Wednesday, November 18, 2009

LPGA Tour Championship Preview/Predictions/Pairings

The LPGA Tour Championship is here. This one's for all the marbles! It all comes down to this! [Insert your cliche here.] Jeff Skinner lays out what's at stake this week for the top LPGA golfers. Rookie of the Year Ji-Yai Shin may have clinched the money-list title last week in Guadalajara, but Lorena Ochoa can walk away from Houston with her 4th-straight Player of the Year award and Vare Trophy. But can Michelle Wie play spoiler for the 2nd week in a row? Can Cristie Kerr sneak away with both the POY and the Vare Trophy for herself? (It's mathematically possible, according to Hound Dog! And check out his own POY scoring system while you're at it.) Can Ai Miyazato remember how to make birdies in bunches and end up with the lowest scoring average on tour this season? Can Paula Creamer or Seon Hwa Lee get that win that's been eluding them all season? Can Song-Hee Kim or Brittany Lang or Hee Young Park or Amy Yang or Vicky Hurst become the 4th player on my list of players looking for her 1st career LPGA win to finally get it?

Well, the Rees Jones-designed Houstonian Golf and Country Club may draw sneers from someone like Geoff Shackelford, but the layout provides for plenty of drama, with water in play behind the 1st green, left of the 2nd fairway and green, right of the 5th fairway, behind and to the left of the 6th green, all the way down the 7th and 10th fairways and green complexes, and from the 13th through the 17th holes. While it can certainly play long by LPGA standards, the bombers will have to very careful, as water comes into play on every par 5--the 2nd in particular looks tricky, as trees guard bailout areas to the right. You better be trusting your swing coming into this week! With so many different tees, the tournament organizers can set the course up very differently each day. It'll be interesting to see how short they decide to make the 6th and the 14th (both water holes) over the course of the week--will they try to tempt anyone to drive those greens? From the pictures on the club site, my guess is that Jones tried to compensate for the flatness of the land by creating lots of undulations in the fairways and elevating lots of greens. Unfortunately Google Earth photos must have been taken in winter or early spring, so the course doesn't look as nice there as it probably will on Golf Channel.

The field consists of the top 120 golfers on tour, with some interesting absences, as IceCat points out at Seoul (including Mi Hyun Kim, Jeong Jang, Laura Diaz, Inbee Park, Angela Park, Momoko Ueda, Shiho Oyama, Kyeong Bae, Shi Hyun Ahn, and Ashleigh Simon, to name a few). Some of those players are in danger of dropping out of the top 80 or top 100 on the money list, which would mean losing full or near-full status on tour in 2010 (although some of them have recent wins they can bank on for what's essentially full status next season). Speaking of milestones, I'd love to break the 100-point barrier in the season-long PakPicker competition, even if a win (and most likely a runner-up, too) is out of reach. Here are my last picks of the season:

1. Miyazato Ai
2. Shin Ji-Yai
3. Creamer, Paula
4. Ochoa, Lorena
5. Choi Na Yeon
6. Kim In-Kyung
7. Kerr, Cristie
8. Hurst, Vicky
9. Lang, Brittany
10. Wie, Michelle
11. Pressel, Morgan
12. Kim Song-Hee

Alts: Tseng Ya Ni; Lee Seon Hwa; Pettersen, Suzanne

As for the pairings, the prime-time quadrant going 1st off the 10th is pretty impressive:

Start Time: 7:50 AM
Natalie Gulbis
Vicky Hurst
Leta Lindley

Start Time: 8:00 AM
Jimin Kang
Anna Nordqvist
Lorie Kane

Start Time: 8:10 AM
Morgan Pressel
Rachel Hetherington
Stacy Lewis

Start Time: 8:20 AM
Lorena Ochoa
Karrie Webb
Ya Ni Tseng

Start Time: 8:30 AM
Ji-Yai Shin
Na Yeon Choi
Brittany Lincicome

But then so is the one going 2nd off the 1st:

Start Time: 11:20 AM
Nicole Castrale
M.J. Hur
Jee Young Lee

Start Time: 11:30 AM
Lindsey Wright
Juli Inkster
Meaghan Francella

Start Time: 11:40 AM
Catriona Matthew
Suzann Pettersen
Brittany Lang

Start Time: 11:50 AM
Cristie Kerr
Michelle Wie
Christina Kim

Start Time: 12:00 PM
Ai Miyazato
Angela Stanford
Paula Creamer

That leaves some very good but less-well-known players to go 2nd off the 10th:

Start Time: 11:20 AM
Helen Alfredsson
Jane Park
Eunjung Yi

Start Time: 11:30 AM
Pat Hurst
Eun-Hee Ji
Wendy Ward

Start Time: 11:40 AM
Sophie Gustafson
Giulia Sergas
Seon Hwa Lee

Start Time: 11:50 AM
Amy Yang
In-Kyung Kim
Katherine Hull

Start Time: 12:00 PM
Michele Redman
Mika Miyazato
Hee Young Park

and 1st off the 1st:

Start Time: 7:50 AM
Carin Koch
Song-Hee Kim
Janice Moodie

Start Time: 8:00 AM
Hee-Won Han
Maria Hjorth
Laura Davies

Start Time: 8:10 AM
Kristy McPherson
Meena Lee
Se Ri Pak

Start Time: 8:20 AM
Ji Young Oh
Silvia Cavalleri
Candie Kung

Start Time: 8:30 AM
Sun Young Yoo
Meg Mallon
Sandra Gal

I'll be rooting for NYers Moira Dunn (starting on the front with Shanshan Feng and Minea Blomqvist at 12:40 pm) and Danielle Downey (going off the same side at 7:20 am with Irene Cho and Taylor Leon), in particular, but I'll be watching the 1st group off the 1st tee very carefully, as Katie Futcher is at #80 on the money list right now, Alena Sharp is at #76, and Allison Fouch is at #73--and less than $10K separates the 3 of them. Many of my questions from last week still stand. I'd love to see 2009 end up a better year for making a million and breaking 71 than even 2004. We'll know the answers to all of them and the results of all the year-long races in a mere 72 holes. Game on!

[Update 1 (4:57 am): We're about 4 hours away from the official release of the 2010 schedule, and Beth Ann Baldry is reporting that there'll be 23 events on it and that Wegmans will be sponsoring the LPGA Championship. Is this in addition to their own event in Rochester? We'll have to wait and see!]

[Update 2 (5:14 am): Ron Sirak leaks many more details on the 2010 schedule. Looks like the Wegmans will be merged with the LPGA Championship. But how is there possibly no Korea event in the fall? Oh, and it's nice to see him picking up on one of my ideas to enhance the LPGA's future (more coordination of schedules and co-sponsored events with other women's tours), but what's up with his hating on cuts? More on all this later.]

[Update 3 (5:30 am): Bob Young speculates on the fate of the Phoenix event, which is not (yet?) on the schedule Sirak leaked, either.]

[Update 4 (5:37 am): In response to some of Sirak's ideas, Ryan Ballengee brings the skepticism on any rivals to the LPGA Tour emerging in the U.S.]

[Update 5 (2:59 pm): Here's Brent Kelley on the 2010 schedule. More after work!]

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