Sunday, July 31, 2011

Futures Tour Road Trip Day 1 (Hannah Yun, Kendall Dye, Seema Sadekar)

With rain forecast pretty much all day Friday and huge thunderstorms hitting Hamburg in the wee hours that morning, I decided not to leave home on my own either Thursday night or Friday morning to catch the 1st round of the LPGA Futures Tour's Alliance Bank Golf Classic. Instead, I convinced the Full Metal Archivist and the girls to come on out with me that evening and spend the weekend in Syracuse. Yesterday morning and early afternoon, we were able to relax together in the hotel pool and in front of our room's tv watching a bit of the 3rd round of the Ricoh Women's British Open and follow it up lunch with my parents at Drumlins East. I was able to introduce my family to Ithaca's own Lori Atsedes (now a teaching professional in northern Arizona who competes part-time on the Legends and Futures Tours), the girls were able to play hide-and-seek with Victoria Park's little sister around the putting greens, and my folks were able to catch up with Libby Smith, who they've known for a long time and have been suffering vicariously with as she's followed up her final-round collapse at last year's Q-School with nightmarish driving that's been making it difficult for her to even break 80 this season on any tour. And then it was time for me to head out onto the course to follow Hannah Yun, Kendall Dye, and Seema Sadekar as they played their 2nd round.

With Tiffany Joh getting a slight taste of Carnasty yesterday as she posted a 75 that dropped her back to -1 for the week in the WBO, Yun was the player I knew best in the Futures Tour field. I had done a 2-part e-interview with her early last year and followed it up by following her on different days last summer in Syracuse. But it was a total bonus that I got to learn about Dye's and Sadekar's games, as well. Even though none of them had anything approaching a good round, it was great to see how they handled themselves on the course even as they were struggling with different aspects of their game. Of the 3, only Yun made the cut, and only just barely, but there were plenty of memorable moments from everyone.

Sadekar had the toughest day in the group, as she's working on an entirely new swing and had loads of trouble with her irons. But I can't remember her missing a fairway all day, her 3 great scrambling pars in a row as she made the turn still stick out in my mind, and she must have left half a dozen putts dead center but a revolution or 2 short. Although she came a bit unravelled after she missed a tiny par putt on the tough par-3 12th, doubling the par-5 13th and bogeying her last 4 holes in a row, she never got mad, just sarcastic ("Seriously?" she asked her ball while it was in the air after she missed her her last iron of the day). With a glittered-up golf bag and style to spare, she has the golfing persona and charisma to draw kids of all ages to any pairing she's in. If she can groove this wider swing path that she was grinding away at yesterday, she definitely has the accuracy off the tee and the touch around the greens to go far.

Dye's round was probably the most frustrating in her pairing. By contrast with Sadekar, she was hitting her irons great and giving herself loads of birdie chances, but she didn't convert a single one of them until the tricky downhill par-3 16th. Even though she was fighting her driver a bit, sometimes going left and often missing right, she really hung in there for the 1st 12 holes and would have been even if she hadn't 3-putted the par-5 1st after missing a short birdie putt and missed a tiny par save on the 12th. As it was, though, frustration set in over her last 6 holes as she missed very makeable birdie putts on 13, 14, and 17 and bogeyed the tough 15th. She couldn't have known as she stood on the 18th tee that all she needed to do was make a par to be playing today, but when she blocked her drive OB right--her only really bad drive of the day at exactly the wrong time--she knew she was done for sure. Her 75 could easily have been a 68 if her putter had shown up. But that's golf. Even though she's going to drop from her 46th spot on the FT money list because of that MC, she's only a win away from the top 20, and from what I saw she has the game to win any given week. In only her 3rd year as a professional, she's already a consummate one, plus she's a fellow blogger. Can't wait to see what she writes about Syracuse!

Yun had the lowest score in the group, but having recently switched coaches and in the middle of switching coasts (from Florida back to San Diego), she's dealing with the enviable problem of having gained 10-to-15 yards per club virtually overnight. She told me in her post-round interview (on which more later) that it literally happened during the 2nd round in Connecticut 2 weeks ago. Since then, she said, she's pretty much learned to trust that she now hits her 8-iron 150 yards and has a decent feel for the longer irons, but from inside 125 she's completely at sea. And of course when you're driving the ball as long and accurately as she was yesterday (even when she missed a fairway, it was almost always on the side that gave her the best angle at the pin), most every approach shot was from inside 125. Her distance gains were evident to me on her 1st few holes, even before her folks told me about them and she confirmed them. She just missed the par-5 1st in 2 and had a hybrid in on the par-5 2nd when she bombed her drive 25 yards past a trap most players last year in much drier conditions weren't getting much past. But she had trouble dealing with the wet rough and soft greens on both holes, failing to birdie either. And even after she made a great birdie on the 3rd, she bogeyed the 5th and 6th when the wind blew her approach on the par-4 long left and on the par-3 short right and she again couldn't recover with a good pitch on either hole. A muscle spasm on a tap-in on the next hole made it 3 bogeys in a row, but she bounced back with a great birdie on the uphill par-3 8th and got another stroke back when she hit the par-5 13th in 2. After a missed birdie chance on 14 after being shown the line by a Sadekar miss and a fantastic up-and-down on the 15th after punching out from the right trees (her only bad drive of the day), she was still E with 3 to play. But distance control in heavy winds proved too much for her on the next 2 holes, a short par-3 off a cliff and a very short par-4 to a very elevated green, and once again, her recovery shots weren't nearly close enough to allow her to save par. But she calmly stuck a short iron from the left rough to a front pin, landing just past the bunker guarding the front right of the green, and just missed yet another birdie putt for a 73. She was sure she had missed the cut after the round, but I get to say "I told you so" here--and I'll be heading out in about a half hour to tell her directly.

How did I know she had a good chance to make the cut despite beeing 6-over-par through 36 holes. I've played Drumlins enough as a kid and I've watched enough tournament golf to know that the course wasn't playing easy at all. Sure, the greens were holding much better than last year--the huge soaking they got on Friday ensured that, at least--but as the afternoon went on an annoyingly changeable breeze morphed into a swirling, variable-speed, at times heavy wind. Combine that with soft fairways which brought in the possibility of chunking irons, wet rough that made pitches and chips from around the greens an adventure, greens that were drying out and speeding up at different rates, and tucked pins galore--plus many greens that were open to the wind and many shots that became the wind's plaything the second they rose above the treeline--and I wasn't at all surprised that there were only 7 rounds in the 60s and that the leaders failed to separate themselves from the field.

What Sadekar's, Dye's, and Yun's rounds remind us all is how hard golf can be. And it reinforced my view that E. Michael Johnson would need to have a career day just to have a chance of beating even a struggling Futures Tour player. Looking forward to seeing if Hannah can go low today and checking in on the leaders for the back 9!

Ricoh Women's British Open Saturday: Ya Ni Tseng's 66 Brings Her Within 2 of Caroline Masson

It was moving backwards day for most of the field yesterday at the Ricoh Women's British Open, but 2nd-round leader Caroline Masson, world #1 Ya Ni Tseng, Scotland's own Catriona Matthew, and China's only professional golfer on the LPGA Shanshan Feng must not have gotten the memo, as they were the only golfers to go below 69 on a day when 1st-round leader Meena Lee shot an 80, Brittany Lincicome, Hee Young Park, and Caroline Hedwall 76s, and the likes of Morgan Pressel, Eun-Hee Ji, and Tiffany Joh 75s--and Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park followed up Friday's 64s with 73s. Feng's 67 and Matthew's 68 were bogey-free, while Masson's 68 was marred only by opening and closing bogeys, but the round of the day belonged to Tseng, who fired a bogey-free 30 on the back, punctuated by a 50-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th, to get to -13 for the week, only 2 shots behind Masson. The LET super soph, however, played another great round of golf, breaking 70 for the 3rd-straight time, taking only 29 putts while hitting 15 greens in regulation, and getting up and down from greenside bunkers 2 of 3 times. If she can put up those kind of numbers for the 4th day in a row today, she could well hold off a charging Tseng. With nobody else within 5 shots of the lead, the final round is likely to be nearly a match-play situation, unless the weather turns ugly and somebody near the top of the leaderboard plays great anyway.

As I missed the beginning and end of ESPN's coverage due to The Constructivist Family Futures Tour Road Trip (on which more soon), I don't have too much else to add. I'm going to miss the final-round WBO coverage entirely and will be driving back to Hamburg in the evening, so I'll be staying offline and firing up the DVR once the girls are asleep at home. Feel free to let me know what I missed in comments!

[Update 1 (3:18 am): Here are the final-round pairings. Would love to follow Boeljon-Reid, Gal-Joh, Pettersen-Kerr, Wie-Seo, Stanford-Kim, Yang-Feng, and Creamer-Miyazato for a few holes each!]

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lexi Thompson Wins Stage I of LPGA Q-School by 10 Shots Over Mitsuki Katahira

As Ryan Ballengee and Emily Kay have noted, and as Randall Mell has been chronicling, Lexi Thompson has lead the 50 qualifiers from Stage I of LPGA Q-School with a dominating performance. After going 66-66-66-67 at LPGA International, Thompson finished at -23, 10 shots better than runner-up Mitsuki Katahira, the 21-year-old who was recently the #1 female amateur in the world (she's now #2, behind New Zealand wunderkind Lydia Ko).

How good was Lexi's performance this week? Well, consider that she also beat Ginger Howard, who's won 2 SunCoast Series events in a row and 3 of her last 4, by 12 shots, UCLA's Stephanie Kono, who went deep in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, by 14, Junthima Gulyanamitta by 18, Victoria Tanco by 19, Carlota Ciganda by 20, and current WAPL champion Brianna Do and former U.S. Girls champion Doris Chen by 24. Not half bad! Seriously, I had my doubts about Thompson's ability to bring the swing changes she's been working on into tournament conditions, but she clearly put those worries to rest this week.

Those who made the 36-hole cut but failed to finish in the top 50 will be alternates for Stage II, which is open to non-LPGA members of Rolex Rankings-recognized tours, everyone in the top 100 of the Rolex Rankings as of July 12th who isn't already an LPGA member, and Class A LPGA members who haven't played in an event in the last 2 years (so long as their handicaps are 4.0 or less). Given that there's room for as many as 216 players in this stage, which conflicts with the Japan Women's Open, I wonder how many JLPGA members will join those from the KLPGA, LET, ALPG, and Futures Tour in late September--and how many of those alternates will get into Stage II's final field?

[Update 1 (5:17 pm): Nice post by Shane Bacon!]

Ricoh Women's British Open Friday: Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park Tie Carnoustie Tournament Record with 64s, But Caroline Masson Takes Lead at Halfway Point

Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak and past U.S. Women's Open champion Inbee Park put on a show today, tying the Carnoustie tournament record of 64 in perfect conditions on the morning of the 2nd round of the Ricoh Women's British Open. Both had their chances to shoot 63s, but a bogey on the par-4 12th kept Park from doing it (her only 2 bogeys in her 1st 2 rounds have come on 12!), while for Pak a very short missed birdie putt on the vulnerable par-5 17th did her in.

Still, Pak is -10 over her last 24 holes (and counting) of bogey-free golf and has caught Na Yeon Choi (67) and Dewi Claire Schreefel (66) at -8 for the tournament. Park, meanwhile, was alone as the leader in the clubhouse until early in the evening, when she was joined at -10 by 1st-round leader Meena Lee, who birdied 17 and 18 to close out a fine 69. But they were both preempted by LET super soph Caroline Masson, who fired a fantastic bogey-free 65 to get to -11 and take the midway lead. Masson, who's -8 over her last 20 holes (and counting) of bogey-free golf, is 18th in LET Solheim Cup points and needs a great week to make the team. At least she's putting herself on Team Euro captain Alison Nicholas's radar!

World #1 Ya Ni Tseng also took advantage of the amazing scoring opportunities in the morning, going -3 over her 1st 6 holes and -4 over her last 5 holes to post a 66 that moved her all the way to alone in 7th at -7 through 36 holes. But she wasn't the only highly-ranked golfer to go low today. Suzann Pettersen and Ji-Yai Shin were able to kick it into a new gear after disappointing 1st rounds; their bogey-free 66s moved them to -2 and -3 for the tournament, respectively. Stacy Lewis's and Michelle Wie's 68s (highlighted by 6 birdies in a row to start the back for Lewis and 6 birdies and a great par save on 18 for Wie) weren't quite as impressive as Linda Wessberg's 8-birdie 66 or Janice Moodie's 5-birdie, 1-eagle 67, but they did help the Americans join Pettersen (and Moodie, Sun Ju Ahn, Kristy McPherson, and Karen Stupples) at -2. Speaking of Americans, Cristie Kerr was poised to go super-low today, with 3 birdies in a row to start the front, 2 birdies in a row to start the back, and an eagle on 17, but she made 2 bogeys and a walkoff double in other 5 closing holes to settle for a 69 that left her at -3 with Shin (and a host of other golfers, including Karrie Webb, Morgan Pressel, Maria Hjorth, Sun Young Yoo, Song-Hee Kim, Anna Nordqvist, Eun-Hee Ji, Vicky Hurst, Cindy LaCrosse, and Danielle Kang).

As you can see, those who barely broke 70 or just got under par today were passed by a passel of players. But don't count out Brittany Lincicome (71), Mika Miyazato (69), Caroline Hedwall (69), or Amy Yang (70) at -6, even though Lincicome had a roller-coaster finish over closing holes she dominated Thursday, Miyazato squandered a 1st-hole eagle and 3 subsequent birdies with a +1 finish over her last 5 holes, Hedwall took 33 putts on a day she hit 15 greens in regulation, and Yang birdied only 1 of 3 par 5s today. Ditto for Paula Creamer (70) at -5, who suffered a walkoff bogey for the 2nd day in a row, as well as Catriona Matthew (69), Sophie Gustafson (71), Pat Hurst (69), and Sophie Giquel-Bettan (68). Although Gustafson probably directed a few choice words at her putter and Creamer, Matthew, Hurst, and Giquel-Bettan can identify several mightabeens, they've all managed to avoid the kind of major mental meltdowns that saw Angela Stanford take 2 doubles in her last 5 holes today, the 1st because of trouble in the heather on the par-5 14th and the last because she failed to declare that her rehit from the 18th fairway was a provisional because she assumed her 1st was out of bounds (it wasn't). At -4 with Hee Young Park (70), Momoko Ueda (71), Brittany Lang (70), and Tiffany Joh (69), Stanford is by no means out of this, but she's significantly reduced her margin for error over the weekend.

Still, at least she's playing on the weekend. Last week's winner at Evian, Ai Miyazato, won't be, thanks to a terrible start to the week, a weak finish today, and a generally cold putter throughout her 2 disappointing rounds. But she isn't the only top-notch player going home early this week. The JLPGA's only Billion Yen Woman, Yuri Fudoh, faded to +3, as well, as did Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, Seon Hwa Lee, LET stars Ashleigh Simon, Diana Luna, and Becky Brewerton, and NYers Moira Dunn and Meaghan Francella. Further back were Grace Park, Wendy Ward, Jane Park, Gwladys Nocera, Lee-Anne Pace, Mina Harigae, Jennifer Song, Jessica Korda, and Jenny Shin, and Pornanong Phatlum at +4, Jee Young Lee, Mindy Kim, and Beatriz Recari at +5, Laura Davies at +6 (thanks to a walkoff 9), Sakura Yokomine and Sherri Steinhauer at +7, Mi Hyun Kim and Paige Mackenzie at +8, and Christina Kim at +10. Even in great weather, Carnoustie was plenty nasty for these very good golfers.

And even for those playing very well this week, it's been difficult to put it all together for more than a few holes at a time. Consider that Masson, Lee, Choi, Mikan, and Hedwall were the only golfers to break 70 both rounds. Even with a great weather forecast for moving day, it's difficult to imagine more than 2 of them doing it for the 3rd time in a row. And if Carnoustie starts showing its teeth....

[Update 1 (7/30/11, 7:22 am): Great tribute to Se Ri by bangkokbobby!]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ricoh Women's British Open Thursday: Meena Lee Tames Carnoustie

With the winds from the North Sea down and rains softening Carnoustie's fairways and greens, Meena Lee fired a bogey-free 65 that gave her a 2-shot lead on Brittany Lincicome, a 3-shot lead on Angela Stanford, Amy Yang, Sophie Gustafson, and Caroline Masson, and a 4-shot lead on Na Yeon Choi, Paula Creamer, Mika Miyazato, Song-Hee Kim, Momoko Ueda, Amy Hung, Caroline Hedwall, and Lorie Kane in the Ricoh Women's British Open. Karrie Webb and Morgan Pressel at -2, Ya Ni Tseng and In-Kyung Kim at -1, and Cristie Kerr and Maria Hjorth at E probably wish they had taken better advantage of today's relatively benign conditions, but they're certainly in better shape than Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie at +2, Ji-Yai Shin and Melissa Reid at +3, and Suzann Pettersen and Ai Miyazato at +4, all of whom will be struggling just to make the cut tomorrow (which is the low 65 and ties rather than the usual low 70 and ties on the LPGA).

With the LGU, LET, and LPGA providing fantastic overviews and interviews, I'll just add some color commentary of my own. The most striking thing for me today was how well so many slumping golfers played. Lorie Kane hasn't been playing top-level golf for many years; Sun-Ju Ahn and Sandra Gal at -1 haven't been playing well for weeks; Na Yeon Choi and Song-Hee Kim have been playing pretty badly for months, as has Sun Young Yoo at -1; Momoko Ueda at -3, Brittany Lang, Hee Young Park, and Vicky Hurst at -2, and Kristy McPherson at -1 have been struggling for even longer. McPherson was actually -5 through her 1st 6 holes on her way to a bogey-free 31, but stumbled with a birdieless 40 on the back that will make her efforts to take the last spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team away from Christina Kim (who opened with a 79 today) all the more difficult.

The next thing that struck me was how much ground you could make up simply by putting well today. Karrie Webb hit 17 greens in regulation but took 35 putts on her way to her 70; Shanshan Feng had the exact same score but, with only 10 greens in regulation, took only 24 putts. You can see the same contrast between Sun-Ju Ahn, who hit 15 greens, took 34 putts, but eagled 2 par 5s for her 71, and Katie Futcher who also shot 71 but did so by hitting 11 greens, going 5-for-5 in sandies, and needing only 27 putts. But for every Feng or Futcher there were 2 or 3 Webbs or Ahns out there. Most of the golfers who went under par did so by hitting a lot of greens; very few scrambled their way to a very good number.

I think that pattern shows just how penal and difficult Carnoustie actually is. Consider the round of Tiffany Joh, who's been playing great golf lately. She averaged 278 yards off the tee and hit 13 fairways, but could manage to find only 12 greens in regulation, was 0-for-2 from greenside bunkers, and needed to birdie 3 of her last 5 holes just to shoot a 71. With that kind of distance, it's not like she was hitting many hybrids or fairway woods into greens, but she actually did worse than Anna Nordqvist, who averaged only 200 yards off the tee on the holes they measured and hit only 8 fairways, but hit 14 greens, no greenside bunkers, and managed a bogey-free 70. Those 4 bogeys Joh made proved to be quite costly. In fact, the only players in the entire field who managed to combine really good ballstriking with really good putting were Lee, Lincicome, Yang, and Gustafson. Sure, Morgan Pressel scrambled her way to an 11-green, 28-putt 70, but how many other golfers had fewer than 30 putts? And how many of them hit more than 13 greens?

Just take a look at Ai Miyazato's scorecard to see how much teeth Carnoustie has even in good conditions: she opened with 5 bogeys in a row, followed up a birdie on 6 with a bogey on 7, made her 1st par of the day on the 8th, then offset her 2 birdies on the back's par 5s with a double on the par-3 13th. But when you look at her ball-striking stats--275 yards off the tee, 11 fairways, 12 greens--you might not have expected a 76 from her. The difference was with disasters and missed putts (34 in all).

So let's see what the weather is like tomorrow before we talk about how the LGU had defanged The Beast. I want to see how many players can tame Carnoustie over 72 holes!

[Update 1 (7/29/11, 1:12 am): Check out the earmuffs on Mika Miyazato and other great photos at Fairways and Forehands!]

[Update 2 (1:28 am): And here's Ryan Ballengee's overview.]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ricoh Women's British Open Preview, Predictions, Pairings

The LPGA and LET meet up this week at Carnoustie for the 1st time for the Ricoh Women's British Open. Ya Ni Tseng will be striving to defend her WBO title and get her 5th career win at an LPGA major, Karrie Webb will be looking for her 3rd LPGA win of 2011 and 4th WBO title, Ai Miyazato will be aiming fo her 1st major and 8th career LPGA victory, Suzann Pettersen will be going for her 2nd major and 8th LPGA win in an effort to lift the spirits of her grieving country, Stacy Lewis will be trying to take her 2nd major of the year, Cristie Kerr, Ji-Yai Shin, and In-Kyung Kim will be shooting for their 1st win of the season (which would extend their runs of seasons with at least 1 win by another year), Angela Stanford will be looking to end her victory drought, and everyone else will be wanting to put their own stamp on what is always one of the most interesting majors of the year. When held on true links courses, the WBO is probably the most democratic of all majors: it doesn't favor any particular style of play; it just rewards the golfers who bring their best game, use their best judgment, and roll best with the punchges that the terrain and the weather will send their way.

The LGU's website is great, with a detailed history of the WBO, a fascinating interview with Catriona Matthew and Janice Moodie, and lots on the challenges of Carnoustie. There have already been some great previews supplementing's overview, profile of Suzann Pettersen, interview with Karrie Webb, and other pre-tournament interviews, along with the LET's preview focusing on Ai Miyazato, Suzann Pettersen, and several others. Hound Dog packs more information into a few paragraphs than most golf writers do into a full-length article, Emily Kay focuses on Ya Ni Tseng, Ron Sirak on Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, and Paige Mackenzie, Alistair Tait on Suzann Pettersen, and Beth Ann Baldry on In-Kyung Kim.

Hound Dog's Hot 20 gives you a great sense of who's been playing well on the LPGA heading into this week and I've updated my lists of the best with 7 or more wins and the best without a major on the LPGA, but, really, all bets are off at Carnoustie. Here are my guesses for this week's PakPicker at Seoul

1. Miyazato Ai
2. Kim In-Kyung
3. Miyazato Mika
4. Tseng
5. Kerr
6. Lewis
7. Creamer
8. Pressel
9. Stanford
10. Pettersen
11. Shin Ji-Yai
12. Hjorth

Alts: Choi Na Yeon, Yang, Yokomine

The pairings are super-cool! There are so many great ones, it's hard to choose which ones to focus on here. How about these (all from the 1st tee)?

7:14 am: Ai Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi, Michelle Wie
11:59 am: Ya Ni Tseng, Morgan Pressel, Mika Miyazato
11:37 am: Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, Sakura Yokomine
6:41 am: Laura Davies, Karrie Webb, In-Kyung Kim
6:52 am: Cristie Kerr, Momoko Ueda, Catriona Matthew
12:21 pm: Sophie Gustafson, Stacy Lewis, Miki Saiki
11:48 am: Juli Inkster, Ji-Yai Shin, Beatriz Recari
12:10 pm: Karen Stupples, Christina Kim, Natalie Gulbis
7:25 am: Angela Stanford, Maria Hjorth, Florentyna Parker
12:32 pm: Se Ri Pak, Sandra Gal, Kristie Smith
9:48 am: Mi Hyun Kim, Kristy McPherson, Sarah Kemp
6:30 am: Anna Nordqvist, Caroline Hedwall, Sophia Popov
9:37 am: Mindy Kim, Paige Mackenzie, Jennifer Johnson
9:15 am: Lorie Kane, Carin Koch, Vicky Hurst
11:15 am: Christel Boeljon, Diana Luna, Danielle Kang [a]
2:55 pm: Moira Dunn, Cindy LaCrosse, Dewi Claire Schreefel

With so many golfers going off at such widely differing times, the luck of the draw may play a big part in the final results, but since the weather is so changeable it should hopefully even out for everyone over 72 holes. TV coverage starts tomorrow morning on ESPN (with bonus early-morning coverage on ESPN3 for those who get it). Can't wait for it to start!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

LPGA Q-School's Stage 1 Begins Today

Here are the field list and pairings for the 1st stage of LPGA Q-School, which begins today. Brent Kelley identifies many of the key notables in the field, including Lexi Thompson, Victoria Tanco, Carlota Ciganda, Brianna Do, and Russy Gulyanamitta; adds Mitsuki Katahira, Stephanie Kono, and Junthima Gulyanamitta. Along with these and others I focused on earlier this month, I'll join Randall Mell in adding Ginger Howard to the list of golfers to watch in this 150-player field. She's been tearing it up on the SunCoast Series with 3 wins in her last 4 starts there, including her last 2 in a row.

The top 50 move on to the next stage in late September. Let's see who gets there in style and who just squeaks in. I'll be rooting for central NYers Jillian Fraccola and Maite Cupp myself. With great names like Minami Levonowich, Yayoi Garcia G., Iris Ocariza, Mari Suursalu, Tovie St. Louis, and Emma De Groot (from Chattanooga, Tennessee) in this field, just scanning each day's scores alone will provide plenty of entertainment. Good luck to everyone!

[Update 1 (7/27/11, 3:29 am): Here's the leaderboard!]

The Best on the LPGA Without a Major: 2011 Ricoh Women's British Open Edition

All right, with the 2011 Ricoh Women's British Open right around the corner, it's time I updated my Kraft Nabisco Championship, Wegmans LPGA Championship, and U.S. Women's Open takes on the best on the LPGA without a major, ranked this time by their likelihood of breaking through at Carnoustie. The numbers in parentheses following the players' names are for LPGA wins and international wins (but only from the other major tours: JLPGA, KLPGA, LET).

Most Likely to Break Through in 2011

1. Ai Miyazato (7/15): She's found her rhythm, her serenity, and her confidence just in time for her best major, where she's finished 11th or better in 5 of her 7 starts. She's on the right track for proving my pre-season prediction right, so I'm hoping for a great week for and from her at Carnoustie.

2. In-Kyung Kim (3/1): Talk about due: she hasn't finished worse than 12th in her last 6 majors and her only finishes outside the top 20 in her last 13 majors have been at exceptionally windy Kraft Nabisco Championships in '09 and '10. Although this year she hasn't been able to sustain the pace that put her in the top 5 in the last 3 majors of 2010, she's still been playing top-notch golf this past calendar year, plus she's got 3 top 20s in 4 career WBO starts. Will this be her time to stop knocking on the door at a major and finally bust through it?

3. Mika Miyazato (0/1): She already has 5 top 15s to her credit in LPGA majors in her short professional career, including 3 top 10s in a row this year (a T7 at the KNC, a T8 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and a 5th-place finish at the U.S. Women's Open). Plus, she's already won a JLPGA major, getting revenge at the '10 Japan Women's Open for her final-round collapse in the '09 edition. Heading into last week, I thought she was the most likely to get the next Miyazato win and I wouldn't be surprised if she were the next!

4. Angela Stanford (4/0): Her best chance to win a major to date was back in the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, but Hilary Lunke answered Stanford's 27-foot birdie with her own walkoff birdie to win the 18-hole playoff instead. Since then, Stanford's had 15 more top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship (back when it was sponsored by McDonalds), a T3 at this year's KNC, and a 4th-place finish at the USWO a few weeks ago. Although her record at the WBO is surprisingly weak for a player of her caliber and style of play, she's on such a huge roll right now I'd be surprised if she weren't in contention on the back 9 on Sunday.

5. Amy Yang (0/3): She's riding a 6-major top-20 streak and is coming off a T5 at last year's WBO. I saw firsthand at the Wegmans LPGA Championship that she has a great game for majors, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see her take the title at Carnoustie.

6. Maria Hjorth (5/5): You know, she may not yet be quite back to being the kind of player again who averaged 2 top 10s in majors a year in 2007 and 2008--and I doubt she'll improve on that T2, 4th, 2nd run from the '07 WBO to the '08 LPGA Championship. But just 1 bad round at the Broadmoor interrupted a run in this year's majors that included a top 20 at the KNC, and a top 10 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. So when you take into account her 2 wins in the last 9 months, how accurate she is off the tee for a bomber, and her impressive start last week in Evian, I think you have to conclude she has a good shot to win this week at Carnoustie.

7. Na Yeon Choi (4/4): Let's face it: last year's money-list title-holder hasn't played very well in the LPGA's big-money events this year. Sure, she got a bronze at the Sybase Match Play Championship and a 6th at the Showdown in Singapore, but she suffered her 3rd-ever missed cut in a major at this year's USWO (to go with her MCs at the '07 USWO and '10 Wegmans LPGA Championship), slogged through her worst 2 non-MC major finishes right before that (T49 at the KNC and T43 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship), and could only bounce back with a T21 on an Evian course she's almost won on--twice. On the bright side, she hasn't finished worse than T21 at a WBO and is coming off a T8 and a T3 in her last 2 WBO starts. So which NYC will show up at Carnoustie?

The Contenders

8. Hee Kyung Seo (1/11): She turned a good rookie season very good at the Broadmoor, where she lost in a playoff to KLPGA rival and friend So Yeon Ryu. Can she turn it into a great one at Carnoustie? She's coming off a T5 at last year's WBO....

9. Michelle Wie (2/0): So far, her performance in majors as an LPGA member has been nowhere near her 7 close calls from 2003-2006, including 6 top 5s, 2 of them at Mission Hills. While the golfy media has been making much of how surprising her recent slump has been, given that she hasn't been taking classes a Stanford lately, I haven't been that surprised that she's struggled on courses like Locust Hill and the Broadmoor that reward accuracy and penalize wildness off the tee. Maybe the simplicity of links golf--hit the ball, find it, hit it again--will free up her creativity this week.

10. Sun Young Yoo (1/0): She's made the cut in 12 of her last 14 majors, a fitting companion to her late bloom on the LPGA relative to most of her Young Gun-generation peers. Even though her best finish in a major is still a T12 at the '09 KNC, she's been putting up impressive performance stats for several years now as an Angela Stanfordesque straight shooter, she's gotten a couple of top 25s in a row in majors in a somewhat shaky 2011 season, and she's gotten 3 top 40s in 5 WBO starts.

11. Song-Hee Kim (0/0): Yes, her run of 9 top 25s in 10 majors from the '08 USWO to the '10 WBO was snapped this year, she hasn't shown many signs of her usual Cristie Kerr-quality talent and game inside or outside this year's majors, and she's coming off a Sunday 76 at Evian. But maybe, just maybe, she can keep her 2-event top-20 run at the WBO going this week at Carnoustie anyway....

Quantum Leap Candidates

12. Hee Young Park (0/4): She's made the cut in 8 of her last 10 majors, with 4 top 15s in that stretch, including a T11 at the '09 WBO. In fact, she has 2 top 15s in her 3 career WBO starts to date. Let's see if The Rocket can finally capitalize on her fantastic driving this year and avoid the "onebadrounditis" that's sabotaged her last 2 starts....

13. Sandra Gal (1/0): Yeah, she never cracked the top 30 in a major in her 1st 11 tries, but she got a T15 at this year's KNC. Unfortunately, she followed it up with a missed cut at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and could only bounce back with a top 35 at the USWO, plus her ball-striking stats have been declining fast in the last couple of months. Even though her putter remains very reliable, it's looking more and more like her start to this season was just a little hot streak.

14. Katherine Hull (2/1): She only has 3 top 20s in majors in her life, her performance in them this year has been horrendous, and she had to withdraw from the Evian to rest an ailing back, so it's looking increasingly unlikely that she'll get anywhere near last year's WBO's near-miss against Ya Ni Tseng this week at Carnoustie.

15. Shanshan Feng (0/0): Yes, her best performances in LPGA majors (a T42 at this year's USWO, a T48 at the '09 USWO, a T50 and a T54 at the last two Wegmans LPGA Championships, and a T55 at this year's KNC) haven't been all that impressive. But she's a classic straight shooter who hits a lot of greens in regulation and is due to finally get her putter going this year.

16. Momoko Ueda (1/8): Yes, she's gone back to playing terribly on the LPGA again after showing some signs of life earlier this season on both the JLPGA and LPGA, but there's something about the WBO for her: she made back-to-back eagles on her way to a T7 in '08 and she got 3 of them at Royal Birkdale (including a pair on the par-5 18th) on her way to a T9 in '10. I know this isn't an even-numbered year, but still, could lightning strike for the player whose lone LPGA win was sparked by a double eagle?

Watch Lists

Most wins/longest careers without a major: Mi Hyun Kim (8), Hee-Won Han (6), Sophie Gustafson (5), Lorie Kane (4), Wendy Ward (4), Candie Kung (4)

Slumping stars: Seon Hwa Lee, Jee Young Lee, Christina Kim, Brittany Lang, Kristy McPherson, Vicky Hurst

Rising stars: Caroline Hedwall, Jennifer Song, Tiffany Joh, Cindy LaCrosse, Belen Mozo, Jennifer Johnson

Possible non-LPGA winners: Sakura Yokomine, Sun-Ju Ahn, Yuri Fudoh, Miki Saiki, Melissa Reid, Becky Brewerton

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Best on the LPGA: 7-Up, July 2011 Edition

With Ai Miyazato getting LPGA win #7 at the Evian Masters, it's time again to update my June 2011 ranking of the active club members by their likelihood of winning this season. I said last month that I expected others to join this list "relatively soon," but I had no idea it would be my favorite golfer!

Before I unveil the new list, I have to mention again that it's totally pitiful that the career bio pages I'm linking to here don't actually cover the entire careers of the veterans and are riddled with errors for the last couple of seasons. They're mostly accurate when it comes to career wins and majors (the correct figures which I list below in parentheses after the players' names), but ignore what they say about top 10s and check the players' performance stats pages for more accurate figures.

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2011

1. Ya Ni Tseng (8/4): Right after I wrote that "she's hitting on all cylinders and playing so well she's a threat to win even on courses that don't favor bombers," she goes and wins in bigger-than-Rory fashion on the ridiculously narrowed Locust Hill at the Wegmans LPGA Championship to become the youngest golfer since the late 19th century to win 4 majors. So now that the career grand slam is out of her reach for another season, I wonder what she'll do for an encore? Defend at the Ricoh Women's British Open by winning at Carnoustie? Why the heck not? [Update (8/29/11): Can't believe it's taken me this long the crow about my call for win #9 and major #5!]

2. Ai Miyazato (7/0): Her winless streak hadn't been as long as Pettersen's or as filled with close calls as Kerr's, but it probably was more frustrating because of how far she fell from super-elite status and game during it. I have to believe she's turned a serious corner in the last few weeks, not just confidence- or focus-wise, but also in terms of her approach shots and putting finally catching up with her great driving. Watch out for her the rest of the season--it was only last year she was winning in bunches! And I'm sure she doesn't want to remain 1 of only 2 players on this list without a major....

3. Cristie Kerr (14/2): She's done everything but win in recent weeks, but as the prototypical straight shooter she's capable of transforming silver and bronze into gold any given week. (Never mind her hiccups over her last 19 holes at Evian--it can happen to anyone.)

4. Suzann Pettersen (7/1): She's done everything but win in recent years, so now that she has it'll be interesting to see if the LPGA player with the best chance to become a straight-up bomber (as Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa were at the peak of their careers and Ya Ni Tseng has been at times this season) can starting stringing together multiple wins as she did back in 2007. [Update (8/29/11): Suzann now has the same number of LPGA wins as Ji-Yai and was on quite a tear after dominating in Ireland and chasing down Na Yeon Choi from 9 down over the final 18 holes of the Safeway Classic, but then she went and missed the cut in Quebec. What's up with that?]

5. Ji-Yai Shin (8/1): She's in unfamiliar territory, with a new swing, new caddie, and new issues with her game (surprisingly shaky distance control on approach shots at times and at others problems with her putting under pressure), but she's been knocking on the door all over the world this year and is caoable of busting it down any given week.

6. Paula Creamer (9/1): She hasn't been as consistently awesome as she was before her wrist and intestinal issues cropped up--back then, she was virtually a guaranteed top 10 every week--and she hasn't yet remembered quite how to go super-low, but even with her surprising difficulties with her putter (1.86 putts per green in regulation?!!), she's still capable of contending any given week.

7. Karrie Webb (38/7): During her 1st 11 seasons on the LPGA, she was a consistent threat for the money-list title (which she took 3 times), Player of the Year award (twice), and Vare Trophy (3 times, the lowest scoring average of the 3 coming in 1999, at 69.43). In her 14-year LPGA career, she's never finished outside the top 30 on the money list, never had a scoring average above 72, only twice failed to make the top 20 on the money list (these were the only times her scoring average rose above 71.50), and only 3 times failed to enter the winner's circle (each of those seasons, her best finish was 2nd). So is it any surprise she's already won twice on tour in 2011? Not to me: if you read any of my ranking posts the last couple of years, you'll see I've been calling for an LPGA win from her for a long time. But as the least consistently excellent of the players on this list, with the streakiest putter of the bunch, I can't rank her any higher than this.

The Contenders

8. Se Ri Pak (25/5): From 1998-2004, she was one of the 3 best players in the world of women's golf, racking up 22 golds, 14 silvers, 6 bronzes, and 83 top 10s in all. She won the Vare Trophy in 2003 with a 70.03 scoring average, but not in 2002 with a 69.85 one or in 2001 with a 69.69 (thanks, Annika!). She was a 4-time silver medalist on the money list and 2-time bronze medalist during this stretch. She hasn't been nearly that dominant since then, but she won her 5th major in dramatic fashion at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship and became a 5-time winner of the Farr in 2007, the year she was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, she's been dealing with injuries since winning the Bell Micro last year, so I don't know when her next win is coming, even though she snagged an impressive top 5 at the State Farm even with a stiff lower back and has played some very good golf in stretches of late.

9. Juli Inkster (31/7): She's discovered golf's fountain of youth. Sure, she hasn't won, earned a million dollars in winnings, or slid below 71 in scoring average since 2006, and her top-10 rate has been slipping in that stretch, but she's still been putting herself in contention with a good deal more regularity than most people would expect and is certainly capable of winning again.

Quantum Leap Candidates

10. Mi Hyun Kim (8/0): First it was knee surgery, then pregnancy, and lately it's been motherhood for my fave among the old-school Seoul Sisters. She was a regular on the top 10 for her 1st 9 seasons on tour, but the last 2 and change have been struggles, at least on the course. Still, she's driving the ball and putting better than last season and has shown flashes of her old game in 2011, with a few rounds in the 60s already. More important, she's made 7 of 9 cuts so far this season and taking baby steps back toward the LPGA elite.

11. Laura Davies (20/4): Those last 2 points she needs to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame must be weighing on her, as she's been winning everywhere but the LPGA in recent years. Given her international record and commitment to growing the game around the world, there's no doubt she'll be voted into every golf HOF on the planet once she decides to retire, but given how competitive she is I'm sure she'd love to win 1 more major and do it herself! The odds are decreasing each year, and they haven't been good in a while, but they're better than getting 2 non-major LPGA wins and I wouldn't put anything past her over 72 holes!

On the Bottom, Looking Up

12. Sherri Steinhauer (8/2): She won a senior major and made 12 of 17 LPGA cuts post-hip surgery last season, but is only 2-for-7 this one. Still, if she can get her game in shape in time for Carnoustie this week, I'm never counting her out at a WBO! [Update (8/29/11): She called it quits on a great LPGA career at the Canadian Women's Open, in honor of her 1st LPGA win, which also took place in Canada. Best of luck to her in everything she chooses to do!]

13. Helen Alfredsson (7/1): Her scoring average in 2009 was her 4th-lowest ever, even better than some from 1992-1995, when she was a fixture on the top 20 of the LPGA money list. But she's played a limited schedule ever since, and--with no made cuts in her last 6 starts dating back to last year's WBO and no starts at all since this year's KNC--has been calling more shots than she's been taking lately. I really enjoyed listening to her on Golf Channel a month or so ago, but I'd love even more to see her playing great golf again--or any!

14. Liselotte Neumann (13/1): She hasn't completed an event in her last 19 starts dating back to 2008 (and only 3 made cuts in her other 13 starts that season), so although she's in Category 19 and #172 in the latest priority status list, she can enter only 2 tournaments this year and hasn't yet done so. She hasn't been playing on the Legends Tour, either, so I wonder if her competitive golf days are behind her....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Evian Masters Sunday: YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ai Miyazato put the pressure on her lead chase pack early in the final round of the Evian Masters and, despite a few shaky swings down the stretch and a slightly-colder putter than she'd become accustomed to this week, held on for a 2-shot win over Stacy Lewis. Even though Ai-sama couldn't make it 4 rounds in the 60s in the end, her -15 total was good enough for her 2nd win in 3 years at Evian and 7th career LPGA victory. At the start of the year, I predicted that her game would once again become world-beating after some early struggles, but even I was surprised that she followed up her T6 at the U.S. Women's Open with a win this week. She's got some serious momentum heading into her favorite major, the Ricoh Women's British Open, next week. I'm hoping that she can keep on rolling, because she still has a long way to go to catch Ya Ni Tseng and Cristie Kerr in the Player of the Year race!

I'll have more on the final round itself soon, but the girls want to celebrate Ai-sama's win by playing outside now!

[Update 1 (6:06 pm): Nice post on Ai-sama's win by The Squire at Golf Babes! I have to say on further reflection that scoring conditions must have been tougher in the final round than I originally thought, as Anna Nordqvist and Amy Yang were the only players to shoot 67s, Suzann Pettersen, Morgan Pressel, Melissa Reid, and Lexi Thompson 68s, and there were only 7 69s. Chella Choi had the low round of the day with a great 66. So Ai-sama's 70 was very solid. Yes, she was fortunate that In-Kyung Kim went from making 18 birdies in 41 holes ending with the 3rd today to 4 bogeys between the 6th and 13th holes, that Stacy Lewis and Angela Stanford couldn't feed off each other's good play, that Miyazato's playing partner Ran Hong bogeyed 4 holes in a row after pulling within 1 of her lead, that Caroline Hedwall rode such a serious roller coaster, and that Mika Miyazato, Maria Hjorth, and Shin-Ae Ahn couldn't get anything going today. But like I said earlier, she put pressure on those chasing her and they didn't respond all that well. In the end, a win's a win, and this one was a big one for Ai-sama's confidence and momentum!]

[Update 2 (7:30 pm): For that matter, Ai-sama was fortunate that Ya Ni Tseng and Suzann Pettersen made as many big numbers as In-Kyung Kim. Here's a celebratory video from derr2000:


[Update 3 (7/25/11, 4:44 am): Great perspective and photos from bangkokbobby!]

[Update 4 (4:54 am): Wow, both bangkokbobby and make the Nadeshiko Japan connection! Finally, someone else with a firm grasp of the obvious like me! Still beyond the European media pool covering the event, though....]

[Update 5 (7/26/11, 7:22 am): Here's Hound Dog on Ai-sama's win and many other matters coming out of Evian!]

Evian Masters Saturday: Ai Miyazato's 67 Lifts Her 2 Ahead of the Lead Chase Pack

It was a tale of two putters down the stretch on moving day at the Evian Masters. Stacy Lewis, who fired her 3rd-straight 32 on the front this week to briefly lead at -12, struggled with her speed on the greens and also suffered a couple of cruel lipouts as she shot her 2nd 37 of the week on the back. Meanwhile, her playing partner Ai Miyazato smoothly surged past her with nearly flawless golf, posting a bogey-free 67 that moved her to -13 and a 2-shot lead over Lewis (69), Angela Stanford (69), Miki Saiki (70), and Ran Hong (67).

But today's final round is unlikely to be only a 5-player race to the finish. With In-Kyung Kim (64) and Mika Miyazato (68) making 9 birdies each yesterday, getting the former (like Maria Hjorth) within 3 of the lead and the latter (like Cristie Kerr and Shin-Ae Ahn) within 4, Ai-sama knows that she'll have to keep going low to get her 2nd win at Evian in the last 3 years and 7th on the LPGA. After all, a sub-65 final round is entirely possible from Ji-Yai Shin (-8), Paula Creamer (-7), Suzann Pettersen (-7), Morgan Pressel (-7), Ya Ni Tseng (-6), and/or Na Yeon Choi (-5). Just imagine where Tseng would be if she hadn't taken a snowman on Friday, or where Choi would be without her 2 triples this week!

One key at Evian is giving yourself lots of birdie chances, so if past results are any indication, tomorrow's going to come down to Lewis (47/54 greens in regulation thus far this week), Ai-sama and Shin (46), and Stanford and Kim (45). Here are the key Sunday pairings:

11:00 am: Na Yeon Choi, Inbee Park
11:24 am: Ya Ni Tseng, Paula Creamer
11:40 am: Suzann Pettersen, Morgan Pressel
11:48 am: Ji-Yai Shin, Caroline Hedwall
11:56 am: Cristie Kerr, Shin-Ae Ahn
12:12 pm: Mika Miyazato, Maria Hjorth
12:20 pm: In-Kyung Kim, Miki Saiki
12:28 pm: Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford
12:36 pm: Ai Miyazato, Ran Hong

As you can see, the mix of top Japanese, American, Korean, and European golfers in the hunt this week emphasizes the global nature of the women's game and underscores the need for the top tours to get together and create a worldwide team match-play competition. As I've argued repeatedly, the most feasible path is for the Solheim Cup (USA vs. Europe) and Pinx/Kyoraku Cups (Japan vs. Korea) to be synchronized so that the winning and losing teams from each face off in even-numbered years. All it would take is for the Big 4 women's tours to get their acts together....

I have other ideas about how to use team golf to help raise the profile of the women's game, but that's the subject for another post. With play already under way in the final round, I'm going to burn off some nervousness for Ai-sama, Mikan, and Inky in particular by trying to sneak out early on my new home course to prepare for my own Buffalo District tournament tomorrow. I'm not even going to go online again until the Golf Channel coverage is complete--which is saying a lot for me!

[Update 1 (6:03 am): Before I go, though, I have to agree with bangkokbobby that the media gets too fixated on a single narrative when it comes to Ai Miyazato's relatively mediocre play at the start of this season. Yes, obviously, she needed time to deal with the massive tragedy and crisis that has engulfed her native country (just as Suzann Pettersen will for the horrible attacks in Norway), but she's been struggling with the pressures of being and fighting for #1 on the planet for virtually an entire year now. I am still amazed that nobody in the European media has thought to ask her about what influence Nadeshiko Japan's stirring win at the FIFA Women's World Cup has had on her approach to golf. We've heard a lot about her talk with her caddie, but there's got to be more to her recent turnaround than that....]

[Update 2 (6:21 am): One more thing: the start to Inky's round will be key. She's made 16 birdies in her last 38 holes, but she'll have to keep the pedal to the metal today to make up that 3-stroke deficit to Ai-sama. I have a feeling it's going to come down to those 2 in the end....]

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Evian Masters Friday: Miki Saiki Leads 5 by 1

The JLPGA's Miki Saiki leads the Evian Masters by 1 shot over 5 players, including countrywoman and 2009 champion Ai Miyazato. Saiki is in the midst of the best season in her JLPGA career, with a win at the Fundokin Ladies, 2 runner-ups, and 6 top 5s in 13 starts, including a T4 last week at the Stanley Ladies. She briefly got to double digits under par when she made her 6th birdie of the day on the 11th hole, but dropped a shot on the very next one and parred in from there, so she did leave the door open for many players. But nobody walked through it.

Miyazato had a great chance, having birdied 2 holes in a row midway on the front and 3 in a row as she made the turn to get to -9 and a share of the lead through 14 holes, but the Golf Channel jinx kicked in almost immediately: just as soon as the cameras started, she made a couple of bogeys in a row, both due to missed fairways and miscues with her putter. However, she bounced back with a walkoff birdie to end the day at -8, tied with playing partner Angela Stanford, who matched Caroline Hedwall's 66 for low round of the day (and the week) when she recovered from a double bogey at the par-3 14th with 3 birdies in a row to close out her round, Stacy Lewis, who came back from her own miscues at the end of Thursday's round with 5 birdies in her 1st 10 holes and hung on for a 67, and 1st-round co-leaders Maria Hjorth and Shin-Ae Ahn, who couldn't quite make as many birdies as they did in the 1st round, but still posted fine 69s. Fellow 1st-round co-leader Karen Stupples also had her chances to get double digits under par, but had to settle for a 70 that left her at -7, tied with Paula Creamer (bogey-free 67 that could have been even better) and Cristie Kerr (a 69 sparked by an eagle on the par-5 9th). Rounding out the top 10 are defending champion Ji-Yai Shin and former KLPGA rival Ran Hong, who both shot her 2nd-straight 69 of the week. Shin's probably been striking the ball better than anyone this week, with only 5 missed greens in her 1st 36 holes, so if she keeps it up and finds a way to get more putts to drop, she could be a big threat this weekend.

With much more benign weather conditions in the 2nd round than the 1st, there were a lot of very good rounds. Matching Saiki's, Lewis's, and Creamer's 67s were a couple of great ball-strikers, Suzann Pettersen and Amy Yang, who pulled within 5 shot of the lead. Matching Ai Miyazato's 68 were Mika Miyazato, Catriona Matthew, and Stacy Prammanasudh, who stand with Hedwall 1 closer to Saiki heading into the weekend, as well as Ai-sama's playing partner Na Yeon Choi (-4), Sun Young Yoo (-3), In-Kyung Kim (-2), Gwladys Nocera (E), and Anna Nordqvist (+1). And there were a bunchy of 69s, most notably by legends Se Ri Pak and Yuri Fudoh--2 of the 27 golfers within 5 shots of the lead through 36 holes--and U.S. Women's Open champion So Yeon Ryu (-3).

But not everybody could take advantage of the great scoring conditions, most notably Sun Ju Ahn, Saiki's JLPGA rival and the only player on tour ahead of her on their money-list, and USWO runner-up Hee Kyung Seo. But a host of very good golfers won't be playing on the weekend, including Juli Inkster, Laura Davies, Grace Park, Akiko Fukushima, Hee-Won Han, Momoko Ueda, Jee Young Lee, Seon Hwa Lee, Michelle Wie, Kristy McPherson, Vicky Hurst, Amanda Blumenherst, Mindy Kim, Jennifer Song, Christel Boeljon, Ashleigh Simon, and Caroline Rominger.

With many of my favorite golfers--as well as onechan's (Paula Creamer) and imoto's (Ji-Yai Shin)--near the top of the leaderboard, I'm really psyched for the weekend. I would love to see Ai Miyazato make the Evian the site of her return to the LPGA winner's circle, of course, but it was great seeing so much of her, In-Kyung Kim, Na Yeon Choi, and Ji-Yai Shin on Golf Channel's Friday coverage. I've got a Buffalo district event to get ready for by Monday morning, so I'm trying to learn what I can from watching all the action at Evian!

[Update 1 (6:36 am): Once again, bangkokbobby has a fantastic Evian Masters post up at Fairways and Forehands, with lot of great observations, photos, and videos. I totally agree with him about Natalie Gulbis's skills in the booth, by the way. If she doesn't make the Solheim Cup team, somebody ought to hire her to help cover it!]

[Update 2 (6:44 am): Looking at highlights of Chie Arimura's albatross and hole in 1 in the JLPGA event she won last week

(courtesy of a link from Jonathan Wall), I have to wonder yet again why she's decided to skip Evian and the Ricoh Women's British Open.]

Friday, July 22, 2011

Evian Masters Thursday: Hjorth, Stupples, Shin-Ae Ahn Lead with Soggy 67s

A day of couldabeens and comebacks in the 1st round of the Evian Masters was epitomized by 2 European veterans with the talent to have won much more often than they have in their stellar careers. Maria Hjorth and Karen Stupples joined KLPGA star Shin-Ae Ahn with matching 67s, but little else matched in their rounds. Playing in horrid weather for the vast majority of the day, Hjorth posted the classic couldabeen round after making 8 birdies in 1st 14 holes, while Stupples enjoyed one of the best comebacks of the day with a bogey-free 30 on the back after suffering a double bogey on the par-5 9th. As bangkokbobby notes in his photo- and video-rich 1st-round recap, Hjorth bogeyed her last 3 holes while Stupples birdied them. Ahn, by the way, couldn't quite finish with 3 birdies in a row, but she birdied 3 of her last 4 and 4 of her last 8 to post a Stupples-like 67.

After Nadeshiko Japan's numerous comebacks on their way to their stirring Women's World Cup victory, Ai Miyazato may have been especially motivated to bounce back from her early double bogey on the par-4 5th. Much like Stupples, Ai-sama birdied 5 of her last 10 holes and ended up hitting 11 fairways and 15 greens in regulation on her way to a 68 that puts her only 1 shot behind the co-leaders. Her countrywoman Miki Saiki was more Hjorthesque, however, as she birdied 8 of her 1st 15 holes but sprinkled in 3 bogeys over her last 6, including 2 of her last 3, to settle for a 68 of her own. 23-year-old Ritsuko Ryu had a little bit of both her sempai's rounds: she birdied 6 holes between the 8th and 16th but had to endure a walkoff bogey.

It was pretty much the same for the top Americans in the field, as well. Like Shanshan Feng, Brittany Lincicome birdied 3 of her last 6 holes to join the Japanese contingent at -4 (actually, Feng birdied 3 of her last 4 on a day she hit 13 fairways and 16 greens!). On the Hjorth side of the ledger, Stacy Lewis had a little more good weather at the end of her round than the co-leaders, but she squandered a 6-under-par bogey-free run through her 1st 14 holes with a double on the par-5 16th and a bogey on the par-5 18th (just in time for the Golf Channel coverage). 1 shot better was Cristie Kerr, who sprinkled a couple of bogeys into her 6-birdie 68.

Ditto for the international contingent who joined Lewis at -3. Eun-Hee Ji eagled the par-4 16th and just missed a hole-in-one on 17 and a birdie on 18. Meanwhile, defending champion Ji-Yai Shin birdied 2 of her last 4 holes, while dual LPGA/JLPGA member Inbee Park and KLPGA standout Ran Hong birdied 3 of their last 5. But Ya Ni Tseng couldn't follow up on her eagle on the par-5 7th and birdie on the par-5 9th; although she didn't make a bogey all day, she had to have felt that with 12 fairways and 15 greens she left a lot of shots out on the course on Thursday. By contrast, the LET's Virginie Lagoutte-Clement bounced back from 3 bogeys in her 1st 4 holes with 6 in her last 12 (including all 4 par 5s).

Of course, not everyone broke 70. In fact, some didn't even break 75, among them Vicky Hurst and Amanda Blumenherst at 78, Anna Nordqvist at 77, Sun-Ju Ahn, Lee-Anne Pace, Michelle Wie, Laura Davies, and Kristy McPherson at 76, and Americans Juli Inkster, Christina Kim, Brittany Lang, Mindy Kim, and Jennifer Song, nihonjin Yukari Baba, Rui Kitada, Hiromi Mogi, Kumiko Kaneda, and Harukyo Nomura, and Europeans Beatriz Recari, Ashleigh Simon, and Trish Johnson, all at 75. They'll need to go low today just to make the cut, while In-Kyung Kim (74), Suzann Pettersen, Amy Yang, Sun Young Yoo, and Caroline Hedwall (73), Na Yeon Choi, So Yeon Ryu, Melissa Reid, Azahara Munoz, Seon Hwa Lee, and Jee Young Lee (72) will need to get it in gear to be within shouting distance of the leaders heading into the weekend. There are opportunities for Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Yuri Fudoh, Sophie Gustafson, Catriona Matthew, Morgan Pressel, Mika Miyazato, and Hee Young Park at -1, along with Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Sandra Gal, Natalie Gulbis, and Lexi Thompson at -2, to put their names in the mix on Sunday if they can go low today and/or tomorrow, but they can't count on the longer-than-usual-playing course and faster-than-ever greens to bring all the leaders back to them.

I'll avoid spoilers on today's round until after the Golf Channel coverage, so for now check out's notes and interviews from the 1st round. I can't believe how apparently nobody in the European press has asked a Japanese golfer about Nadeshiko Japan yet!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The 2011 Worldwide Women's Professional Golf Schedule and Results

With the LPGA's announcement that their new China event will move from early August to late September/early October, I thought I'd better provide a new update of the LPGA's, JLPGA's, KLPGA's, and LET's 2011 schedules and most recent winners.

Note: A [D] following a player's name indicates that she is the defending champion of a tournament that has not yet been completed.


17-19: Hyundai China Ladies Open (KLPGA/CLPGA) HYE YOUN KIM


3-6: ISPS HANDA Women's Australian Open (LET/ALPG) YA NI TSENG

10-13: ANZ RACV Ladies Masters (LET/ALPG) YA NI TSENG

17-20: Honda LPGA Thailand (LPGA) YA NI TSENG; Pegasus New Zealand Women's Open (LET/ALPG) KRISTIE SMITH

24-27: HSBC Women's Champions (LPGA) KARRIE WEBB

MARCH 2011

4-6: Daikin Orchid Ladies Open (JLPGA) INBEE PARK

11-13: Yokohama Tire PRGR Ladies Cup (JLPGA) YUN JYE WEI [D] [cancelled due to earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis]

18-20: RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup (LPGA) [new event] KARRIE WEBB; T Points Ladies Open (JLPGA) RUI KITADA [D] [cancelled due to earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis]

24-27: Kia Classic (LPGA) SANDRA GAL

31-4/3: Kraft Nabisco Championship (LPGA major) STACY LEWIS; Lalla Meryem Cup (LET) ZUZANA KAMASOVA

APRIL 2011

1-3: Yamaha Ladies Open (JLPGA) MIHO KOGA [D] [cancelled due to earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis]

8-10: Studio Alice Ladies Open (JLPGA) CHIE ARIMURA [D] [cancelled due to earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis]

14-17: LOTTE Mart Ladies Open (KLPGA) HYUN HWA SHIM; European Nations Cup (LET team event) SWEDEN
15-17: Nishijin Ladies Classic (JLPGA) YURI FUDOH

22-24: Fujisankei Ladies Classic (JLPGA) KUMIKO KANEDA; Hyundai E&C Seokyung Ladies Open (KLPGA) HA NEUL KIM

28-5/1: Avnet LPGA Classic (LPGA) MARIA HJORTH
29-5/1: Cyber Agent Ladies Cup (JLPGA) YURI FUDOH

MAY 2011

5-8: Salonpas Cup (JLPGA major) SUN-JU AHN; Turkish Airlines Turkish Ladies Open (LET) CHRISTEL BOELJON

12-15: Taeyoung Cup Korean Women's Open (KLPGA major) YEON JOO JEONG
13-15: Fundokin Ladies (JLPGA) MIKI SAIKI; ISPS Handa Portugal Ladies Open (LET) ASHLEIGH SIMON

19-22: Sybase Match Play Championship (LPGA) SUZANN PETTERSEN; Unicredit Ladies German Open (LET) DIANA LUNA
20-22: Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open (JLPGA) HARUKYO NOMURA; Rush & Cash Charity Classic (KLPGA) SUNG HYUN LEE

26-29: Doosan Match Play Championship (KLPGA) SOO-JIN YANG; Ladies Slovak Open (LET) CAROLINE HEDWALL
27-29: Yonex Ladies (JLPGA) HIROMI MOGI

JUNE 2011

3-5: ShopRite LPGA Classic (LPGA) BRITTANY LINCICOME; Resort Trust Ladies Open (JLPGA) SAKURA YOKOMINE; Woori Investment & Securities Ladies Championship (KLPGA) SUL AH YOON; Deloitte Dutch Ladies Open (LET) MELISSA REID

9-12: LPGA State Farm Classic (LPGA) YA NI TSENG; Suntory Ladies Open (JLPGA) SUN-JU AHN
10-12: Tenerife Ladies Match Play (LET) BECKY BREWERTON; Lotte Cantata Women's Open SBS Tour (KLPGA) SO YEON RYU

16-19: Deutsche Bank Ladies Swiss Open (LET) DIANA LUNA
17-19: Nichirei PGM Ladies (JLPGA) JI-HEE LEE; S-OIL Champions Invitational (KLPGA) MI RIM LEE

23-26: Wegmans LPGA Championship (LPGA major) YA NI TSENG

30-7/2 Finnair Ladies Masters (LET) CAROLINE HEDWALL

JULY 2011

1-3: Nichi-Iko Ladies Open (JLPGA) AYAKO UEHARA

7-10: U.S. Women's Open (LPGA major) SO YEON RYU

15-17: Stanley Ladies (JLPGA) CHIE ARIMURA

21-24: Evian Masters (LPGA limited-field event/LET major) AI MIYAZATO

26-20: Stage 1 (LPGA Q-School) LEXI THOMPSON
28-31: Ricoh Women's British Open (LPGA/LET major) YA NI TSENG
29-31: SBS Tour Hidden Valley Ladies Open (KLPGA) HYUN MIN PYUN


5-7: Meiji Chocolate Cup (JLPGA) SHANSHAN FENG; Ladies Irish Open (LET) SUZANN PETTERSEN

12-14: NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies (JLPGA) SUN-JU AHN; Volvik Lyle & Scott Ladies Open (KLPGA) YOON JI CHO [D]

17-19: Stage 1 (JLPGA Q-School) YANG PAN RED [?] (District B)
18-20: Aberdeen Ladies Scottish Open (LET) CATRIONA MATTHEW
18-21: Nefs Masterpiece (KLPGA) JUNG EUN LEE 5

24-26: Stage 1 (JLPGA Q-School) YUSHU YAO XUAN (District A), XIE LING ? (District C)
25-28: CN Canadian Women's Open (LPGA) BRITTANY LINCICOME
26-28: Nitori Ladies Cup (JLPGA) RITSUKO RYU; LIG Ladies Classic (KLPGA) HYUN HEE MOON


1-4: Hanhwa Finance Network Open (KLPGA) NA YEON CHOI
2-4: Golf5 Ladies (JLPGA) LI-YING YE; UNIQA Ladies Golf Open (LET) CAROLINE HEDWALL

8-11: Konica Minolta Cup (JLPGA major) YUKO MITSUKA; Prague Golf Masters (LET) JADE SCHAEFFER
9-11: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship (LPGA) YA NI TSENG

15-18: Navistar LPGA Classic (LPGA) KATHERINE HULL [D]; Open de Espana Femenino (LET) MELISSA REID
16-18: Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic (JLPGA) MAYU HATTORI

22-25: MetLife Hankyung KLPGA Championship (KLPGA major) JI-YAI SHIN [D]
23-25: Solheim Cup (LPGA/LET team competition); Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open (JLPGA) EUN-A LIM [D]

27-30: Stage 2 (LPGA Q-School)
29-10/2: Imperial Springs LPGA (LPGA/CLPGA) [new event]; Japan Women's Open (JLPGA major) MIKA MIYAZATO [D]; Lacoste Open de France Feminin (LET) TRISH JOHNSON [D]
30-10/2: Daewoo Securities Ladies Open (KLPGA) BO MEE LEE [D]


6-9: LPGA Hana Bank Championship (LPGA/KLPGA) NA YEON CHOI [D]
7-9: Sankyo Ladies Open (JLPGA) SUN-JU AHN [D]

13-16: Hite Cup Championship (KLPGA major) SOO HWA JANG [D]
14-16: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia (LPGA) JIMIN KANG [D]; Fujitsu Ladies (JLPGA) SUN-JU AHN [D]

20-23: LPGA Taiwan Championship (LPGA) [new event]; 2011 KB Star Tour Grand Final (KLPGA major) BO MEE LEE [D]
21-23: Masters GC Ladies (JLPGA) SAKURA YOKOMINE [D]; Sanya Ladies Open (LET/CLPGA) LEE-ANNE PACE [D]

28-30: Hisako Higuchi Morisaga Weider Ladies (JLPGA) RIKAKO MORITA [D]; KumKang Centerium Ladies Open (KLPGA) [new event?]; Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open (LET/CLPGA) LEE-ANNE PACE [D]


2-4: Stage 2 (JLPGA Q-School)
4-6: Mizuno Classic (LPGA/JLPGA) JI-YAI SHIN [D]; Daishin Securities-Tomato M Korea-European Ladies Masters (KLPGA/LET) HYUN-JI KIM [D]

10-13: Lorena Ochoa Invitational (LPGA) IN-KYUNG KIM [D]
11-13: Ito-En Ladies (JLPGA) MIKI SAIKI [D]; Sambu-Tani Ladies Open (KLPGA) [new event?]

17-20: CME Group Titleholders (LPGA) MARIA HJORTH [D]
18-20: Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies (JLPGA) NA-RI KIM [D]; ADT CAPS Championship 2011 (KLPGA) AE RI PYUN [D]

22-24: Stage 3 (JLPGA Q-School)
24-27: Ricoh Cup (JLPGA major) INBEE PARK [D]

29-12/2: Final Qualifying Tournament (JLPGA Q-School)
30-12/4: Final Qualifying Tournament (LPGA Q-School)


3-4: Pinx Cup (KLPGA/JLPGA team competition) [cancelled 2010]

9-11: Hero Honda Women's Indian Open (LET) LAURA DAVIES [D]

14-17: Omega Dubai Ladies Masters (LET) IBEN TINNING [D]


I'll add in dates for the KLPGA's and LET's Q-Schools when I find them.

Evian Masters Pairings

Here are my favorite pairings for the Evian Masters (everyone's going off the 1st tee):

8:17 am: Ai Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi, Angela Stanford
8:35 am: Ji-Yai Shin, In-Kyung Kim, Karen Stupples
1:02 pm: Ya Ni Tseng, Stacy Lewis, So Yeon Ryu
8:57 am: Karrie Webb, Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen
12:40 pm: Se Ri Pak, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lang
8:46 am: Mika Miyazato, Hee Kyung Seo, Brittany Lincicome
10:32 am: Shiho Oyama, Mariajo Uribe, Jennifer Song
9:19 am: Momoko Ueda, Meena Lee, Paige Mackenzie
12:51 pm: Amy Yang, Shanshan Feng, Wendy Ward
12:29 pm: Sun-Ju Ahn, Sandra Gal, Ryann O'Toole
10:10 am: Yuri Fudoh, Gwladys Nocera, Melissa Reid
1:42 pm: Lee-Anne Pace, Caroline Hedwall, Lexi Thompson
12:18 pm: Grace Park, Eun-Hee Ji, Stacy Prammanasudh
12:07 pm: Juli Inkster, Laura Davies, Natalie Gulbis
9:08 am: Michelle Wie, Maria Hjorth, Diana Luna
8:06 am: Anna Nordqvist, Candie Kung, Kyeong Bae
7:11 am: Seon Hwa Lee, Hiromi Mogi, Caroline Rominger
7:44 am: Ayako Uehara, Kumiko Kaneda, Alena Sharp
11:45 am: Sun Young Yoo, M.J. Hur, Azahara Munoz
11:05 am: Miki Saiki, Hyun-Ji Kim, Ji-Na Lim
10:21 am: Mayu Hattori, Ashleigh Simon, Sophie Giquel-Bettan

I love how the tournament organizers mix JLPGA and/or KLPGA players with LPGA and/or LET regulars. And even when there are all-LPGA groups, they still mix players from different continents as much as possible.

Still trying to decide whether to wait to blog until I catch the tape-delayed Golf Channel coverage or just go ahead and do some not-quite-live-blogging this week!

LPGA Photo Book

Before I take off for Carnoustie Scotland, I would like to share with you pictures I have taken with many of the LPGA golfers during the last year or so.

Lexi Thompson
Amanda Blumenherst
Natalie Gulbis
Sandra Gal
Beatriz Recari
Azahara Munoz
Anna Rawson
Brittany Lincicome
Suzann Petterson
Vicky Hurst
Jessica Korda
Morgan Pressel
Paula Creamer
Paula Creamer
Katherine Hull
Posted by Picasa

Amanda Blumenherst
Momoko Ueda
Hee Young Park
Paula Creamer
Jiyai Shin
Michelle Wie
Stacy Lewis
Belen Mozo
Brittany Lang
Cindy LaCrosse
Yani Tseng
Mellisa Reid
Natalie Gulbis
Lee-Anne Pace
Amanda Blumenherst
Ryann O'Toole

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Evian Masters Preview, Predictions

It's Evian Masters time! One look at the field list will tell you how close this event is to being a major (about 2 years, as it turns out): virtually all the top players from the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET will be competing this week. Sure, it's too bad that the JLPGA's Sakura Yokomine, Chie Arimura, and Ji-Hee Lee, who are all in the top 5 on that tour's money list, won't be here, and that the field hasn't been expanded soon enough to fill out the Spanish Armada with dual LPGA/LET members Maria Hernandez and Belen Mozo, world-class talents who just aren't getting enough playing opportunities to show it. But when you consider that So Yeon Ryu and Hee Kyung Seo get to pick up where they left off at the U.S. Women's Open, Ji-Yai Shin will be trying to defend her title, Ya Ni Tseng will be gearing up for her Women's British Open title defense next week, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, In-Kyung Kim, Na Yeon Choi, and Amy Yang will be looking to break into the winner's circle for the 1st time in 2011, and 17 Japanese players will be inspired by the Women's World Cup win by Nadeshiko Japan (including, most notably, Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Yuri Fudoh, Akiko Fukushima, and Shiho Oyama), this has all the makings to be one of the best weeks of the year for the LPGA.

To get a feel for what's at stake this week, be sure to check out the Evian press kit, web site (among the top 3 all year), twitter feed, and new youtube channel, previews by the LPGA and LET, and the preview by Mostly Harmless's own Tony Jesselli. You can also review my tournament previews from 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Between recent results on the LPGA and JLPGA, Hound Dog's Hot 20, the official tournament history, Golf Observer's historical performance stats, and my own Evian Sunday round-ups from 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, a few patterns present themselves:

  • Only truly special players do really well at Evian on their 1st try. Karrie Webb came in 2nd and Se Ri Pak 5th (to Annika Sorenstam) back in 2000, Paula Creamer won in 2005, Ji-Yai Shin came in 3rd in 2007, and Lexi Thompson came in 2nd in 2010. (Yes, the jury's still out on Lexi, but she did better on her 1st try than JLPGA superstars Momoko Ueda and Sun-Ju Ahn, both T6 in 2007, as well as Michelle Wie, whose 2 silvers came after an inaugural T33 in 2004, and Meena Lee, whose T5 in 2005 seems to be the only big exception to this rule.)
  • You'd better be a really good ball-striker with precise distance control if you want to win at Evian. Although it's one of the shorter courses the LPGA plays, only 1 real bomber, Helen Alfredsson, has won here. It's difficult to go out and overpower this hilly course--just ask Ya Ni Tseng, who hasn't cracked the top 10 here in her previous 3 attempts. 3 of the last 4 and 4 of the last 6 winners have been precision players. And there have been more precision players in the mix late on Sunday than straight shooters or bombers since I've been writing about this tournament.
  • Don't expect the eventual winner to run away with this thing. Last year, Ji-Yai Shin broke a string of 3-straight playoffs, but she needed a walkoff birdie to avoid one with Morgan Pressel, Na Yeon Choi, and Lexi Thompson.
  • This week should be a birdie-fest unless the weather acts up. Which, of course, it has been lately. (Even in the 1 recent year where the weather was bad, though, the playoff ended up being between 2 precision players!)
Given all that, it's going to be very difficult for So Yeon Ryu and Ryann O'Toole to build on their U.S. Women's Open breakthroughs, it's going to be very interesting to see if they or Jennifer Song or Caroline Hedwall can join that very short list of 1st-time single-digit finishers, and it's highly probable that Caroline Hedwall, Miki Saiki, Christel Boeljon, Melissa Reid, Yuri Fudoh, and Ayako Uehara will join the usual list of LPGA suspects at the top of the leaderboard. So who do I think will be there this week? Here are my entries for the latest Seoul PakPicker competition:

1. Kim In-Kyung
2. Miyazato Mika
3. Creamer
4. Shin
5. Kerr
6. Miyazato Ai
7. Webb
8. Choi Na Yeon
9. Nordqvist
10. Hedwall
11. Lee Meena
12. Pressel

Alts: Hjorth, Pettersen, Saiki

I'll have a separate post on the pairings once they're released!

[Update 1 (1:48 pm): Here's Hound Dog's preview.]

[Update 2 (1:58 pm):  And here's Brent Kelley's.]

[Update 3 (7/20/11, 1:24 pm): Here's my list of my favorite 1st-round pairings.]

[Update 4 (10:42 pm): Here are the pre-tournament interviews.]