Sunday, March 31, 2013

AXA Ladies Sunday: Natsuka Hori Holds Off Harukyo Nomura for First Career JLPGA Victory

Some of the JLPGA's hottest young players took runs at Natsuka Hori today at the AXA Ladies, but the 20-year-old followed up yesterday's sizzling 64 with a bogey-free 69 that proved too much for Harukyo Nomura and Rikako Morita.  Nomura was hot early, making 3 birdies in her 1st 4 holes and following them up with back-to-back birdies on 10 and 11 to tie Hori for the lead at the time at -12.  Morita got hot late, birdieing 4 of her 1st 5 holes on the back to pull within sight of the leaders.  But neither player could keep up with Hori as she birdied the 178-yard par-3 13th and 388-yard par-4 15th to get to -14.  Morita blinked first with a bogey on the 15th, while Nomura's Waterloo was the 162-yard par-3 16th, which she bogeyed to fall 3 off the pace.  Meanwhile, JLPGA veteran and former LPGAer Shiho Oyama got stuck in neutral for 11 holes--going +1 over her final 8 holes yesterday and +1 over her 1st 3 today--and had to rally with 4 birdies over her remaining holes, including a walkoff birdie that matched Morita's, to tie the 23-year-old money-list leader for 3rd, 1 shot behind Nomura and 4 behind Hori.  This was Hori's 1st career JLPGA victory, and she did it in style, denying Nomura her 2nd JLPGA win (and 1st as a member) and forcing Morita to wait for her 4th JLPGA win.

Low round of the day went to Na-Ri Lee, who leaped into the top 10 with a 6-birdie 67, tying the likes of Erina Hara, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, and Yumiko Yoshida at -5.  Matching Nomura's and Morita's 68s was 25-year-old Ritsuko Ryu, who tied Miki Saiki and 23-year-old Megumi Kido for 7th, 1 shot behind 24-year-old Erika Kikuchi and 22-year-old Mikiko Nishi.  The JLPGA's biggest names could be found a little further down the leaderboard, with Sakura Yokomine, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Bo-Mee Lee, and Teresa Lu tied with 17-year-old amateur Asuka Kashiwabara in T16 at -4, Sun-Ju Ahn and Ji-Hee Lee stuck in T24 at -2, and Shinobu Moromizato and Young Kim back in T44 at +1.

Here's how the JLPGA money list now looks:

1. Rikako Morita ¥31.36M
2. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥20.97M
3. Natsuka Hori ¥15.48M
4. Yuki Ichinose ¥14.21M
5. Erika Kikuchi ¥11.27M
6. Harukyo Nomura ¥10.74M
7. Sakura Yokomine ¥10.19M
8. Ritsuko Ryu ¥9.49M
9. Young Kim ¥8.24M
10. Megumi Kido ¥7.12M
11. Shiho Oyama ¥6.82M
12. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥6.79M
13. Na-Ri Lee ¥5.46M
14. Yun-Jye Wei ¥5.33M
15. Teresa Lu ¥5.32M

Next up on the JLPGA is the Yamaha Ladies, which features pretty much all the tour's finest, including Yuri Fudoh, as well as 17-year-olds new pro Hyo-Joo Kim and amateur Nao Honda.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

AXA Ladies Saturday: 20-Year-Old Natsuka Hori Passes Shiho Oyama with 64

Shiho Oyama has made only one bogey over her 1st 36 holes of the AXA Ladies in Miyazaki, but she trails Natsuka Hori by 3 shots heading into the final round tomorrow after the 20-year-old opened with a 29 on the front and birdied 3 of her last 4 holes to post a 64 today.  Hori, whose best finish on the JLPGA is a T15 and who posted 5 top 25s in her 1st full season on tour last year, isn't the only youngster Oyama will have to outplay if she wants her 13th career victory on tour and 1st since 2011 to come to her tomorrow.  20-year-old Harukyo Nomura is 4 shots off the lead, while 23-year-old Rikako Morita, who leads the JLPGA money list on the strength of her gold, silver, and bronze in her 1st 3 starts, is lurking 5 shots back, along with 24-year-old Erika Kikuchi and 29-year-old Onnarin Sattayabanphot.  With Sun-Ju Ahn 7 back, Ji-Hee Lee 8 back, and Sakura Yokomine and Mi-Jeong Jeon 9 back, it's up to Oyama to uphold the honor of the JLPGA's biggest names.  It would be a huge step in her comeback from serious elbow problems to chase down Hori and hold off Nomura and Morita.  Let's see if she can do it, or if the JLPGA's youth movement will continue!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Best on the LPGA: 3-to-6-Time Winners, March 2013 Edition

Last June, I wondered who would be the next player to graduate from the group of 3-to-6-time winners on the LPGA to the 7-Up Club.  I had suggested that "The way Club 36 newbie Stacy Lewis is playing this year, she might have the best shot!  Even though she has the fewest wins and majors of anyone on this list, can you name anyone who's playing better golf than she is on it right now?"  Well, even though the answer to that question turned out to be "no," Na Yeon Choi beat her to the 7-Up Club with her wins at the U.S. Women's Open and the CME Titleholders in the 2nd half of 2012.  But when Lewis shot a Sunday 64 to beat Ai Miyazato at the RR Donnelley earlier this month, she added "7-Up Club Member" to her 2012 Player of the Year and Rolex "#1 in the world of women's golf" titles.  So who'll be the next to graduate from Club 36?  Read on!

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2013

1. Inbee Park (4/1): Although she broke a 19-event top-20 run in Singapore, let's pause to appreciate how great Inbee's been playing since last spring.  Including her 3 wins, she's finished in the top 5 no less than 11 times (including 6 times in a row!) and in the top 10 an amazing 13 times (including 9 in a row).  Keep in mind she had 6 2nd-place finishes last year.  So what if her best finish in her last 3 starts was T17?  She can win any event she enters.

2. In-Kyung Kim (3/0): Her playoff loss to Beatriz Recari this past Sunday had to hurt, but at least it signalled that she's ready to win again, after dealing with injuries most of 2012 (not to mention the psychological and emotional fallout of her everything-but-the-tap-in performance at last year's Kraft Nabisco Championship).  In her 20 starts since the KNC, yes, she had to WD once and missed the cut 3 times, but besides a T48 in Japan she has finished T31 or better in every start, including 5 top 10s, 10 top 20s, and 13 top 25s.  This year, she's #4 on tour in driving accuracy, #14 in birdies (averaging 4.13 per round), #16 in greens in regulation, and #21 in putts per green in regulation, so it's no surprise she's #2 in rounds under par rate and #6 in scoring average.

3. Angela Stanford (5/0): She had a great 2012, with a win in Singapore, 2 runner-up finishes, 5 top 5s, 6 top 10s, and 11 top 20s.  Her MC last week was her 1st since the Evian, but cut her some slack, as she had just scored a bronze at the RR Donnelley on top of 2 top 30s to start the season solidly.  She's the kind of player who can contend any time her putter heats up.  Why not next week?

The Contenders

4. Catriona Matthew (4/1): She's off to a great start in 2013, with 2 top 10s, 3 top 20s, and 4 top 25s already!  In fact, since her T40 in Toledo, she hasn't finished outside the top 30 in her last 13 starts (and that includes a run of 5-straight top 10s and 3-straight top 5s late last season).  So don't be surprised if she starts contending soon.

5. Brittany Lincicome (5/1): It's not like she had a bad 2012, with 4 top 5s, 6 top 10s, and 11 top 25s, but the problem was that her good finishes seemed so few and far between compared to other top players on tour.  This year has been more of the same thus far, with a pair of early top 20s offset by 2 missed cuts in a row heading into the site of her only major victory.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  I'm still waiting for her to go on a real run and put herself in contention over several events in a row. For a bomber, she's usually quite accurate off the tee (although not so at all early this season), but she needs to be giving herself more and better looks at birdie to take it to the next level (3.06 per round is just not going to cut it).  And she needs to become a more consistent putter to truly join the LPGA's super-elite (she's off to a terrible start this season).  At this point in her career, I'm starting to seriously doubt whether she has the desire, the temperament, and the work ethic to do any of that.

6. Candie Kung (4/0): Her missed cut at the Kia was her 1st in her last 13 starts (dating back to last season) and broke a 2-event top-10 streak.  In fact, during that run she had 2 top 5s and 4 top 10s, which just goes to show that she's a real threat any week she gets her putter going.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Hee-Won Han (6/0): Last season wasn't anything to write home about, with no really strong finishes since Toledo.  And last week at the Kia Classic she broke a 9-event made-cut streak (dating back to last season).  But she does have 1 top 20 and 2 top 25s to her credit already in 2013 and is hitting her fair share of fairways.  If she can improve her iron play and give herself more and better birdie chances, don't put contending out of the picture for her.

8. Maria Hjorth (5/0): She's off to a slow start in 2013 and hasn't really played good golf since a surprise top 10 at the Women's British Open last year.

9. Sophie Gustafson (5/0):  She's off to a terrible start to 2013, with 2 missed cuts and a WD last week in Carlsbad.  Here's hoping she's not injured.

10. Seon Hwa Lee (4/0): Even with all her struggles the last 4 seasons (during which she's put together only 5 top 10s since the final McDonalds LPGA Championship in '09), I still believe she's just too good a golfer for the 1st slump of her LPGA career to last much longer.  At #77 on the Priority Status List thanks to a medical exemption from last season, she's got another chance to turn things around.  With a T61 at the RR Donnelley and a MC at the Kia Classic, she's clearly got a lot of work to do to make it happen.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

11. Wendy Ward (4/0): A T21 at the Navistar was just enough to secure her the #118 position on the Priority Status List, so we'll be seeing plenty of her this season.  Unfortunately, we haven't yet seen her play on the weekend, as she's missed the cut in all 3 starts thus far in 2013.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  unless she does something about her putting, her years on the LPGA are numbered.

12. Lorie Kane (4/0): At #109 on the Priority Status List, she'll get to play pretty much whenever she wants to in 2013.  Unfortunately, she's missed her 1st 3 cuts in a row and 7 of her last 9 dating back to last season.

13. Pat Hurst (6/1): When your best finish in 2012 comes from a first-round match-play loss and you don't tee it up the rest of the year after missing the cut at the U.S. Women's Open, that's a season to be forgotten.  Starting off this season with a MC at the RR Donnelley is similarly a bad sign.  Let's face it:  since her surprise 2009 win, her only top 10s have come during majors ('09 KNC, '11 Wegmans LPGA Championship).  Yes, she's #53 on this year's Priority Status List thanks to a medical exemption, but she's going to have to turn things around quickly if she wants to stay ahead of Kane on the career money list.

On the Outside, Looking In

14. Wendy Doolan (3/0): At #223 on the 2013 Priority Status List, she, too, will have a slim chance to extend her LPGA career yet further. She missed the cut in last year's season-opener in Australia, but given that it was her 1st start since May 2010, just teeing it up was a huge victory for this breast cancer survivor. She ended up missing 6 cuts in her 10 starts in 2012, and didn't tee it up in Australia this year, so the signs aren't looking great for much PT this season.

15. Dorothy Delasin (4/0): This 2000 Rookie of the Year had been struggling to keep her card since 2006 and sits at #213 on the 2013 Priority Status List. She's missed her last 7 cuts in a row dating back to October 2010--and has made only 1 cut in her 33 starts from October 2008 to the present. She's hung on longer than another former ROY, '07er Angela Park (who I heard is attempting a comeback), but I have to wonder if we have already seen Delasin's last competitive season.  She didn't tee it up at all in 2012....

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Best on the LPGA: 2-Time Winners, March 2013 Edition

With Beatriz Recari joining the ranks of the LPGA's 2-time winners thanks to her playoff win in Carlsbad yesterday, it's time to update my ranking from last August and offer up my latest best guesses as to who's most likely to enter "Club 36" (3-to-6-time winners on tour)!

Most Likely to Win (Again) in 2013

1. Beatriz Recari: As Tony Jesselli pointed out, she already has 3 top 5s in 2013, including yesterday's gutsy win at the Kia.  Dating back to last season, she's finished in the top 25 in 12 of her last 14 starts--a T26 at the Navistar and a T35 at the RR Donnelley were her only misses in that stretch--and she had just ended a run of 9-straight top 10s with her T24 in Singapore.  So there's no reason to expect her to stop playing at this level any time soon.

2. So Yeon Ryu: In her 13 starts since she got her 2nd career LPGA win in Toledo, she's notched 6 top 5s, including most recently a 3rd-place finish in Thailand, but she hasn't added to her top-10 total of 9 in that stretch in any of her 3 other starts this season, failing in fact to break the top 25 since the Honda.  Nothing to worry about for a golfer of her caliber, but her relative inconsistency in 2013 has opened the door for Recari to pass her.

The Contenders

3. Anna NordqvistHound Dog claims her rookie season in 2009 was the best by anyone in LPGA history who failed to win the Rookie of the Year award and ranks it 8th overall.  What really distinguished it from her next 2 seasons was her driving accuracy that year--she declined from hitting about 77% of her fairways as a rookie to under 70%.  It's a good sign that she's picked up this season where she left off last one, hitting over 72% of her fairways so far, but her stats on the greens show where she needs to improve, with 1.80 PPGIR and only 3.35 birdies per round.  Whereas she finished last season hot with 4 top 10s in a row, she's started this one slow, with a T12 in Australia her only top 20 of 2013 to date.

4. Sun Young Yoo: After seeming to plateau in 2011, something in the California air in 2012 must have agreed with the Class of 2006's top late bloomer. After a not-even-close runner-up finish at the Kia to Ya Ni Tseng, she took advantage of In-Kyung Kim's heartbreaking final-hole miss from about a foot and beat her with a birdie in a playoff at the Kraft Nabisco Championship for the 2nd win and 1st major of her career.  A straight shooter in the Cristie Kerr/Angela Stanford/Brittany Lang mold, she's been struggling of late, with only 2 top 20s in her last 14 starts and 2 missed cuts in a row heading into her title defense.  Let's see if she can turn it around by April!

Quantum Leap Candidates

5. Stacy Prammanasudh: It's looking like little Ryp Walker has started giving his mom more practice time, as she's notched 3 top 25s in her 1st 5 starts this season and has made 7 cuts in a row dating back to last year's Safeway, with only 2 finishes outside the top 30 in that run.  It's a sign of how bad everyone below her on this list has been playing that that's been enough to move her up from #18 last ranking!

6. Katherine Hull-Kirk: She just snapped an 11-event made-cut streak this past week in Carlsbad, but she does have 2 T8s in that run, at Lorena's place and on her home soil, which means that she's playing better golf than everyone I'm ranking beneath her at the start of the 2013 season!

7. Momoko Ueda: So much for my "feeling she's very close to putting it all together outside Japan for the 1st time in her career."  The best you can say about her play of late is that she's made the cut in her last 6 starts in a row, but with only 1 top 20 in that run last fall in Taiwan and no finishes inside the top 50 in 2013, that's not saying that much.

8. Morgan Pressel: Last June, I was surprised when I talked with her in Pittsford and in Waterloo to find out just how low her confidence level was; in retrospect, I can understand why.  She couldn't turn 2012 around and has followed her her top 10 in Singapore with 2 missed cuts in a row.  She's still trying to find the form that had her among the LPGA's finest early last season.

9. Meena Lee: A T8 at last year's Navistar was her best finish in her last 10 starts and she too has missed her last two cuts in a row, so let's see if she can get things going this season.

10. Jeong Jang: It's definitely been taking her awhile to get back in the swing of things, even after coming back from maternity leave last season after taking all of 2011 off.  Here's hoping little Seul Samantha allows her mama enough practice time this season to return to the form that put her regularly in contention before wrist injuries derailed her career.  I got to follow both of them for awhile at the Wegmans LPGA Championship last June, which turned out to be JJ's best finish of the season, a T15.  Whereas she did add 3 other top 20s in the weeks after it, she finished the season with a couple of WDs and a lot of missed starts.  This season, she missed the cut at the RR Donnelley but bounced back with a T24 in Carlsbad, including a 68 in the 2nd round.  I'm thinking that's a sign of good things to come for JJ!

11. Eun-Hee Ji: She had 2 top 20s in her last 6 starts in 2012, but had started 2013 cold, with no finish inside the top 35 and a WD and MC already among her 5 starts.

12. Jimin Kang: Her T13 at the RR Donnelley was her best finish since the start of the 2012 season, when she notched a top 5 in Thailand, but she missed the cut at Carlsbad last week, so it's too soon to tell which Jimin will show up in 2013.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

13. Jennifer Rosales: She was a top-30 caliber player from 2002-2005, when she notched her 2 wins and 17 of her 20 top 10s, but she hasn't broken into the top 10 since then, although she did get 2 top 20s in the middle of last season.  Between injuries and bad golf, she's been missing more cuts than she's made, yet still hanging onto her card.  She got her 1st top 60 of the season yesterday, but at least has made the cut in 2 of her 3 2013 starts.  Let's see if she can get it going this year!

14. Michelle Wie: She made the cut in her last 5 events of 2012, but has already missed 3 in her 1st 5 2013 starts.  I can't blame her putting, as she's ranked in the top 50 on tour in both putting stats.

15. Karen Stupples: A top 10 at the Lotte in mid-April was her best finish last season, and she's already missed the cut in 2 of her 3 starts of 2013, with her best finish still outside the top 60, so she's clearly got some adjusting to do to her now-slimmed-down body.  Still, I think there are plenty of reasons for optimism for this veteran and mother of 2.

16. Ji Young Oh: My doubts from February 2010--"Somehow I can't believe that this Junior Mint has as promising a future on the LPGA as the other Young Guns on this list...."--have been right on target the last few years.  Her T43 yesterday was her best finish since a T42 at Kingsmill last season.

17. Christina Kim: The good news is, she's made the cut in her last 4 starts.  The bad news is, she hasn't improved on her T55 at Kingsmill that started the streak.

18. Laura Diaz: She'd been a regular in the top 40 and on the Solheim Cup since 2000, and even had 2 consecutive top-10 seasons early last decade, but coming back from the birth of her daughter a couple of years ago has proven quite difficult. From 2009 to 2012, she found every aspect of the game difficult and is now hanging onto her card by the tips of her fingers, at #129 on the Priority Status List. About the only good thing you can say about her 2013 is she made her 1st cut of the season at the Kia; the bad news is that she finished 73rd.

On the Outside, Looking In

19. Carin Koch: She notched 56 LPGA top 10s between 1995 and 2008, but only 2 wins--and at the Corning Classic and in Mexico (2 warning signs from my 1-time winners' ranking). But she moved back to Sweden in 2009 and has played only the 2 dual LPGA-LET events per season ever since. Don't get me wrong--she's often played well on the LET and is currently #23 on their money list--but she's just not giving herself many chances to add to her LPGA win total.

20. Gloria Park: She's still playing full-time at home in Korea.

21. Janice Moodie: This 3-time Solheim Cupper has never lost her LPGA tour card, even when she gave birth in 2006 and played only 10 events. But she hasn't won since 2002 and has gotten only 5 of her 44 career top 10s in the last 7 seasons, so it's not like being a mom on tour hasn't taken its toll on her game.  With a small boy and a toddler to corral, she's slipped to #231 on the Priority List.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Kia Classic Sunday: Beatriz Recari Beats In-Kyung Kim in 2-Hole Playoff

OK, so let me get this straight.  World #1 Stacy Lewis was making one of her soon-to-be-patented Sunday charges at the Kia Classic, with 3 birdies in a row over her 1st 4 holes and another on the 10th to get her to -11, but she finished 3 shots out of the playoff between Beatriz Recari and In-Kyung Kim?!  IK herself was -11 with 8 holes to play, bogeyed 3 holes in a row, then offset her 2 birdies in a row with a walkoff bogey and still had a chance to win the tournament?  Recari was having a bad day, with bogeys on the par 3s 6 and 11 to fall back to single digits under par for the week, but fought back to match Kim's birdie on 16--and then also bogeyed 18?  What the heck was going on today on Aviara's back 9?

Yup, Stacy Lewis doubled 11 to fall to -9, bogeyed the par-3 14th to fall to -8, then needed a birdie to have a chance and instead doubled it.  Pornanong Phatlum had a chance to put pressure on the leaders and finish at -10 with a birdie and -9 with a par, so of course she bogeyed it.  Karrie Webb needed a birdie on it to post -9--she bogeyed it, too.  Others did their self-destructive thing a bit earlier in the round.  Mo Martin birdied 5 of her 1st 12 holes to get to -10, but immediately went bogey-par-bogey-bogey, so that her birdie on 17 left her 1 shot out of the playoff.  It was a double on 11 that knocked Cristie Kerr back from -9 to -7 and even though she fought back with a birdie on 16, it was still too little, too late.  Paula Creamer was by no means out of it when she birdied the 10th to get to -8, but she was after she had finished bogeying her next 5 holes in a row.  Lizette Salas and Jane Park were still at -8 pretty late in the day, but moved 1 shot in the wrong direction.  Even Haeji Kang, Suzann Pettersen, and Azahara Munoz had their chances--Kang birdied 5 of her 1st 11 holes to get to -7, but a double bogey-bogey-eagle run left her at -6 for the tournament, while Pettersen had birdied 3 of her 1st 10 holes to fight to -7, but a bogey on 12 and a double on 14 ended her chances and for Munoz, who was also -7 well into the back, it was a double on 13 and a walkoff bogey with made her birdies on 14 and 16 moot.  Even Giulia Sergas, who matched Phatlum's and Kang's 68s for low round of the day, bogeyed a couple of holes midway through the back 9.

This one sounds like it would have been fun to watch, with more cliffhangers than a 15-minute Japanese morning soap opera and more crashes than my '90s-era Macs.  So somebody who saw it, please tell me: how did Recari find a way to win this thing?!

T Point Ladies: Yuki Ichinose Holds Off the Last Two Winners on JLPGA Tour

Daikin Orchid Ladies winner Rikako Morita made a move early in the final round of the T Point Ladies, but neither her 3 birdies on the front nor last week's winner Mi-Jeong Jeon's 4 birdies in her 1st 11 holes were enough to rattle 2nd-round leader Yuki Ichinose.  When the 24-year-old matched their birdies on the par-5 13th for her 3rd birdie of the day, she served notice that they would have to take the title away from her.  5 pars by Ichinose later, it was apparent that neither of this year's winners would be able to deny the 6th-year pro her 1st career JLPGA victory.

Ichinose beat Morita by 1, Jeon by 2, and Teresa Lu, Ritsuko Ryu, Yukari Baba, Na-Ri Lee, and Erika Kikuchi by 4.  Sakura Yokomine ended up at -7, 7 shots behind Ichinose, while even a final-round 67 by Sun-Ju Ahn left her 9 off the pace.

After 3 events, here's what the top of the JLPGA money list looks like:

1. Rikako Morita ¥26.16M
2. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥20.01M
3. Yuki Ichinose ¥13.56M
4. Sakura Yokomine ¥9.23M
5. Young Kim ¥7.90M
6. Erika Kikuchi ¥7.67M
7. Ritsuko Ryu ¥7.09M
8. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥5.43M
9. Megumi Kido ¥4.72M
10. Yun-Jye Wei ¥4.59M

A lot of those up-and-coming Japanese women golfers I was writing about in years past have apparently up and came!  Let's see if they can keep it going at the AXA Ladies!

[Update 1 (5:36 pm):  Here's bangkokbobby's story.]

Kia Classic Saturday: Recari Regains Lead with Eagle

Beatriz Recari eagled the par-4 16th to soar to -11 in the Kia Classic and take a two-shot lead over Hall of Famer Karrie Webb (who finished bogey-bogey), a three-shot lead over Paula Creamer and In-Kyung Kim, and a four-shot lead over world #1 Stacy Lewis, Cristie Kerr, and Lizette Salas.  With 1st-round leader Jane Park and 16-eagler Inbee Park lurking 5 shots back, this is still anyone's tournament.  I'm very curious to see if Lewis can put together another Sunday charge, if Webb decides it's about time she put her name back front and center in conversations about the best in the world of women's golf, if Creamer and Kim will put their recent (and by now for the latter, not-so-recent) near-misses firmly in the rear-view mirror--or if Recari can keep playing like a champion and keep them all out of the winner's circle!  Here are the final-round pairings....

I don't know if there's a super-low round to be had at Aviara, but Na Yeon Choi made 4 birdies in a row on the back to post a 68, tied with Amy Yang and Ha-Neul Kim, who got theirs early.  So if someone starts low and keeps it going until she gets to double digits under par, that tough 18th could make for an interesting end to the week for the final groups....  As bangkokbobby says, Recari has been playing some great golf this season and really solid golf for a long time!

[Update 1 (11:07 am):  Here's T-Joh's reaction to finding out she's paired with Se Ri Pak today!]

Friday, March 22, 2013

Stacy's #1 and Jane Park's on Top at the Kia!

Congrats to new world #1 Stacy Lewis and pole position player heading into round 2 of the Kia Classic Jane Park!  They've got a lot of bogeys on their tails (in the flying ace sense, hopefully not the golf sense), but I have no time to enjoy the air show, as I'm still swamped with work heading into spring break.  Be back when I can!  Until then, enjoy Jane Park's (and everyone else's) interview!

And, no, I still haven't recovered from Ai Miyazato's wedge approach on 16 last Sunday that cost her the RR Donnelley.  (In fact, I was suffering that day in London, Ontario, while we tried to enjoy the gala performance at the World Figure Skating Championships, on which more later.  I had a bad stomach bug and fever, but The Full Metal Archivist took the wheel and I napped in the family play area and we all were able to get in and watch some amazing and entertaining skating.  Still feeling the aftereffects of that illness, but at least my weight has dropped to its lowest in 20 years....)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup Update: Jee Young Lee and Ai Miyazato Are Partying Like It's 2007!

Ai Miyazato opened the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup with a sizzling 63 (capped off by a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie run late in her 1st round), but she couldn't stay ahead of Jee Young Lee, who started the tournament by birdieing 7 of her 1st 9 holes and followed it up with a bogey-free 64 yesterday.  A walkoff bogey on Ai-sama's final hole, the par-4 9th, dropped her back to -14, 1 shot behind her fellow LPGA Class of 2006er.  With Stacy Lewis lurking at -11, a mix of veterans (Candie Kung, Lindsey Wright, Amy Yang) and newbies (Danielle Kang, Gerina Piller) playing well at -9, and proven performers like Cristie Kerr (-8), In-Kyung Kim (-8), Anna Nordqvist (-8), Sandra Gal (-8), Ji-Yai Shin (-7), Katherine Hull-Kirk (-7), Hee-Won Han (-7), and Jimin Kang (-7) one low round away from putting themselves in contention (not to mention a host of hungry youngsters from Jessica Korda and Lizette Salas to Daniela Iacobelli to Sydnee Michaels), it's too soon to declare this a blast from the past, a 36-hole showdown between 2 of the top "Young Guns" (as I used to call the LPGA generation now known as the "Tseng Dynasty"), but indulge me while I take a walk down nostalgia lane and fantasize about what might go down this weekend.

Back in 2006, Ai Miyazato and Morgan Pressel were the 2 biggest names in that year's rookie class--Miyazato because of her record-breaking win in '05 Q-School and Pressel because of her near-win at the U.S. Women's Open.  Both had solid seasons--they both finished in the top 25 on the money list (Miyazato with around $532K and Pressel with about $466K)--but they were passed by Duke's Brittany Lang (who also had a great shot at winning that same Open as Pressel!) and overshadowed by 2 relatively unheralded South Korean golfers, Rookie of the Year Seon Hwa Lee (1 win and #12 on the money list, near $1M in winnings) and Jee Young Lee (#20 on the money list with around $575K in winnings).  Seon Hwa, who would garner the moniker "Stone Buddha," was a classic straight shooter, #8 in driving accuracy with 78.7% of fairways found and #2 in putts per green in regulation at 1.75.  Jee Young, who came to be known to her fans as "Jelly," was a bomber with touch, ranking #4 in driving distance at 275 yards a pop and #6 in putts per green in regulation at 1.76.  Both would continue to excel on the LPGA over the next 2 seasons.

In 2007, Seon Hwa would move into the top 5 on the money list and break the $1M barrier, Jee Young would almost follow her, and Pressel joined them in the top 10, while Miyazato moved into the top 20 with nearly $800K in winnings.  Jelly moved up to #2 in driving distance that year, while the Stone Buddha got her 2nd LPGA victory.  Seon Hwa was the only '06er to really shine in 2008, again breaking the $1M barrier and notching her 3rd and 4th LPGA wins, but both Jee Young and Morgan had solid years (top 25 on the money list, near $800K and $700K respectively), staying ahead of the resurgent Lang and the surging Sun Young Yoo, while Miyazato suffered an injury in the 2nd half of the season after losing to Seon Hwa in the finals of the Match Play Championship and compounded her problems with ill-advised swing changes, causing her to drop almost entirely out of the top 50.  If you look at my early rankings of the '06ers (from my first in May 2007 to my year-end ones in October 2008 and December 2008), you'll see it was pretty clear that the Lees were doing great, Pressel was doing pretty well, and Miyazato was doing all right, but definitely underachieving given her double-digit win total on the JLPGA before coming to the LPGA.

9 Miyazato LPGA wins later and with both Lees still in the midst of deep deep deep slumps (Jelly needed wrist surgery late in 2010, and I still don't know what's really gone on with the Stone Buddha the last few years, but at least she made the cut this week), everything has changed.  But once upon a time, Jee Young Lee was the golfer many LPGA watchers thought had the best chance to hang with the dominant Lorena Ochoa and the rising Ya Ni Tseng.  Hound Dog and I in particular kept expecting a breakout year from her.  Well, it hasn't happened yet.  I would love to see her get her 1st win as an LPGA member this week!  (Her only win so far was as a non-member in the LPGA event in Korea in 2005.)  Of course, I'm not going to be rooting against my favorite golfer on the planet, who's fighting for her 10 career LPGA victory!

Yes, I know Stacy Lewis can take over the #1 spot with a win (Ya Ni made the cut on the dot at -2, so she'll need 2 super-low rounds in a row to make the top 3), and there are all kinds of other stories to follow (by this point, it's no surprise to see Michelle Wie and Laura Davies missing a cut, but Suzann Pettersen and Carlota Ciganda??? Brittany Lincicome and Morgan Pressel?? Vicky Hurst and Sun Young Yoo? Chella Choi and Mariajo Uribe?), but I would love to see Jelly and Ai-sama continue playing so well in all facets of their games that they continue to pull away from the field.  If that happens, I'll leave it to others to enjoy watching 2 golfers with such different styles of play duke it out at Wildfire over the weekend.

The Constructivist Family will be driving up to Ontario tomorrow morning for the end of the World Figure Skating Championships, so maybe imoto and I can find a hotel lobby that'll allow us to watch some skating and golf while the Full Metal Archivist and onechan attend the gala?  The terrible coverage of figure skating on US tv and of women's golf on Japan TV is leaving us in the dark, but what can we do?  Better to pay for the girls' Japanese school, onechan's skating, and imoto's gymnastics and to save money for us all to start golfing this summer (the FMA's weakening in her anti-golf resolve--woo-hoo!) than pay for Golf Channel that I don't even have time to watch this semester!

Long story short, I may not even find out the results of the tournament until late night Sunday.  And as for blogging it, we'll just have to see.  Sorry about that!

[Update 1 (11:18 am):  bangkokbobby is also looking back to Jelly's early career! And Ruthless Mike is praising Ai-sama's putting stroke!  Meanwhile, Tony Jesselli is focusing on reports of Natalie Gulbis having caught malaria on the Asian swing, while the Seoul Sisters discussion forum is lighting up with worries about what this might mean about Se Ri Pak's illness....]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

If You're Looking for Tony Jesselli's Founders Cup Preview.... can find it over at his new blog, Tony's LPGA Report, at  You can always find the link to his most recent post in the "Mostly Harmless Golfarama" section over on the left sidebar.

I want to thank Tony for everything he did here at Mostly Harmless, but particularly for keeping MH alive while I took a long sabbatical from golf blogging for most of the last five months.  For awhile there when he and I were both contributing regularly to MH--and for some time after I took off--it was the #1 golf blog according to Technorati (and was consistently in their top 5 for virtually his entire tenure).  Tony's relentless search for new readers and eagerness to reach out to new audiences on discussion forums and fan sites around the world no doubt played a huge role in MH's rise in Technorati's rankings.  But I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that it's Tony's ability to capture the big picture concisely and zoom in to focus on significant details and emerging trends that's the true source of his appeal as a golf writer.  He always calls it like he sees it, even when it means pointing out that a golfer he likes a lot isn't playing very good golf.  These qualities served him well at MH and will serve him well at Tony's LPGA Report.

Tony, I can't wait to see what you do in and with your new digs!  Here's hoping that every single Mostly Harmless regular becomes a regular at your place and that you continue to bring new fans and better coverage to women's golf!  Best of luck, and don't be a stranger--feel free to cross-post here any time!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The LPGA's Top Rivalries: Generation Gaps, March 2013

With the LPGA just about to make its 2013 U.S. debut, it's time to reexamine how the LPGA's last 6 generations stack up. Check out the career money list and wins/majors totals for the top players in the generations that span the Sorenstam Era (1994-2008), the overlapping Ochoa Era (2003-2009), and the overlapping Tseng Dynasty (2008-present).

[Note: [square brackets] indicate the player has retired from professional golf; {squiggle brackets} indicate the player is no longer an LPGA member but still playing on another tour; *=includes non-member win; **=includes 3 non-member wins.]

1994-1996: The Sorenstam Generation

[1. Annika Sorenstam (1994) $22.57M (#1), 72/10]
2. Karrie Webb (1996) $17.44M (#2), 38*/7
3. Catriona Matthew (1995) $7.72M (#16), 4/1
4. Pat Hurst (1995) $6.92M (#20), 6/1
5. Lorie Kane (1996) $6.91M (#21), 4/0
6. Wendy Ward (1996) $4.96M (#43), 4/0
{7. Carin Koch (1995) $4.44M (#47), 2/0}

Ever since Matthew and Hurst both passed Kane in the 2nd half of last season, Kane had been playing much better golf than she has in years, so we now have a real fight for the #4 and possibly the #3 spot. Koch is living in Sweden and playing exclusively on the LET, so unless she does well in future Women's British Opens and Evian Championships--or moves back to the States--she will fall further behind her peers from here on out. A more interesting question is whether Webb will be able to catch Sorenstam (in winnings, not wins)!

1997-1999: The Pak Generation

1. Cristie Kerr (1997) $14.38M (#4), 15/2
2. Se Ri Pak (1998) $11.83M (#6), 25/5
[3. Mi Hyun Kim (1999) $8.62M (#13), 8/0]
4. Sophie Gustafson (1998) $6.16M (#25), 5/0
5. Maria Hjorth (1998) $6.06M (#26), 5/0
[6. Rachel Hetherington (1997) $5.73M (#32), 8/0]
7. Laura Diaz (1999) $5.15M (#41), 2/0
8. Karen Stupples (1999) $3.94M (#52), 2/1
9. Janice Moodie (1998) $3.68M (#56), 2/0

Even though Kerr's passed Pak on the career money list, she'll have to join her in the Hall of Fame to have her name on the generation, too. Even with Kim's serious health issues retirement, it's unlikely Gustafson or Hjorth can catch her. With Hetherington retired, the Gustafson-Hjorth-Diaz race takes on added urgency, although given the way Diaz has been playing lately, she'll need a real turnaround to reach even Hetherington in winnings.

2000-2002: Angela and the Seoul Sisters

1. Angela Stanford (2001) $7.34M (#18), 5/0
2. Hee-Won Han (2001) $6.89M (#22), 6/0
3. Jeong Jang (2000) $6.54M (#24), 2/1
4. Candie Kung (2002) $5.60M (#35), 4/0
[5. Grace Park (2000) $5.44M (#38), 6/1]
6. Natalie Gulbis (2002) $4.65M (#45), 1/0
{7. Gloria Park (2000) $3.28M (#69), 2/0}
8. Heather Bowie Young (2000) $3.10M (#72), 1/0
9. Dorothy Delasin (2000) $2.65M (#86), 4/0
10. Jennifer Rosales (2000) $2.62M (#89), 2/0
11. Nicole Castrale (2002) $2.36M (#100), 1/0
12. Guilia Sergas (2002) $1.89M (#120), 0/0

Stanford is now the top player of this generation in terms of winnings (hence the change to the generation's name), although it's hard to argue that her overall career tops the now-retired (and much missed) Grace Park's. It'll be interesting to see if Han, Jang, and Kung can make up any ground on Stanford this season. The "other Park" is on the KLPGA, so I've expanded this list to include those who I think have a chance of catching her.

2003-2005: The Ochoa Generation

[1. Lorena Ochoa (2003) $14.86M (#3), 27/2]
2. Paula Creamer (2005) $9.70M (#7), 9/1
3. Suzann Pettersen (2003) $9.39M (#8), 10/1
4. Brittany Lincicome (2005) $5.05M (#42), 5/1
5. Christina Kim (2003) $4.10M (#49), 2/0
6. Meena Lee (2005) $3.89M (#53), 2/0
7. Katherine Hull-Kirk (2004) $3.42M (#63), 2/0
8. Stacy Prammanasudh (2003) $3.39M (#64), 2/0
9. Shi Hyun Ahn (2004) $2.65M (#87), 1*/0
10. Lindsey Wright (2004) $2.47M (#93), 0/0
11. Karine Icher (2003) $2.42M (#96), 0/0
{12. Young Kim (2003) $2.36M (n.r. [~#100]), 1/0}
13. Jimin Kang (2003) $2.24M (#106), 2/0

With Lorena looking less and less likely to ever come back to the LPGA full-time, the only real question is how close Creamer and Pettersen can come to matching her career. The race between the 3 mid-level Americans, 2 Australians and 3 Koreans below them will be of interest, as well, as Lincicome has broken out of the pack, but Young Kim will need to rejoin the LPGA to participate in it (don't know why her name no longer appears on the career money list). She's playing in her 4th season in a row on the JLPGA and seems to be liking it, so I don't expect her to return to the LPGA anytime soon. The newly-included Icher and Wright have already passed her and it's only a matter of time before Kang does, too.

2006-2008: The Tseng Dynasty

1. Ya Ni Tseng (2008) $9.17M (#9), 15/5
2. Na Yeon Choi (2008) $7.82M (#15), 7/1
3. Ai Miyazato (2006) $7.07M (#19), 9/0
4. Inbee Park (2007) $5.50M (#37), 4/1
5. In-Kyung Kim (2007) $5.16M (#40), 3/0
6. Morgan Pressel (2006) $4.70M (#44), 2/1
7. Seon Hwa Lee (2006) $4.04M (#51), 4/0
8. Brittany Lang (2006) $3.71M (#55), 1/0
9. Song-Hee Kim (2007) $3.66M (#57), 0/0
10. Sun Young Yoo (2006) $3.61M (#61), 2/1
11. Jee Young Lee (2006) $3.38M (#65), 1*/0
12. Amy Yang (2008) $2.92M (#78), 0/0
13. Julieta Granada (2006) $2.87M (#86), 1/0
14. Eun-Hee Ji (2007) $2.85M (#80), 2/1
15. Hee Young Park (2008) $2.76M (#89), 1/0
16. Shanshan Feng (2008) $2.39M (#98), 1/1
17. Angela Park (2007) $2.12M (#110), 0/0
18. Kristy McPherson (2007) $1.97M (#115), 0/0
19. Sandra Gal (2008) $1.80M (#123), 1/0
20. Momoko Ueda (2008) $1.62M (#129), 2*/0
21. Ji Young Oh (2007) $1.53M (#134), 2/0
22. Kyeong Bae (2006) $1.44M (#143), 0/0
23. Katie Futcher (2006) $1.28M (#159), 0/0
24. Meaghan Francella (2006) $1.19M (#170), 1/0
{25. Teresa Lu (2006) $1.13M (#175), 0/0}
26. Jane Park (2007) $1.07M (#182), 0/0

The Tseng Dynasty is still strong, but fellow '08er NYC is making some noise and Inbee is buzzing up the list. Will this be the year my favorite golfer breaks through for her 1st major? That Amy Yang gets her 1st win? This generation is the deepest in LPGA history, despite the fact that so many golfers in it have already suffered huge slumps in their short careers. Few LPGA generations have more than 4 players with 5 or more wins, but I'll bet this turns out to be one of them!

2009-2011: New Blood

1. Ji-Yai Shin (2009) $5.76M (#29), 11**/2*
2. Stacy Lewis (2009) $4.39M (#48), 6/1
3. Anna Nordqvist (2009) $2.63M (#88), 2/1
4. Mika Miyazato (2009) $2.60M (#90), 1/0
5. Michelle Wie (2009) $2.60M (#91), 2/0
6. Azahara Munoz (2010) $2.19M (#108), 1/0
7. Hee Kyung Seo (2011) $1.75M (#125), 1*/0
8. Vicky Hurst (2009) $1.33M (#150), 0/0
9. Chella Choi (2009) $1.21M (#165), 0/0
10. Mi Jung Hur (2009) $1.12M (#177), 1/0
11. Beatriz Recari (2010) $1.09M (#180), 1/0
12. Haeji Kang (2009) $.86M (#216), 0/0
13. Jenny Shin (2011) $.65M (#245), 0/0
{14. Gwladys Nocera (2010) $.61M (#250), 0/0}
15. Mina Harigae (2010) $.59M (#255), 0/0
16. Mindy Kim (2009) $.52M (#264), 0/0
17. Ilhee Lee (2010), $.50M (#275), 0/0
18. Amanda Blumenherst (2010) $.48M (#281), 0/0
19. Jessica Korda (2011) $.48M (#339), 1/0
20. Pornanong Phatlum (2009) $.43M (#294), 0/0
21. Mariajo Uribe (2010) $.42M (#295), 0/0
22. Gerina Piller (2010) $.41M (#298), 0/0
23. Jennifer Johnson (2011) $.39M (#302), 0/0
24. Cindy LaCrosse (2010) $.39M (#306), 0/0
25. Caroline Hedwall (2011) $.37M (#311), 0/0
26. Alison Walshe (2010) $.32M (#327), 0/0
27. Dewi Claire Schreefel (2010) $.31M (#336), 0/0
28. Tiffany Joh (2011) $.29M (#344), 0/0
29. Christel Boeljon (2011) $.28M (#348), 0/0
30. Belen Mozo (2011) $.26M (#356), 0/0
31. Ryann O'Toole (2011) $.25M (#362), 0/0
32. Jodi Ewart Shadoff (2011) $.24M (#363), 0/0
33. Pernilla Lindberg (2010) $.23M (#376), 0/0
34. Jennifer Song (2011) $.22M (#379), 0/0
35. Maria Hernandez (2010) $.18M (#395), 0/0

Obviously with this generation, it's really too soon to tell who's going to have a great LPGA career, besides Shin and Lewis. For now, I'm erring on the side of inclusiveness by putting everyone over $150K in career winnings in this generation on this list. As we get further into their careers, I'll slowly start raising the bar, until by 2014 they'll need to have broken the $1M barrier to stay on the list. I'd be very impressed if as many of them did it as in the previous generation in the same amount of time. The problem for everyone who hasn't already done it is they are all competing against each other and are sandwiched between 2 historic generations. Still, this is about the time in a player's career that they start to make quantum leaps. Let's see if Shin and Lewis can pull others in their generation in their wakes.

2012-2014: Generation Prodigy

1. So Yeon Ryu (2012) $1.36M (#148), 2*/1*
2. Lexi Thompson (2012) $.68M (#243), 1*/0
3. Danielle Kang (2012) $.31M (#334), 0/0
4. Lizette Salas (2012) $.31M (#338), 0/0
5. Sydnee Michaels (2012) $.19M (#389), 0/0
6. Mo Martin (2012) $.17M (#402), 0/0
7. Carlota Ciganda (2012) $.12M (#433), 0/0
8. Veronica Felibert (2012) $.11M (#444), 0/0
9. Moriya Jutanugarn (2013) $.09M (#469), 0/0
10. Numa Gulyanamitta (2012) $.07M (#490), 0/0
11. Jane Rah (2012) $.06M (#505), 0/0
12. Chie Arimura (2013) $.06M (#509), 0/0
13. Jacqui Concolino (2012) $.05M (#517), 0/0

OK, why am I so high on this generation if very few from the Class of 2012 made over $50K in their rookie season and only 2 '13ers have joined them? Partly it's because I don't think those already in it have really begun to fight (So Yeon and Lexi has better watch out for Ciganda, Kang, Arimura, Jutanugarn, and Uehara--at least--this season), and partly it's because I'm anticipating that Ariya Jutanugarn and Hyo-Joo Kim will be joining the LPGA next year. And if Lydia Ko changes plans, all bets are off!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thanks For Two Great Years

I just want to inform my readers that I have started my own blog.

I have spent the last 2 years writing for Mostly Harmless and have made many friends, but it is time for me to move on and try my own thing.

I want to thank the Constructivist for giving me the opportunity to write for this website. It is greatly appreciated.

Women's golf is such an underated sport, and in my opinion, just doesn't get enough coverage. I am hoping with adding another site, I can make a small difference. Keeping women's golf in the news has always been my inspiration to write.

You can find me at:

I hope you will all give me a look, and support your love for women's golf, by keeping up with both of our websites. I have linked my new website to this location.

Thanks for continued support,

Tony Jesselli

Sunday, March 10, 2013

It's Pettersen Over Park by a Hair in China on the LET!

Suzann Pettersen must love Asia!  She won twice in a row in last fall's Asian Swing on the LPGA (matching her 2007 feat there) and has just added another Asian title to her resume by beating Inbee Park in the LET's World Ladies Championship!  It was a little bit of a gift from Park, who seems to have a gift for finishing 2nd (both on the LPGA and JLPGA).  While Pettersen was screaming up the leaderboard with 6 birdies in her 1st 13 holes, Park followed up a 4-birdies-in-5-holes run as she made the turn with a costly bogey on the short par-4 15th.  And even though Pettersen could only par out, Park didn't make a birdie until the final hole to fall 1 shot short.  (She and Ha-Neul Kim did team up to win the team title, and if fellow Koreans Soo Jin Yang and Bo-Mee Suh had entered as a team, they would have finished runners-up.)  Defending champion Shanshan Feng closed with a 66 of her own to take 3rd place.  Looks like the hottest golfers of the end of 2012 not named Stacy Lewis or Ji-Yai Shin are picking up this season where they left off last season!

Daikin Orchid Ladies Sunday: Rikako Morita Holds Off Sakura Yokomine in Playoff

As bangkokbobby has already reported, Rikako Morita made a 12-foot birdie putt on the 1st playoff hole to take the Daikin Orchid Ladies title and notch her 3rd career win to kick off her 5th season on the JLPGA.

Yokomine had birdied 4 of her 1st 5 holes to get into the mix, then capped off her 31 on the front with a birdie on the 152-yard par-3 8th.  But despite quickly losing her 2-shot lead to her playing partner, Morita played steady and error-free golf, matching Yokomine's birdie on the par-4 10th with her 3rd of the day on the par-5 11th to stay within 1 shot of the lead, then forcing Yokomine to respond when she birdied the par-4 17th and took a 1-shot lead of her own, thanks to an earlier Yokomine bogey on the par-3 13th and a string of pars ever since.  When Yokomine birdied the final hole for a 66 and Morita failed to for a 68, we had ourselves a playoff in the JLPGA's 1st event of 2013.  Be sure to check out Fairways and Forehands for pictures and video, along with full results.

Notable finishes include:

  • a walkoff eagle from ex-LPGAer Onnarin Sattayabanphot to leap into a tie for 3rd with Ritsuko Ryu (who matched her 67), ex-LPGAer Soo Yun Kang (who matched Yokomine's opening 31 but bogeyed 2 of her last 4 holes to fall out of contention), veteran Junko Omote (who got it to -13 and a tie for the lead by birdieing 6 of her 1st 8 holes, but then proceeded to bogey 3 of her next 5 holes and fail to make a birdie the rest of the day), and Megumi Kido (who started the day in the lead but couldn't get anything going).
  • a T8 from LPGAer Harukyo Nomura, who plays much better in Japan than elsewhere, thanks to a closing 68 that included 4 straight birdies to finish her tournament.
  • T12s from Mika Miyazato (bogey-free 68) and Shiho Oyama (bogey-free 67), who need no introductions here.
  • 66s from Eun-Bi Jang, Esther Lee, and Asuka Tsujimura and the last 67 of the day from Sun-Ju Ahn, who moved up to T21 with the likes of Mi-Jeong Jeon (68), Teresa Lu (68), Akane Iijima (68), Yuko Mitsuka (69), and Kumiko Kaneda (69).
  • a 71-70-71 T32 finish from LPGA rookie Ayako Uehara, not the spark she needed as she heads to the States for the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup.
Speaking of the LPGA, Mika Miyazato and Momoko Ueda are the only Japanese players to decide to skip next week's event (Nomura and Mitsuki Katahira don't fall high enough on the priority list to qualify).  The player list hasn't been released yet for the next JLPGA event, the Yokohama Tire PRGR Ladies Cup, nor has it been for the LPGA's Kia Classic, so it's unclear right now how they're planning to prepare for the LPGA's 1st major of 2013, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, in early April.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

LET and JLPGA Take Center Stage During LPGA's Week Off

Thanks to the LET's World Ladies Championship in China and the JLPGA's Daikin Orchid Ladies in Okinawa, the LPGA's top golfers have the option of continuing their winter Asian swing for an extra week before heading out to RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix next week.  Inbee Park (-14), Suzann Pettersen (-12), Carlota Ciganda (-8), Dewi Claire Schreefel (-6), and Shanshan Feng (-5) are all in the top 10 in China (not to mention Moriya Jutanugarn's little sister Ariya, who should be the LET Rookie of the Year), with a Park-Pettersen-Soo Jin Yang showdown in the works for tomorrow, while the final round of the JLPGA's season opener will begin with Harukyo Nomura (-5), Mika Miyazato (-4), and Ayako Uehara (-3) well behind leaders Megumi Kido (-10) and Rikako Morita (-9), although well within reach of or already past former LPGAers Na-Ri Kim (-7), Soo-Yun Kang (-6), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (-5), Young Kim (-4), Shiho Oyama (-3), Teresa Lu (-2), and Shinobu Moromizato (-1), not to mention JLPGA heavy hitters Sakura Yokomine (-7), Ji-Hee Lee (-7), Mi-Jeong Jeon (-2), and Sun-Ju Ahn (-1).

Whoops, there's SMAP on Japan TV.  I'll let you know who prevails tomorrow!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stats & Facts - Volume 12

Let me start off by congratulating Stacy Lewis for winning the HSBC Women's Champions. Stacy, the defending LPGA Player of the Year, came out on top with a one-stroke victory over Na Yeon Choi. Paula Creamer finished two strokes back. See the Constructivist's review for the full details.

The LPGA will now take a one-week break while it makes its way to the United States for the playing of the RR Donnelley Founders Cup. This is a good time to look at some statistics and notes covering the first three tournaments of the year:

Rolex Player of the Year Standings  (Winner receives a Hall of Fame point)
1-  Stacy Lewis - 39 points
2-  Jiyai Shin - 30
3-  Inbee Park - 30
4-  Yani Tseng - 21
5-  Beatriz Recari - 16
5-  Na Yeon Choi - 16
7-  Paula Creamer - 9
7-  So Yeon Ryu - 9
9-  Moriya Jutanugarn - 7
10-Jessica Korda, Danielle Kang - 6

Vare Trophy  (Winner receives a Hall of Fame point)
1-  Na Yeon Choi - 69.125 strokes per round
2-  Stacy Lewis - 69.583
3-  Carlota Ciganda - 70.00
3-  Yani Tseng - 70.00
5-  Jiyai Shin - 70.083
6-  Beatriz Recari - 70.167
7-  Thidapa Suwannapura - 70.250
7-  Mariajo Uribe - 70.250
9-  Catriona Matthew - 70.417
10-Paula Creamer - 70.500

Official Money Leaders ($100,00.00 minimum)
1-  Stacy Lewis -  $301,364.00
2-  Inbee Park - $232,517.00
3-  Jiyai Shin - $218,358.00
4-  Yani Tseng - $195,451.00
5-  Na Yeon Choi - $177,517.00
6-  Beatriz Recari - $158,159.00
7-  Paula Creamer - $107,554.00

Rookie of the Year Standings
1- Moriya Jutanugarn - 117 points
2- Ayako Uehara - 27
3- Austin Ernst - 22
3- Chie Arimura - 22
5- Brooke Pancake - 5

Most Consecutive Tournaments Without a Missed Cut
1- Karrie Webb - 47
2- Paula Creamer - 46
3- Jiyai Shin - 39
4- Na Yeon Choi - 36
5- Beatriz Recari - 35

Most Top Fives This Year
1- Stacy Lewis - 2
1- Beatriz Recari - 2
1- Yani Tseng - 2

Players Who Finished in Top 20 in all Three Tournaments Played:
Stacy Lewis
Jiyai Shin
Catriona Matthew
Jessica Korda

Other Tidbits:
Morgan Pressel's top-ten finish this week was her first since the Sybase Match Play Championship last year.

Titleholders Update:
The power trio of Stacy Lewis, Na Yeon Choi, and Paula Creamer are the latest to qualify.

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Week:
Stacy Lewis moves from #4 to #3. Both Stacy and Na Yeon Choi could overtake Yani Tseng as the world's #1 player with a victory next week.
Paula Creamer moves from #13 to #11, Lexi Thompson #23 to #20, Ariya Jutanugarn from #57 to #40, and Jessica Korda from #61 to #53.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

HSBC Women's Champions Sunday: Stacy Lewis Does It Again

Stacy Lewis (-15) just held off Na Yeon Choi (-14) and Paula Creamer (-13) to win the HSBC Women's Champions.  An eagle on the par-5 7th and a birdie on the par-4 9th gave her a lead she never relinquished, as all three playing partners had fairly rocky finishes in the final group of the day.  No one from back in the pack was able to make a run at them, though, as Karrie Webb, Ilhee Lee, and Michelle Wie were the only players to break 70 (they all had 69s) and Ariya Jutanugarn was the only other golfer to get double digits under par, while Inbee Park (77), Azahara Munoz (77), Sun Young Yoo (76), and Ji-Yai Shin (74) made uncharacteristic tumbles down the leaderboard.

Lewis adds another big win to her ever-growing resume (now at 6 and counting!), but it didn't come easy.  She bogeyed 2 of her last 4 holes and failed to birdie both par 5s on the back.  But neither Creamer nor Choi could walk through the door Lewis so gallantly held open for them.  Creamer got it to -15 with 6 holes left to play, but bogeyed 15 and 16 while Lewis was bogeying 15 and 17.  For Choi, it was a lack of birdies that held her back:  she had her only 2 of the day on the 6th and 7th holes to bring her to -15, but closed out her round with 10 pars and a bogey on the par-4 13th.  So it definitely wasn't a pretty win for Lewis.  But grinding out a close one in which she had to hang on and hold it together when the going got tough (rather than blowing away the field, as it seems she does every few wins) is great experience for the young American and is going to make her an even more formidable competitor down the road.

Which is just going to force all her closest competitors to pick up their games when the LPGA makes its U.S. debut in a couple of weeks!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

HSBC Women's Champions: Another Showdown in Singapore!

A word about spoilers and spoiler alerts: I'm of two minds, like most of us.  On the one hand, I love watching sports live because of the drama and the uncertainty and the suspense.  When I had Golf Channel, and I wasn't able to watch a tournament live, I would often avoid the internet and any other potential spoiler source.  My parents knew not to tell me anything about what they had just watched except in the most general and spoiler-avoiding terms.  So I get what Tony is talking about in his tournament previews when he warns people who hate spoilers to stay away from the internet when the LPGA is in Asia.  And I get his "no spoilers" pledge.

But I also believe that writing about a really cool development in a tournament can actually draw people to watch something they ordinarily wouldn't watch.  And I believe that if you're going to be blogging about women's golf, you'd better be able to provide something that neither mainstream golf journalism nor television typically provides.  Maybe it's a personal perspective, maybe it's a focus on players outside those contending to win the tournament, maybe it's humor, maybe it's in-depth analysis of who's on a run and who's struggling, maybe it's a historical perspective.  Whatever it is, I think it's ok for posts like that to include a few spoilers.  Or do what Happy Fan does and track interesting patterns in recent events (as he just did!).

And let's face it, if you're here, now, reading this, you're the kind of reader who doesn't mind spoilers.  Among the very tiny subset of the world population who care enough about the LPGA to know that U.S. tv coverage of the HSBC Women's Champions doesn't begin till this evening, how many of them haven't already gone to the LPGA's live leaderboard?  How many of them don't understand that the final round of the tournament will be starting during the airing of the third round in the U.S.?

Spoiler alert:  all of this is a long-winded way of justifying what I'm about to do--write about the third round!  Bottom line: doing so fits my schedule, and, more important, my family's schedule.  If I don't do it now, I won't have time this weekend to do it at all.  As you saw with my teaser post for last Sunday's final round in Thailand, I have my limits as to what I'll spoil.  But if you read the comments, or simply visited the site before the U.S. tv coverage began, you'll have seen that the big story--Ariya Jutanugarn's fall from the thrill of a hole in one on her closing back 9 to the agony of hacking away a historic win by tripling the final hole and handing Inbee Park a big victory--had already been revealed.  Why should I have been trying to keep that a secret?

OK, I've gone on long enough for those who don't like spoilers to stop reading.  So let's get into it!

We've got a showdown between the Na Yeon Choi and Stacy Lewis, #2 and #4 players in the Rolex Rankings, brewing in Singapore!  At -14 and hitting loads of greens in regulation, they're going to be hard to catch.  But Paula Creamer (-12 despite walking away from a 5-car accident right before the tournament), Ariya Jutanugarn, Sun Young Yoo, Azahara Munoz, and Danielle Kang (all at -9) are in position to, uh, crash the party if they can find a way to heat up their putters tomorrow.  Wouldn't it be amazing if Jutanugarn found redemption this Sunday for last Sunday's epic fail?  Or if Yoo and Munoz put a big win on their resumes that their development as professionals suggest they're quite ready for?  Or if Kang delivered on the promise of her back-to-back U.S. Women's Open victories way sooner than anyone expected?

Assuming it's really a 3-player race, though, the storylines are still super-intriguing.  Can Creamer break the U.S. Open jinx and win for the first time since her amazing triumph at Oakmont, putting her name besides the likes of Lorena Ochoa, Ji-Yai Shin, Ai Miyazato, Karrie Webb, and Angela Stanford?  Watch out for Creamer when she's coming back from injuries in a big tournament!  Can Stacy Lewis prove yet again she's the top American on tour and put down a huge marker in her bid to repeat as Player of the Year?  Can NYC beat fellow '08er Ya Ni Tseng to a HSBC Women's Champions title and close the gap between her and the #1 player in the world?  (For that matter, can Tseng put together another magical weekend round and move from the middle of the pack to the top?)

So even if you just focus on the top few players, there's lots of interest in today's--and tomorrow's rounds.  But check out the following tidbits:

  • Morgan Pressel is having her first good tournament in what must feel like years!
  • Nicole Castrale is rocking Tanah Merah!
  • It's not just the veteran Americans who are finding their games in the far east--Lexi Thompson and Jessica Korda are playing good golf this week.
  • Unfortunately, the same can't be said for defending champion Angela Stanford and Cristie Kerr, who are all kinds of rusty.
  • Chie Arimura and Karrie Webb, who had such a thrilling showdown two years ago, are going off at the same time tomorrow on opposite 9s, both smack dab in the middle of the pack.
  • Inbee Park and Ji-Yai Shin are doing just fine this week and could still stay at or near the top of the 2013 money list if they can pour it on tomorrow.
  • Beatriz Recari, Catriona Matthew, Lizette Salas, and Moriya Jutanugarn are continuing their nice and solid starts to the season.
  • Amy Yang and Anna Nordqvist have been kind of hanging around this season, with flashes of good play, and they're doing it again this week.
  • Nice to see vets like Candie Kung and Karine Icher near the top of the leaderboard, while up-and-comers like Chella Choi and Pornanong Phatlum are also in position to make some noise tomorrow.
  • Mika Miyazato and Momoko Ueda are off to very slow starts this season and their struggles continue thus far this week.
  • I was hoping Mina Harigae would get off to a better start this season.  There is a learning curve to playing in Asia in the spring (just ask Tiffany Joh!), but this is much worse than I was hoping for.
I wonder how long I can hold out before I shell out the extra money for Golf Channel?  The way work is going, it won't be until June!