Thursday, September 17, 2009

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?]

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