed the 16th. Her lead is still 2, but she's giving Park and Alfredsson too much hope.]

[Update 8 (10:39 am): Super Soph Jin Joo Hong birdied the 18th for a 67 that brought her to -13. Not only is she the new leader in the clubhouse, but she's only 2 back of Choi, who just parred the 17th to remain at -15.]

[Update 9 (10:42 am): This may end up a duel, after all. Angela Park just birdied the 16th to pull within 1 shot of Choi!]

[Update 10 (10:44 am): And Alfredsson birdied the 17th to do the same!]

[Update 11 (10:50 am): Park could not birdie the 17th....]

[Update 12 (10:53 am): But Choi failed to birdie the 18th, leaving the door wide open....]

[Update 13 (10:56 am): Correction on Sun Young Yoo's card: she shot a 68 to finish at -9.]

[Update 14 (10:59 am): Well, nobody broke 70 all 4 rounds, but Shi Hyun Ahn gave it a great try. She birdied the 18th for a 70 and a T6 finish at -11. Not bad for the former Rookie of the Year!]

[Update 15 (11:02 am): Helen Alfredsson did it! She birdied the 18th for a 67 that tied Na Yeon Choi at -15. Unless Angela Park can eagle the 18th, we'll either have a 2- or 3-player playoff!]

[Update 16 (11:09 am): Park did it, too! We'll have a 3-way playoff on the 18th until a winner emerges....]

[Update 17 (11:32 am): Follow the action at Evian Masters TV Live!]

[Update 18 (11:48 am): Helen Alfredsson pushed her drive right and hit her 2nd shot in the hazard, so she retired from the playoff. Na Yeon Choi put her drive in the middle of the fairway and went for the green in 2. She hit it about 30 feet away from the pin, on the left fringe. Angela Park laid up to about 60 yards or so and pulled her wedge about 15 feet left of the pin, which was cut back right near a trap. Choi babied her long putt, while Park's dropped in on the side door. The pressure was on Choi to hole a tricky 2-foot downhill putt to extend the playoff...and she did. Back to the 18th tee!]

[Update 19 (11:51 am): This is something of a repeat of last week's finish, with a Super Soph against a rookie. Even though Choi shot 66 and Park shot 71, it was really Park who made a comeback on Choi, with birdies on her 2 final holes. Once again this finish shows how difficult it is to be the leader down the stretch. Last week, Ji Young Oh prevailed over the favorite Ya Ni Tseng; this week, the 2 competitors are evenly matched. Choi has an advantage in length, but Park has played the 18th hole better. Choi's birdie in the playoff was her 1st; Park's was her 5th!]

[Update 20 (12:05 pm): Park pulled her drive a bit into the left rough, but went it in 2 and hit it to the very front right of the green. Choi layed up this time--badly--into the right rough, at least 110 yards away--but stuck her approach 7 feet left of the pin, on almost the same line she had had before. Park's putt ended up 3 feet past the hole--a good lag. Choi missed on the high side--looked like she hit it through the break. Park won it with a dead-center putt!]

[Update 21 (12:44 pm): Well, apparently I can't tell Helen Alfredsson from Angela Park! Just switch the names in the last few updates....]

[Update 22 (12:50 pm): Color me confused. I don't know what they were showing on Evian Masters TV Live, but Alfredsson beat Choi on the 3rd playoff hole....]

[Update 23 (1:40 pm): Here's the LET's blurb. Maybe here's what happened. Maybe in update 18 back there I tuned in in the middle of the second playoff hole, and the player I identified as Alfredsson actually layed up instead of dumping her shot in the hazard as I thought. Everything else makes sense after that if Park was already out. The Evian people confused matters by showing a photo of Alfredsson from an earlier round--the LET site has a photo of what she wore in today's round.]

[Update 24 (7/28/08, 1:01 am): Hound Dog's final-round recap brings (me, at least) much-needed clarity!]

JLPGA Players Championship Sunday: Mi-Jeong Jeon Wins Big

Mi-Jeong Jeon was tied with Yuko Mitsuka at -7 as they walked off the 5th green in the final round of the Kagome Philanthropy LPGA Players Championship, but the 2nd- and 3rd-round leader never looked back, making birdies on the 6th and 8th holes as Mitsuka bogeyed 2 in a row to open up a 4-shot lead. Jeon closed out her win in style with 3 consecutive birdies to tie for the low back and low round of the day, a 67 that got her to -12 for the tournament. Mitsuka recovered with 2 straight closing birdies to grab a solo 2nd at -7, while Akane Iijima charged from back in the pack to nab a solo 3rd at -5 as Ayako Uehara and Akiko Fukushima faded.

Here's how the leaderboard ended up:

1st/-12 Mi-Jeong Jeon (68-69-72-67)
2nd/-7 Yuko Mitsuka (70-69-71-71)
3rd/-5 Akane Iijima (74-70-72-67)
T4/-4 Shiho Oyama (72-73-71-68), Ji-Woo Lee (65-76-72-71), Ayako Uehara (69-71-71-73)
7th/-3 Hyun-Ju Shin (72-72-70-71)
T8/-2 Mayumi Nakajima (67-75-75-69), Erina Hara (72-72-70-72), Maiko Wakabayashi (69-75-69-73)

T11/-1 Miho Koga (71-73-73-70), Yun-Jye Wei (70-75-71-71), Hiromi Mogi (69-70-74-74)
T15/E Shinobu Moromizato (73-72-73-70), Ji-Hee Lee (73-70-72-73), Hiroko Yamaguchi (72-72-71-73), Yukari Baba (71-72-71-74), Akiko Fukushima (68-71-73-76)
T21/+1 Sakura Yokomine (72-74-73-70), Midori Yoneyama (71-71-73-74)
T28/+3 Mayu Hattori (73-75-73-70)
T41/+7 Eun-A Lim (74-72-74-75)
T59/+14 Miki Saiki (71-77-76-78), Michiko Hattori (71-75-76-80)

With her 2nd win of the season coming in the tournament with the 3rd-highest purse, Jeon shot up the money list:

1. Akiko Fukushima ¥73.88M
2. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥60.65M
3. Ji-Hee Lee ¥59.03M
4. Ayako Uehara ¥47.73M
5. Miho Koga ¥47.16M
6. Sakura Yokomine ¥46.99M
7. Yuko Mitsuka ¥42.96M
8. Eun-A Lim ¥41.78M
9. Yukari Baba ¥38.80M
10. Bo-Bae Song ¥38.52M
11. Shiho Oyama ¥37.42M
12. Chie Arimura ¥37.17M
13. Yuri Fudoh ¥36.37M
14. Akane Iijima ¥35.40M
15. Hiromi Mogi ¥35.03M
16. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥34.25M
17. Miki Saiki ¥33.52M
18. Hiroko Yamaguchi ¥33.32M
19. Erina Hara ¥30.62M
20. Ji-Woo Lee ¥26.76M
21. Shinobu Moromizato ¥25.16M
22. Esther Lee ¥22.68M
23. Midori Yoneyama ¥19.10M
24. Momoko Ueda ¥17.73M
25. Yun-Jye Wei ¥16.95M

The JLPGA takes a week off for the Women's British Open and resumes with the AXA Ladies, the 1st of 5 events in August and early September that lead up to the second major of the season, the JLPGA Championship, otherwise known as the Konica Minolta Cup. With the top 3 bunched, the next 3 knotted, less than 10 million yen separating #7 from #18, and only 3 players with 2 wins, the season is still wide open.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Evian Masters Saturday: Have We Achieved Separation?

As the leaders make the turn at the Evian Masters, they seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the field, almost despite themselves. If not for her 38 on the back yesterday, Candie Kung would be running away with the tournament. As it it, she shot her 2nd-straight 32 on the front to climb into a tie for the lead at -12 with Angela Park, who hasn't made a bogey in 46 holes thus far. Juli Inkster at -11 is the only other model of consistency among the leaders, never having shot above 35 in her 1st 5 9s. Cristie Kerr is tied with her, despite making a double and a triple in her first 23 holes. Still, like Helen Alfredsson, who has also made a triple bogey, she has never shot above 36 on any 9 in the tournament thus far. At -10, the veteran is 1 ahead of Lorena Ochoa, who shot a 37 on the back yesterday to drop off the lead pace but is playing bogey-free golf today.

Even as I write, Kung, Inkster, and Kerr made bogeys, so perhaps it's a bit premature to assert that these 6 players have formed a lead pack of their own, especially with Jin Joo Hong following up her string of 4 birdies in her 1st 6 holes with a run of pars and Na Yeon Choi making birdies on her 1st 3 holes on the back to join Hong at -8. But it's true that most of the players who had been a threat to keep pace with them have either stalled or fallen back. Meena Lee is +1 through 12 to fall back to -7--she's been caught by Eun-Hee Ji, who fired a fantastic 67. In-Kyung Kim is +3 through 11 to drop to -5--she's been passed by Suzann Pettersen's 69 and matched by Sun Young Yoo's 69 and Amy Yang's 70. Momoko Ueda is +2 through 14--she's been caught by Ji-Yai Shin's great 68 at -3. And unless Laura Diaz, Natalie Gulbis, and Sun-Ju Ahn can birdie the 18th, they'll join them with 73s today.

Moving day has been even crueler to Inbee Park and Ji-Young Oh--their 75s today dropped them back to E and a tie with their inspiration, Se Ri Pak, who caught them with a 70. Seon Hwa Lee and Hee Won Han's 76s dropped them to the back of the pack with the struggling Euro-stars and Americans. Angela Stanford is on pace for the worst round of the day--she's +7 through 15. By contrast, Ai Miyazato (74-72-70, E, T39), Pat Hurst (74-73-70, +1, T46), Karrie Webb (72-75-71, +2, T50), Jane Park (74-74-71, +3, T54), and Jeong Jang (74-73-72, +3, T54) got moving in the right direction.

Still, when even 69s by Mhairi McKay and Lindsey Wright barely got them back under par and at the edges of the top 30, those back in the pack aren't making any huge moves. And even those in the middle are finding it hard to catch the lead pack: Choi bogeyed the 13th to fall back to -7 with Hee Young Park, Paula Creamer, and Meena Lee, while Shi Hyun Ahn birdied it to join Ochoa at -9. The 5 players double digits under par with a handful of holes to play have a great chance to achieve some real separation heading into Sunday's final round.

[Update 1 (9:47 am): Nice comebacks by Laura Diaz, who eagled the 18th to get back to -5 for the tournament, and Natalie Gulbis, who birdied it to return to -4, but those may well be quixotic moral victories, as an actual victory seems out iof reach, barring tournament records from the Americans. Meanwhile, Ya Ni Tseng joined Pettersen at -6 with her 3rd straight birdie on the 18th.]

[Update 2 (10:05 am): Angela Park's bogeyless streak ended at 48 holes when a bogey on the 13th dropped her to -11, 1 shot behind Candie Kung, tied with Juli Inkster, and 1 shot ahead of Helen Alfredsson. Paula Creamer, meanwhile, birdied both closing par 5s, the 15th and 18th, to join Jin Joo Hong as leaders in the clubhouse at -8. Tied with them and still on the course are Lorena Ochoa, Cristie Kerr, Na Yeon Choi, and Shi Hyun Ahn. The 4 players double digits under par are in grave danger of sinking back to this level and making tomorrow a Sunday free-for-all, unless they can stabilize their games heading into the final 4 holes.]

[Update 3 (10:10 am): A 34 on the back brought Annika Sorenstam back to -3 and could keep her faint hopes alive if the leaders stumble down the stretch today. A Young Kim eagle on the same hole had the exact same results.]

[Update 4 (10:26 am): Na Yeon Choi is making a move! She birdied 15 and 16 and with a birdie or better on 18 can finish double digits under par. Cristie kerr is moving in the opposite direction--a birdie on 16 gives her a god chance to break 40 on the back. But Choi is -9 and Kerr is -8, so both can put some pressure on leader Candie Kung (-12 with the 18th left to play) with good rounds tomorrow.]

[Update 5 (10:30 am): Rookie Hee Young Park birdied the 18th hole for the 3rd straight time this week to get to -7 and give herself a chance to pull a Louise Friberg tomorrow. Classmate Momoko Ueda's 74 dropped her to -3, still with the faintest of hopes, but only that. Lorena Ochoa birdied only 1 of 4 par 5s today--the 3rd time in a row she accomplished this dubious feat--and joins Creamer and Hong at -8. Shi Hyun Ahn is now leader in the clubhouse at -9--her 3rd straight 69 makes her the only player in the field to have broken 70 all 3 rounds, although Juli Inkster has a good chance to join her and Angela Park has a decent chance.]

[Update 6 (10:36 am): Just noticed that Carin Koch shot a nice 69 to get back to E for the tournament. Her countrywoman Catrin Nilsmark kept Angela Stanford's 78 from tying for the worst round of the day by being the only player not to break 80 today. Na Yeon Choi finished at -9, but her failure to birdie 18 for the 3rd day in a row has to hurt her chances of victory, as Candie Kung birdied her final 2 holes to get to -13 for the tournament.]

[Update 7 (10:45 am): Angela Park is showing some grit--she birdied 16 and 17 to give herself a great chance to regain the lead from Kung with a 3rd straight birdie on the 18th. Juli Inkster's back-9 36 was her worst 9 thus far, but it was good enough for her to break 70 for the 3rd straight time and lurk 2 shots behind Kung heading into the final round.]

[Update 8 (10:51 am): Kerr and Kim couldn't birdie 18, either, so they finish at -8 and -5, respectively. Kerr's 39 when she was in contention has to hurt worse than the double or triple....]

[Update 9 (10:58 am): Alfredsson hung in there but lost ground today, despite getting to -10, as Park birdied her last 3 holes to close at -14. Depending on how Park and Kung handle the pressure of being in the lead pack tomorrow, it could either be a shootout at the Evian corral tomorrow or a free-for-all among the 6 players within 5 shots of Park!]

[Update 10 (7:50 pm): Save yourself some time and read Hound Dog's recap instead of the AP story tonight.]

JLPGA Players Championship Saturday: The Plot Thickens

The 3rd round of the Kagome Philanthropy LPGA Players Championship is well under way and the action is coming fast and furious. Yuko Mitsuka has pulled into a tie for the lead with Mi-Jeong Jeon at -8, while Akiko Fukushima and Ayako Uehara keep pace with the 2nd-round leader. Yasuko Satoh had made a move to join Fukushima at -6 after making 5 birdies in her 1st 10 holes, but 3 bogeys in her last 4 have dropped her back into a tie for 6th with a host of players. More updates as the action continues.

[Update 1 (12:48 am): Whoops! Mitsuka just bogeyed the par-3 13th to fall back to -7. Meanwhile, Hiromi Mogi birdied it to get back to +1 on the day and -4 for the tournament. Mayumi Nakajima is having a horrific back--+5 in her 1st 5 holes to drop back to E (T16)--which just shows how hard it is for the non-notables in the field to hang with the JLPGA's finest--at least those who are playing well this week!]

[Update 2 (12:54 am): #2 on the money list Ji-Hee Lee is making a move on the back in the right direction after an eagle on the par-4 14th hole gets her to -3 on the side and the tournament. Quite a bit better than Miki Saiki (76, +8, T53), Michiko Hattori (76, +6, T49), Mayu Hattori (73, +5, T41), Eun-A Lim (74, +4, T36), Sakura Yokomine (73, +3, T34), Shinobu Moromizato (73, +2, T28), and Miho Koga (+1 through 17, +1, T22). Not all the greats are great this week....]

[Update 3 (12:59 am): More notables from lower down the leaderboard: Akane Iijima (72, E, T15), Shiho Oyama (71, E, T15), Yun-Jye Wei (71, E, T15), Hiroko Yamaguchi (71, -1, 14th). Ji-Hee Lee, by the way, just bogeyed the par-3 16th to drop back to -2, tied with Erina Hara (70), Hyun-Ju Shin (-2 through 17), Yukari Baba (-1 through 16), and Satoh (who bogeyed the 16th as well) in 8th place right now. Uehara birdied the par-4 14th to pull back within 2 of Jeon.]

[Update 4 (1:02 am): Toshimi Kimura (68) birdied 4 of her last 8 holes to shoot a 33 on the back and fight back to E, good enough for T15 right now. Contrast that with Hiroko Yamaguchi and Shiho Oyama, who both shot 33 on the front but ballooned to 38 on the back for their 71s....]

[Update 5 (1:18 am): The 15th has been a killer today: 8 bogeys, a double, and only 1 birdie among the 20 players on the 1st page of the leaderboard who have played it thus far. The 4 players who have separated themselves from the field are coming to this tough par 4 now. Let's see how they do. Jeon: bogey. Mitsuka: par. Fukushima: triple. Uehara: par. Yikes! Nice 69 by Maiko Wakabayashi, despite her bogey on the 15th. She's -3 for the tournament and in a tie for 4th. Another stat to keep in mind as the leaders finish out their rounds: the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes have given up only 1 birdie each to the entire front page of the leaderboard.]

[Update 6 (1:21 am): This is a tough tough tough day out there. Orie Fujino and Yui Kawahara are the only other players in the entire field to break 70 today. Mitsuka and Uehara have a chance to do it if they can play the last 3 holes in at least 1-under....]

[Update 7 (2:02 am): My bad--there were 2 birdies on the 18th from the top 20 before the leaders got there. Here's how they finished: Jeon: par-par-par. Mitsuka: par-bogey-par. Uehara: par-par-bogey. So here's how the leaderboard looks after moving day stopped moving:

1st/-7 Mi-Jeong Jeon (68-69-72)
2nd/-6 Yuko Mitsuka (70-69-71)
3rd/-5 Ayako Uehara (69-71-71)
4th/-4 Akiko Fukushima (68-71-73)
T5/-3 Maiko Wakabayashi (69-75-69), Ji-Woo Lee (65-76-72), Hiromi Mogi (69-70-74)
T8/-2 Hyun-Ju Shin (72-72-70), Erina Hara (72-72-70), Yukari Baba (71-72-71)

T11/-1 Hiroko Yamaguchi (72-72-71), Ji-Hee Lee (73-70-72), Midori Yoneyama (71-71-73)
T14/E Shiho Oyama (72-73-71), Yun-Jye Wei (70-75-71), Akane Iijima (74-70-72)
T20/+1 Miho Koga (71-73-73)
T25/+2 Shinobu Moromizato (73-72-73)
T31/+3 Sakura Yokomine (72-74-73)
T36/+4 Eun-A Lim (74-72-74)
T40/+5 Mayu Hattori (73-75-73)
T49/+6 Michiko Hattori (71-75-76)
T53/+8 Miki Saiki (71-77-76)

Ji-Hee Lee couldn't sustain her momentum on the back, bogeying 2 of her last 3 holes. She was still one of the few to break par on the brutal back. Midori Yoneyama was another victim today, going 34-39. It wasn't a good day to be a Yasuko on the back, either. Satoh ended up with a 40 for a 73 (E, T14) and Ohtake with a 39 for a 77 (+2, T25). But Fukushima fought back with a birdie on the 17th. She's still in this thing, despite her triple bogey! Can she become the JLPGA's 1st 3-time winner of 2008? With 9 players within 5 of Jeon's lead, this is still almost anyone's tournament....]

Friday, July 25, 2008

Evian Masters Friday: The Times They Are A'Changin'

During the first few months of the season when Lorena Ochoa was winning 5 events in dominating fashion, an opening-round 65 would have struck fear into the hearts of just about everyone in the field, paving the way for a wire-to-wire win. Well, when she shot an un-Lorena-like 73 today at the Evian Masters--finishing 2-over-par for her final 8 holes (where she had gone -5 the day before) and again making only 1 birdie on the 4 par 5s--a total of 9 players roared past her or pulled even with her, lead by Angela Park's 68. With Park at -10, Helen Alfredsson at -9 (thanks to a tournament-record bogey-free 63), and Cristie Kerr leading a large group at -8 (on the strength of a 66 that included 4 consecutive birdies to close out the front after a double bogey on the par-4 5th, which was even more impressive than her comeback from a triple bogey on the par-4 13th yesterday), Ochoa is by no means out of the tournament at -6 (T8), but there are now 30 golfers within 5 shots of her.

Joining Park in the sub-70 club for the 2nd straight round are In-Kyung Kim (68, -8, T3), Juli Inkster (69, -8, T3), Meena Lee, and Shi Hyun Ahn (69, -6, T8). Na Yeon Choi fired the 3rd-best round of the day, a 67, to catch Ochoa, and there were only 2 other 68s (by Sun Young Yoo and Wendy Doolan, which helped them move up into the middle of the pack) all day.

Scoring conditions were definitely tougher today than yesterday. Ochoa wasn't the only leader to go over par; she was joined by Seon Hwa Lee (75, E, T39), Sun-Ju Ahn (74, -4, T16), Suzann Pettersen (74, -3, T23), Laura Diaz (73, -4, T16), and Amy Yang (+1, -3, T23). But they shouldn't feel too bad: Hall of Famers Se Ri Pak (76) and Karrie Webb (75) blew up, falling back to T53 and T61, respectively, while the LET order of merit leader, Gwladys Nocera, missed the cut with a 75. Joining her were the JLPGA's slumping Bo-Bae Song and the LPGA's yo-yo leader Jee Young Lee; Jane Park, Nicole Castrale, and Laura Davies fell on the right side of the cut line by the skin of their teeth.

For more on the second round, check out Hound Dog's recap, the Armchair Golfer's overview and commentary, Bill Jempty on Park's lead and the race for the Solheim Cup, and the ever-lovin' notes and interviews. Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda were among the LPGA players who participated in the annual soccer match with "Zizou" and other European pros. Didn't hurt their games any, as Ai-chan held steady at +2 with a 72 and Momo-chan moved to T11 with Paula Creamer and Hee Young Park, who matched her 69.

[Update 1 (11:56 pm): With Lorena out of the lead, Graham Dunbar picks up his game for the AP.]

[Update 2 (7/26/08, 12:01 am): With Hound Dog out of the highlights business, we have to rely on the Golf Channel.]

JLPGA Players Championship Friday: Mi-Jeong Jeon Takes the Lead

Mi-Jeong Jeon has broken 100 million yen in season winnings the past 2 years, winning 3 events in 2006 and 4 in 2007, but she got off to a slow start in 2008--only 5 top 10s in her 1st 11 events--until a win at the Resort Trust Ladies event kicked off a run in her last 4 events in which her worst finish was 7th. So it's no surprise that she fired a 69 in the second round of the Kagome Philanthrophy LPGA Players Championship Friday to take a 2-shot lead over Akiko Fukushima, Yuko Mitsuka, and Hiromi Mogi. What is a bit of a surprise is that 1st-round leader Ji-Woo Lee played as badly as she did, dropping all the way to a tie for 6th, 4 shots back, after a birdieless 76.

Here's the top 10:

1st/-7 Jeon (68-69)
T2/-5 Mitsuka (70-69), Mogi (69-70), Fukushima (68-71)
5th/-4 Ayako Uehara (69-71)
T6/-3 Yasuko Ohtake (69-72), Lee (65-76)
T8/-2 Asuka Tsujimura (73-69), Midori Yoneyama (71-71), Mayumi Nakajima (67-75)

Scoring conditions were definitely more difficult today than yesterday; Lee and Nakajima were not the only players to make big moves backward:

T11/-1 Ji-Hee Lee (73-70), Yukari Baba (71-72)
T16/E Akane Iijima (74-70), Hyun-Ju Shin (72-72), Erina Hara (72-72), Hiroko Yamaguchi (72-72), Miho Koga (71-73), Maiko Wakabayashi (69-75)
T25/+1 Shinobu Moromizato (73-72), Shiho Oyama (72-73), Yun-Jye Wei (70-75)
T32/+2 Eun-A Lim (74-72), Sakura Yokomine (72-74), Michiko Hattori (71-75)
T51/+4 Mayu Hattori (73-75), Miki Saiki (71-77)

Ji-Hee Lee matched Ji-Woo Lee's Thursday 32 on the back to give herself a chance to put herself in contention on Sunday; she was sparked by an eagle on the 480-yard par-5 11th hole, which offset a 1st-hole double-bogey. Fukushima and Mitsuka were the only players in the top 10 to come within 3 shots of Lee on the back. In fact, Lim and Mayumi Shimomura were the only players in the entire field to come within 2 shots!

There were a surprising number of missed cuts this week by JLPGA young guns:

T63/+5 Esther Lee (74-75)
T70/+6 Yuki Ichinose (74-76)
T75/+7 Ritsuko Ryu (74-77)
T108/+13 Kaori Higo (76-81)
WD Chie Arimura (77)

So heading into moving day there are 9 players within 5 shots of Jeon's lead. Will anyone be able to get duble digits under par by the end of Saturday's round? Or will the leaders come back to the field?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Evian Masters Thursday: Lorena's Back and There's Gonna Be Some Trouble

Hey la, hey la, Lorena Ochoa fired a 30 on the back 9 to take the first-round lead at the Evian Masters with a bogey-free 65. And guess what? She only birdied 1 of 4 par 5s. She had a chance for a 29 on the back but couldn't get her 7th birdie of the side on the par-5 18th hole. Angela Park did birdie the 18th for a 31, which tied her with Candie Kung and struggling KLPGA star Sun-Ju Ahn, who birdied her final 3 holes for a 66. Behind these leaders were 5 67s, 3 68s, and 7 69s.

So who's going to make the most trouble for the world #1 the rest of this tournament? Let's answer that question by surveying the surprises and disappointments of the first round.

Biggest Surprises: Linda Wessberg eagled the last hole for a great 69, much closer to the quality of her intermittent LPGA play in 2007 than that of the LPGA regular who's missed 6 cuts and posted 1 top 10 and no top 20s in 15 events this season. Defending champion Natalie Gulbis shot a fine 69 in the 1st leg of her quest to stage a 2nd-half comeback in 2008 as impressive as her conclusion to the 2007 season. Pretty good for a player who missed the cut in 3 of her last 5 events and who finished T48 and T49 when she made it. Juli Inkster has only played in 3 of the 9 LPGA events heading into this one--missing the cut twice and, like Gulbis, posting her only decent finish in the last couple of months, a T14, at the Ginn Tribute--so her 67 today may be even more surprising, even if she is a former champion here. But then again Laura Diaz has been playing more events with more futility since her hot start in the early spring, so probably it's her 67 that's the biggest surprise. (While Suzann Pettersen's great play of late makes her 67 no huge surprise, her history of struggles at this course make it enough of one to mention here, particularly when she bounced back from a double bogey on the par-4 14th with 4 straight closing birdies.)

Biggest Disappointments: The biggest ones are shared 74s by Jeong Jang and Ai Miyazato, the latter thanks to a 41 on the back that included a triple bogey on the par-4 12th hole which brought her back to E on the day and the former courtesy of 3 bogeys on the 1st 5 holes of the back 9. I thought Jang's extended layoff to rest her injured wrist and the momentum from Ai-chan's fine play over the last month or so would have done them each more good. But matching 74s by Jane Park and Sun Young Yoo are definitely in the running here.

Smaller Surprises: I didn't expect recent 1st-time winners Inbee Park (69), Ji Young Oh (70), and Eun-Hee Ji (71) to play as well as they did today, what with all the distractions that come with your 1st win. Nor did I expect Meena Lee (67), Angela Stanford (67), In-Kyung Kim (68), and Shi Hyun Ahn (69) to pick up where they left off in their rather rare recent great rounds and good tournaments, either.

Smaller Disappointments: 73s by Sophie Gustafson and Maria Hjorth and 72s by Karrie Webb, Ji-Yai Shin, and Hee-Won Han, all of which could have been much worse, were indifferent starts from players who still can be expected to contend this week.

If Ochoa can do what Paula Creamer (70) and Ya Ni Tseng (70) failed to do the last 2 weeks--shoot 4 straight sub-70 rounds--then the pressure is on the 71 players who failed to break 70 today to match her mid-60s round today at least once. For the 18 others who did score in the 60s, their trouble will come from trying to keep pace with Ochoa. Same goes for the 28 players within 5 shots of Ochoa's lead after the 1st round. Those near the possible cut line of +1 to +5 will be facing a different kind of pressure tomorrow. Should be interesting to see how everyone responds to these varieties of pressure--and whether anyone can turn the tables and put pressure on Ochoa!

[Update 1 (4:44 pm): Here's Hound Dog's 1st-round recap. Ryan Ballengee welcomes Ochoa back. And nobody took the "over" over at Waggle Room.]

JLPGA Players Championship Thursday: Ji-Woo Lee Sets the Pace

Ji-Woo Lee has been flirting with greatness lately in her 2nd season on the JLPGA, notching 5 top 10s in the 6 events before this week's Kagome Philanthropy LPGA Players Championship. After her bogey-free 65 today, she's once again so close she can taste it. It's not just that she has a 2-shot lead on Mayumi Nakajima and a 3-shot lead on Akiko Fukushima and Mi-Jeong Jeon. It's also that her 32 on the back 9 was the best performance on a side that gave most of the leaders fits. Keiko Sasaki was -6 through 13 holes, but bogeyed 3 of her last 4. Fukushima and Jeon both bogeyed the 14th and 15th holes to offset their birdies on the back. Only Nakajima, Yasuko Satoh (70), and Yoko Inoue (70) among the leaders came within 2 shots of Lee on the back (Saiki Fujita [72] came within 1). So don't expect her to fade over the final 54 holes. Someone is going to have to take this one away from Ji-Woo Lee.

Who might it be? Let's take a look at the top 10 at the end of the 1st round:

1st/-7 Lee (65)
2nd/-5 Nakajima (67)
T3/-4 Fukushima, Jeon (68)
T5/-3 Ayako Uehara, Hiromi Mogi, Maiko Wakabayashi, Mikiyo Nishizuka, Yasuko Ohtake, Sasaki (69)

Uehara is coming off a strong runner-up finish to Fukushima last week, while Jeon and Mogi have posted recent wins. Jeon, in fact, has finished no worse than 7th in the 3 events following her win. These are the 3 most likely to contend.

Many of the notables who still can pull themselves into contention this week have been struggling in recent ones:

T11/-2 Yuko Mitsuka, Yun-Jye Wei (70)
T16/-1 Miho Koga, Miki Saiki, Yukari Baba, Michiko Hattori, Midori Yoneyama (71)
T25/E Sakura Yokomine, Shiho Oyama, Hiroko Yamaguchi, Hyun-Ju Shin, Erina Hara (72)
T38/+1 Ji-Hee Lee, Shinobu Moromizato, Mayu Hattori (73)

Wei has missed 4 cuts and has 1 top 20 in her last 11 events. With a final-round 66 last week, Baba squeaked into her 1st top 10 after a 5-week stretch in which she missed 2 cuts and could only manage top 20s, so she has a bit of momentum on her side. That's more than could be said for Saiki and Koga. The latter posted her worst finishes of the season, a last place and a missed cut, in the 2 events leading into this one, while the former has missed 4 of her last 5 cuts, thanks to 7 75s in that stretch. Yokomine and Oyama have had decent seasons, but not by their standards--and not even close to expectations with the departure of last year's money leader Momoko Ueda for the LPGA. Yamaguchi has only 1 top 10 in the 13 events since her early-season win. Shin took a week off after posting her best finish, a T2, in the 9 events since her last win on the JLPGA--only her 2nd top 10 in that stretch. The only players in this group with any kind of momentum heading into this week were Mitsuka and Lee, but the former has 4 missed cuts to go along with her 11 top 20s and the latter is probably too far back to threaten the the leader of the 2008 money list, much less the leader of this tournament.

It's desperation time for other big names on the JLPGA--

T61/+2 Akane Iijima, Eun-A Lim, Esther Lee, Yuki Ichinose, Ritsuko Ryu (74)
T84/+4 Kaori Higo (76)
T94/+5 Chie Arimura (77)

--which is more than can be said for Na Zhang, who withdrew, most likely due to a flare-up of the back injury that forced her to miss much of the early season on the JLPGA.

So there are fewer than a dozen players who pose a serious threat to Ji-Woo Lee over the final 54 holes. We'll have to see how many can keep pace with her after Friday's round.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Evian Masters Pairings

With a field this exclusive at the Evian Masters, there really is no significant difference between the prime-time and other pairings in terms of talent or chances of victory, but the tournament organizers still clustered former champions and current money-list leaders in the late morning.

Start Time: 10:59 AM
Juli Inkster
Wendy Doolan
Laura Davies

Start Time: 11:10 AM
Annika Sorenstam
Helen Alfredsson
Catrin Nilsmark

Start Time: 11:21 AM
Natalie Gulbis
Lorena Ochoa
Gwladys Nocera

Start Time: 11:32 AM
Paula Creamer
Karrie Webb
Rachel Hetherington

The defending champion gets the honor of playing with the LPGA's and LET's money list leaders, while the Hall of Famer winners are spread around with others. Simply brilliant pairings.

But then this tournament is full of them. As there's something to be said about every one, let me make a couple of remarks upon their patterns and limit my comments to my favorite 5.

The tournament organizers do a great job of mixing up the pairings, putting a golfer from North America, from Europe, and from Asia as often as possible together in the same group. And even when they pair golfers from the same region, as often as not there is a significant national or ethnic difference between them. So, for instance, Cristie Kerr, Maria Hjorth, and Young Kim go off at 7:55 am, Jane Park, Sophie Gustafson, and Nicole Castrale at 8:17 am, Ashleigh Simon, Julieta Granada, and Eun-Hee Ji at 8:28 am, Louise Friberg, Brittany Lincicome, and Seon Hwa Lee at 8:54 am, and Lindsey Wright, Amy Yang, and Angela Stanford at 9:27 am.

Yet the organizers are not afraid to break with this general principle when a juicy pairing is too good to pass up. Sarah Lee, Hee Young Park, and Mi Hyun Kim are paired together at 9:05 am, Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda get to merge their respective media followings (and Morgan Pressel gets to enjoy the hoopla) at 10:48 am, Ya Ni Tseng and Teresa Lu get to play togeher (with Karin Icher) at 12:05 pm, and LET and ex-LET stars Giulia Sergas, Becky Brewerton, and Linda Wessberg are together in the final pairing at 12:27 pm.

At the same time, it seems like some opportunities for even more compelling pairings were lost. I would have loved to have seen former rookies of the year like Seon Hwa Lee and Angela Park play together, as well as people very close to each other in career winnings like Maria Hjorth and Sophie Gustafson or Cristie Kerr and Mi Hyun Kim or Jeong Jang and Hee-Won Han. An all-star new moms pairing of Karen Stupples, Catriona Matthew, and Hee-Won Han would also have been super-cool. Or how about Se Ri Pak and the 2 recent winners who were inspired by her, Inbee Park and Ji Young Oh? Finally, pairing people close to each other near the top of their respective money lists would have been a nice touch--for instance, putting Ji-Yai Shin with Suzann Pettersen and Amy Yang would have softened the blow of excluding the KLPGA money list leader from the prime-time pairings.

That said, most of the pairings are things of beauty. Here are my 5 favorites:

1. No surprise after a certain Saturday in Pittsford that my #1 would be Ai-chan, Momo-chan, and Morgan!

2. For historical significance, the Swedish superstars--Annika, Helen, and Catrin--can't be beat.

3. It would be a cool over/under to bet on how many total strokes Ochoa beats Gulbis and Nocera by. Betting's legal in Europe, right? Shall we say 8?

4. Is there a changing-of-the-guard feeling to the Creamer/Webb/Hetherington pairing, or is that just my imagination?

5. Pat Hurst, Hee-Won Han, and Song-Hee Kim: Don't ask me why, but I have a feeling they may have the lowest total score of any threesome out there.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Evian Masters Preview/Predictions

The Evian Masters is coming! With a $3.25M purse, a great field drawn from the best in the world of women's golf (including all of Hound Dog's new top 30 except for Stacy Lewis, who has a wedding to attend, and Stacy Prammanasudh), a strong cast of past champions, and a cut to the top 70 and ties after the 1st 36 holes, it's one of the most exciting non-majors on both the LET and the LPGA and a fantastic run-up to the Women's British Open. The course boasts a tricky, hilly layout with undulating greens, although it only shows its teeth when the weather gets rough (as witnessed by Natalie Gulbis's breaking the 7-year string of double-digit-under-par winning totals last season).

So who do I think will excel this week?

1. Ochoa
2. Jang Jeong
3. Creamer
4. Tseng Ya Ni
5. Lee Seon Hwa
6. Choi Na Yeon
7. Shin Ji-Yai
8. Pettersen
9. Sorenstam
10. Ji Eun-Hee
11. Ueda Momoko
12. Han Hee-Won

Alts: Park Jane, Miyazato Ai, Hjorth

For more on the course, check out my 2007 preview; for more on the field, Golf Observer's historical stats can't be beat. And don't forget to tune into Evian Masters TV!

[Update 1 (9:03 pm): Hound Dog's preview is up--check out his critique of the Golf Channel's approach to rebroadcasting the event.]

[Update 2 (7/23/08, 4:02 am): Notice that Zinedine Zidane will be at the awards ceremony and playing in a charity football (that's soccer for us Americans!) match with some players and caddies on the 24th?]

[Update 3 (2:31 pm): Thanks to Golf Girl for the links! Next time in CT visiting my brother and his family, GG, we should get together for a quick 9!]

[Update 4 (6:32 pm): There's still time to submit your Pakpicker entry. Golf Observer has their patented performance chart up and running!]

[Update 5 (6:46 pm): Wow, according to this UK article, the LGU still hadn't made up their minds whether they were going to offer one of their "wild card" slots to the Women's British Open to Wie. They mistakenly thought she'd been invited to Evian and figured they could wait and see how she played there. Maybe if she hadn't been DQed in Springfield she'd be in Evian right now. That's one costly brain fart in the scorer's tent!]

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Michelle Wie Effect: A Research Question

Anyone have any data on the Nielsen ratings for the State Farm Classic? The difference between the Friday/Saturday ratings and the Sunday ratings is as clear a way as I can imagine of quantifying the Michelle Wie effect.

Judging by the fact that the visits to this site over the last 2 days just about doubled from their average over the past several months, exceeded peaks during any of this year's majors, and rank among the top 5 in Mostly Harmless history, I have some evidence that people who don't normally pay attention to women's golf tune in when Wie is in contention and/or embroiled in (yet another) controversy. Any other LPGA bloggers care to share your stats?

[Update 1 (5:24 pm): Well, according to this Doug Ferguson AP story, we'll get another chance to test the MW Effect--compare the ratings for an upcoming PGA event with last year's. Yup, she's playing in Reno-Tahoe!]

[Update 2 (5:54 pm): Interesting to check the reactions in the LPGA blogosphere: Mulligan Stu wants to know what we think, while Jeremy Fowler is supportive (or incredibly sarcastic), William K. Wolfrum is dismissive, and Ryan Ballengee is incredulous. Ballengee wins the lede of the day award: "Look, Deadspin doesn't cover much golf. So that means when I see a golf story hit Deadspin, it's either a major championship story or a golfer did something stupid. You want to guess which this is?" Another data point in the MW Effect research effort!]

[Update 3 (7/22/08, 10:25 am): Add Geoff Shackelford's exasperation with Wie's decision to the list of reactions--this time from someone who hardly ever attends to the LPGA, except to make fun of the commissioner's corporatism.]

[Update 4 (7/23/08, 3:03 am): Ryan Ballengee and Geoff Shackelford survey and comment on the Wie-actions.]

[Update 5 (3:15 am): Glad to see Bill Jempty asking the right question!]

[Update 6 (6:16 pm): Oh boy! Rex Hoggard tries to join in the mass condemnation of Wie, but really steps in it. Invite Annika Sorenstam during the week she's trying to win the Women's British Open instead of the teenager with such a fragile psyche she needs to be protected from the possibility of...missing a cut? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Michelle Wie will be playing the WBO for many years to come, but she didn't qualify for it this year. So why not play in the pressure cooker of a B-list PGA event to help prepare for the biggest tournament of her short career, the Canadian Open? If she's not going to do the sensible thing and ask for sponsors' exemptions in the 6 remaining Futures Tour events, she may as well up the ante all the way. It has a crazy logic to it you have to admire at some level: the pressure of needing at least a top 5 in the CO to have a chance of avoiding Q-School will seem like nothing after Reno-Tahoe.... Of course there's a fine line between bravery and stupidity, but if she takes lessons from the PGA that get her the results she wants on the LPGA, more power to her.]

[Update 7 (7:19 pm): Wanna know what David Leadbetter and Ted Tryba think of Wie's decision? Head to the Golf Channel.]

[Update 8 (7/24/08, 12:05 pm): Wow, somebody must have dumped a year's supply of stupid pills in the Golfweek staff water cooler this week. Beth Ann Baldry just urged Michelle Wie to focus on the LPGA--now, when she has 1 sponsors' exemption left out of the 6 the LPGA's own rules permit. Yeesh.]

[Update 9 (7/25/08, 11:25 pm): Great essay by the Future Tour's Lisa Mickey. Now, if only she had written it a week ago, when Wie could still have entered this week's event....]