Monday, November 30, 2009

JLPGA Q-School Preview/Predictions

The Final Qualifying Tournament for JLPGA Q-School begins tomorrow in Shizuoka prefecture. You can track the history of the 1st 3 stages and follow the final stage's results on the JLPGA web site, or you can review my very cursory summaries of the 2nd and 3rd stages and check back here over the next few days for FQT results. The list of names entered in the tournament from the LPGA has shrunk in recent weeks, but those still in number among the favorites in this 72-hole event. Here are my predictions:

1. Seon Hwa Lee (9:48 am, front)
2. Amy Yang
3. Sun Ju Ahn (8:09 am, front)
4. Inbee Park (9:57 am, front)
5. Candie Kung (10:06 am, front)
6. Teresa Lu (8:54 am, front)
7. Young Kim (9:21 am, front)
8. Onnarin Sattayabanphot (9:21 am, front)
9. Na Ri Kim (8:18 am, back)
10. Kumiko Kaneda (9:39 am, front)
11. Ritsuko Ryu (9:39 am, back)
12. Jae Bae (8:18 am, front)
13. Yayoi Arasaki
14. Mika Takushima
15. Yuki Sakurai (8:09 am, back)
16. Sakurako Mori (9:57 am, back)
17. Bong Su Tseng (8:45 am, front)
18. Kaori Higo (10:06 am, front)
19. Michiko Hattori (10:15 am, front)
20. Eun Hye Lee (10:24 am, back)

[Update 1 (9:32 am): Still checking the field list to see if all the players I expected to be playing are in. At a quick glance, it appears there are a lot of no-shows. Will update later!]

[Update 1 (11:18 pm): I've updated the above with starting times/sides and struck any names I couldn't find on the 1st-round pairings sheet. Looks like Amy Yang is the only LPGA no-show, after all.]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ricoh Cup Sunday: Yokomine! Yokomine! Yokomine!

The long wait is over for Sakura Yokomine! Thanks to her dramatic victory at the Ricoh Cup today, she won the money-list title for the 1st time in her career after finishing no worse than 4th in every season since 2005--and broke the record held by Shiho Oyama for most winnings in a single season in the process. Her 69 was the lowest round of the day, but it almost wasn't enough for her 6th victory of 2009. Here's how the final round played out.

3rd-round leader Akane Iijima started off slow, opening the door to the rest of the field instead of building on her 3-shot lead at the start of the day. By the time she reached the 6th tee, she had slipped from -8 to -6. Her playing partner, Mayu Hattori, could only make up a single stroke, as she was +1 over that same opening stretch. Would the money-list leader Shinobu Moromizato, playing with Bo-Bae Song in the group behind the leaders, take advantage of their struggles? No, as she needed a pair of birdies to close out the front just to offset her +2 start through 7. Song herself birdied the par-5 9th to salvage a 37, but when Iijima matched her birdie, Song was 4 back with 9 to play. So who was putting pressure on Iijima on the front? Ji-Hee Lee, starters. She got to -5 for the tournament when she matched Moromizato's feat of closing consecutive birdies on the front to take solo 2nd. Ai Miyazato joined Hattori and Moromizato at -4 through 9 with her birdies on the 6th and 9th. And even though Yokomine bogeyed the 6th, her birdies to start and end the front put her into the big group tied for 3rd.

Things started to heat up as the leaders made the turn. Miyazato, playing several groups before everyone else got it to -6 with birdies on the short par-3 12th and short par-5 13th. Hattori joined her with birdies on the short par-4 10th and short par-5 11th. And Lee made it a threesome 1 shot behind Iijima with a birdie of her own on 11. So when Iijima responded with a bogey on 13, we had a 4-way tie for 1st at -6. Moromizato was 1 back, thanks to her birdie on 12, while even Song climbed back into serious contention when she birdied 13. At that point, she was tied with Yokomine and Momoko Ueda, who had bounced back from a pair of bogeys at 8 and 9 with birdies on 10, 11, and 13 to return to -4. Song would quickly drop out of contention with a double bogey on the very next hole, but could Ueda, who had lead the 1st 2 rounds, end up with the win?

No, she parred out the rest of the way to become the 1st player in the field to end the tournament at -4. Playing in the group after her, her LPGA compatriot Miyazato bogeyed 16 and 18 (her 3rd time in the tournament) to join her. It was the story of Ai-sama's season following her breakthrough win at the Evian Masters: for yet another week, she played well enough to put herself in serious contention (as she did at the Women's British Open, the Safeway Classic, the Canadian Women's Open, Samsung World Championship, the Japan Women's Open, the Fujitsu Ladies, and the LPGA Tour Championship), but not quite well enough to tack on another JLPGA victory in 2009 to her 1st on tour since 2006, at the Sankyo Ladies.

Next on deck was Sakura Yokomine, and she responded with birdies on the long par-4 14th and 15th to get to -6 overall. Now she was only 1 behind Iijima, who had birdied 14 herself to return to -7. Hattori, though, bogeyed 15, as did Moromizato in the group before her and Lee in the group before Moromizato. The money-list leader was now 3 back, while Hattori and Lee were 2 behind Iijima. Moromizato would catch them at -5 with a birdie on the short par-4 17th, and when Iijima responded with bogeys at 16 and 17, all of a sudden all of them needed to birdie the long par-4 18th to get into a playoff with Yokomine, who ended her season with 3 straight pars to take leader in the clubhouse from Ueda and Miyazato. First up was Lee: par. Next was Moromizato: par. And finally Hattori and Iijima took their shots: par, par. Just like that, Yokomine had won!

1st/-6 Sakura Yokomine (69-71-73-69)
T2/-5 Ji-Hee Lee (72-70-71-70), Shinobu Moromizato (73-69-70-71), Mayu Hattori (75-68-68-72), Akane Iijima (74-69-65-75)
T6/-4 Ai Miyazato (74-69-71-70), Momoko Ueda (69-70-75-70)
8th/-3 Yukari Baba (72-68-74-71)
T9/-2 Chie Arimura (73-70-71-72), Miho Koga (71-71-71-73)

11th/E Bo-Bae Song (73-71-68-76)
T12/+1 Miki Saiki (74-71-69-75), Eun-A Lim (70-73-71-75)
14th/+2 Mi-Jeong Jeon (72-70-74-74)
15th/+3 Nikki Campbell (73-73-71-74)
T16/+5 Tamie Durdin (72-75-77-69), Akiko Fukushima (76-74-73-70)
18th/+6 Ayako Uehara (72-75-72-75)
19th/+8 Rui Kitada (76-72-77-71)
20th/+9 Ah-Reum Hwang (72-76-74-75)
T21/+10 Yuri Fudoh (78-77-73-71), Yuko Saitoh (77-72-75-75)
23rd/+19 Erina Hara (70-80-76-81)

Some huge disappointments for the JLPGA's top Korean players down the stretch. Mi-Jeong Jeon had fought back to -2 through 11 and given herself a chance to get in the mix, but bogeyed 13, 16, 17, and 18 to drop all the way out of the top 10. Song followed up her double with bogeys on 15 and 18. Lim finished 1 worse, with a double on 15 and a bogey on 18. Even co-runner-up Lee played her last 7 holes of birdieless golf in +1. So there's definitely some unfinished business for Team Korea heading into next week's Kyoraku Cup. At least they outplayed half of Team Japan. We'll see how much gas they have left at the end of a long season soon.

Here's the season-ending money list. Since #26 through #50 are the same as last week, I'll simply list the top 25 on the JLPGA in 2009 here:

1. Sakura Yokomine ¥175.02M
2. Shinobu Moromizato ¥165.26M
3. Chie Arimura ¥140.80M
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥127.29M
5. Yuko Mitsuka ¥89.79M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ¥79.70M
7. Bo-Bae Song ¥72.92M
8. Miho Koga ¥72.11M
9. Yukari Baba ¥60.06M
10. Nikki Campbell ¥50.67M
11. Eun-A Lim ¥47.77M
12. Ayako Uehara ¥47.30M
13. Akiko Fukushima ¥46.56M
14. Ai Miyazato ¥46.43M
15. Mayu Hattori ¥44.48M
16. Yuko Saitoh ¥44.33M
17. Yuri Fudoh ¥43.98M
18. Miki Saiki ¥43.33M
19. Rui Kitada ¥43.00M
20. Akane Iijima ¥42.63M
21. Momoko Ueda ¥42.38M
22. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥40.09M
23. Tamie Durdin ¥37.77M
24. Ji-Yai Shin ¥37.42M
25. Erina Hara ¥35.26M

Depending on how exchange rates worked out, Ai-sama may well have broken the $2M mark in season winnings on the LPGA and JLPGA. I expect great things from her in 2010. And I wonder if Yokomine will be aiming to join her, Ueda, Shiho Oyama, Mika Miyazato, Bo-Bae Song, and hopefully after next week Yuko Mitsuka as dual LPGA-JLPGA members next season--or whether Yokomine will decide to play Yuri Fudoh to Ai-sama's Ayako Okamoto? Lots of intriguing questions for 2010, including how many LPGA regulars will join Miyazato, Ueda, and Oyama as JLPGA irregulars. We'll know by the end of next week, when both the LPGA's and JLPGA's Q-Schools will have been completed. So stay tuned--the regular season is over for all professional women's tours but the LET, but there are still some important questions to be answered.

[Update 1 (6:39 am): Koumei Oda just made it 2 Casio World Opens in a row with a closing 65 to beat money-list leader Ryo Ishikawa by 3 shots. While Oda became the 3rd player on the JGTO to break the 100 million yen barrier, Ryo-kun extended his lead on Yuta Ikeda to almost 20 million yen. With 1 event left to play, and 40 million yen for its winner, it'll come down to Ishikawa and Ikeda next week at the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup.]

[Update 2 (6:54 am): Thanks to reader John for his link to a youtube clip from the end of the tournament:


[Update 3 (7:03 am): There are also highlight clips from the evening news in Japan on youtube. This one shows Yokomine's chip-in for birdie on 14, near-eagle on 15 after her approach shot got a perfect bounce out of the rough just short of the hole, and sliding 7-footer to save par on 18, along with Moromizato's and Iijima's missed birdie putts from over 20 and 15 feet, respectively:

But I have to admit to liking the slide show by a fan that reduces the action over last 6 holes to under 10 minutes with shots from the TV coverage itself even better:

Let's see what else Yokomine's fans come up with!]

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ricoh Cup Saturday: Iijima Shoots 65 to Take 3-Shot Lead into Final Round

Akane Iijima went off on moving day at the Ricoh Cup. She opened with a pair of birdies, then fired a trio just before finishing the front, where she shot a 31. Another pair of birdies early on the back got her to -7 on the day, where she ended up, thanks to her lone bogey on the par-4 15th, which she offset with her last birdie of the day on the par-4 17th.

Iijima's 65 vaulted her to -8 for the tournament, putting her 3 shots up on Mayu Hattori, who had eagled the par-5 9th for a 32 on the front, but had to settle for a 68 in the end when she nullified her 2 birdies on the back with 2 bogeys. Also shooting a 68 today was 2-time winner in '09 Bo-Bae Song, thanks to 5 birdies in her last 13 holes. She moved into a tie for 3rd with Shinobu Moromizato (70), who opened up a 1-shot lead on Sakura Yokomine (73) and a 2-shot lead on Chie Arimura (71) in the race for the money-list title. Leader in the previous 2 rounds Momoko Ueda struggled to a birdieless 75, dropping her into a tie at -2 with fellow LPGA standout Ai Miyazato, who bounced back from a slow start with 2 straight late birdies to salvage a 71.

Here's how everyone stands heading into the final round:

1st/-8 Akane Iijima (74-69-65)
2nd/-5 Mayu Hattori (75-68-68)
T3/-4 Bo-Bae Song (73-71-68), Shinobu Moromizato (73-69-70)
T5/-3 Ji-Hee Lee (72-70-71), Miho Koga (71-71-71), Sakura Yokomine (69-71-73)
T8/-2 Miki Saiki (74-71-69), Ai Miyazato (74-69-71), Chie Arimura (73-70-71), Eun-A Lim (70-73-71), Yukari Baba (72-68-74), Momoko Ueda (69-70-75)

14th/E Mi-Jeong Jeon (72-70-74)
15th/+1 Nikki Campbell (73-73-71)
16th/+3 Ayako Uehara (72-75-72)
17th/+6 Ah-Reum Hwang (72-76-74)
18th/+7 Akiko Fukushima (76-74-73)
T19/+8 Yuko Saitoh (77-72-75), Tamie Durdin (72-75-77)
21st/+9 Rui Kitada (76-72-77)
22nd/+10 Erina Hara (70-80-76)
23rd/+12 Yuri Fudoh (78-77-73)

Yokomine must have been feeling the pressure early on. She bogeyed the par-4 4th and doubled the par-3 5th before righting the ship with birdies on 8, 15, and 17. Arimura got off to an even worse start, bogeying 4 holes in a row from the 2nd through 5th, but she played bogey-free golf from then on, with birdies on 9, 13, 15, 17, and 18. We'll see how everyone handles the pressure tomorrow!

[Update 1 (1:42 am): Meanwhile, on the JGTO, Ryo Ishikawa shot his 3rd-straight round in the 60s to catch 2nd-round leaders Shigeki Maruyama and defending champion Koumei Oda at -14 at the Casio World Open. Ai-sama's brothers slipped to -9 and -7; like her, they'll need to make quite a charge tomorrow to play the spoiler!]

Mina Harigae Watch: What It Takes to Get Ready for 2010

Kevin Merfeld checks in with Mina Harigae, Futures Tour money-list leader in 2009 and one of the top prospects for LPGA Rookie of the Year in 2010. Her comments illustrate just how difficult it is to make the transition from amateur to professional golf.

"The most tournaments I played when I was an amateur was about five or six a year," Harigae said. "I played in 17 events in less than a year, so that was a huge difference for me. My first time going three or four weeks in a row, I ran out of gas at the end."

Good for her the LPGA schedule is so thin in her rookie season, then. But the travel demands will be something for a 20-year-old who had to get accustomed to being "on the road from March through September, never playing a tournament west of Texas" in that stretch. Going from Duke to the Futures Tour was challenging enough for Harigae, who decided not to make use of her "battlefield promotion" onto the LPGA after her 3rd FT win:

"I had never played in that many tournaments before, so by the end of the season I just wanted to take a month off," Harigae said. "I think taking a break benefitted me more than going out and playing more."

I wouldn't be surprised, then, if Harigae has as much trouble as '09 American rookies like last year's FT money-list leader Vicky Hurst and Q-School medalist Stacy Lewis, when it comes to adjusting to life on the LPGA and competing on an elite level week in and week out. Qualifying for next fall's Asian swing would be a great accomplishment for her. It would give her a chance to compete for Rookie of the Year against players I expect to cruise through LPGA Q-School next week like the JLPGA's Yuko Mitsuka, Solheim Cuppers Marianne Skarpnord and Gwladys Nocera from the LET, LET winner Azahara Munoz, Sweden's Pernilla Lindberg, Colombia's Mariajo Uribe, and American NCAA stars Amanda Blumenherst and Tiffany Joh.

I hope they all were paying attention to what LPGA Rookie of the Year and money-list leader Ji-Yai Shin told the Korean media on her bittersweet return to her homeland:

Shin complained of fatigue during the final weeks of the season and she plans to address that with a change in her offseason training strategy.

"I did balance training over the last three or four years. But I feel that I need more stamina to play strongly until the end of the season. So I plan to do some weight training to build strength."

Welcome to the weight room, y'all! The key, as always, is to keep your short game honed and your swing adjusted as your body changes. Everybody's going through it. Who handles it best will have the best odds for success in 2010. Gambare, Mina-chan!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ricoh Cup Friday: Ueda Leads; Money List Race Tightens Up

Momoko Ueda moved from a share of the lead yesterday to solo leader today at -5 in the Ricoh Cup after playing her last 10 bogey-free holes in -3. Her 70 was good enough to maintain a 1-stroke lead on Sakura Yokomine, who made 5 birdies but suffered a pair of consecutive bogeys, 1 on each side, and Yukari Baba, who shot a bogey-free 68 that included an eagle on the long par-5 2nd hole. Meanwhile, the race for money-list queen tightened up, as Shinobu Moromizato shot a 5-birdie 69 and Chie Arimura a 4-birdie 70 to pull within 2 and 3 shots of Yokomine, respectively, at the halfway point. My fave Ai Miyazato was -4 through 11 holes, with a great chance to top the low rounds of the day from Baba and Mayu Hattori, but suffered a walkoff bogey for the 2nd day in a row. Still, she joins Arimura among a big group only 4 shots off the lead:

1st/-5 Momoko Ueda (69-70)
T2/-4 Yukari Baba (72-68), Sakura Yokomine (69-71)
T4/-2 Shinobu Moromizato (73-69), Mi-Jeong Jeon (72-70), Ji-Hee Lee (72-70), Miho Koga (71-71)
T8/-1 Mayu Hattori (75-68), Ai Miyazato (74-69), Akane Iijima (74-69), Chie Arimura (73-70), Eun-A Lim (70-73)

13th/E Bo-Bae Song (73-71)
14th/+1 Miki Saiki (74-71)
15th/+2 Nikki Campbell (73-73)
T16/+3 Ayako Uehara (72-75), Tamie Durdin (72-75)
T18/+4 Rui Kitada (76-72), Ah-Reum Hwang (72-76)
20th/+5 Yuko Saitoh (77-72)
T21/+6 Akiko Fukushima (76-74), Erina Hara (70-80)
23rd/+11 Yuri Fudoh (78-77)

It's not boding well for the Kyoraku Cup that all the members of Team Korea from the JLPGA are in the top half of the field, while a good number of the members of Team Japan are in the basement. Still, there's a lot of golf yet to be played in the JLPGA's final event and final major of 2009. With more than half the field within 5 shots of the lead, anything can happen!

[Update 1 (3:45 am): Ai-sama had better get it going this weekend or she's going to get overshadowed by her brothers, one of whom is tied with JGTO money-list leader Ryo Ishikawa and PGA regular Shingo Katayama at -10, 2 shots behind Shigeki Maruyama and defending champion Koumei Oda in this week's Japan Tour event. The men's money-list race is almost as tight as the women's, with Yuta Ikeda less than 2 million yen behind Ryo-kun, but he trails the 18-year-old by 5 shots heading into the weekend.]

[Update 2 (3:52 am): Tomorrow's Ricoh Cup pairings are awesome. Baba and Ueda will be in the final group, preceded by Yokomine and Moromizato (a reprise of Thursday's pairing!), then Jeon and Lee, Koga and Hattori, and Miyazato and Iijima! That's everyone who broke 70 today, with everybody in these groups having gone under par.]

Paging Mick Elliott

I'm beginning to think Golf Fanhouse has it in for the LPGA. After getting rid of Shane Bacon, who at least caddies for Erica Blasberg every once in a while, they've come up with a new winner in Mick Elliott, who won't let an opportunity to diss the LPGA go by without taking another cheap shot. The latest case in point? His piece promoting the Legends Tour (and in turn being promoted on's main page).

Don't get me wrong: it's a great thing for women's golf that the LPGA's veterans have a league of their own--someday it should have all the appeal of the men's Champions Tour and more. This is the tour for golf fans who harken back to the good ol' days when women golfers were as well-known and respected as their male counterparts, when all the golfers were white, and when Americans were brave. Let the LPGA reach out to new fans in this country and around the world--who cares about that "global youth" demographic anyway? As living legend Nancy Scranton knows,

[T]he people who grew up watching us are the ones who go to golf tournaments anyway. It's not the 20-somethings. It's the mid-40s and older. And they are like, "wow, I can get right up next to Pat Bradley or Patty Sheehan or Jan Stephenson and everybody is happy to chat."

....I don't want to bad-mouth the LPGA. But we are more recognizable. And fans can relate to us more.

Wait, you've never heard of Nancy Scranton? Shame on you! You know, she's the player who won 3 times over a celebrated 23-year career in which she finished in the top 20 on the money list twice? The player whose last good seasons on the LPGA were in 2000 and 2001, when she helped hold the line against the barbarian invasion lead by the likes of Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, and Grace Park? If this isn't jogging your memory, than you're probably going to find it hard to relate to the players on the Legends Tour. Going from quotes like this, it's almost as if Elliott is trying to make it sound like the Legend Tour's target market is limited to those who believe the LPGA has been on a steady decline since the beginning of the Sorenstam Era in the mid-1990s. Why else would he throw in a gratuitous swipe at LPGA Tour Championship winner and Annika disciple Anna Nordqvist early in his piece?

Obviously there are many impressive players on the Legends Tour. Even lesser-known golfers like breast cancer survivor Colleen Walker, a 9-time champion on the LPGA, Vare Trophy winner in 1988, and winner of the du Maurier Classic, a major in 1997, would be a blast to watch, 27 years after her rookie season. But why set the LPGA and the Legends Tour against each other? Surely it's beneath Walker to concern-troll the LPGA for Golf Fanhouse, but there she is, quoted as saying, "It's kind of sad, all the work we did as players and to see it kind of tumble. I remember when we had 45 events. Now they're going to have 24 and most aren't even full field." Maybe if Walker's career had started a decade earlier, she'd have a better perspective on the possibility of the LPGA bouncing back from the depths. If the LPGA could recover from an American economy in the early '70s rocked by disputes over civil rights, desegregation, Vietnam, and Watergate, and roiled by the oil crisis, it can certainly bounce back by the 20-teens from a global financial meltdown.

The bottom line is, there's no need to bash the LPGA to promote the Legends Tour. With Sherri Steinhauer kicking off her return to competitive golf from 2 hip surgeries with a win at Innisbrook in the tour's 1st major this past Sunday, it's clear the tour can provide opportunities for the LPGA's mid-40-somethings to tune up their games and prepare for comebacks. As Tom Watson's near-miss at the '09 Open Championship shows, not to mention the collective successes of the PGA's own 40-somethings this decade, age does not have to be a barrier to success on the top tours in the world. Still, as Hall of Famers Juli Inkster, Sorenstam, and Webb approach the age requirement for entry into the Legends Tour, I'm hoping that these players known for nurturing young talent and supporting the LPGA take on leadership roles in it and help put a stop to the friendly fire.

If the Legends Tour were to provide a bridge between generations of LPGA fans by seeking partnerships and synchronizing schedules with the Futures Tour, both tours would benefit. Imagine if tomorrow's stars were doing pro-ams with today's legends early in the week, followed by the legends' competition in the middle of the week, and leading up to the Futures Tour event itself on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Both tours could yield expanded schedules, bigger crowds, increased purses, and more charitable giving from such an investment. Working together, they'd strengthen the LPGA and help grow the game. What's not to like about that?

Here's hoping for more 1st-time winners in 2010!

It won't be long before this year's crop are as well-known as anyone in golf not named Tiger Woods:

[Update 1 (4:36 am): Ouch, now Steve Elling, in his year-end Up & Down column, piles on the "LPGA spending too much time abroad next season" meme. What Elling fails to get is that 4 of the international events are in North America and that playing in Asia actually gives you the jump on getting your scores in the morning paper in the U.S. He's absolutely right, though, that in a schedule with so many gaps in it already, there's little reason to put the majority of the LPGA's majors in the shadow of the PGA's majors. At least with the golfy media the way they have been acting. Now, if Michelle Wie keeps being the biggest story in American golf the way Ji-Yai Shin even overshadowed figure skater Yu Na Kim last week in Korea--Elling points out the tape-delayed (?) Ochoa Invitational doubled the fall series PGA event's ratings the week before--things might change. But Elling needs to realize what it means that the LPGA has so many players who are among the biggest names in their countries' sports pantheons: Karrie Webb in Australia, Lorena Ochoa in Mexico, Suzanne Pettersen in Norway, Ai Miyazato in Japan, Ya Ni Tseng in Taiwan, Shanshan Feng in China, and so on. The LPGA would be foolish not to capitalize on one of its greatest strengths. Once more, with feeling: globalization is not the problem; the solution is for U.S. and North American sponsors to step up!]

[Update 2 (4:45 am): It's really saying something when Mark Reason, who earlier this season called on the LPGA to enact protectionist measures and limit the number of foreign players on tour, is more optimistic about the LPGA's embrace of globalization than most any American reporter. It took Michelle Wie winning to get him to go there, but hey, I'll take what I can get at this point. Not that I'm giving him a pass for his passing along the "lack of relateability" meme and dissing Western NY as the host site of an LPGA major--not to mention his lack of understanding of the complex relations between nationalisms and globalization--but if someone who recently saw the LPGA's only hope as pushing the barbarians back outside the gates now sees hope in Wie leading an American global resurgence, that's progress in my book.]

[Update 3 (12/4/09, 6:18 am): should be featuring the photo of Na Yeon Choi featured in this Seoul thread. Not bad for someone who's never owned a skirt and heels before!]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I Wish I Could Be Thankful For: American Himarts

For those who are wondering why there are so many great Korean women golfers, Yoon Chul from the Korea Times has one answer: corporate support of player development. Electronics retailer Himart's team--which was lead by Ji-Yai Shin and now includes So Yeon Ryu, Sun Ju Ahn, and Bo Mi Lee among its 17 members--has won almost half the tournaments on the KLPGA over the past 3 years. Himart president Jong-Koo Sun's strategy, implemented since 2002, is simple:

My idea was based on helping and finding young potential so low income golfers can play without worrying about money.... Our goal is to develop kids, not to advertise our company or use them for marketing, so personality is more important than their abilities.... Our aim is definitely to find new golfers and help them improve into excellent players. Even if they move on to the LPGA, we support them until they can support themselves.

Sun, meanwhile, gives a lot of credit to the Korean work ethic and parental involvement. But Chul stresses that Himart has created a family atmosphere where effort is underwritten and achievement is rewarded. LPGA Rookie of the Year and 1st-ever Korean money-list leader Ji-Yai Shin certainly benefitted from her time on the Himart team:

"When Shin became a professional, she could not find a sponsor. But we had liked her for a long time because of her personality. Shin smiled a lot and earned the nickname 'Smile Angel,' even though she came from a tough family environment."

"Young golfers who have strong abilities but who also smile and have a good personality: that is the type of person we are looking for," the 62-year-old president said.

The Himart boss recalled one particular story about Shin that showed just how hard she works.

"Once while I was playing in a pro-am with Lorena Ochoa I heard that she trained for eight hours every day. Shin astonished me when she replied that she trains for over 10 hours every day," Sun said.

While Shin didn't fit Sun's search for big hitters who putt aggressively, he was willing to go out on a limb for the precision player when nobody else was.

Although Seoul's Happy Fan was too nice to mention it when he linked to Chul's article, one key question arises from it: where are the American counterparts to Sun and Himart? Seeing American corporations offer comparable levels of support to a wide range of American women is something I hope to be thankful for in the coming years.

Something Else to Be Thankful For: Golf Channel's Spotlight on Ai Miyazato

On the road to Syracuse for Thanksgiving this morning, but couldn't resist passing along this attempt by Golf Channel to educate its viewers about Ai Miyazato during the 1st round of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational:

If GC had a different spotlight player every round of every tournament in 2010, just think what a difference it could make to public perceptions of the LPGA!

Of course, GC has a ways to go to catch up to Japanese tv. Check out this clip of a par-5 relay race and 50-foot putt to win a car featuring Momoko Ueda, Sakura Yokomine, Miho Koga, and Chie Arimura of the JLPGA:

Now that's entertainment!

JLPGA Q-School 3rd Stage Thursday: Arai on the Bubble; All Other Name Players Moving on to the Final Qualifying Tournament

The results are in from the JLPGA 3rd-stage Q-School event in Tochigi prefecture. Tadashi Megumi Lu is your medalist at -6, followed by Bong Su Tseng at -5. The players I've been tracking didn't shoot the lights out, but they hung in there and will be moving on to the Final Qualifying Tournament next week:

9th/E Jae Bae (73-71-72)
10th/-1 Young Kim (70-73-73)
20th/+3 Na Ri Kim (74-74-71)
31st/+5 Sakurako Mori (75-75-71)

Nobody finished particularly strongly--Mori and Na Ri Kim were +2 over their final 4 holes, while Bae and Young Kim bogeyed the long par-4 17th. But it doesn't matter how you get to the 72-hole final stage--just that you did.

Meanwhile, in Mie prefecture, scoring remained lower, as Izumi Narita took medalist honors at -11. And the notables scored a little better there, as well, with the exception of 1 player:

6th/-3 Onnarin Sattayabanphot (72-71-70)
9th/-2 Sun Ju Ahn (73-72-69)
16th/+1 Teresa Lu (74-71-72)
19th/+2 Yuki Sakurai (75-74-69)
24th/+3 Ritsuko Ryu (71-75-73)
44th/+8 Mai Arai (80-70-74)

Arai made 5 birdies today but finished +2 over her last 7 holes. Here's hoping her walkoff bogey doesn't come back to haunt her; she would have moved up to 39th place and off the bubble if she could just have parred the 18th hole.

My gut feeling right now is that she's still going to fall on the right side of the cut line, as I'm aware of only 4 possible LPGA and LET players who may be filling out the 102-player field in the last stage next week--Candie Kung, Seon Hwa Lee, Inbee Park, and Amy Yang--and 5 JLPGAers--Mika Takushima, Yayoi Arasaki, Mayumi Nakajima, Kumiko Kaneda, and Ikue Asama--who came in #51 to #55 on the JLPGA money list. Where the cut line will actually fall depends on how many Category A JLPGA members who finished in the top 50 in last year's Final Qualifying Tournament choose to enter this year's. And whether the JLPGA gives anyone else a special exemption into it--although if their translation can be trusted, these players would be added to the field rather than knocking anyone else out. It's going to come down to the wire. Assuming the 9 golfers I named actually play next week, if there are more than 5 of these category 3 players in the field, Arai will have played her way onto the alternate list. And if it's a much bigger number than that, then even Mori, too, may be in trouble.

I'll let you know who's in and who's out when I find out.

Ricoh Cup Thursday: Ueda and Yokomine Alone Under 70

Well, well, well! It appears the LPGA's Momoko Ueda doesn't want to be knocked out of 2nd place in the list of JLPGA players with the largest winnings in a single season. She's the co-leader after the 1st round of the Ricoh Cup, tied at -3 with none other than Sakura Yokomine, who could set a new record in that category with a win this week. Yokomine was -4 through 12 holes, but limped home without another birdie, bogeying the 383-yard par-4 14th to add insult to injury. Ueda, by contrast, made 5 birdies over her final 10 holes to become the 1st player in the elite 23-player field to break 70.

In fact, only 3 other players shot sub-par rounds the rest of the day--and even they had disappointments to deal with. Eun-A Lim made 5 birdies and an eagle over her 1st 14 holes, but bogeyed 3 of her last 4 to settle for a 70. She was joined by Erina Hara, who lost her bid for a bogey-free round on the final hole. And defending champion and last year's money-list queen Miho Koga offset her 3 birdies with a bogey on a long par 4 on the front and another on a short par 3 on the back.

Birdies were few and far between for everyone else, including the 2 other players with a chance to end up on top of the the money-list. Current leader Shinobu Moromizato bogeyed 2 of her 1st 3 holes and parred out from there, except for a lone birdie on the 490-yard par-5 9th. Last week's winner Chie Arimura, who got to -20 on her birthday, also had to settle for a 73 after making 4 more bogeys today than she did in her previous 54 holes (yup, she didn't make a single bogey in putting herself into position to take the money-list title with another win this week!).

But hey, even one of the hottest players in the world, Ai Miyazato, found it tough going out there. After starting out birdie-par-par-eagle, she played her last 12 holes in +5, including a double bogey on the par-5 9th that well over a third of the field birdied today. How do you say "jet lag" in Japanese?

Here's where everyone stands with 54 holes to go:

T1/-3 Momoko Ueda, Sakura Yokomine (69)
T3/-2 Eun-A Lim, Erina Hara (70)
5th/-1 Miho Koga (71)
T6/E Mi-Jeong Jeon, Ji-Hee Lee, Yukari Baba, Ayako Uehara, Ah-Reum Hwang, Tamie Durdin (72)

T12/+1 Shinobu Moromizato, Chie Arimura, Bo-Bae Song, Nikki Campbell (73)
T16/+2 Ai Miyazato, Miki Saiki, Akane Iijima (74)
19th/+3 Mayu Hattori (75)
T20/+4 Akiko Fukushima, Rui Kitada (76)
22nd/+5 Yuko Saitoh (77)
23rd/+6 Yuri Fudoh (78)

Not a great confidence-builder for Team Japan heading into the Kyoraku Cup next week. With Yuko Mitsuka competing in the LPGA's Q-School, Hara joins Miyazato, Ueda, Moromizato, Yokomine, Arimura, Koga, Baba, Uehara, Fudoh, Fukushima, Saitoh, and Saiki in the 2-day 1-on-1 stroke play competition with Team Korea on December 4th and 5th.

But the focus for the players tomorrow is making up ground on Ueda and Yokomine. Like Iijima today, Fudoh gets to be the solo pace-setter tomorrow. Can't wait to see what Ueda and Yokomine do playing in the same pairing!

Happy Thanksgiving; or, the Helen Oh Story

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Lisa Mickey has a great profile of Helen Oh up over at the Futures Tour site. Oh's a 21-year-old cancer survivor who's on the comeback trail from chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and surgery, looking to return to the form that made her one of Australia's top junior golfers just a few short years ago. During this year's FT Q-School, she just missed getting bounced from the tournament when she salvaged an 86 in her 2nd round, then came back to birdie her final hole and break 80 for the 1st time in the 4th. Of course she missed the 72-hole cut and has very limited status on tour for 2010, but don't count Oh out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cheyenne Woods Watch: Looking Good!

Nice to see Ryan Herrington giving Cheyenne Woods a lot of credit for improving so dramatically in her sophomore season at Wake Forest. He notes that she now has the lowest scoring average on the team (ahead of even Natalie Sheary with a respectable 72.83) and quotes her coach praising the advancements in her short game. What he doesn't note is that she's moved up to #26 in the Golfweek/Sagaran Women's Collegiate Individual rankings. I'm pretty sure that's the highest she's ever been ranked. Looks like my take from last July that she has a track record of improving at her own pace was on target.

JLPGA Q-School 3rd Stage Wednesday: Tough Going for Name Players

Scores in the 2nd round of the JLPGA's 3rd stage of Q-School were as high as in the 1st.

In Tochigi prefecture, here's how the notables stand with only 18 holes left to play:

T6/-1 Young Kim (70-73)
T11/E Jae Bae (73-71)
T40/+4 Na Ri Kim (74-74)
T56/+6 Sakurako Mori (75-75)

Kim is 1 of only 10 players under par, but 2 late bogeys dropped her 4 off the pace set by what appear to be 2 Taiwanese golfers.

In Mie prefecture, the scoring is a little better, with 14 players under par through 36 holes, but the notables are still struggling:

T10/-1 Onnarin Sattayabanphot (72-71)
T18/+1 Teresa Lu (74-71), Sun Ju Ahn (73-72)
T29/+2 Ritsuko Ryu (71-75)
T49/+5 Yuki Sakurai (75-74)
T54/+6 Mai Arai (80-70)

2 late birdies by Sakurai salvaged what could have been a disastrous round, while Ryu was unable to make a single birdie in her round and Arai played bogey-free golf.

It's going to come down to the wire for the JLPGA's young guns. Here's hoping their experience on tour allows them to handle the pressure of the final round of the penultimate stage of Q-School.

By the way, when I was looking up Chieko Amanuma, who's 4 off the lead in Mie at -4, I came across the following page from 2005, featuring Paula Creamer and Ai Miyazato. A useful reminder that Creamer's been playing--and winning--on the JLPGA since her rookie season. I wonder if she'd ever take the step of seeking dual membership....

Ricoh Cup Preview/Pairings

The JLPGA's finest face off in the final event and major of their season, the Ricoh Cup, tomorrow. This limited-field event is open only to winners of 2009 JLPGA events and others in the top 25 on the money list. Just like last season, when Miho Koga passed Ji-Hee Lee (thanks to a late collapse by Mi-Jeong Jeon) to take the money title, this year's money list queen will be decided this week. Shinobu Moromizato, Sakura Yokomine, and Chie Arimura each has 5 wins already; if any of them were to notch win #6 this week, she would end up on top. [Correction (11/27/09): Moromizato has 6 wins already! Yeesh!] But they'll have to get past the LPGA's Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda to do it, not to mention Jeon, Lee, Koga, and the top 2 on the JLPGA career money list, Yuri Fudoh and Akiko Fukushima. The only eligible players who won't be standing in the Big 3's way this week are #5 on the money list Yuko Mitsuka, who's heading over to the U.S. to prepare for LPGA Q-School next week, and JLPGA #20 and LPGA Rookie of the Year and money-list queen Ji-Yai Shin, who's withdrawn from the Ricoh Cup, presumably out of fatigue and disappointment at her inability to secure the LPGA's Player of the Year award and Vare Trophy, which Lorena Ochoa won on the final 9 holes of the LPGA Tour Championship this past Monday.

Check out the final 3 pairings:

10:11 am Ji-Hee Lee and Bo-Bae Song
10:19 am Mi-Jeong Jeon and Chie Arimura
10:27 am Sakura Yokomine and Shinobu Moromizato

A victory by Yokomine or Moromizato would put her past Shiho Oyama and Momoko Ueda, who won just over 166 million yen in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and set a new record for largest winnings in a single season in JLPGA history. Yokomine hasn't finished worse than 4th on the JLPGA money list since 2005 but has never ended up on top, while Moromizato is looking to erase the bitter memory of her 2006 LPGA season, when she made only 7 cuts in 16 starts and got her only top 10 of the season at the Mizuno Classic. Oh, and Arimura will have to figure out a way to keep her fine play going from last week, when she went 67-62-67 for a -20 total, if she wants to take the money title away from them. Only a win this week will give her a chance to do it. No pressure!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

JLPGA Q-School 3rd Stage Tuesday: Kim and Ryu Lead the Name Players

Over in Tochigi prefecture, Young Kim shot a 70 to sit in 7th place in that 3rd-stage qualifier for 2010 membership on the JLPGA. Na Ri Kim wasn't so fortunate, as she opened with a 74 that put her T41. And Sakurako Mori is in even more trouble, as her 75 puts her at T58 with 2 rounds to go. But with 2nd-stage Ibaraki prefecture medalist Jae Bae opening with a 73 (T24), you know the scoring conditions were tough. Only 6 players ended up breaking 70 in Tochigi, with the low score being a 68.

Meanwhile, over in Mie prefecture, the low score was a 65, but only 5 other players broke 70 there, as well. Among the players I'm following, Ritsuko Ryu lead the way with a 71 (T11), while Onnarin Sattayabanphot (72, T22), Sun Ju Ahn (73, T29), Teresa Lu (74, T36), Yuki Sakurai (75, T50), and Mai Arai (80, T92) have more or less work cut out for them.

My guess is the top 46 or so from each site will go on to the Final Qualifying Tournament next week. It all depends on how many 2009 JLPGA members who didn't make the top 50 of the 2009 money list were allowed to skip the 3rd stage. If google translator is to be trusted, then only a few players will have been accorded this privilege. We'll know by Thursday morning!

2009 LPGA Odds and Ends

Poking around's stats pages, I noticed that Lorena Ochoa notched several huge achievements in the final week of the 2009 season. Winning her 4th-straight Player of the Year award and Vare Trophy is huge, as it gives her a chance to match Annika Sorenstam's record for consecutive POYs and Mickey Wright's for consecutive Vares in 2010. But she also rose to the top of the heap in putts per green in regulation with 1.7457, beating Ji-Yai Shin (1.7495), Song-Hee Kim (1.7512), and Inbee Park (1.7538) for that honor. Ochoa also passed Michelle Wie for most birdies per round on tour, winning that race 4.18 to 4.15.

They turned out to be the only players to break the 4 bpr barrier this season: if Ji-Yai Shin (3.97), Suzann Pettersen (3.96), In-Kyung Kim (3.92), and Ai Miyazato (3.90) had made just a few more, the 2009ers could have broken the record set in 2004 when 4 players joined the 4 bpr club (Sorenstam, Ochoa, Grace Park, and Kerr). As for scoring average, 12 players averaged under 71 in 2009; if In-Kyung Kim hadn't hit it on the dot, the 2009ers would have broken the record set in 2004. Wonder what was in the water in 2004 and 2009? And how about 2005, when 25 players hit 70% of more of their greens in regulation, beating the '09ers by 2? Even with the tough economy, the loss of tournaments, and the shrinking of some purses, the 2009ers came this close to tying last year's record of 13 million-dollar winners. Song-Hee Kim brought this year's total to 11 players, while Karrie Webb, Eun-Hee Ji, and Michelle Wie just missed joining them.

With Anna Nordqvist's win, the rookie Class of 2009 notched 7 victories in 2009. Shin had 3 wins and could have had more; Nordqvist got 2 and never missed a cut; Wie and M.J. Hur both got 1; meanwhile, Shiho Oyama was held back by injuries all season, Vicky Hurst (your long-drive champion of '09) and Stacy Lewis never really hit their strides, Mika Miyazato only scratched the surface of her potential, and Haeji Kang, Chella Choi, and Mindy Kim played well enough to be playing full or almost-full schedules in 2010. Will this go down in history as the best rookie class's collective season ever? How about over the long run? They seem to be as deep as the '06ers and '07ers, but only time will tell.

Personally, while I was glad to see Ai Miyazato tie Lorena Ochoa for most top 10s and highest top 10 rate of 2009, I was saddened to see that Moira Dunn dropped to #81 on the money list with her missed cut this week. Sure, it's far far better than being #101 (that dubious honor goes to Joo Mi Kim), and she'll really only be just behind the Q-School medalist on the priority status list, so she'll get into most every full-field tournament that she wants to. And with the number of full-field events going down sharply in recent years, she really needed to be fighting for the top 50 to be guaranteed a full schedule in 2010. So missing the top 80 doesn't mean all that much, and she could always play her way to a higher status by getting into the top 40 early next season. But, man, I wanted to see her get her 3rd-straight top-80 finish!

Monday, November 23, 2009

JLPGA Q-School's 3rd Stage Begins Tomorrow

The 3rd stage of JLPGA Q-School begins in a little while in Tochigi and Mie prefectures. Originally, the JLPGA had announced that Meena Lee, Young Kim, Teresa Lu, and Shanshan Feng had entered the 3rd stage, but with Lee playing well in the LPGA Tour Championship and Feng finally missing the cut Monday morning, it makes sense that I see only Young Kim's name in the Tochigi field list (along with the LPGA's Na-Ri Kim and the JLPGA's Sakurako Mori) and Teresa Lu's name in the Mie field list (along with the LPGA's Onnarin Sattayabanphot, the KLPGA's Sun Ju Ahn, and the JLPGA's Yuki Sakurai, Ritsuko Ryu, and Mai Arai). Assuming they all play like they're capable of, the next 54 holes will decide who among the 2nd-stage qualifiers will join them in the Final Qualifying Tournament. We already know who won't be there: Na Yeon Choi and Eun-Hee Ji have decided to play in the Korea vs. Japan Kyoraku Cup that week. But as far as I know, Candie Kung, Seon Hwa Lee, Inbee Park, and maybe even Amy Yang are still planning to be in Shizuoka prefecture next week for that 72-hole individual competition to determine who will be new JLPGA members in 2010.

LPGA Tour Championship Monday: Lorena Ochoa Will Not Be Denied--or Will She?

Talk about clutch! Lorena Ochoa got off to a fast start in the final round of the LPGA Tour Championship, making birdies on her 1st 3 holes to climb to -9. But after becoming the 1st player in the field to break the -10 barrier with a birdie on the 7th, the world #1 bogeyed 8 and 9, right around the time that Na Yeon Choi, Hee Young Park, and Ai Miyazato were making Sunday charges. But Ochoa responded with birdies on the par-4 11th, par-5 12th, and par-3 15th to catch Anna Nordqvist at -11. But Nordqvist, who bogeyed the par-4 13th to break a 5-hole birdie barrage, bounced right back with a birdie on the par-4 14th to get to -12. With Player of the Year rival Ji-Yai Shin back to E on the day and -7 for the tournament after her lone birdie of the day on the par-4 11th, it's looking like Ochoa has her 4th straight Vare Trophy sewn up. But if Nordqvist can hold her off for the 2nd victory of her rookie season, Shin could still end La Reina's 3-year reign over the POY with a strong finish. This is enough to make me wish I had Golf Channel!

[Update 1 (4:46 pm): Man, when Nordqvist won her 1st LPGA event as a partial-status member and made it a major, I thought all those Annika comparisons were a trifle, shall we say, premature. But she's now birdied 7 of her last 8 holes to take a 2-shot lead on La Reina heading into the last 3 holes of 2009. If she can pull this one out, that'll be 7 wins for the Class of 2009--and Stacy Lewis, Vicky Hurst, and Shiho Oyama haven't even gotten it going yet in their LPGA careers!]

[Update 2 (4:49 pm): It's not looking good for Lorena, as she failed to birdie the par-5 16th.]

[Update 3 (5:02 pm): Nordqvist also failed to birdie 16. Ochoa's hopes are still alive.]

[Update 4 (5:58 pm): Went to pick up the girls at day care, and lo and behold, Nordqvist did deny Ochoa, after all. But with Shin's bogey on the 17th, Ochoa may just have pulled out the POY race as well as the scoring average race.... Looking for confirmation now!]

[Update 5 (6:00 pm): Yup, according to, Ochoa beat Shin by 1 point in the POY race!!]

[Update 6 (6:49 pm): Here's Brent Kelley with the details of how Ochoa got her POY back!]

[Update 7 (9:01 pm): And here are Hound Dog and Jamie RS on the final round.]

[Update 8 (11/24/09, 5:46 am): Here's Ryan Ballengee.]

[Update 9 (5:59 am): Wow, even Golf Channel did a good job with highlights and analysis from Charlie Rymer. If I could pay for live online streaming video from them of LPGA events in 2010, I'd do it in a second!]

[Update 10 (9:59 am): Randall Mell looks back on the last couple of weeks on the LPGA and ahead to 2010. Karen Crouse focuses on Lorena, Ji-Yai, and Anna.]

[Update 11 (10:04 am): And here's Sal Johnson, looking back and looking ahead, as well.]

[Update 12 (10:06 am): Ditto for Larry Bohannan.]

[Update 13 (11/25/09, 2:42 am): And here's Stephanie Wei.]

[Update 14 (12:56 pm): Ron Sirak shows what he's capable of when he puts his mind to it. His quotes from and descriptions of Shin's ROY acceptance speech will bring a tear to your eye.]

LPGA Tour Championship Monday: Gambatte, Ai-sama!

Even with a bogey on the 9th hole today that cost her 3 shots to Na Yeon Choi, Ai Miyazato has hauled down Hee Young Park and now trails Choi by only 2 shots in the LPGA Tour Championship. Imoto, onechan, the Full Metal Archivist, and I saw Daisuke Takahashi get robbed by the judges in Kitchener, Ontario, at Skate Canada (no big deal, as the winner Jeremy Abbott will be able to return to defend his title at the ISU's Grand Prix finals as a result--and Dai-chan will get a chance for redemption there in a couple of weeks). The great thing about golf is: no judges. With Anna Nordqvist looking for her 2nd win of the season and making birdies on her last 3 holes to become the 1st player in the field to get to double digits under par, though, Ai-sama has her work cut out for her. Gambatte!

[Update 1 (4:27 pm): It's not looking good for Ai-sama, as she failed to birdie the par-5 16th for the 3rd-straight time. At -8, she's 1 behind McPherson, 2 behind Choi and Ochoa, and 3 behind Nordqvist (who's now -5 on the day herself).]

[Update 2 (4:42 pm): Oh, man! Ai-sama added insult to injury when she bogeyed the par-3 17th. But it's been good to see her playing well enough to win again. I'd love to see her birdie the 18th and take some momentum to the JLPGA's winners-only major, the Ricoh Cup, next week!]

[Update 3 (5:00 pm): Well, par-bogey-bogey will not get it done on any tour. At least Ai-sama extended her sub-70 streak to 2 rounds, right? Right?]

LPGA Tour Championship Monday: Hee Young Park Making a Late Move

With Na Yeon Choi going -7 over her 1st 11 holes today at the LPGA Tour Championship and Lorena Ochoa, Cristie Kerr, and Ai Miyazato making Sunday charges, as well, it's easy to overlook Choi's fellow Super Soph Hee Young Park, who's -5 with 3 holes to play and only 2 shots off the lead. Like Kristy McPherson, who's tied for the lead at -9 with Choi and Anna Nordqvist right now, Park's looking for her 1st LPGA victory. Well, she's only 1 shot behind Ochoa and 1 ahead of the big group at -6, which includes Ji-Yai Shin, who needs to get it going if she wants to become the 1st Korean Player of the Year on the LPGA.

[Update 1 (4:20 pm): Well, Park could only manage a 67 after parring out over her last 5 holes. But you sure get the feeling that 1st win isn't far away for the Rocket, don't you?]

LPGA Tour Championship Monday: Na Yeon Choi Makes an Early Move

For all the complaining I've been hearing about "no-name winners" on the LPGA this season, there have been very few I'd consider truly surprising. Sure, I didn't expect M.J. Hur to win so soon and found Eunjung Yi's win even more surprising. But every other winner on tour is a big-time player. Case in point: Na Yeon Choi birdied her 1st 4 holes in a row today to climb to -6 and pull within 2 shots of the lead in the LPGA Tour Championship. If she were to win this week, Choi would join Ji-Yai Shin and Lorena Ochoa as the LPGA's only 3-time winners in 2009. She's already made a million dollars each of her 2 LPGA seasons and has never missed a cut in her 53 LPGA starts. She's already improved her ballstriking from her rookie season; if she ever got her putter going, she'd be a real threat for Player of the Year. Watch for her today and in 2010!

[Update 1 (2:20 pm): Wow! After parring 4 holes in a row, Choi made the turn with an eagle at 9 and a birdie at 10 to catch Lorena Ochoa at -9! Game on! And don't look now, but Ai Miyazato has caught Ji-Yai Shin at -6. Let's see if either of them can move into serious contention on the back.]

[Update 2 (4:24 pm): Well, except for a bogey on the par-4 13th, Choi did what she had to do--she birdied both par 5s coming in for a 64 that brought her to -10 for the week. Now she just has to wait and see if Anna Nordqvist, Lorena Ochoa, Kristy McPherson, or Ai Miyazato can stay ahead of her or pass her.]

[Update 3 (4:42 pm): Jamie RS gives more background on NYC's LPGA career.]

LPGA Tour Championship Friday Sunday: Still Not Done with the 2nd Round, but the LPGA's Pennant Races Are as Hot as Ever

I don't know what the LPGA has done to get on the bad side of the golf gods. All I can say is that Michael Whan may want to start building an ark, if he hasn't begun already. Just got up this morning after our late-night return from Kitchener, Ontario, and Skate Canada (on which more later), expecting to see that the 3rd round of the LPGA Tour Championship had finally begun. But lo and behold, there are still groups with 5 holes left to play early this morning, before the original 1st cut can even be made! I guess I have to accept that this'll be a 54-hole deal, after all. (At least it allows Ji-Yai Shin and Ai Miyazato to compete in the JLPGA's final event and final major, the Ricoh Cup, later this week--provided they have the energy.)

It's really too bad the weather is overshadowing the golf. Kristy McPherson is putting in a serious bid--thanks to a bogey-free 67 that improved on her fine opening round by 2 shots--to play the spoiler in the brewing showdown between Lorena Ochoa and Ji-Yai Shin. Ochoa's 2nd-straight bogey on the par-3 17th has dropped her back to E on the day and -6 overall, giving Shin, who's -5 on the day with 2 holes left to play, a 1-shot lead.

But a host of other players could crash their party, as well. Anna Nordqvist's bogey-free 68 had brought her to -6, while Heather Bowie Young has 2 holes in which to pass her. Then there's Mikaela Parmlid's 8-birdie 66 and Helen Alfredsson's bogey-free 67, which have brought them even with Reilley Rankin at -5 for the moment, at least (Rankin is one of those players with 5 holes to go; she had been -7 overall after opening with 2 birdies, but she closed the front with 2 bogeys to drop back to E on her day). And guess what? Ya Ni Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Chella Choi, and Taylor Leon all have at least a couple of holes in which to move within 3 of the lead.

In fact, I usually consider anyone within 5 shots of the lead heading into the final round to be in contention, so by that standard there are 22 golfers trying to deny McPherson her 1st career LPGA victory right now. 68s by Se Ri Pak (-4), Suzann Pettersen (-4), Ai Miyazato (-3), and Song-Hee Kim (-3) and 69s by Karen Stupples (-4) and Cristie Kerr (-3) give them some hope--and much-needed momentum--for a season-ending win. On the other end of the spectrum, Brittany Lang (74, +3, T73) is looking for some help to end up in the top 70, while all hope is gone for In-Kyung Kim (75, +4), Eun-Hee Ji (74, +6), Christina Kim (71, +6), Mika Miyazato (77, +11), and Vicky Hurst (82, +14). helpfully summarizes the race for the Vare Trophy. Basically, Ai-sama needs to make like Chie Arimura today to have a hope of passing Cristie Kerr, Ji-Yai Shin, and Lorena Ochoa. As for the race for the top 80 on the money list, Il Mi Chung (E through 31 holes, #81, $110.4K), Kris Tamulis (+3 through 32 holes, #83, $99.7K), Taylor Leon (-4 through 33 holes, #84, $98.3K), Heather Bowie Young (-6 through 34 holes, #89, $91.6K), Mindy Kim (+2, #91, $87.2K), Sarah Kemp (+1, #93, $85.5K), Chella Choi (-4 through 34 holes, #94, $85.1K), Reilley Rankin (-5 through 31 holes, #100, $72.7K), and Sarah Jane Smith (-2 through 34 holes, #107, $62.2K) are all looking to pass Katie Futcher (-1 through 35 holes, #80, $112.9K), Irene Cho (+1 through 33 holes, #79, $115.3K), Moira Dunn (MC, #78, $116.5K), Sarah Lee (+3 through 33 holes, #77, $119.5K), and Alena Sharp (MC, #76, $122.3K). So that race is looking like a photo finish, just like the big one, where 1 stroke and 8 points is all that's standing between Lorena Ochoa and her 4th-straight Player of the Year award--or, conversely, what Ji-Yai Shin needs to preserve or extend to become the 1st Korean POY in LPGA history, not to mention the 1st player to sew up the POY, money-list title, and Rookie of the Year award in the same season since Nancy Lopez. No biggie!

Better check with my friends who have Golf Channel later this morning. Even though they're aiming for a 4 pm finish, coverage doesn't start till then. Weird....

[Update 1 (12:24 pm): Ah, time zones! Now I get it. Unfortunately, my Golf Channel source has family visiting this week. No chance to have dinner with them tonight and watch the final round together.

As for round 2's final results, the top players stayed mostly the same: McPherson maintained her 1-shot lead on Shin, 2-shot lead on Ochoa, Nordqvist, and Bowie Young, and 3-shot lead on Parmlid and Alfredsson. Rankin dropped all the way to T20 when she finished bogey-par-par-double for a 75 that left her at -2 overall. So in the end there were only 18 players within 5 shots of McPherson after 36 holes. The cut line did drop to +3, saving Brittany Lang but not In-Kyung Kim, Jennifer Rosales, or Shanshan Feng (who cancelled her trip to Japan for the JLPGA's 3rd stage of Q-School). Other victims include Sarah Lee and Allison Hanna (who was at #82 on the money list at $104.6K--somehow I missed her in my list this morning). With Katie Futcher moving up to T20 after a 69 today, it looks like Irene Cho (who made the cut by the skin of her teeth after ballooning to a 77 today), Moira Dunn, Sarah Lee, and Alena Sharp (who all missed the cut) are on the hot seat when it comes to staying within the top 80 on the money list, The biggest threats to pass them are Bowie Young, Choi, and Leon, although they'll need to make significant amounts of money to do so.]

[Update 2 (3:14 pm): Check the comments on Bill Jempty's piece on the Golf Channel's live coverage--it starts at 3, not 4 pm! So I'm missing it as I write! Cue Charlie Brown: "Auuuuwgh!"]

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies Overview: Arimura Hits the -20 Mark, Gets Win #5 of '09

2nd-round leader Chie Arimura followed up on yesterday's scintillating 62 with a bogey-free 67, her 2nd of the week at the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies, to reach -20 over the 54-hole event and match Shinobu Moromizato and Sakura Yokomine with 5 wins on the season. 3 birdies in her last 4 holes sealed an 8-shot margin of victory over amateur Harukyo Nomura, one of the largest in my memory of covering the JLPGA. Yuko Mitsuka, who's headed for LPGA Q-School in a couple of weeks, was the only other player in the field to break 70 all 3 rounds, and she ended up 9 behind Arimura.

1st/-20 Chie Arimura (67-62-67)
2nd/-12 Harukyo Nomura (67-66-71)
T3/-11 Rui Kitada (70-67-68), Yuko Mitsuka (68-69-68)
T5/-10 Michie Ohba (71-68-67), Mayu Hattori (72-66-68), Momoko Ueda (67-71-68), Nikki Campbell (66-70-70)
T9/-9 Shinobu Moromizato (68-71-68), Yuri Fudoh (70-68-69), Ah-Reum Hwang (68-69-70), Ji-Hee Lee (67-70-70), Toshimi Kimura (68-66-73)

T14/-8 Kuniko Maeda (70-68-70), Maria Iida (70-68-70), Julie Lu (69-69-70)
T18/-7 Bo-Bae Song (72-67-70), Yukari Baba (66-72-71)
T20/-6 Miho Koga (70-71-69), Hyun-Ju Shin (70-71-69), Miki Saiki (69-69-72)
T24/-5 Na-Ri Lee (72-69-70), Eun-A Lim (75-65-71)
T27/-4 So-Hee Kim (73-70-69)
T29/-3 Yumiko Yoshida (75-69-69), Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-73-70), Hiromi Mogi (75-67-71), Ji-Woo Lee (68-73-72)
T37/-2 Sakura Yokomine (74-70-70), Yuko Saitoh (72-69-73)
T40/-1 Esther Lee (73-69-73), Akane Iijima (72-70-73), Erina Hara (71-71-73)
T47/E Saiki Fujita (73-71-72), Yun-Jye Wei (74-69-73)
54th/+4 Yuki Ichinose (69-74-77)

With 1 week to go in the money-list race, Moromizato's 7-shot lead on Yokomine this week didn't translate into that much of a bigger lead in yen. And Arimura is right in the mix.

1. Shinobu Moromizato ¥155.43M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥150.02M
3. Chie Arimura ¥138.39M

4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥126.18M

5. Yuko Mitsuka ¥89.79M

6. Bo-Bae Song ¥71.21M
7. Ji-Hee Lee ¥69.86M
8. Miho Koga ¥69.70M

9. Yukari Baba ¥56.18M

10. Nikki Campbell ¥49.75M
11. Ayako Uehara ¥46.68M
12. Eun-A Lim ¥46.36M
13. Akiko Fukushima ¥45.79M
14. Yuko Saitoh ¥43.84M
15. Yuri Fudoh ¥43.49M
16. Rui Kitada ¥42.47M
17. Miki Saiki ¥41.92M
18. Ai Miyazato ¥41.06M

19. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥39.59M
20. Ji-Yai Shin ¥37.42M
21. Tamie Durdin ¥37.00M
22. Momoko Ueda ¥37.00M

23. Erina Hara ¥34.79M
24. Mayu Hattori ¥34.64M
25. Akane Iijima ¥32.80M
26. Hiromi Mogi ¥32.35M

27. Rikako Morita ¥30.40M
28. Michie Ohba ¥29.00M
29. Na-Ri Lee ¥28.29M
30. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥28.16M
31. Ji-Woo Lee ¥27.04M
32. Midori Yoneyama ¥26.91M
33. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥26.41M
34. Saiki Fujita ¥26.38M
35. Kaori Aoyama ¥26.05M
36. Li-Ying Ye ¥25.01M

37. So-Hee Kim ¥20.74M
38. Julie Lu ¥20.07M
39. Yuki Ichinose ¥19.21M

40. Nobuko Kizawa ¥17.81M
41. Hiromi Takesue ¥17.59M
42. Yui Kawahara ¥16.72M
43. Junko Omote ¥16.56M
44. Mie Nakata ¥16.52M
45. Tomoko Kusakabe ¥16.50M
46. Maria Iida ¥16.48M
47. Kuniko Maeda ¥15.75M
48. Yun-Jye Wei ¥15.32M
49. Natsu Nagai ¥15.06M
50. Tomomi Hirose ¥14.83M

So these players won't have to do JLPGA Q-School. The 2009 winners face off in the Ricoh Cup for all the marbles! Should be good!

[Update 1 (4:55 pm): Congrats to Hee Kyung Seo for her 5th win on the KLPGA. She runs the table on all their top awards, and she did it by making birdies in bunches down the stretch. The Kyoraku Cup should be awesome this season!]

[Update 1 (11/23/09, 7:17 pm): Here are the highlights, courtesy of reader John!

Onechan, imoto, and I heard Arimura mention "tanjobi" in her post-round itnerview, and, sure enough, she won on her 22nd birthday!]

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Paging Bill Huffman...and Geoff Shackelford

Bill Huffman is a very angry man right now. And it's hard for me to blame him. If it were the Wegmans in Rochester that had bitten the dust and not the Phoenix event in his neck of the, uh, desert, I'd be far madder than he is. But with Geoff Shackelford egging him on, the twin targets of Huffman's rant are likely to be lost, with the spotlight likely to be on the "LPGA leaving Phoenix," as Shackelford puts it, and not on Huffman's more accurate "we will rue the day we let this tournament get away" line.

What Huffman inconsistently acknowledges is that it takes 2 to tango (see my 4th and 5th points in my own hitchhiker's guide to the 2010 schedule). If there's no LPGA tournament in Phoenix next season, they have only themselves to blame. Check the following lines from his piece where he as much as acknowledges this:

After all, it wasn’t that long ago--2005--that the LPGA left Tucson after a similar run ended with no corporate sponsor.

In fact, with no real group in charge of pushing to bring the women's tour back to the Valley any time soon, there was not even anyone to call locally for a reaction. I did try the Portland-based Tournament Golf Foundation, which had managed the event for the past six years, but its spokesperson failed to call back....

[W]hen the LPGA's shrunken 2010 sked was released Wednesday, there really were no surprises as far as Phoenix was concerned. Most people had expected Arizona to be left off the master plan chiefly because corporate sponsorship for golf in the Valley has been nil since the economy went belly up. Or did you forget that the Champions and Nationwide tours met a similar demise here, and that the FBR Open is desperately searching for a title sponsor?

So just who should Huffman be pissed off at here? Michael Whan for recognizing that the women's game has gone global? Uh, Bill, it was Marty Evans and Zayra Calderon who were in charge of salvaging the 2010 schedule after Bivens left town with 9 tournaments set in stone. How about the LPGA leadership for taking the tour where the most committed fans, sponsors, and tv entities are based? So they're supposed to pass up opportunities abroad out of, what, patriotism? OK, how about the tour for not having the financial resources to float the Phoenix event for the 2nd-straight year? Ah, now we're on to something! Huffman is mad because the LPGA wouldn't provide Phoenix with another year of corporate welfare. Let's see, they're losing revenues, laying people off, on the hook for the LPGA Tour Championship (which is riddled with TBAs and TBDs), and they should make their #1 priority doing for Phoenix what Phoenix can't do for itself?

Look, Bill, this is no time to wax nostalgic:

What's hard to believe is the LPGA in Phoenix died without a whimper despite it being so successful, annually drawing over 100,000 fans for the week. A truly amazing downward spiral considering all that’s happened here since one-time superstar Jan Stephenson captured the original event in Sun City way back in 1980.

I mean who can forget Annika Sorenstam's one-and-only 59 recorded here in 2001, one of her three victories in Phoenix? Or Laura Davies' record-breaking four in row at Moon Valley from 1994 to 1997? Or the fact that Lorena Ochoa helped propel herself to No. 1 in the world thanks in part to her back-to-back victories at Superstition Mountain in 2007-08, a stunning feat that thrilled her Hispanic following and created a truly rare moment in the lily-white sport of golf?

Don't mourn: organize! If Huffman would take a chill pill, stop, and think, he'd realize he should be talking to everyone in Phoenix (and, I suppose, some people in Portland) about putting in a bid to host the LPGA Tour Championship next season in Arizona. If the LPGA is going to lose domestic events in the short run, far better to upgrade the tournaments that have shown the most loyalty and support to the tour than to let them die. With the LPGA Championship coming to Rochester, NY--masking, as Hound Dog pointed out, a net loss of 1 tournament from the 2008 schedule--why doesn't Phoenix follow suit and put up some serious money to host the tour's season-ending event?

For the longer term, the issue is not globalization or the success of golfers of Asian descent. I'm a fan of both trends, but even I don't see all that much room for the LPGA to expand in the Asian Pacific. Let's say Whan follows my advice and seeks co-sponsorships with the tours in that region, so that, say, by 2012--following the return of the ADT Championship to Florida and the upgrading of the unofficial event in Rio to the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship in late January--the LPGA goes from Korea (with the KLPGA) to Thailand (with the JLPGA) to Taiwan (and now I'm really dreaming here, with the CLPGA) to Australia (with the LET and ALPG) to Singapore (with everyone) for 6 events in February and March--all regular full-field tournaments, with cuts. Wouldn't taking the risk on that kind of international travel be a better deal for the LPGA's rank-and-file than tuning up on the Cactus Tour and the SunCoast Series? After all, the top players can miss cuts just like everyone else. That's kind of how they stop being top players.

Not only could such globalization benefit American players, but so would moving the later Asian swing to follow fairly directly upon the European swing, as Happy Fan has suggested over at Seoul, and upgrading them to full-field events with cuts. The weather would be better in late August and early September than late October and early November in China, Korea, and Japan (and perhaps 1 or 2 more Asian countries, but more likely India than Malaysia or the Philippines, as Huffman snarks at the end of his piece), plus it would be a great follow-up to the annual mid-August synchronized Solheim/Kyoraku-Pinx Cup global showdown I've been calling for for awhile now. And best of all, doing this would allow the LPGA to concentrate its North American events--including the ones in Canada and Mexico, which almost everyone not named Bill Jempty is counting toward the international total when they're played in the same time zones as American ones--in a stretch run in the fall that could capitalize on the momentum from the late summer abroad and drum up more interest in what are just as likely to be tight pennant races then as now.

So even a globalization booster like myself can't envision more than 10-12 LPGA events in the Asian Pacific and South America in the medium term--and just about all of them would be co-sponsored with other women's tours, if I had my way. That puts the ball squarely in the court of the LPGA's North American sponsors. If they would step up and commit to doubling the number of events outside North America, the LPGA would have a minimum of 30-36 events by 2012 and globalization would end up being a win-win for everyone. I don't see why this scenario is any less realistic than Huffman's Chicken Little act.

In the meantime, there's nothing stopping American players from trying to get dual membership on the KLPGA (or, more likely) the JLPGA starting in 2011. Let's say you're a LPGA player or hopeful who doesn't finish in the top 100 on the money list or the top 20 in Q-School at the end of 2010. Why supplement your limited LPGA schedule in 2011 by playing the Futures Tour for peanuts when you could be making a half-million dollars on a minimal schedule on the JLPGA? Sure, the competition is tougher over there than on the FT, but the rewards are much much greater. And if you're tanking against LPGA competition, struggling to make $125K and keep your card for the following season by finishing in the top 80 on the money list, why not play more events and give yourself a fighting chance for the top 50 on the JLPGA (where you'll be making the equivalent of $150K or more)? Language barriers? Culture shock? Fear of the unknown? Ah, so you must really believe the Asian players who come over here are a lot better than you, eh?

The bottom line is, American sponsors and players are going to have to step up their games if they want to compete on a planetary scale. Enough ranting and joking, already! It's time to get serious!

[Update 1 (9:00 am): Are my eyes deceiving me? Is Sal Johnson making more sense than Bill Huffman? Well, Huffman remains the better writer, that's for sure. But Johnson is showing himself to be the better thinker, on the schedule and on Whan, in particular.]

[Update 2 (2:15 pm): Wonder if John Paul Newport has been drinking the Mostly Harmless koolaid, as well?]

[Update 3 (2:25 pm): Hmm, unofficial talks with ADT for 2011? The only change I'd want to see in the format is start with 64, get it down to 32 with a stroke-play cut, then do 2 rounds of match play, and have the final 8 play 18 for $1M.]

[Update 4 (2:30 pm): Nice job by Randall Mell on the players and Whan. And Wie's ankle.]

[Update 5 (11/23/09, 12:53 pm): Karen Crouse looks at how one bad season has affected Reilley Rankin's finances and how the 2010 schedule puts extra pressure on her to perform in her final events this season. Too bad for her she's +6 over her last 18 holes at the LPGA Tour Championship after putting herself in contention over the 1st 25....]

[Update 6 (3:12 pm): Just noticed Bill Jempty's critique of Huffman. Check his link to Dave Seanor's piece, too.]

[Update 7 (7:34 pm): Just got a chance to actually read Seanor's piece. Turns out it's literally SF. And Seanor makes the mistake of many bad SF writers of extrapolating from blips. His look at the "International LPGA" in 2019 is basically calling for all women's tours to merge (saving their national tours as developmental paths to the planetary circuit) and then to merge with the PGA Tour. I don't see it happening in this half of the 21st century. As anyone who paid attention to the globalization bust after the '90s bubble popped knows, there's nothing inevitable about it. Competitive nationalism, particularly among the Asian tours, will only increase with the run-up to the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Barring a serious economic crisis in Asia, there's no way the fast-growing CLPGA and KLPGA would agree to merge with the JLPGA, much less the LPGA. Furthermore, Seanor's scenario is predicated on the LPGA continuing to decline domestically. I just don't see that happening.]

[Update 8 (1/4/09, 6:41 am): Don't know how I missed Jeff Skinner's mid-October call for the LPGA to embrace globalization.]

Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies Update: Arimura's 62 Today Makes Her the Player to Beat

At this time last year, Sakura Yokomine broke through for her 1st and only victory at 2008's last regular-season event, the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies, with a convincing win over Midori Yoneyama, Ai Miyazato, Momoko Ueda, and Ji-Hee Lee that brought her into the 100 Million Yen Club for the 2nd straight season and gave her a shot at a money-list title that had been eluding her since 2005, when she finished 4th. But when Miho Koga walked away with a miraculous victory at the following week's final major of the season, the Ricoh Cup, thanks to an epic fail down the stretch by Mi-Jeong Jeon, Yokomine would once again have to settle for a top 3 finish.

Flash forward to the present, when Yokomine's wire-to-wire win last week pulled her within 4 million yen of money-list leader Shinobu Moromizato, and all the momentum seemed to be going her way. But she started her title defense with a lackluster 74 that put her 8 shots behind leaders Nikki Campbell and Yukari Baba and 6 shots behind Moromizato. Well, Yokomine bounced back today with a 70 that ensured she'd be playing tomorrow, but she's now 15 shots behind another player who can put herself in a great position to deny Yokomine yet another money title. Yes, Chie Arimura shot an amazing 10-birdie 62 to take a 4-shot lead on amateur Harukyo Nomura and a 5-shot lead on veteran Toshimi Kimura. But Yokomine is now only 5 behind Moromizato. Assuming neither of them makes a huge move tomorrow, an Arimura win would put her even with them at 5 wins on the season and give her a chance to take the money title with a victory at next week's Ricoh Cup.

But there are still 18 holes left to be played this week. Here's how the leaders and notables stand heading into the final round:

1st/-15 Chie Arimura (67-62)
2nd/-11 Harukyo Nomura (67-66)
3rd/-10 Toshimi Kimura (68-66)
4th/-8 Nikki Campbell (66-70)
T5/-7 Rui Kitada (70-67), Yuko Mitsuka (68-69), Ah-Reum Hwang (68-69), Ji-Hee Lee (67-70)
T9/-6 Mayu Hattori (72-66), Yuri Fudoh (70-68), Kuniko Maeda (70-68), Maria Iida (70-68), Tomomi Hirose (70-68), Miki Saiki (69-69), Julie Lu (69-69), Momoko Ueda (67-71), Yukari Baba (66-72)

T18/-5 Bo-Bae Song (72-67), Shinobu Moromizato (68-71)
T21/-4 Eun-A Lim (75-65)
T25/-3 Yuko Saitoh (72-69), Na-Ri Lee (72-69), Miho Koga (70-71), Hyun-Ju Shin (70-71), Ji-Woo Lee (68-73)
T31/-2 Hiromi Mogi (75-67), Esther Lee (73-69), Akane Iijima (72-70), Erina Hara (71-71)
T40/-1 Yun-Jye Wei (74-69), So-Hee Kim (73-70), Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-73), Yuki Ichinose (69-74)
T48/E Yumiko Yoshida (75-69), Sakura Yokomine (74-70), Saiki Fujita (73-71)

Some painful missed cuts for some young stars and living legends:

T57/+1 Kumiko Kaneda (75-70), Ayako Uehara (72-73)
T67/+3 Woo-Soon Ko (77-70), Rikako Morita (75-72)
T74/+4 Maiko Wakabayashi (73-75)
T84/+6 Sakurako Mori (79-71), Ai-Yu Tu (76-74), Da-Ye Na (74-76)

So Yokomine will be looking to chase down Moromizato, while Arimura will be looking to extend her lead on her nearest competitors. We'll see who achieves her goals tomorrow!

[Update 1 (2:41 pm): Hee Kyung Seo heads into the final round of the last KLPGA event of the season 2 shots back of a lesser-known player. Can she avoid getting beat like her rival So Yeon Ryu did last week?]

LPGA Tour Championship Friday: Houston, We Have a Problem!

LPGA official Doug Brecht said they got some "bonus golf" in on the Houstonian today when it appeared heavy rains would wash away the entire 2nd round of the LPGA Tour Championship. True, half the field didn't even get to tee it off and nobody in the morning pairings actually finished her round. So they're going to need the course to drain well, more rain to hold off, a lot of fast play from the remaining golfers in the field (Candie Kung, Seon Hwa Lee, and Silvia Cavalleri joined Michelle Wie in withdrawing), and a little luck to finish all 72 holes by Sunday afternoon now. But Brecht practically guaranteed that all 72 holes would be played, even if it takes a Monday finish:

Because this is our Tour Championship, it affects Player of the Year, it affects a lot of--all the major awards. If affects players going--who has to go to Q-School and who doesn't have to go to Q-School. It affects players on our priority list and where they fall on that priority list.

There's a ton of things riding on this tournament. Because of that and the importance of it, we are committed to playing 72 holes.

That's music to my ears! I can't tell you how many times over the last few years that the LPGA has annoyed me by cutting 72-hole tournaments back to 54 holes in response to bad weather. If they're not going to take themselves seriously, why should anyone else? This is definitely a step in the right direction.

Speaking of which, it seems that the players who could draw on a wealth of experience took the most steps in the right direction despite the challenging conditions yesterday. Wendy Ward and Helen Alfredsson were -3 on their rounds and for the tournament with 6 and 7 holes left to play on the back, respectively. Juli Inkster joined them at -3 overall after a bogey on the 1st hole brought her back to -1 on her round. They're all 1 shot behind Sophie Gustafson, who birdied 3 of her 1st 6 holes today and played her next 5 holes in +1. If she can finish strong and pass 1st-round leader Lorena Ochoa at -6, she'll be the leader in the clubhouse for quite some time. Meanwhile, Cristie Kerr and Suzanne Pettersen shot 35s on the back to move to -1 overall and are poised to turn up the heat on Ji-Yai Shin, Na Yeon Choi, Ya Ni Tseng, and Ochoa.

But it wasn't only the vets who played well yesterday. Haeji Kang has held steady at -3 overall as she started hot on her 1st 7 holes (playing them in -2) on the back and cooled off over her next 7 (playing them in +2). Jane Park shot a 33 on the front to join Kerr, Pettersen, Karen Stupples, and Mikaela Parmlid at -1 overall. Julieta Granada (-3 today with 3 left to play on the front), Jee Young Lee (-2 today with 6 to go on the front), and Ai Miyazato (35 on the back) lead the players charging to E overall. Amy Yang matched Park's 33 on the front and M.J. Hur is -3 with 6 holes left to play on the front as both players fight to improve on their +1 standing thus far. And if Paula Creamer can turn it around from Thursday and birdie every hole she bogeyed on the back the 1st time around, she'll birdie the par-5 18th and join them at +1 with a 33 this time around.

The 1st cut line will fall at the top 70 and ties. Fighting to be on the right side of it are Marisa Baena (-3 today through 16, but +4 overall, T85 right now with Catriona Matthew and Jennifer Rosales, among others) and Minea Blomqvist (-2 today with 5 to go on the front, T74 at +3 with Eunjung Yi and Shanshan Feng, among others). Unfortunately, Brittany Lang has fallen back to +4 overall and only has 8 holes left on the front to make up enough ground to make it possible to get into the top 30 through 54 holes, while Moira Dunn is at +6 with 5 to play on the front and will need a sharp turnaround just to keep playing on the weekend. With Taylor Leon, Heather Bowie Young, and Irene Cho off to solid starts, and others within $20K of her on the money list looking to play all 4 rounds this week, Moira needs to play great tomorrow morning to give herself a chance to control her destiny when it comes to staying in the top 80 on the money list.

Play is expected to start at 7 am and the plan is to start the 3rd round around 2 pm. Let's hope we've seen the last of the weather-related problems at the Houstonian this year!

[Update 1 (5:27 am): We've been in Kitchener following Daisuke Takahashi at Skate Canada since Thursday afternoon, so I haven't been able to read around the last couple of days. But I have to say I've been impressed by Jeff Skinner's LPGA blogging of late. Sure, he's been inspired by Michelle Wie, like all the LPGA irregulars, but check out his nice piece on Stacy Lewis. Michelle Wie has also gotten Stephanie Wei's attention. It's Lorena Ochoa who's brought Jamie RS back to the keyboard. And Bill Jempty saved a few zingers for Steve Elling. Good stuff--check it out! And if you think scoring conditions are tough in Houston, try the KLPGA's season-ending event!]

[Update 2 (7:41 am): Not a good sign--players tweeting about rain on the way to the course this am!]

[Update 3 (8:52 am): Just realized that Ai-sama's birdieless 37 on the back yesterday broke her 21-round streak of shooting par or better. Time to start a new one today! And break that pesky 6-event streak of failing to break 70. The Vare Trophy is still within reach! Gambatte!]