Friday, November 13, 2009

Lorena Ochoa Invitational Friday: Can Anyone Derail the Shin Express?

After 13 birdies in the 1st 36 holes of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational and her 2nd-straight round in the mid-60s, Ji-Yai Shin has ensured that only 1 real question remains: can anyone derail her campaign to clinch all 3 major LPGA year-end prizes this week? With a 3-shot lead on the player in the runner-up position for Rookie of the Year, Michelle Wie, who was the only player in the field to match her 66 today, Shin extended her lead on Lorena Ochoa from 4 to 7 shots, on Ai Miyazato from 4 to 10 shots, on Cristie Kerr from 2 to 6 shots, and on Suzann Pettersen from 5 to 6 shots. In fact, the only players besides Wie within 5 shots of Shin right now are Paula Creamer (who broke 70 for the 2nd-straight time and is actually outdriving Shin by about 10 yards, although she's about 30 behind the player she's tied with at -8) and Song-Hee Kim (who needed a flurry of 5 birdies on the back just to offset all her costly mistakes and stay at -7).

It's not like everyone else is standing with their mouths open while Shin drives to the hole (alert: basketball metaphor!). It's just that it's damn hard to keep up with her. Mariajo Uribe was -8 for the tournament after making a birdie on the par-3 13th, but bogeyed her next 3 holes to drop back into a tie with Kerr, Pettersen, and the Brittanys (Lang and Lincicome). Morgan Pressel and Ya Ni Tseng shot fine 68s (the former with 4 birdies in her 1st 7 holes and the latter with 6 birdies in a 7-hole stretch midway through her round) yet lost ground, as did 69ers Ochoa and Kristy McPherson, who joined them at -4. Miyazato battled back on the back for a 72 that gave her a chance to extend her streak of LPGA tournaments without shooting a single round over par to 6 (oh, and in the 4 JLPGA events she played since her last over-par LPGA round on Sunday in the Women's British Open, she's had a grand total of 3 rounds over 72--that's 3 since early August!!), but by failing to break 70 for the 3rd-straight round (dating back to Sunday in the Mizuno Classic), she's given herself quite a mountain to climb over the next 36 holes.

Speaking of near-insurmountable obstacles, the only year-end trophy Ochoa may be able to garner in 2009 after her own tournament is complete could well turn out to be the Vare Trophy. By my unofficial count, though, her current season scoring average of 70.2179 has already fallen behind Shin's 70.2143. Kerr is a little less than .08 behind Shin, while Miyazato has fallen over .1 off the pace. Unless we see something incredible from someone else over the final 6 rounds of 2009, there's no one else on that dance floor.

The end of the season brings home the fact that every shot matters. Who will make theirs matter the most?

[Update 1 (11:59 pm): Credit where it's due: Stephen Wade filed a good AP story.]

[Update 2 (11/14/09, 12:26 am): Golf Channel has to be pretty happy with those final pairings:

Start Time: 12:01 PM
Anna Nordqvist
Eun-Hee Ji
Ai Miyazato

Start Time: 12:12 PM
Lorena Ochoa
M.J. Hur
Candie Kung

Start Time: 12:23 PM
Ya Ni Tseng
Morgan Pressel
Kristy McPherson

Start Time: 12:34 PM
Cristie Kerr
Brittany Lincicome
Mariajo Uribe

Start Time: 12:45 PM
Song-Hee Kim
Suzann Pettersen
Brittany Lang

Start Time: 12:56 PM
Ji-Yai Shin
Michelle Wie
Paula Creamer

More Solheim Cuppers and Major winners than you can shake a stick at. Now if only Natalie Gulbis hadn't WDed!]

[Update 3 (10:58 am): No rest for the young and talented! Chinese media are reporting that Ya Ni Tseng has committed to the year-end joint KLPGA-CLPGA event--and that Ji-Yai Shin is close to entering the field, as well.]

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