Friday, September 13, 2013

Evian Championship Friday: Mika Miyazato Leads, But 54-Hole Target Might Mean a Major Asterisk for Eventual Winner

I'll tell you, it sure seems that the LPGA has been cursed in the last half-dozen years or so.  Then-Commissioner Carolyn Bivens took an aggressive negotiating tack with sponsors and tournament organizers just as the economy started to crater, Michelle Wie didn't explode onto the global stage quite as anticipated, the rise of Asian stars hasn't coincided with a resurgence of Asian investments in U.S.-based tournaments, even Inbee Park's historic run at a 4th-straight major title in the same calendar year was diminished by silly debates over what to call the hypothetical achievement now that the LPGA has 5 majors, and the weather has affected nearly every major played this year--including its 5th and final major, The Evian Championship, which has just been demoted to a 54-hole event because the course redesign wasn't ready to handle the volume of actual and predicted rains.

Despite all of this, the ladies of the LPGA continue to play golf at a very high level and the 1st-round leaderboard is packed--although perhaps not with everyone who was expected to contend this week.  Moriya Jutanugarn (78), Carlota Ciganda (78), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (77), Cristie Kerr (76), Ai Miyazato (75), Ya Ni Tseng (75), Jessica Korda (75), Inbee Park (74), Caroline Hedwall (74), Anna Nordqvist (74), Ji-Yai Shin (73), and Catriona Matthew (73) will all have to keep an eye on the cut line tomorrow as they try to fight their way into shouting distance of the leaders.  So you know the course was playing tough at par 71.

Which makes Mika Miyazato's 7-birdie 65, Suzann Pettersen's 7-birdie 66, Se Ri Pak's 6-birdie 66, and Sandra Gal's bogey-free 66 that much more impressive.  To go into the mid-60s this week is a big deal, particularly when temperatures may not even reach that high all week!  Pettersen's performance was of course well in line with how well she's been playing this season, but even she doesn't have that great a record at Evian.  With Mikan's and Gal's putting problems this year and Pak's shoulder injury making every start a huge question mark, there are plenty of surprises at the very top of the leaderboard.

And they don't stop there.  I mean, sure, Karrie Webb is a perennial threat to win this thing, and she's right there again, with a 5-birdie 68, but who would have expected both Lindsey Wright and Lydia Ko to join her at T6?  Or for Christina Kim to open with a 6-birdie 67 and Michelle Wie with a 5-birdie 68?  How about Danah Bordner, Hee-Won Han, and Ji Young Oh joining Stacy Lewis, Na Yeon Choi, In-Kyung Kim, Angela Stanford, Beatriz Recari, Lee-Anne Pace, and Ayako Uehara at 69?  Hee Kyung Seo, Momoko Ueda, Azahara Munoz, and Mariajo Uribe haven't been playing that great lately, but they matched Paula Creamer's, Morgan Pressel's, Caroline Masson's, Lizette Salas's, Chella Choi's, Ilhee Lee's, and Jennifer Johnson's 70s.  And who would have expected Helen Alfredsson and Sophie Gustafson to tie So Yeon Ryu at E?

There's just something about Evian that I believe is going to transcend the difficulties of its transition to becoming the LPGA's 5th major.  For Pak, Webb, or Ko to win this would be history-making.  For Park to come back from a 9-shot deficit in 36 holes or Miyazato or Tseng from 10 would be breathtaking.  For Pettersen, Lewis, Choi, Inky, Stanford, or Creamer to take the title would be career-affirming.  For Mikan, Wie, Recari, Munoz, Pressel, Seo, Ueda a win here would be a huge turning point in their careers.  For Uehara or Masson to take the title would make her the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year race.  And there are plenty of Cinderellas and dark horses who could put their mark on this major before all is said and done.

[Update 1 (9:07 pm):  Now I'm reading that Helen Alfredsson, Stacy Prammanasudh, and Amy Hung will be stepping away from the LPGA, as well. Wow!]


Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

Bruce, I know you are a big Ai fan. Watching her in round one had to be a bit disturbing. For the first time since her LPGA debut I saw signs of utter frustration on her part. She seemed to spend most of the day with a puzzled look on her face.

What is your take on this. Do you think her inability to win a major is starting to wear on her?

The Constructivist said...


diane said...

There will likely be one more stunning retirement this year.