Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lorena Ochoa Invitational Preview/Predictions/Pairings

There are a lot of questions that remain to be answered in the final 2 events of the LPGA's 2009 season. Some have to do with the tour's major awards. Can Ji-Yai Shin hold off Lorena Ochoa in the Player of the Year race and become the 1st person since Nancy Lopez to win Rookie of the Year and POY awards in the same year? Can Ochoa come back for her 4th-straight POY? Or will Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato, Suzann Pettersen, Ya Ni Tseng, or Na Yeon Choi find a way to deny both Shin and Ochoa? In the race for the money title, only Ochoa, Pettersen, Kerr, and Miyazato have a chance to catch Shin--can any of them do it? It's looking to me like 1 of them would have to win both remaining events for it to happen--and Shin would have to play badly in both. Meanwhile, Ochoa has a slim lead on Miyazato, Shin, and Kerr in scoring average--can she hold on for her 4th-straight Vare Trophy?

There are other milestones to consider, as well. Can Karrie Webb, Song-Hee Kim, and Eun-Hee Ji join the Million Dollar Club? If so, 2009 would match last season's peak of 13 players in this still-exclusive LPGA club. Can the 2009ers beat the 2004 record of 12 players with scoring averages under 71? (Right now there are 13.) Can they set the standard for number of players averaging 4 or more birdies per round? (Right now there are 3 above that mark and another 3 within .1 birdie per round of getting there; 4 did it in 2004, the previous high.)

Other questions have to do with the strategies players use in putting together their schedules. Was it a better decision to play the last 4 LPGA events of the season, as Shin, Ochoa, Tseng, and Choi will have done? Or was skipping some of them, as Miyazato, Kerr, Pettersen, and this week's defending champion Angela Stanford did, the right call? Kerr and Pettersen played some fantastic golf in the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge this week, so it's looking like they're coming into the Lorena Ochoa Invitational pretty sharp. As for Michelle Wie, who's been enjoying Stanford's autumn quarter, the state of her game might be the biggest question mark of all for the casual LPGA fan.

So who in the field of 36 will play Guadalajara Country Club the best over the tournament's 72 holes? GCC boasts a longish, tree-lined, heavily-bunkered layout, with lots of water in the 1st 13 holes. Since 2008 was the inaugural playing of this event, we don't have a lot of data to go on, but the course seems to favor those players who combine distance and accuracy off the tee (Stanford, Lang, Sorenstam, Yoo), although a little surprisingly precision players tended to do better than bombers. Here's who I think will do well this time around:

1. Miyazato Ai
2. Lang, Brittany
3. Kim Song-Hee
4. Choi Na Yeon
5. Shin Ji-Yai
6. Tseng Ya Ni
7. Ochoa, Lorena
8. Kerr, Cristie
9. Pettersen, Suzanne
10. Creamer, Paula
11. Wie, Michelle
12. Yoo Sun Young

Alts: Kim In-Kyung; Nordqvist, Anna; Wright, Lindsey

There's not a single weak pairing that'll be heading off between 11 am and 1 pm tomorrow. I find it very interesting how the tournament organizers generally mixed together players with very different styles, such as Sophie Gustafson (classic bomber), Brittany Lang (long and straight), and Kristy McPherson (classic precision player) at 12:06 pm. In the final 3 pairings, though, there's a preponderence of long hitters:

Start Time: 12:39 PM
Michelle Wie
Paula Creamer
Suzann Pettersen

Start Time: 12:50 PM
Cristie Kerr
Angela Stanford
Ji-Yai Shin

Start Time: 1:01 PM
Brittany Lincicome
Ai Miyazato
Lorena Ochoa

It'll be interesting to see how Creamer, Shin, and Miyazato handle it. I'm looking forward to getting some preliminary answers to all my questions tomorrow!

[Update 1 (1:47 pm): Stina Sternberg gets it. Where is the rest of the golfy media?]

[Update 2 (1:50 pm): OK, nice to see the AP gets Shin's appeal.]

1 comment:

LPGA Fan said...

The best of friends playing together in the last group.

Happened in 2008 at the HSBC and Phoenix Safeway.

If only it could be Sunday afternoon.

It would be a nice birthday present for one.

3 wins for the other equaling the most wins in 2009.

We shall see.