Wednesday, September 30, 2009

FL Q-School Wednesday: T-Joh Leading at Halfway Point

Tiffany Joh shot a 71 on the tougher Panther Course of Plantation Golf and Country Club in the 2nd round of the Florida sectional qualifier for LPGA Q-School, which was good enough to give her a 2-shot lead at the halfway point over Gwladys Nocera, Seema Sadekar, and Tiffany Tavee. Fans of her blogging and tweeting won't surprised at T-Joh's ability to lay down the sound bites, but for those who haven't yet experienced her way with words, the following quote from ought to be enough of a taste:

"For me, it was a Denny's ham-and-cheese-scramble kind of day," said Joh, a rookie this season on the Duramed FUTURES Tour. "I was getting it up and down from everywhere, really scrambling out there. I'm not striking it super pure, but it feels good to have two solid rounds."

Here are results from other players I'm following this week with particular interest:

T10/E Briana Vega (73-71) Sofie Andersson (72-72) [both Bobcat-Panther]
T19/+1 Maria Hernandez (73-72), Marianne Skarpnord (73-72), Malinda Johnson (73-72) [all B-P], Lisa Ferrero (72-73) [P-B]
T26/+2 Caroline Larsson (71-75) [B-P]
T33/+3 Stephanie Na (71-76) [B-P]
T39/+4 Paola Moreno (75-73) [P-B]
T44/+5 Nikki Garrett (70-79) [P-B]
T64/+8 Jennie Lee (73-79) [P-B]

Missing the cut were Carmen Alonso (77-76) [P-B] and Rebecca Kim (79-77) [B-P]. Their LPGA hopes for 2010 are over. Lee and Garrett will need good weekends to put themselves into the top 30, while everyone else will just need to play solid. With only 6 strokes separating the #1 and the #32 golfer in the field right now, though, everyone in the top 30 will need to keep on keepin' on. A lot can happen in the last 36 holes, especially if they play the tougher Panther Course both days.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

FL Q-School Tuesday: Is Tiffany Joh Back?

Tiffany Joh opened with a 69 today on the Bobcat Course at Plantation Golf and Country Club to join a logjam at T2, 1 shot behind Greek-American Liebelei Lawrence in the 1st round of the Florida sectional qualifier for LPGA Q-School.

Australia's Nikki Garrett (70 on the Bobcat Course), Stephanie Na (71 on the Panther Course) and amateur Leanne Bowditch (ditto) joined Sweden's Caroline Larsson (ditto) and Canada's Seema Sadekar (70 on the Bobcat Course) in adding an international flavor to the 13 golfers who went under par today. Among the players who held it together at E or 1-over are the LET's Gwladys Nocera and Marianne Skarpnord and the Futures Tour's Maria Hernandez, Jennie Lee, Lisa Ferrero, Sofie Andersson, Briana Vega, and Malinda Johnson.

Of the players I expected to do well, only Rebecca Kim (79 on the Panther Course) and Carmen Alonso (77 on the Bobcat Course) are in serious danger of missing the cut, although Paola Moreno (75 on the Bobcat Course) can't afford another bad round.

[Update 1 (9/30/09, 12:24 pm): Sweet, they're live-scoring the 2nd round (at least posting results as cards come in, that is)!]

Navistar Classic Preview/Predictions/Pairings

The LPGA is in Prattville, AL, this week for the Navistar Classic and defending champion Lorena Ochoa returns to the site of her last win in 2008 in with some momentum. Although she hasn't put 4 good rounds together in the same week, she's shown flashes of La Reina and looks just about ready to win again. Her putting averages are approaching her career norms, her driving distance is going up, and her driving accuracy is practically the best of her LPGA career. If she can improve her iron play this week, watch out for her!

The field will be looking to make Ochoa wait for her 3rd win of 2009 until November at least. Last week's winner Sophie Gustafson has a challenge as focused as Ochoa's: if she can putt well this week, she could run away with this tournament. I'm excited about the chances of several young players who haven't yet come close this season to realizing their potential: Amy Yang, Vicky Hurst, Michelle Wie, Hee Young Park, and Shanshan Feng. Why? Looking over last year's preview, I still believe the Senator Course favors the LPGA's longer hitters, so I'm going with the bombers I think are playing best right now--or are due--for this week's PakPicker:

1. Ochoa
2. Hurst, Vicky
3. Yang Amy
4. Tseng
5. Wie
6. Gustafson
7. Hjorth
8. Kim Song-Hee
9. Kerr
10. Kim, Christina
11. Yoo
12. Choi Na Yeon

Alts: Pettersen, Pressel, Lang, Feng

I'm also struck at how the Navistar kicked off 9 events in a row last year, while it's the last of 6 in a row this one. Another reason why I'm hoping for breakthroughs from Yang, Hurst, and Wie in particular: they ought to be able to recover more quickly from the rigors of a long season than the vets and have enough experience now to get past those rookie/sophomore jitters and big numbers.

I only have time for a quick look at the pairings. Moira Dunn kicks things off #10 at 6:50 am in a twosome with Lee Ann Walker-Cooper. If they play fast, watch for a low score from Moira. Fans of the Asian-Pacific and golfers from or with ancestry from it should stay by the 10th tee for the late-morning prime-time pairings:

Start Time: 8:18 AM
Ya Ni Tseng
Christina Kim
Wendy Ward

Start Time: 8:29 AM
Michelle Wie
Candie Kung
Katherine Hull

Start Time: 8:40 AM
Haeji Kang
Na Yeon Choi
Hee Young Park

Start Time: 8:51 AM
Brittany Lang
Anna Grzebien
Louise Friberg

Start Time: 9:02 AM
M.J. Hur
Jee Young Lee
Leta Lindley

Going off opposite them on #1 in the early-afternoon prime-time pairings, by contrast, are some of the most recognizable names on tour to the casual fan:

Start Time: 11:45 AM
Suzann Pettersen
Lorena Ochoa
Sophie Gustafson

Start Time: 11:56 AM
Morgan Pressel
Stacy Lewis
Cristie Kerr

Start Time: 12:07 PM
Meg Mallon
Laura Davies
Sandra Gal

Start Time: 12:18 PM
Eunjung Yi
Natalie Gulbis
Seon Hwa Lee

Start Time: 12:29 PM
Maria Hjorth
Pat Hurst
Se Ri Pak

The only players who probably belong in these 2 quadrants who aren't are Vicky Hurst (1st tee, 8:18 am), In-Kyung Kim (1st tee, 8:29 am), Song-Hee Kim (1st tee, 9:02 am), Amy Yang (10th tee, 11:56 am), and Sun Young Yoo (10th tee, 12:07 pm). I'm curious to see how Alexis Thompson does in the group behind Moira and how Nontaya Srisawang and Pornanong Phatlum do late in the afternoon on the same side.

The pairings page lists the length of the course at over 6500 yards, almost 100 yards more than on the main page, so combined with the wet conditions down south of late, look for the precision players to struggle a bit more than on the weekend, especially if the scattered thunderstorms predicted for Friday stay away from the course.

[Update 1 (9/30/09, 5:33 pm): Appreciate the link from Golf Observer. First time in MH history....]

[Update 2 (11:13 pm): Here's Jamie's preview. Pettersen did drop out, as I expected. I edited my picks above.]

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hey, It Is Tough Out There

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Ryan (Mr. Ballengee if you're nasty!), I wanted to share something I've noticed lately about the LPGA. Consider the roles that illness, injury, and family crisis have played in the lives and the games of the top female golfers in the world. Paula Creamer started the season poised to make a run at #1, but between stomach, thumb, and back problems has done well just to stay in the top 10. Suzann Pettersen has had hip, back, and foot issues this season. Angela Stanford has not only had to deal all season with her long-standing shoulder injury, but cancer in the family, as well. Ji-Yai Shin has been sick lately and tired most of the season--and this is someone who played almost 40 events world-wide last year! On the flip side, consider how well Ai Miyazato, Michelle Wie, and Lindsey Wright have been able to play once they put their injuries--and the fallout from them--behind them. And how even a joyful transition like Lorena Ochoa's engagement can affect the world's best women golfer's approach to the game.

Even with a shortened schedule that's had plenty of breaks in it, keeping up with the rest of the LPGA's elite is no easy matter. Just look at the falloffs from Cristie Kerr, Ya Ni Tseng, and In-Kyung Kim of late. Or better yet, consider what those whose games are really suffering--from Jee Young Lee and Angela Park and Jane Park and Shiho Oyama to Mi Hyun Kim and Minea Blomqvist and Jennifer Rosales and Jeong Jang to Julieta Granada and Na On Min and Louise Friberg and Ashleigh Simon--have been going through this season.

Golfers who come here from Asia are in a position to understand the 2 key factors that make the LPGA such a grind. Just check out Momoko Ueda's blog, where she's had plenty of chances to reflect on why it's so much tougher on the LPGA than the JLPGA. Playing 72 holes most weeks is a lot more difficult than playing 54, the norm in Japanese women's golf. And the distances you travel in the States (and out of the country!) are much much greater than those come from criss-crossing Japan. When you factor in that many of the LPGA's top players are also playing 5 or more times a year on the JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET, you can see why it's so difficult to get to the top and stay on it or near it.

Sure, the rewards are huge in the greater scheme of things--even with overall prize money down significantly this year, the LPGA still has a chance to produce the most Million Dollar Club members in its history this season (although far short of the PGA's 80 and counting--the real question is whether the LPGA can have as many who break the $1M barrier this season as have broken the $3M barrier on the PGA!). And nobody's forcing the golfers to play the game. But these players are working hard for their money. After taxes and expenses, how much money are those in Moira Dunn territory (#75 on the money list at $113.8K and counting) and under really making this year? At the other end of the spectrum, Ji-Yai Shin will need strong finishes in her last 4 LPGA events of the season if she plans to win more on the course than, oh, say, Camilo Villegas. And off the course? Let's not go there.

One of the key things that makes the wide-open races for the Player of the Year, money list title, and Vare Trophy so compelling, then, is not so much what is at stake in them (Hall of Fame points, to start with) but what it costs to win them. The LPGA leaves the United States after this week and doesn't return until the Tour Championship in Houston. Here's hoping the golfy media chooses to recognize the sacrifices the tour's top players have made to get themselves into that field and give themselves a chance to win it all--or just make it back to the world's top women's tour in 2010.

[Update 1 (8:10 pm): And then the SI guys bring me back to what passes for reality in the golfy media....]

Sunday, September 27, 2009

CVS LPGA Challenge Sunday: Gustafson Faces Down the World #1

Sophie Gustafson was the only player to break 70 all 4 rounds this week in the CVS LPGA Challenge, so it's fitting that she was the player to set the 72-hole scoring record at Blackhawk Country Club and in the process enter the winner's circle for the 1st time since 2003. Her 5th career win jumped her to #16 on this season's money list and brings her to $5.24M in her career. The key for Gustafson today was a fast start: with birdies on the 1st and 3rd holes and an eagle on the par-5 5th, she leaped to -20 early and took a 3-shot lead on Lorena Ochoa. Gustafson bogeyed the 6th and 8th, but Ochoa only cut the lead to 2, as she failed to par the 8th, as well. When Ochoa, who had made 7 birdies and an eagle in 3 rounds between the 10th and 14th holes, failed to make a single birdie despite giving herself multiple chances and bogeyed the par-5 15th for good measure, Gustafson's win was pretty much assured. Still, Ochoa's runner-up finish was enough to make her the 8th million-dollar winner this season, bringing her streak to 6 seasons in a row.

Angela Stanford and Amy Yang both had chances to knock Ochoa out of the #2 spot, as they got to -15 with 6 and 8 holes to go, but both finished weakly, the former with 2 bogeys in her last 4 holes and the latter with a bogey on the par-5 15th. As it was, they were each caught, Stanford by a bogey-free 67 from Amanda Blumenherst and a 33 on the back by Maria Hjorth, while Yang was run down by a 4-birdie run over her last 8 holes by Sun Young Yoo.

The round of the day belonged to Reilley Rankin; her bogey-free 65 vaulted her into her 1st top since mid-September 2008 and moved her to #102 on the money list, with a chance next week to move into the top 100. For that reason, I rank her round ahead of Sandra Gal's; Gal shot a 29 on the back after matching Morgan Pressel's feat yesterday of ending her day with 5 birdies in a row, but actually made 9 in her last 14 for her 65. Even though Vicky Hurst made 2 eagles today, she had to settle for her 4th-best finish of the season, T13 at -10 with Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, and Anna Grzebien, when her 2nd-straight bogey on the 17th caused her 2nd-straight 70. And thanks to skip weeks by Ai Miyazato and Cristie Kerr and WDs by Ji-Yai Shin and Suzann Pettersen, defending champion In-Kyung Kim was the highest player on the money list to finish the tournament, ending with her 2nd-straight 69 to climb back to T24. Still, Stanford, Creamer, and Ochoa made up ground on her and Ya Ni Tseng, despite another weak tournament, didn't lose any ground.

As we head into the last event before the foreshortened Asian Swing--only Korea and Japan this time--Miyazato will be playing the Japan Women's Open and Shin will be resting and recovering from exhaustion and illness, so a lot will be at stake in the Navistar LPGA Classic for everyone chasing them, from Cristie Kerr and Suzann Pettersen (unless she scratches to rest her injured foot) to Angela Stanford and Paula Creamer to Lorena Ochoa and Ya Ni Tseng and Na Yeon Choi. Michelle Wie will be in the role of spoiler and Gustafson will be looking to make it 2 in a row. Meanwhile, the race for the top 80 on the money list is in full force, with Il Mi Chung looking to extend her lead of $10K or more on Allison Hanna-Williams, Louise Stahle, Allison Fouch, Taylor Leon, Rachel Hetherington, Minea Blomqvist, Beth Bader, Laura Davies, Kris Tamulis, and Jin Young Pak. And #100 Joo Mi Kim will be trying to hold off Mindy Kim, Reilley Rankin, Jin Joo Hong, and Laura Diaz, who are between $1K and $5K behind her.

[Update 1 (10:31 pm): Missed Jamie RS's final-round play-by-play--thank you, twitter.]

Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open Sunday: Arimura on Track for Win #4 in '09

Scoring conditions have continued to be challenging at the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open, but even though Chie Arimura saw a 3-shot lead on Momoko Ueda dwindle to 1 over yesterday's round's last 2 holes and to 0 on the 1st hole of today's round, she's stayed calm, played steady golf, and has opened up another 3-shot lead with 5 holes left to play. Arimura birdied the 8th hole today to return to double digits under par for the 1st time since the 17th yesterday, but by then Ueda had twice made bogeys to offset her early birdies. Even an Arimura bogey on the par-4 9th to drop her to -9 for the tournament didn't hurt her, as Ueda failed to cut into her 2-shot lead. And it was Ueda who was the 1st to blink on the back, bogeying the par-4 12th to drop to -6, just 1 shot ahead of a charging Hiromi Mogi, who birdied 3 of her 1st 5 holes on the back (but only has 3 holes left to go). Once the JLPGA lifts its online blackout--or whenever I wake up, whichever comes later--I'll be back with the final results.

[Update 1 (12:16 am): I can give you the scores of those who finished their rounds early today:

E Miki Saiki (71-75-70), Yun-Jye Wei (67-79-70)
+1 Na-Ri Lee (71-75-71)
+2 Hyun-Ju Shin (73-74-71), Mayu Hattori (71-75-72)
+4 Tamie Durdin (72-76-72), Bo-Kyung Kim (72-75-73), Shinobu Moromizato (72-74-74)
+8 Woo-Soon Ko (74-73-77), Ayako Uehara (72-75-77)
+9 Esther Lee (75-72-78)
+12 Rikako Morita (74-74-80)

Wonder if exhaustion is setting in on Moromizato. She'll need a quick turnaround from her last 2 results if she wants to keep her Grand Slam hopes alive in next week's Japan Women's Open! More later....]

[Update 2 (7:17 am): The results are in and Arimura held off mini-charges from Ueda and Sakura Yokomine. The 4-time winner on the JLPGA this season--who's now gotten her last 3 of them in her last 8 events, during which she finished out of the top 4 only once (11th)--played her last 5 holes in 1-under, while Ueda and Yokomine played them in 2-under.

1st/-10 Chie Arimura (70-65-71)
2nd/-8 Momoko Ueda (67-69-72)
3rd/-5 Sakura Yokomine (70-70-71)
T4/-2 Ji-Hee Lee (71-72-69), Hiromi Mogi (69-73-70), Yuko Mitsuka (71-70-71)
7th/-3 Yuki Ichinose (69-71-73)
8th/-2 Kaori Aoyama (71-73-70)
9th/-1 Miho Koga (72-71-72)
T10/E Miki Saiki (71-75-70), Yun-Jye Wei (67-79-70)

T12/+1 Na-Ri Lee (71-75-71), Bo-Bae Song (72-71-74)
T17/+2 Hyun-Ju Shin (73-74-71), Mayu Hattori (71-75-72)
19th/+3 Midori Yoneyama (72-73-74)
T20/+4 Tamie Durdin (72-76-72), Bo-Kyung Kim (72-75-73), Shinobu Moromizato (72-74-74)
T26/+5 Yukari Baba (74-75-72)
T28/+6 Maiko Wakabayashi (73-73-76)
T36/+8 Woo-Soon Ko (74-73-77), Ayako Uehara (72-75-77), Yuko Saitoh (72-77-75)
T44/+9 So-Hee Kim (73-76-76), Ji-Woo Lee (74-72-79), Esther Lee (75-72-78)
51st/+12 Rikako Morita (74-74-80)

With the exception of Moromizato, looks like the biggest of the JLPGA's big guns (and visitors) are peaking for the JWO!]

[Update 3 (7:33 am): I'd say there's now a Big 4 on the JLPGA (based on the money list alone):

1. Shinobu Moromizato ¥134.99M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥108.60M
3. Chie Arimura ¥102.46M
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥95.74M
5. Yuko Mitsuka ¥67.15M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ¥54.06M
7. Miho Koga ¥52.43M
8. Yukari Baba ¥43.43M
9. Yuko Saitoh ¥41.24M
10. Eun-A Lim ¥36.63M
11. Ayako Uehara ¥32.75M
12. Erina Hara ¥32.51M
13. Yuri Fudoh ¥32.38M
14. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥30.88M
15. Akiko Fukushima ¥30.10M
16. Rikako Morita ¥27.41M
17. Tamie Durdin ¥27.20M
18. Momoko Ueda ¥26.31M
19. Miki Saiki ¥26.06M
20. Rui Kitada ¥25.90M
21. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥25.81M
22. Nikki Campbell ¥25.39M
23. Midori Yoneyama ¥24.55M
24. Hiromi Mogi ¥24.49M
25. Na-Ri Lee ¥24.22M
26. Li-Ying Ye ¥23.35M
27. Ji-Woo Lee ¥23.26M
28. Saiki Fujita ¥22.34M
29. Kaori Aoyama ¥21.31M
30. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥19.67M
31. Bo-Bae Song ¥19.04M
32. So-Hee Kim ¥18.63M
33. Akane Iijima ¥15.70M
34. Mie Nakata ¥15.51M
35. Maria Iida ¥14.35M

Momoko Ueda jumped into the top 20 in her 6th JLPGA event this season. If she plays as well as she's capable next week, she could move into the top 10. That says something about the inconsistency of those from #10 to #17 on the list this season, but it also says something about how much talent Momo-chan has. Whether she can catch Koga, Lee, and Mitsuka despite their huge head starts is another story. And I doubt she can join Moromizato, Yokomine, Arimura, and (soon) Jeon in the 100 Million Yen Club. But who knows? She could run the table the rest of the season, but as Arimura's tenacity with the lead this week shows, the JLPGA's Big 4 and Top 7 don't lay down for anyone.]

[Update 4 (9:21 am): No youtube clips of Arimura's victory that I can find out there right now, but I did turn up this nice profile of her that aired on Japanese tv after her last win:

Wonder if there'll ever come a day when the LPGA's top players are as big stars in the U.S. as the JLPGA's are in Japan?]

Saturday, September 26, 2009

CVS LPGA Challenge Saturday: Bombs Away!

Sophie Gustafson has a chance for a wire-to-wire win tomorrow at the CVS LPGA Challenge, but she'll have to beat the world #1 to get her 1st LPGA victory since 2003, because Lorena Ochoa saw her 66 and raised it with a walkoff birdie for a 65, putting them both at -16, 6 shots ahead of Angela Stanford and Sun Young Yoo. So most likely it's going to be a battle of the bombers tomorrow: Gustafson is averaging 281 yards off the tee and has only missed 4 greens all week but has missed her share of putts, having taken 10 more than than Ochoa, who's averaging over 283 but conceded after her round that she's come to accept that she's going to be outdriven by her partner more often than not.

I never would have imagined Blackhawk Country Club to be a bomber's paradise, but that's what it's turning out to be this week. Sure, the longest player off the tee thus far, Suzann Pettersen (averaging over 287 yards) was -10 for the tournament with 6 holes to play today, but bogeyed 3 in a row and then added another on 18 to add insult to injury (she tweeted yesterday that she needs to get an MRI taken on her foot). So instead of having a chance to crash the party, Pettersen crashed and burned instead, falling all the way back to -6 and T17. And yes, Shanshan Feng (269 yards) was at -10 earlier on and took her last 13 holes to fall back to Pettersen's level, while Ya Ni Tseng (270 yards) bogeyed 2 of her last 4 to join them. But even the bombers who struggled are still much higher on the leaderboard than I expected them to be this week. Stanford's averaging over 267 yards off the tee, but even 3 bogeys today couldn't keep her out of a tie for 3rd. Maria Hjorth (over 282 yards) is only 1 behind Stanford, despite offsetting her 5 birdies today with an equal number of bogeys. A bogey on 17 kept Vicky Hurst from equalling Hjorth scoring-wise, although she's been equalling her in length all week. But Christina Kim (almost 275 yards) equalled Ochoa's 65 for low round of the day, despite failing to birdie 2 of the par 5s today. Hey, even Karrie Webb (almost 274 yards) got in the act on her back 9, shooting a bogey-free 33 on the front t0 get back to -4 overall (T25).

It's not like the precision players have completely fallen on their faces this week, either. Morgan Pressel matched Ochoa's closing 30 today, thanks to 5 straight bogeys to close out her round. At -9, she's tied with Hjorth, hometown favorite Paula Creamer, who shot a bogey-free 69, and Leta Lindley (averaging 234 yards off the tee!), who matched Gustafson's 66 today. But they'll need to get into the low 60s tomorrow to have a chance to catch the leaders. As will Kristy McPherson (77), Seon Hwa Lee (70), and In-Kyung Kim (69), just to salvage some pride from this week.

Speaking of pride, I expect Lorena Ochoa to be in full terminator mode tomorrow. To give Ron Sirak credit: despite his being almost completely wrong in every respect on his claim that the LPGA lacks a player with Annika Sorenstam's talent (the thing is, there are about a dozen--and they're all making it difficult for each other!) and standing (which they'll continue to lack as long as golf writers pine for the days of single-power domination and overlook the amazing competition in front of them week in and week out), maybe, just maybe, he's lit a fire under Ochoa and she's playing to prove him wrong this week. Sure, she's the soul of diplomacy in her post-round interview, but watch how she plays tomorrow. I wouldn't be surprised if she's snapped back into that 2nd-half-of-2006-through-1st-half-of-2008 mindset of playing for tournament records that will take years to surpass. Which is to say that a 63/-25 total may be in the offing from a certain world #1. You heard it here 1st!

This One's For Onechan

Must-see youtube: a 9-year-old interviewing Paula Creamer before the Samsung World Championship:

Seoul's bangkokbobby is right: "Best. Interview. Ever."

Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open Saturday: Arimura Tells Ueda, "Not So Fast!"

On a day when only 10 players got into red digits and the vast majority of the field failed even to break 75 at the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open, Chie Arimura must have been playing a different course than everyone else. She opened with a bogey-free 32 and was well on her way to matching that feat on the back 9 until she bogeyed the par-5 18th to finish with a 65 and settle for a 1-shot lead on 1st-round co-leader Momoko Ueda, whose 69 would otherwise have been the best round of the day. Sakura Yokomine's walkoff bogey dropped her back to -4 for the tournament, 5 off the pace heading into the final round. Young gun Yuki Ichinose is the only other player within shouting distance of Arimura, but she'll need to do a lot better than her 17 pars and 1 birdie today that also put her 5 back as she heads into the final round.

Here's how the top 10 and notables stand at the conclusion of round 2:

1st/-9 Chie Arimura (70-65)
2nd/-8 Momoko Ueda (67-69)
T3/-4 Sakura Yokomine (70-70), Yuki Ichinose (69-71)
5th/-3 Yuko Mitsuka (71-70)
T6/-2 Yayoi Arasaki (70-72), Mayumi Nakajima (70-72), Hiromi Mogi (69-73)
T9/-1 Maria Iida (73-70), Miho Koga (72-71), Bo-Bae Song (72-71), Eun-Hye Lee (72-71), Ji-Hee Lee (71-72)

16th/+1 Midori Yoneyama (72-73)
T17/+2 Ji-Woo Lee (74-72), Maiko Wakabayashi (73-73), Shinobu Moromizato (72-74), Miki Saiki (71-75), Na-Ri Lee (71-75), Mayu Hattoru (71-75), Yun-Jye Wei (67-79)
T26/+3 Esther Lee (75-72), Woo-Soon Ko (74-73), Hyun-Ju Shin (73-74), Ayako Uehara (72-75), Bo-Kyung Kim (72-75)
T35/+4 Rikako Morita (74-74), Tamie Durdin (72-76)
T43/+5 Yukari Baba (74-75), So-Hee Kim (73-76)

T52/+6 Sakurako Mori (76-74), Kumiko Kaneda (75-75), Da-Ye Na (75-75), Erina Hara (72-78)
T69/+8 Akane Iijima (74-78)
T93/+12 Mai Arai (78-78)
WD Rui Kitada (77-WD)

If Mitsuka or Yokomine can make a charge, we might have something other than a shootout between the 2 hottest players in the field tomorrow, but if not it'll be Arimura going for her 4th JLPGA win of the season and Ueda trying to defend her title and going for her 2nd win of '09.

Friday, September 25, 2009

CVS LPGA Challenge Friday: Hot Finishes

While Sun Young Yoo must be left pondering how low she could have gone today, lots of players in the CVS LPGA Classic must be basking in the glow of their hot finishes.

Take Maria Hjorth, who finished on the front with a birdie-birdie-par-birdie-eagle run that brought her to -6 on her day and -9 for the tournament. By contrast, Lorena Ochoa, who like Hjorth is 1 shot behind Sophie Gustafson, could "only" manage a birdie-par-birdie finish on the front. Vicky Hurst, who's bombing it off the tee (averaging in the low 280s this week, a few yards past Hjorth and several yards behind Ochoa), also took advantage of the closing holes on the front, going birdie-birdie-par-birdie to secure her 67 and bring her to -6 through 36. Shanshan Feng, though, was -6 over her last 13 holes today, bringing her to -9 overall. Although she's been driving it plenty long this week (over 265 yards so far), it's been her putter that's been carrying her: she has 49 putts over 36 holes--14 fewer than Gustafson. Joo Mi Kim matched Feng's feats today--49 putts overall, -6 over her last 13 holes--although she did it by finishing on the back and joins Yoo 2 shots further behind Gustafson. Also 3 off the lead is Suzann Pettersen, who made like Yoo with a 31 on the back and is driving it almost as far off the tee as Ochoa (near 290). And Angela Stanford was -4 over her last 10 holes to join the big group at -7 overall.

But those weren't the only strong finishes today at Blackhawk Country Club. Paula Creamer was stuck at E overall through her 1st 22 holes, but went -6 over her last 14 to get back in the hunt--and surprisingly, to become the only precision player in the top 10. After an even-par 37 on the front, Amy Yang pulled within 1 of Creamer with a sizzling 30 on the back. Natalie Gulbis would be doing 1 shot better than Creamer if she hadn't bogeyed her 1st and last holes (the 10th and the 9th, respectively)--she scattered 8 birdies among her other 16 holes today. Were it not for a late double on the front, Eunjung Yi's 30 on the back would have brought her into a tie with Yang and Gulbis at -5; as it is, she's tied with Minea Blomqvist, who went -4 over her last 11 holes.

Others did well just to make the cut. Take Seon Hwa Lee, who was +4 over her 1st 19 holes but -3 over her next 17, or In-Kyung Kim, who birdied 2 of her last 4 holes--on the front, of course--to move from the wrong side of the cut line to a tie for 60th with Lee. Unfortunately, neither Ji-Yai Shin nor Jane Park had a chance for a strong finish; both withdrew, the former due no doubt to illness and the latter most likely to injury (I hope it's not a flare-up of her recurring back problems this season).

So it's looking like those who want to make a big move on moving day must take advantage of the stretch from 5 to 9 and then go for broke on the back. It'll be interesting to see if the bombers can continue to take advantage of Blackhawk Country Club, or if the precision players I picked will chase them down. I would have been better off in the PakPicker at Seoul if Shin had decided not to start this event--my first alternate was Gustafson, but I can't bring her off the bench from a WD. So I'm depending on the Stone Buddha and Inky to really get it going on the weekend, Creamer, Pressel, Lang, and Tseng to keep climbing the leaderboard, Ochoa, Pettersen, and Stanford to keep it going, and Webb to play more like she did on Thursday than most of the day today. I need a strong finish in the PakPicker, myself!

[Update 1 (1:40 am): Here's Jamie RS with some good details on Shin's WD and much much more.]

[Update 2 (1:54 am): People who rely only on Golf Central for their LPGA updates will never know about Sun Young Yoo's 64. Sad.]

[Update 3 (2:44 am): By contrast,'s notes and interviews are the first place to go for a quick recap, now that Hound Dog's hung up his spurs for the time being at least.]

[Update 4 (2:51 am): Jamie follows up with a good critique of the GC coverage.]

[Update 5 (3:09 am): Seoul's Say_You_Se_Ri follows Pak and rips Blackhawk.]

CVS LPGA Challenge Friday: Sun Young Yoo Shoots 29 on Back

Sun Young Yoo birdied 4 of her 1st 6 holes today on the back 9 at Blackhawk Country Club, then birdied her last 2 holes on the side to post a 29. Now with 2 holes left to play in the 2nd round of the CVS LPGA Challenge, she's -8 on the day and -7 for the tournament. If it weren't for her bogey on the par-3 4th, she'd be on track for a low-60s round. As it is, let's not forget that #9 is an eagleable par-5. Right now she's 2 off the lead. Let's see how close she can get.

[Update 1 (10:18 pm): Man, Yoo birdied 8 but bogeyed 9, settling for a 64 in the process and ending up 3 shots behind Sophie Gustafson, who was -10 over her 1st 27 holes, but needed a late birdie to get back there. Looks like Gustafson could have gone much lower--she's only missed 3 greens in all, but has 63 putts.]

Nice Start, Momo-chan!

Head on over to Asian Golf Daily for a quick recap of the first round of the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open. Just wanted to note that Momoko Ueda's strategy of heading back to Japan early and playing a tune-up event this week on the eve of the Japan Women's Open seems to be paying some early dividends, as she's tied for the lead at the end of the 1st round with Yun-Jye Wei, 3-up on Sakura Yokomine and Chie Arimura, 4-up on Ji-Hee Lee and Yuko Mitsuka, and 5-up on Shinobu Moromizato and Miho Koga. I'll pick things up with the 2nd-round results tomorrow! Gambare, Momo-chan!

CVS LPGA Challenge Thursday: Gustafson Goes Low

After an 8-birdie 65, Sophie Gustafson leads the CVS LPGA Challenge by 2 shots over Angela Stanford and 2 players fighting for their 2010 cards, Sophia Sheridan and Na Ri Kim. Only 3 shots off the pace are Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb, while Suzann Pettersen and Ya Ni Tseng are 4 back.

I'm not too happy with the starts my favorite players in the field got off to: Seon Hwa Lee, Mika Miyazato, and Jane Park ballooned to 75s, In-Kyung Kim and Jee Young Lee stumbled to 73s, Moira Dunn and Ji-Yai Shin at least came back for 72s, and Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer could only manage 71s. Still, Gustafson's a very inconsistent golfer who's lost in recent years to 2 of my favorite players (Lee and of course Ai Miyazato), so I'm holding out hope she can be caught by someone I'm rooting for this week.

Work is particularly intense this week, and I'm down about Hound Dog stepping away from blogoramaville, so I'll leave you for today with's notes and interviews, Catherine Forsythe's quick hits, and Jamie RS's notes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Say It Ain't So, Hound Dog!

One of the founding fathers of the LPGA blogosphere is stepping away from golf blogging. Head on over to Hound Dog LPGA and thank Ken for his great efforts and accomplishments over the years. And see what you think of my proposal in comments to keep HDLPGA going until the time when Ken, perhaps like Annika Sorenstam, some day decides to step back into the arena!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CVS LPGA Challenge Preview/Predictions/Pairings

The CVS LPGA Challenge may have a new name and a reduced purse, but it returns to Blackhawk Country Club for the 4th straight year. Despite the absence of Ai Miyazato (at home prepping for the Japan Women's Open next week), Cristie Kerr (on a vision quest to find the game that's abandoned her since she reached the peak of the money list a few weeks ago), and Na Yeon Choi (recovering from last week's stomach-churning win), the field is still quite strong. Ji-Yai Shin has a chance to extend her lead on her top Player of the Year and money title competitors, while Suzann Pettersen, who won here in a 2007 playoff against Lorena Ochoa, and In-Kyung Kim, the defending champion, will be looking to gain ground on her. So who will play the short, hilly course well? Here are my guesses for this week's PakPicker:

1. Shin Ji-Yai
2. Creamer
3. Pressel
4. Kim In-Kyung
5. Lee Seon Hwa
6. Ochoa
7. Pettersen
8. Webb
9. McPherson
10. Tseng Ya Ni
11. Lang
12. Stanford

Alts: Gustafson, Pak Se Ri, Blumenherst

I've dropped down to 6th on the season, so time for a late rally!

Here are my favorite pairings:

1st tee, 12:13 PM
Juli Inkster
Seon Hwa Lee
Vicky Hurst

1st tee, 8:39 AM
Teresa Lu
Kyeong Bae
Hee Young Park

10th tee, 8:28 AM
Karrie Webb
Paula Creamer
Sophie Gustafson

10th tee, 8:06 AM
Ya Ni Tseng
Karine Icher
Inbee Park

[Update 1 (3:42 am): Jamie RS also picks Shin for the win. I'm curious to see how many greens she hits on Blackhawk CC after missing way more than usual at Torrey.]

[Update 2 (3:55 am): The AP catches non-fans up on Lorena Ochoa's quest to stay #1, while Stina Sternberg wonders if Donna Orender will be the LPGA's next Commissioner/miracle worker.]

[Update 3 (3:58 am): Randall Mell ponders the home field disadvantage in golf via a look at Paula Creamer's performance in her own backyard the last few seasons.]

[Update 4 (4:00 am): Golf Channel has its eye on the ball this week, focusing on the players trying to unseat Ochoa for #1.]

[Update 5 (4:12 am): Why does the LPGA need a dominant player? Ron Sirak gives exactly the wrong answer. Right answer: wrong question--they don't need one.]

[Update 6 (4:24 am): Maybe Sirak should stick to business reporting. I don't see him bemoaning the fact that the commissioner search has been narrowed down to a short list but that there's no clear front-runner, do you? Why can't he take the same approach to the short list of golfers in the running to replace Lorena Ochoa as the world #1?]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Paging Steve Elling...Yet Again

My old buddy Steve Elling is at it again in his Up & Down column this week. Sure, he makes some good points about Carolyn Bivens's good points and accurately identifies Ji-Yai Shin as the front-runner for both Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year, but then he takes a swipe at both Ai Miyazato and Na Yeon Choi:

Aye, aye, Ai
Just when it appeared that Ai Miyazato was poised for the breakout season that everybody was expecting, oh, about four seasons ago, she went for a swim along the Pacific Coast. Miyazato, a mega-hyped Japanese star who finally won her first LPGA title earlier this year in France, had a one-shot lead at Torrey Pines on Sunday when she dunked her approach shot from 200 yards into the greenside pond, handing the victory to unheralded Na Yeon Choi, who had spit up a seven-shot lead. By the way, an American player hasn't won in the past 13 LPGA starts dating to May 10, extending the tour record for foreign dominance. And yes, I am counting.

Look, Choi is "unheralded" only to lazy American golf writers. She was a star in Korea before this win, came in 2nd to Ya Ni Tseng in the Rookie of the Year race last year (making over $1M in the process), has never missed a cut in her LPGA career (48 events and counting), and was at the head of the prestigious Mostly Harmless best w/o a win list. Let's get our Koreans straight, Steve: Eunjung Yi was a real long-shot, M.J. Hur was a surprise because of her trouble closing the deal the year before on the Futures Tour, but Na Yeon Choi is a bona fide world-class player. She was #17 on the Rolex Rankings last week and is #12 now.

As for Ai-sama, I'm sick of the insinuations that she's all hype. She's been one of the best players on tour since the middle of last season, when she finally put the previous season's mid-summer injury and subsequent swing meltdown behind her. Here's a secret: it's hard to win on the LPGA. Just ask Lorena Ochoa. Or Michelle Wie. Ai-sama's had half a dozen good chances to close the deal this season and has only done it once. And even though she may only be playing 3 more LPGA events this season, she could still steal the POY from Shin.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why Is Mina Harigae Not in the CVS Field?

I'm not sure what the Futures Tour battlefield exemption actually means any more. Mina Harigae earned it with her 3rd FT win earlier this season and at the time she expressed interest in playing in the CVS LPGA Challenge (formerly the Longs Drugs) this week. Now I see from the field list that Amanda Blumenherst and Kim Welch have been named sponsor exemptions and that Harigae's name doesn't even appear on the list of alternates (Michelle Ellis is at the head of that list). I assume the tournament organizers and the LPGA are making her Monday qualify. But why? Maybe my reading of the priority status system is completely wrong, but shouldn't Harigae have been put in Category 13 and therefore been moved to the head of the reordered status list--right ahead of Haeji Kang at #152 and well ahead of Ellis (who's in the high 160s)? Is anyone at the LPGA office paying attention to their own membership and entry rules?

[Update 1 (9/22/09, 10:22 am): Apparently I need to be asking Harigae herself that question; a source from the Futures Tour tells me that Mina didn't commit to playing this week, for unknown reasons.]

On the Set-Up for the Samsung: Length Isn't Everything

Are my eyes deceiving me? Are the SI guys really leading with the LPGA this week? Must be a bye week for a PGA playoff system nobody is really enthusiastic about, eh? Seriously, they had some interesting things to say about the set-up at the Samsung. I enjoyed watching Torrey Pines play to a normal length and was very happy to see the leaders go even lower than Juli Inkster predicted before the start of the Samsung. I thought making the 18th short enough for everyone in the field to think seriously about going for the green in 2, despite the water hazard short left of the green, was a great set-up decision. It meant that if you could get your drive out there 250 yards or more with the tournament at stake--as it was for both Ai Miyazato and Na Yeon Choi--you faced a very high-stakes tactical decision.

Personally, no matter how well I had been hitting my 5-wood or 3-hybrid that week, I would have laid up with a 1-shot lead, figuring that there was a small backstop behind the cup that I could use to take the water out of play, eliminate the possibility of a bogey, and maximize my birdie chances--particularly if I knew that my typical miss with that club was a draw. Then I would have given myself the best odds to have at least a 1-shot lead and at best a 2-shot lead on Choi, putting even more pressure on her than she actually turned out having. But, hey, that's probably why I'm reduced to golf blogging and am no longer playing much of any golf, much less competitive golf. These days on the LPGA, it seems, you have to have your pedal to the metal on almost every hole, because there are 50 or more players not all that far behind the game's elite. And especially on a longer track like Torrey, the key was to do what it took to take advantage of each and every birdie opportunity on the long course by LPGA standards.

So I think in terms of Sunday drama and Saturday moving day possibilities, I would move the tees up on 18 on the weekend for sure. But I would have made it a 3-shot hole on Thursday and Friday for the shorter hitters, figuring that the reduced risk from the pond for them would offset the added reward for hitting the green in 2 for the longer hitters. Mixing things up from round to round and presenting the players with multiple strategic choices over the course of 72 holes is a set-up philosophy that's getting increasingly popular, thanks to Mike Davis's set-ups for U.S. men's and women's opens. I love this trend myself, as it brings strategy, shot-making, and the mental side of the game back to the forefront from the perspective of the players and maximizes the odds of a great competition for the fans. For that reason, I'd love to see the LPGA keep going with its push to bring its biggest events to name courses with great histories, particularly those that the men's game has outgrown.

So I'm less concerned with the debate over Miyazato's decision and more interested in the implications of the set-up on Sunday at Torrey Pines for future LPGA events. How about you?

[Update 1 (1:08 pm): Ron Sirak reports on twitter that the LPGA just lost one of its best events, the Michelob Ultra.]

[Update 2 (1:52 pm): Michael Arkush puts Ai-sama's strategic error in a PGA perspective and Jay Busbee agrees it was a strategic error. I tend to agree with them, too, but would rather emphasize that forcing players to make their choices, stick with them, and live with the consequences makes for better golf and better tournaments than making 18 unreachable to everyone on the LPGA but the bombers. If the tees had been back, we wouldn't have had the chance to be having this discussion.]

[Update 3 (1:55 pm): Tod Leonard gives me hope my discussion isn't just academic. Up to Samsung now to re-up the return to Torrey!]

[Update 4 (3:08 pm): Stephanie Wei puts the bad Michelob Ultra news in perspective.]

[Update 5 (9/22/09, 10:36 am): Brent Kelley digs up a couple more key details on the death of the Michelob Ultra.]

[Update 6 (2:40 pm): Beth Ann Baldry gets more from Zayra Calderon, who's sounding optimistic about the 2010 schedule. Good thing, b/c she's the LPGA's chief negotiator with sponsors and tournament organizers!]

Sunday, September 20, 2009

CA Q-School Sunday: Blumenherst Medals, Beating Munoz by 6

Amanda Blumenherst continued to impress today in the final round of the California sectional qualifier for LPGA Q-School. She shot a solid 70--not the lowest score of the day, which belonged to Lehua Wise, Ashley Knoll, and Emma Cabrera-Bello, who all shot sizzling 67s--but good enough for a 6-shot win over Azahara Munoz. Here's how all my picks ended up:

1. Yuko Mitsuka DPDD: 69-68-76-69 -6 (T6)
2. Azahara Munoz PDDD: 70-66-71-71 -10 (2nd)
3. Amanda Blumenherst DPDD: 70-67-65-70 -16 (1st)
4. Maria Jo Uribe PDDD: 74-69-71-71 -3 (T11)
5. Paola Moreno DPDD: 76-71-75-74 +8 (T50)
6. Maria Hernandez PDDD: 72-74-72-74 +4 (T32)
7. Beatriz Recari DPDD: 74-72-71-72 +1 (T23)
8. Hannah Jun PDDD: 71-70-71-71 -5 (9th)
9. Jennie Lee PDDD: 72-73-76-78 +11 (T61)
10. Tamie Durdin PDDD: 66-74-73-71 -4 (10th)
11. Jane Chin PDDD: 68-70-71-76 -3 (T11)
12. Emma Cabrera-Bello PDDD: 72-73-68-67 -8 (4th)

Alt 1 Kristie Smith PDDD: 74-68-78-75 +7 (T46)
Alt 2 Sofie Andersson PDDD: 74-71-74-73 +4 (T32)
Alt 3 Cindy LaCrosse PDDD: 68-72-77-72 +1 (T23)

A 74 dropped Esther Choe back to -6 overall and T6, but she ended up being the only player in my next 15 to make the top 12. Libby Smith, Ayaka Kaneko, and Iben Tinning didn't play great, but they did well enough to stay in the top 30, which is more than can be said for Marianne Skarpnord, Briana Vega, Rebecca Kim, and Lisa Ferrero. I was rooting for them all to make it, so that the field for the Florida sectional qualifier at the end of the month would be even weaker. But it looks like Tiffany Joh will have some competition there, after all! Oh well, it'll just make her medalist finish all the sweeter. You heard it here 1st!

[Update 1 (2:40 am): Beth Ann Baldry has a nice look at the contrasting fortunes of Amanda Blumenherst and Azahara Munoz, on the one hand, and Tiffany Joh and Maria Hernandez, on the other. The college kids will be all right, but it won't always be easy.]

Samsung World Championship Sunday: Na Yeon Choi Loses 7-Shot Lead, Beats Ai Miyazato with Walkoff Birdie

The final round of the Samsung World Championship turned into a duel between 2 players: Na Yeon Choi and Ai Miyazato. But it sure didn't look that way for the 1st hour or so of play today. Choi picked up where she left off yesterday, making birdies on the 2nd and 4th and eagle on the par-5 6th to get to -19 overall. Meanwhile, Miyazato parred her 1st 6 holes and Ji-Yai Shin started par-bogey-birdie-bogey to join Miyazato at -12. But almost immediately, Miyazato started chipping away at Choi's lead. Birdies at 7 and 8 brought her to -14, while Choi bogeyed 9, 10, and 11 (narrowly avoiding a double) to fall to -16. 5 holes, 5 shots.

I was watching the NBC coverage with the same friends who saw M.J. Hur beat Suzann Pettersen and Michele Redman in a playoff a few weeks ago, and both husband and wife had almost the same reaction when they 1st saw Choi's face, about half an hour apart: "How old is she--17?" "She looks like she's 15!" And, yeah, Choi did look pretty young while her game was deserting her, but she held on and fought back with 3 straight pars, forcing Miyazato to come and get her. Miyazato responded with clutch approach shot after clutch approach shot. She birdied 12 with a fairway wood in her hands and 16 (for the 3rd day in a row) with a 3-hybrid that she stuck to 4 feet. When Choi missed a knee-knocker on 15 a hole behind her, all of a sudden it was Miyazato at -16 and the former leader at -15. When Miyazato's drive on 17 hit a ridge and bounded forward an extra 20 yards and she stuck yet another approach shot, it looked like the tournament was hers for the taking. But she couldn't handle the curving 10-footer, missing on the low side. And then she had to watch Lorena Ochoa butcher the final hole ahead of her, just as Choi had to watch her playing partner Shin butchering the 17th. Choi managed to make par, but by then Miyazato had decided to go for the par-5 green in 2, despite having made bogey on Friday, when she dumped it in the greenside pond. And she did it again on Sunday.

It's easy to 2nd-guess her decision in retrospect, but look at it this way: she was playing awesome golf; she trusted her fairway woods, having hit 57 of 71 greens in regulation for the tournament and 14 of 17 that day, many with the exact club in her hands; she was looking to force Choi to make an eagle to tie her (thereby increasing the pressure on her 2nd shot into the green); plus, with her wedge game and putting so strong, odds were she could save par even if disaster did strike. Well, Miyazato certainly gave herself a chance to do just that, putting her recovery shot about 12 feet above the hole. But she completely babied the putt and could only wait to see if Choi would win with a birdie, lose with a bogey, or head back to the 18th tee for a playoff with a par.

And Choi certainly made it interesting. A perfect drive gave her a great angle to the green, but after she hit her approach shot, she hung her head as if it was the worst shot of her life. Turns out she was either relieved or couldn't bear to watch the ball in the air (she later said it was because she knew she hadn't hit it solidly), but either way, it stayed dry, ending up just short of the green in a narrow neck of fairway. Choi elected to putt from a couple of yards off the fringe, and like so many putts on the back, she left this one short, in knee-knocker range. But this time the 4-footer was dead center and Na Yeon Choi had followed Ai Miyazato as the 2nd player to get off my list of the best players on the LPGA without a win.

Of course I was down for Ai-sama and couldn't stop going over her decision on the 18th fairway with my friend as our kids played in the playground afterwards. Taking the water out of play would still have given her a good birdie chance--as playing partner Paula Creamer could attest--while taking bogey out of the equation. But hindsight is 20-20 and I certainly was happy for the visibly nervous Choi, whom I had followed for several holes at the Wegmans. And hey, if the Bills could come back so strong from last week's baka baka baka baka baka baka loss to the Patriots (sorry, a little Ponyo reference there) like they did this week, I expect Ai-sama to come back even stronger from this loss. She's now 2nd on the money list behind Ji-Yai Shin, tied with Shin for 2nd in scoring average (only .13 behind Kerr), 2nd to Shin in rounds in the 60s (by 1), 2nd behind Angela Stanford in rounds under par percentage, tied with Shin for 4th in birdie rate (3.97 per round), 1st in top 10 rate (.632), tied for 1st in putts per green in regulation (although Shin and Song-Hee Kim are actually a few thousands below her 1.752 average), and 3rd in the Player of the Year race. And you know what? I still don't believe she's truly put it all together in a single round in any of her last 7 top 10 or better finishes.

I leave you with the Golf Channel highlights, just in case you were watching football instead!

[Update 1 (10:48 pm): Catherine Forsythe focuses on Paula Creamer's latest injury (her back) and Choi's comeback win, while Stephanie Wei wonders how people will react to more Asian dominance on the LPGA.]

[Update 2 (11:30 pm): Ryan Ballengee does the quick take on Choi's win.]

[Update 3 (11:40 pm): Just thought I'd check the field list for this coming week's CVS event to make sure Ai-sama's name was still on it--and guess what? It's not. She's headed to Japan a week early to get ready for the Japan Women's Open. Shinobu, Sakura, Momoko and the gang had better watch out for her! The field list for this coming week's JLPGA event is incomplete, so there's still a chance she'll decide to tune up at the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open, where Momo-chan is the defending champion, but my guess is she'll take the week off to celebrate, rest, and prep for the JWO.]

[Update 4 (9/21/09, 9:50 am): Jamie RS is really finding his voice, don't you agree?]

[Update 5 (2:05 pm): Great game story by Marc Figueroa--he clarifies Miyazato's intent nicely on her 2nd shot on 18 and moves between description and quotation and context adroitly.]

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Sunday: Yokomine Holds Off Fudoh and Wakabayashi for JLPGA Win #4

Leading billion-yen woman Yuri Fudoh by a single shot heading into the final round of the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic, Sakura Yokomine rose to the challenge early in the final round, with 5 birdies in her 1st 11 holes. At -18 for the tournament at that point, she held a 3-stroke lead on Maiko Wakabayashi, who had fired a 33 on the front, and Fudoh, who had settled for a 34. But Yokomine wouldn't make a birdie the rest of the way and after her top competitors both birdied the par-5 12th and Yokomine bogeyed the par-5 15th, her lead was down to 1 on Wakabayashi and 2 on Fudoh. A Fudoh birdie on the short par-4 17th meant that Yokomine was only 1-up with 1 to play on both rivals. But she and Fudoh traded pars on the 367-yard par-4 18th, while Wakabayashi doubled it. Kyodo news won't allow access to the full story and the Full Metal Archivist is still asleep, so I don't have the play-by-play for you. But here are the final results for the top 10 and notables:

1st/-17 Sakura Yokomine (66-65-68)
2nd/-16 Yuri Fudoh (63-69-68)
3rd/-14 Maiko Wakabayashi (65-67-70)
T4/-13 Kaori Aoyama (71-65-67), Chie Arimura (67-67-69)
6th/-11 Yukari Baba (65-70-70)
T7/-9 Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-69-68), Ji-Hee Lee (67-71-69), Erina Hara (65-71-71)
T10/-8 Miho Koga (70-71-67), Hyun-Ju Shin (69-70-69)

T12/-7 Ah-Reum Hwang (70-70-69), Akiko Fukushima (69-69-71)
T15/-6 Ayako Uehara (73-68-69), So-Hee Kim (68-71-71)
T18/-5 Hiromi Mogi (71-69-71), Yuki Ichinose (69-71-71), Li-Ying Ye (72-67-72), Nikki Campbell (69-69-73)
T25/-4 Yun-Jye Wei (71-72-69)
T28/-3 Na-Ri Lee (70-71-72), Ji-Woo Lee (69-72-72)
T33/-2 Kumiko Kaneda (71-68-75)
T35/-1 Mayu Hattori (72-72-71), Mie Nakata (71-72-72), Shinobu Moromizato (73-68-74), Miki Saiki (70-70-75)
T40/E Rikako Morita (71-69-76)
T42/+1 Sakurako Mori (69-71-77)
45th/+2 Saiki Fujita (72-72-74)
T46/+3 Rui Kitada (68-73-78)

Yokomine is now only 1 win and 30 million yen behind Shinobu Moromizato this season. Here's how the JLPGA money list now looks:

1. Shinobu Moromizato ¥134.42M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥104.40M
3. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥95.74M
4. Chie Arimura ¥91.66M
5. Yuko Mitsuka ¥64.15M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ¥51.06M
7. Miho Koga ¥50.93M
8. Yukari Baba ¥42.92M
9. Yuko Saitoh ¥40.88M
10. Eun-A Lim ¥36.63M
11. Erina Hara ¥32.51M
12. Ayako Uehara ¥32.39M
13. Yuri Fudoh ¥32.38M
14. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥30.88M
15. Akiko Fukushima ¥30.10M
16. Rikako Morita ¥27.18M
17. Tamie Durdin ¥26.64M
18. Rui Kitada ¥25.90M
19. Nikki Campbell ¥25.39M
20. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥25.33M
21. Miki Saiki ¥24.89M
22. Midori Yoneyama ¥23.90M
23. Li-Ying Ye ¥23.35M
24. Na-Ri Lee ¥23.27M
25. Ji-Woo Lee ¥22.98M
26. Saiki Fujita ¥22.34M
27. Hiromi Mogi ¥21.49M
28. Momoko Ueda ¥21.03M
29. Kaori Aoyama ¥19.51M
30. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥18.93M
31. So-Hee Kim ¥18.35M
32. Bo-Bae Song ¥18.08M
33. Akane Iijima ¥15.70M
34. Mie Nakata ¥15.51M
35. Julie Lu ¥14.21M

I'll be back if or youtube come through with more details on Yokomine's huge win.

CA Q-School Saturday: Blumenherst Charges!

On a day when many struggled, Amanda Blumenherst went low on the Dinah Shore course at Mission Hills in the California sectional qualifier for LPGA Q-School. She now holds a 5-shot lead on Azahara Munoz and Mallory Blackwelder. Here's how my picks are doing heading into the final round today.

1. Yuko Mitsuka DPD: 69-68-76 -3 (T10)
2. Azahara Munoz PDD: 70-66-71 -9 (T2)
3. Amanda Blumenherst DPD: 70-67-65 -14 (1st)
4. Maria Jo Uribe PDD: 74-69-71 -2 (T15)
5. Paola Moreno DPD: 76-71-75 +6 (T54)
6. Maria Hernandez PDD: 72-74-72 +2 (T30)
7. Beatriz Recari DPD: 74-72-71 +1 (T24)
8. Hannah Jun PDD: 71-70-71 -4 (T8)
9. Jennie Lee PDD: 72-73-76 +5 (T47)
10. Tamie Durdin PDD: 66-74-73 -3 (T10)
11. Jane Chin PDD: 68-70-71 -7 (5th)
12. Emma Cabrera-Bello PDD: 72-73-68 -3 (T10)

Alt 1 Kristie Smith PDD: 74-68-78 +4 (T40)
Alt 2 Sofie Andersson PDD: 74-71-74 +3 (T35)
Alt 3 Cindy LaCrosse PDD: 68-72-77 +1 (T24)

As you can see from my picks, I thought this would be Hispanic Golfer Week, but the Asian charge of the last decade shows no signs of abating. Comeback kid Esther Choe (DPD: 69-70-69, -8, 4th) and Hawaii's Ayaka Kaneko (PDD: 70-73-68, -5, T8) are exceeding my expectations by a lot, while Chiba's own Kazu Yazaki is completely off the charts (she's still T6 despite shooting a 74 yesterday). Things are also looking good for the Europeans and Americans I picked: in addition to Blackwelder (PDD: 72-68-67, -9, T2), Libby Smith (DPD: 74-68-71, -3, T10) is flying the stars and stripes, while Iben Tinning (PDD: 74-68-73, -1, T18) and Marianne Skarpnord (PDD: 71-70-78, +3, T35) still have a chance to uphold the EU and LET's honor. Only Briana Vega, Rebecca Kim, and Lisa Ferrero join Jennie Lee and Paola Moreno in needing a charge today. My guess is that the cut line will fall somewhere near +3 and that a round in the high 60s will do it for anyone outside the top 30 right now. Let's see how the "name" players in the field handle Sunday pressure.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Samsung World Championship Saturday: Choi's 63 Gives Her a Great Chance for LPGA Win #1

With the likes of Ji-Yai Shin, Lorena Ochoa, and Ai Miyazato near double digits under par at the halfway point of the Samsung World Championship, somebody was going to have to go low to catch them on moving day. That someone today was Na Yeon Choi, who made 10 birdies on Torrey Pines's South Course on her way to a 63 that brought her to -15 for the tournament. The best player on tour without a win, Choi has played 48 LPGA events without missing a cut, but her M.O. recently has been to flirt with the cut line before coming on strong. But this week she started solidly and has improved by 4 shots each round. (By contrast, Song-Hee Kim started hot but has done 6 shots worse each round. If they keep this up, Choi will break 60 and Kim won't break 80 tomorrow!)

Unfortunately for Choi, the 2 hottest players on the LPGA are hot on her trail. But Ji-Yai Shin is doing it with smoke and mirrors this week. Somehow she shot a 68 averaging about 240 yards off the tee and hitting a grand total of 7 greens on the day. Still, unlike Lorena Ochoa, who's also been having trouble hitting Torrey's greens and blew up with a 39 on the back to fall back to -8 overall, Shin held it together with birdies on 15 and 16 to offset bogeys on the 11th and 12th and get back to -13. By contrast, Ai Miyazato's ballstriking has been as solid as ever and her scoring has reflected that. Each day, she's shot a 68 with 5 birdies and 1 bogey. With 43 greens in regulation thus far, she's averaging just over 14 GIR per round, so she's really giving herself a lot of birdie chances and making key putts. But she's still taken 7 more putts than Choi and a whopping 15 more than Shin!

In a word, the last 3 Sunday pairings are awesome:

Start Time: 10:30 AM
Lorena Ochoa
Ya Ni Tseng

Start Time: 10:40 AM
Ai Miyazato
Paula Creamer

Start Time: 10:50 AM
Na Yeon Choi
Ji-Yai Shin

70s by Tseng and Creamer today got them into pairings with players with very similar games to theirs. First off are the freewheeling big hitters who can make birdies in bunches but who haven't been playing up to their potential lately. Then 2 pairs of precision players, with 1 partner in each pair averaging over 250 off the tee (Miyazato and Choi) and the other averaging over 240 (Creamer and Shin). While I go to Seoul to see how many times Shin and Choi played together in the final round on the KLPGA, you can check out's notes and interviews page for more on NYC's fantastic round and a taste of what trash talk from the Final Round Queen sounds like.

[Update 1 (7:33 pm): Speaking of the KLPGA, Hee Kyung Seo went 66-67-67 in their 2nd major of the season but lost by 2 strokes to Jung Eun Lee, ending her Grand Slam hopes this season. I've posted my question on the Samsung discussion thread.]

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Saturday: Sakura's Back!

Yesterday, Yuri Fudoh threw down the gauntlet in the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic with an opening 63. Today, Sakura Yokomine picked it up and accepted the challenge, taking a 1-shot lead on the JLPGA's billion-yen woman on the strength of a bogey-free 65. Fudoh and Maiko Wakabayashi each made a bogey late on the back to fall back to -12. 4 other players, including Chie Arimura and Erina Hara, are within 5 shots of the lead heading into the final round. Tomorrow should be amazing.

Here are the top 10 and notables:

1st/-13 Sakura Yokomine (66-65)
T2/-12 Maiko Wakabayashi (65-67), Yuri Fudoh (63-69)
4th/-10 Chie Arimura (67-67)
5th/-9 Yukari Baba (65-70)
T6/-8 Kaori Aoyama (71-65), Erina Hara (65-71)
T8/-6 Saori Ikushima (71-67), Akiko Fukushima (69-69), Nikki Campbell (69-69), Ji-Hee Lee (67-71)

T12/-5 Li-Ying Ye (72-67), Kumiko Kaneda (71-68), Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-69), Hyun-Ju Shin (69-70), So-Hee Kim (68-71)
T19/-4 Rikako Morita (71-69), Hiromi Mogi (71-69), Ah-Reum Hwang (70-70), Miki Saiki (70-70), Yuki Ichinose (69-71), Sakurako Mori (69-71)
T26/-3 Shinobu Moromizato (73-68), Ayako Uehara (73-68), Miho Koga (70-71), Na-Ri Lee (70-71), Ji-Woo Lee (69-72), Rui Kitada (68-73)
T39/-1 Mie Nakata (71-72), Yun-Jye Wei (71-72)
T44/E Saiki Fujita (72-72), Mayu Hattori (72-72)

T51/+1 Eun-A Lim (73-72), Midori Yoneyama (71-74)
T70/+3 Akane Iijima (70-75)
T79/+4 Esther Lee (74-74)
T89/+7 Woo-Soon Ko (76-75)
T92/+8 Da-Ye Na (76-76), Mai Arai (75-77)

Will it be Fudoh or Yokomine to get back in the winner's circle? Or will Wakabayashi, Arimura, Baba, or Hara come from behind to deny them?

Samsung World Championship Friday: Miyazato, Ochoa Chase Shin; Kerr, Choi, and Tseng Back in Hunt

The lowest scores of the day at the Samsung World Championship belonged to Cristie Kerr and Ya Ni Tseng, but Ji-Yai Shin lead for the 2nd round in a row at the end of the day yesterday. Kerr's putter heated up as she birdied 4 in a row on the front and her last 2 on the back on her way to a 66 that brought her to -6 for the tournament, T5 with Na Yeon Choi (67) and Paula Creamer (69). After shooting a 39 on the front at Torrey Pines on Thursday, Kerr made 8 birdies in her next 13 holes, so you know she has the firepower to win this thing. Speaking of firepower, Tseng made 6 birdies in a 7-hole stretch as she made the turn and entered the back 9 yesterday, but she'll need all of that and more on moving day as she still trails Shin--who made 6 birdies in her 1st 13 holes but also 3 bogeys between the 4th and 14th--by 6 shots. Much closer to the leader are Lorena Ochoa (69 thanks mostly to a walkoff eagle) and Ai Miyazato (who bookended her 2nd-straight 68 with a walkoff bogey, her only mistake since her bogey to begin the tournament)--both are only 1 back at the halfway point.

There are 2 ways of looking at the fact that Shin leads while only hitting 22 of 36 greens in regulation. On the one hand, you might argue that Torrey is too long for her and she's only riding a hot putter right now. But on the other you might expect her to go super-low on the weekend, because she's hitting plenty of fairways and giving herself every chance to hit more greens and give herself even more birdie chances. Same goes for Ochoa, who's hit the 2nd-fewest GIR among the leaders (although her issues are more with accuracy than length). So it would have been poetic justice for them to have been paired together today, but as it turns out Ai-sama and Chalk Line will be teeing it up in the final pairing, while Ochoa will play with Sophie Gustafson.

With onechan's violin lesson cancelled for the 2nd week in a row, I wonder if I can convince someone in the Buffalo Nihongo Club to let us watch Ai-sama with them in the early afternoon!

[Update 1 (2:22 am): Here are Jamie RS and Catherine Forsythe on Friday's round. But as usual, the post-round notes and interviews on are not to be missed.]

[Update 2 (2:26 am): One of the Waggle Roomers asks how the Samsung can be treated so lo-fi, while Beth Ann Baldry provides the 3-letter answer.]

CA Q-School Friday: Munoz Makes a Move

Azahara Munoz has had a celebrated amateur career and she's looking to make a statement this week in Palm Springs on the Mission Hills site that hosts the Kraft Nabisco Championship, as she's taken the lead at the midway point of the California Sectional Qualifier for LPGA Q-School. But she's got a lot of company at the top. The top Japanese and top American players in the field--Yuko Mitsuka and Amanda Blumenherst--are right behind her, along with Chiba native Kazu Yazaki (the Ful Metal Archivist will be proud). Australian 1st-round leader Tamie Durdin of the JLPGA stumbled yesterday to a 74 but remains within striking distance.

Let's review how my picks did at the Palmer and Dinah Shore courses:

1. Yuko Mitsuka DP: 69-68 -7 (T2)
2. Azahara Munoz PD: 70-66 -8 (1st)
3. Amanda Blumenherst DP: 70-67 -7 (T2)
4. Maria Jo Uribe PD: 74-69 -1 (T21)
5. Paola Moreno DP: 76-71 +3 (T46)
6. Maria Hernandez PD: 72-74 +2 (T38)
7. Beatriz Recari DP: 74-72 +2 (T38)
8. Hannah Jun PD: 71-70 -3 (T12)
9. Jennie Lee PD: 72-73 +1 (T30)
10. Tamie Durdin PD: 66-74 -4 (T9)
11. Jane Chin PD: 68-70 -6 (T5)
12. Emma Cabrera-Bello PD: 72-73 +1 (T30)

Alt 1 Kristie Smith PD: 74-68 -2 (T17)
Alt 2 Sofie Andersson PD: 74-71 +1 (T30)
Alt 3 Cindy LaCrosse PD: 68-72 -4 (T9)

So just about everyone I picked either made a move in the right direction or avoided shooting herself in the foot. Among my next 15, I'm glad to report that Esther Choe (DP: 69-70, -5, T8), Mallory Blackwelder (PD: 72-68, -4, T9), Marianne Skarpnord (PD: 71-70, -3, T12), Iben Tinning (PD: 74-68, -2, T17), Libby Smith (DP: 74-68, -2, T17), and Ayaka Kaneko (PD: 70-73, -1, T21) are right in the thick of things. But Briana Vega followed up her 69 on the Dinah Shore course with a 77 on the easier Palmer course to drop to T38, tied with Rebecca Kim and Lisa Ferrero, who came back with 71s on the tougher track. And missing the cut were Nikki Garrett, Carmen Alonso, Caroline Larsson, Pei-Ying Tsai, and Tiffany Joh, who will be fighting for medalist honors in Florida at the end of the month. You hear me, T-Joh?

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Friday: Fudoh Throws Down Gauntlet

Yuri Fudoh, the JLPGA's 1st and only billion-yen woman, has been an afterthought for most of 2009 as the prime-time players this season have been those former young guns whose careers are now in ther prime, from Shinobu Moromizato and Sakura Yokomine to Mi-Jeong Jeon and Chie Arimura. Well, after starting the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic with a 31 and following it up with a 32, Fudoh has laid down a challenge to the rest of the JLPGA. But when the top dozen players on the leaderboard made a total of 3 bogeys on the day, you know that they met it with flying colors. Yukari Baba (31-34) and Erina Hara (32-33) each eagled the short par-5 5th to stay 2 shots behind, and they were joined by Maiko Wakabayashi, who made 7 birdies for her 65. Sakura Yokomine also eagled the 5th but had to settle for a 66, while a bogey on her penultimate hole made 67 the best that Chie Arimura could achieve. Meanwhile, money-list leader Shinobu Moromizato made her 3rd win in a row very difficult to achieve by finishing +3 over her last 10 holes after making birdies on 2 of her 1st 5.

Here's how the top 10 and notables fared:

1st/-9 Yuri Fudoh (63)
T2/-7 Erina Hara, Yukari Baba, Maiko Wakabayashi (65)
5th/-6 Sakura Yokomine (66)
T6/-5 Chie Arimura, Ji-Hee Lee (67)
T8/-4 Rui Kitada, So-Hee Kim, Kaori Aoyama, Yumiko Yoshida, Orie Fujino (68)

T13/-3 Akiko Fukushima, Hyun-Ju Shin, Ji-Woo Lee, Nikki Campbell, Yuki Ichinose, Sakurako Mori (69)
T25/-2 Mi-Jeong Jeon, Miho Koga, Ah-Reum Hwang, Miki Saiki, Akane Iijima, Na-Ri Lee (70)
T37/-1 Rikako Morita, Midori Yoneyama, Hiromi Mogi, Mie Nakata, Yun-Jye Wei, Kumiko Kaneda (71)
T49/E Li-Ying Ye, Saiki Fujita, Mayu Hattori (72)
T64/+1 Shinobu Moromizato, Eun-A Lim, Ayako Uehara (73)
T79/+2 Esther Lee (74)
T86/+3 Mai Arai (75)
T89/+4 Woo-Soon Ko, Da-Ye Na (76)

Hwang tripled the 9th but bounced back with 5 straight birdies on the back, while Saiki's only big mistake on the day was a double on the long par-4 7th. Doubles also held back Morita and Yoneyama. So we know there are some big numbers out there should the low-to-mid-60s shooters stumble today....

Friday, September 18, 2009

All Maitland All the Time

Why do I like Tim Maitland's golf writing? It's not just that he knows his golf, or knows top players and caddies well enough to get great quotes and stories. It's not even that he pays equal attention to the women's game, which was booming in Asia long before the men's. What I really appreciate about his writing is the way he zooms in on up-and-coming young players like Ji-Yai Shin. He'll be the first to remind you he was "telling the English-speaking world about Ji-Yai waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before anyone else."

Of course I had to do some digging on a claim like that, and while it's true that from October to December 2007 Maitland was spreading the word about Shin's record-breaking sophomore season on the KLPGA in Golf Digest Singapore and the New Straits Times, I think the laurels have to go to Happy Fan of Seoul, who covered Shin's pro debut back in May 2006 in his Seoul Sisters Magazine and in the January 2007 issue called her rookie performance there the #2 story of 2006 (ahead of Seon Hwa Lee's ROY on the LPGA and Song-Hee Kim's dominance of the Futures Tour and behind Se Ri Pak's winning the LPGA Championship for her 5th career major). By the way, Daniel Wexler gets the bronze, but only because my 1st mention of Shin here back in September 2007 (take that, Tim!) was so uncontextualized and undeveloped.

His slightly exaggerated (and, to tell you the truth--when you put that fragment from his email that I unfairly quoted above in context--clearly tongue-in-cheek) claim aside, Tim is one of the few pro golf writers out there from whom I am consistently learning something new and getting really interesting breaking news. So I'm really glad to share his HSBC Champions/WGC sequel with Mostly Harmless's regulars and newbies. The globalization of men's golf is about a decade behind the world of women's golf, but if other writers had a tenth of Tim's insight into and enthusiasm for this story, the LPGA would be in much better shape heading into 2010.


Putting the World into World Golf
Tim Maitland

Asia gets its first ever World Golf Championship event in November, when the HSBC Champions goes global. Should you be excited? Yes! Tim Maitland counts the reasons why.

Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy has some very good reasons why Asian golf fans should be thrilled about getting a World Golf Championship and Geoff Ogilvy should know, because the 32-year-old world number ten is the second-most successful golfer in the 11 years of WGC play.

His reasons? You could count them off, but you’d run out of fingers. There are 16 in total, and they’re the number of times, in just 30 starts, that Tiger Woods has won a WGC title.

“Tiger’s made a habit of winning them,” states Ogilvy simply. “Whenever big players win tournaments it raises their status to a whole new level.”

True, when Tiger wins the world takes notice, but this year, of all years, is different. This is the year, 2009, when golf changed more in 12 months--some might say more than in all the other years put together--and turned itself from what critics would claim is a rich gentlemen’s pastime into a truly global sport.

“Giving WGC status to an Asian tournament would be a remarkable shift of focus for world-class tournament golf in any year, but when you add all of the other landmarks it’s hard to think of another top-level sport that has had such a quantum shift in such a short period,” declared HSBC’s Giles Morgan, whose Shanghai-based HSBC Champions event has the honour of taking its place among the top table of tournament golf.

“Yang Yong-Eun becoming Asia’s first Major winner is an event of seismic proportions for the sport, which on its own would have had an enormous impact on the sport’s evolution. You only have to look at Korea’s 'Dragon Ladies' super-generation which has emerged 10 years after Se-Ri Pak’s first Major to see that. Yet, all of this could pale into comparison if golf’s Olympic status is confirmed. The long-term effects of that could be like every emerging and developing golf market getting its first Major winner all in the same year.”

The impact might be felt in China as much as anywhere else. While the sport is growing exponentially there, it is yet to be fully embraced and accepted in the way that for example tennis is. Olympic status will change that, as it will presumably bring the government of the sport into the mainstream of the State General Administration for Sport. Yet as Tiger himself recently pointed out, it’s not as if golf is starting from nothing.

“There are more tournaments right now in China than there are in Great Britain!” the world number one said. “I just think that it is a wonderful market for us to go to and it’s certainly booming. It is unbelievable the amount of golf courses there are under construction in China and how many people are now playing the game.”

All of this comes at a time when the players themselves are becoming more internationally minded. Phil Mickelson’s 2007 HSBC Champions win was the first significant international win of a career that, certainly at its prime had been focused almost entirely in the United States and Europe. It’s significant that Shanghai will see “Lefty” and his long-term nemesis Tiger lock horns for the first time in the same tournament in Asia.

“After the [British] Open Championship, it’s hard to think of a bigger or better tournament held outside the U.S.” Mickelson said of the HSBC Champions. “Golf needs to grow internationally and to be able to move a World Golf Championship to China especially is terrific because it will hopefully increase the interest and increase the exposure of the game of golf throughout the country and we need to get the young kids in China interested in the game, start them playing so that they can continue to develop and grow the game internationally.”

Intriguingly, the volatility of the top of the official world rankings, Tiger excepted of course, also seems to suggest something of a generational shift with the precocious Woods’ age group, including England’s Paul Casey and Spain’s defending HSBC Champions Sergio Garcia, now in their early 30s and approaching their peak. Meanwhile a heady international mix of 20-somethings, including Columbian Camilo Villegas, Korean-American Anthony Kim and German Martin Kaymer stand seemingly one big win away from crashing into the top ten.

Tournament organizers are expecting the vast majority of the world’s top 20 to be in Shanghai and the overall quality of the field comprised almost exclusively of this year’s big tournament winners will be the highest ever seen outside the golf heartlands.

Anyone still searching for a reason to get excited could do worse than listen Englishman Paul Casey, who had charged up to number three in the world this year until a rib muscle injury slowed his progress.

“It’s Asia’s Major!” he beamed. “It really is a phenomenal golf event. It’s world class. It’s great to expand the game of golf and expose new people to the best players in the world. The tournament has always been world class and Shanghai is one of the greatest cities I’ve ever been to. It’s important that this happened. I’m glad it happened while I’m playing the game of golf, because I think it’s exciting, and I think it would be pretty sweet to be the first person to win a WGC event in China as well!”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

CA Q-School Thursday: Durdin Rocks the Palmer Course at Mission Hills

With the KLPGA's 2nd major and the Samsung World Championship both taking place this week, it's easy to overlook the California sectional qualifier for LPGA's Q-School at Mission Hills. But this is the biggest tournament of the year for everyone in the field. And it appears that Tamie Durdin is ready for it. Her opening 66 gives her a 1-shot lead on Christina Lecuyer at the end of day 1.

Let's review how my picks did at the Palmer and Dinah Shore courses:

1. Yuko Mitsuka D: 35-34 69 -3 (T6)
2. Azahara Munoz P: 35-35 70 -2 (T10)
3. Amanda Blumenherst D: 35-35 70 -2 (T10)
4. Maria Jo Uribe P: 38-36 74 +2 (T57)
5. Paola Moreno D: 38-38 76 +4 (T88)
6. Maria Hernandez P: 35-37 72 E (T35)
7. Beatriz Recari D: 38-36 74 +2 (T57)
8. Hannah Jun P: 36-35 71 -1 (T24)
9. Jennie Lee P: 36-36 72 E (T35)
10. Tamie Durdin P: 32-34 66 -6 (1st)
11. Jane Chin P: 35-33 68 -4 (T3)
12. Emma Cabrera-Bello P: 38-34 72 E (T35)

Alt 1 Kristie Smith P: 39-35 74 +2 (T57)
Alt 2 Sofie Andersson P: 37-37 74 +2 (T57)
Alt 3 Cindy LaCrosse P: 34-34 68 -4 (T3)

Whereas a lot of players have some ground to make up on the leaders, nobody shot themselves out of the tournament on day 1. It'll be interesting to see what Mitsuka and Blumenherst make of the Palmer course tomorrow, where it seems there were more low scores to be had today, at least among the highly-touted players in the field.

As for my next 15, it was great to see Esther Choe open with a 69 on the Dinah Shore course and Ayaka Kaneko with a 70 on the Palmer course, but painful to see Tiffany Joh's struggles continue (P: 75, +3, T76), disappointing to see Lisa Ferrero not play to her potential (D: 76, +4, T88), and shocking to see Caroline Larsson blow up (D: 78, +6, T111). Let's see how many of my projected top 30 make the top 70 and ties after tomorrow's round.

Samsung World Championship Thursday: Ji-Yai Shin and Song-Hee Kim Set the Pace

Song-Hee Kim opened with a bogey-free 31 at Torrey Pines South, then birdied 2 of her last 4 holes to offset her lone bogey at the par-3 16th, but her opening 66 only gave her a share of the 1st-round lead at the Samsung World Championship. For Ji-Yai Shin built on last Sunday's sizzling 64 by bouncing back from an opening bogey with 7 birdies in her next 17 holes, including a bogey-free 32 on the back.

Meanwhile, Shin's playing partner, Sophie Gustafson, was -6 through her 1st 13 holes of bogey-free golf, thanks in part to an eagle on the par-5 6th, but she bogeyed 15 and 16 and needed a walkoff birdie to finish with a 67. Posting early 68s were Ai Miyazato and Juli Inkster, the former through rock-solid ball-striking (and 3 birdies in a row after bogeying her opening hole) and the latter through some great scrambling (the Hall of Famer hit only 9 fairways and 12 greens, but birdied 3 of her 1st 7 and 2 of her last 3 holes).

With such great scoring coming early, you'd think the major winners and Big 4 players going off late would also take advantage of what must have been excellent scoring conditions and a vulnerable course set-up, right? Certainly, Lorena Ochoa played like someone who doesn't plan to let her #1 standing slip away without a big fight. She birdied 4 of her last 5 holes on the front and continued her bogey-free ways on the back to tie Gustafson at -5. But the only other player in the bunch to break 70 was Paula Creamer, who still isn't quite her accurate self as her thumb, lungs, and intestines continue to give her problems, but scrambled well enough to shoot a 69.

Suzann Pettersen needed to birdie the par-5 18th to join the sub-70 club, but she bogeyed it instead. Cristie Kerr bogeyed 4 of her 1st 11 and birdied 4 of her last 7 for a great comeback that nevertheless left her 6 off the lead. In that, she was more like Angela Stanford--who ran into trouble earlier in the day with 4 bogeys between the 7th and 12th holes and needed a walkoff birdie to salvage a 72 after having squandered a -3 start over her 1st 6 holes--than the rest of the LPGA's hottest players. But at least these Solheim Cuppers didn't dig huge holes for themselves like Eun-Hee Ji (whose 78 is stirring fears of a U.S. Women's Open jinx!) and Ya Ni Tseng (whose 75 is reminding me of her falloff late in her rookie season).

Be sure to check out the pre-tournament interviews with Paula Creamer, Lorena Ochoa, Ji-Yai Shin, Cristie Kerr, and Juli Inkster--and compare their post-round interviews for similarities and differences. To me, Lorena Ochoa offered the most perceptive comment of anyone, in response to a question about why the scoring was so low today:

LORENA OCHOA: Two things: It didn't get too windy out there. I think it was calm, you know, you can say that, for here.

And also some of the pin placements were in an easy position. So I think that combination, you know, it's set up for a low day, you know. And I think that's what happened. I'm just glad I took advantage of that and I am right there where I should be. You never know, tomorrow the wind gets a little more and the combination with tough pin placements, maybe even par is a great round. So I guess it depends on how the conditions are. But I'm happy I'm under par.

Runner-up goes to Paula Creamer:

Q: Are you going to change anything from today to tomorrow?
PAULA CREAMER: It just depends on the wind and the pin placements, but, no, I'll go about the same game plan and make as many pars as I can, that kind of thing.

Should be interesting to see how everyone handles the conditions and set-up tomorrow!

[Update 1 (9/18/09, 1:00 am): Nice of Tod Leonard to recap the challenges facing the LPGA, but I'll take Seoul's bangkokbobby's proposed solutions any day of the week over yet another rehashed "whither the LPGA" set piece.]

[Update 2 (1:06 am): Here's Jamie RS's 1st-round recap of the Samsung--plus he has tidbits on Q-School at the end!]

[Update 3 (1:24 am): Golf Channel gets a B+ (their best grade from me since the Solheim Cup) with their highlights from and analysis of the 1st round.]

[Update 4 (1:39 am): Jay Busbee sees the significance of Inkster's opening 68. She came in 2nd back in 1983 the last time the LPGA was at Torrey, so she's got momentum on her side, I guess!]

[Update 5 (12:59 pm): Tod Leonard leaves the business news to Tim Sullivan and focuses instead on Ji-Yai Shin's amazing story and shining personality. Way to use her caddy as a source, Tod. Well done.]

[Update 6 (1:03 pm): Beth Ann Baldry missed the Nancy Lopez connection (say it again: ROY, POY, money title, Vare Trophy), but got some good details in on Shin's post-season training plans.]

[Update 7 (1:06 pm): Randall Mell does a fine job on what's at stake this week and over the LPGA's home stretch, but would it have killed him to mention Suzanne Pettersen, Ai Miyazato, In-Kyung Kim, and Angela Stanford?]