Saturday, November 30, 2013

Recommended Reading: Hee Kyung Seo's Wedding

Head on over to Seoul for a fantastic thread on Hee Kyung Seo's wedding!  Here's a nice video on how her fiance proposed to her:

Ricoh Cup Saturday: Bo-Mee Lee and Teresa Lu Take the Lead

Teresa Lu fired a bogey-free 70 and Bo-Mee Lee a 4-birdie 71 on moving day at the Ricoh Cup to take a 1-shot lead on 2nd-round leader Shiho Oyama and Sun-Ju Ahn and a 2-shot lead on Na-Ri Lee.  The round of the day, however, belonged to Junko Omote, who put together a 5-birdie 68 to jump into a tie with Mi-Jeong Jeon at E, only 4 behind the co-leaders.

Ahn had a terrible start to her day with a birdieless 39 to follow up yesterday's walkoff bogey, but eagled the 500-yard par-5 11th and followed it up with 2 more birdies on the back before bogeying her final hole to drop out of a tie for the lead.  Oyama also got off to a bad start today after yesterday's walkoff double, opening with a birdieless 38, but bounced back with birdies on the par-4 10th and par-5 13th before a bogey on the par-4 14th also left her 1 shot behind Lu and Bo-Mee Lee.  Na-Ri Lee parred every hole except the 14th; her bogey there dropped her out of the tie for 3rd.

Onnarin Sattayabanhot and Yumiko Yoshida were also in the thick of things until they hit the home stretch, when Sattayabanphot bogeyed 3 of her last 7 holes and Yoshida bogeyed 3 in a row.  They both fell to +1, 5 shots behind the co-leaders but still tied for 8th.

Further down the leaderboard, Rikako Morita's lead on Sakura Yokomine slipped to 2 shots, as both stumbled home, Morita making 2 bogeys in her last 5 holes and Yokomine 2 in her last 4 but offsetting one of them with her 3rd birdie of the day on the short par-4 17th.  Yokomine will need to go very low in the final round to have a hope of ending the season as the JLPGA's money-list leader for the 2nd time in her career.

Ji-Yai Shin will also need a great final round, as she's tied with Morita for 11th at +3 after a 4-birdie, 4-bogey round today.  With 7 players at E or better, Shin will most likely need to break 70 to move high enough on the leaderboard to finish in the top 50 of the JLPGA money list and earn a card for 2014.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ricoh Cup Thursday and Friday: Shiho Oyama Continues Knocking at Victory's Door

Shiho Oyama has had an illustrious career on the JLPGA.  She made history in 2006 when she won 5 times and broke Yuri Fudoh's streak of 6-straight seasons atop the tour's money list.  Her winnings of over 166 million yen that season have been exceeded only by Sakura Yokomine in 2009.  She's won 12 times in all.  But she hasn't been the same golfer since injuring both elbows while preparing for and playing on the LPGA in 2009, with just 1 JLPGA victory and no top-10 finishes ever since returning to the tour full-time in 2010.

This season, however, she's begun contending with regularity again.  And this week, the final week of the season, in the tour's final event and final major, she finds herself at the top of the leaderboard at the halfway point of the Ricoh Cup.  Despite suffering a walk-off double today, she leads Bo-Mee Lee (who bogeyed her last 2 holes), Na-Ri Lee (who did the same), and Sun-Ju Ahn (who bogeyed 18) by 1 shot, Teresa Lu and Yumiko Yoshida by 2 shots, and Mamiko Higa and Mi-Jeong Jeon by 4 shots.  They're the only players in the elite field at par or better.  Money-list leader Rikako Morita is T12 at +3, tied with Ji-Yai Shin, who needs a top-6 finish to retain her card for 2014, and 3 shots ahead of Sakura Yokomine, who closed with a birdieless 40 today.

What's set Oyama apart thus far is her ability to make birdies in bunches.  On Thursday, she made 4 birdies in an 8-hole stretch early in her round; today she had been riding a streak of 9 bogey-free holes that included her 2nd run of 4 birdies in 8 holes of the week before making her closing double.  Other leaders have also made runs--like Ahn's bogey-free 32 to start the tournament--but they've made more and bigger mistakes than Oyama.  Yoshida, for instance, is -4 and bogey-free on the front but has made only 1 birdie on the back and is +2 there overall.  Morita made 3 birdies and an eagle in her 1st 12 holes on Thursday, but bogeyed 5 of her last 6 holes to settle for an opening 74.  All 5 of Bo-Mee Lee's bogeys this week have come on the back 9.  And so on.

There's a lot of golf yet to be played and leading on the weekend is a different animal entirely, but Oyama has had the lead 2 days in a row.  Let's see if she can keep it going!  Like defending champion Bo-Mee Lee, who is also looking for her 2nd win at the Ricoh Cup, Oyama can't break the 100 million yen mark with a win.  But she can set the stage for a serious career comeback.  After all, her 2005 win here was a harbinger of her history-making 2006 season!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

LPGA Hall of Fame Watch, November 2013 Edition

Thanksgiving has become the traditional ending to the LPGA season, so it's a great time to revisit an old Hound Dog LPGA question:  who will be the next player to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame?

Here are the criteria from
  1. Must be/have been an "active" LPGA Tour member for 10 years;
  2. Must have won/been awarded at least one of the following - an LPGA major championship, the Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honors; and
  3. Must have accumulated a total of 27 points, which are awarded as follows - one point for each LPGA official tournament win, two points for each LPGA major tournament win and one point for each Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honor earned.
Check out how quickly Lorena Ochoa qualified in points in Hound Dog's follow-up post--although he couldn't have predicted then that she'd retire so soon, before actually meeting criterion #1!  So assuming Laura Davies and Ochoa will either play their way in or be voted in, who are the top candidates for entry right now?  

Check me on this, but here's how I believe the points breakdown stands at the end of the 2013 season:

1. Ya Ni Tseng (23)
2. Cristie Kerr (18)
3. Suzann Pettersen (16)
4. Inbee Park (15)
5. Ji-Yai Shin (13)
6. Stacy Lewis (12)
7. Paula Creamer (10)
8. Na Yeon Choi (9)
8. Ai Miyazato (9) [the only one on this list who doesn't meet criterion #2]

I'm going to go out on a limb here and officially doubt that Kerr will make it to 27 points.  And given how Shin, Creamer, Choi, and Miyazato have stalled, it's difficult to have much confidence that 2013's Big 3 will catch Tseng any time soon.  And Tseng needs to take a deep breath, realize that everyone runs into rough patches in a golf career, refocus, and learn to crawl again before she tries to run.

In short, everyone on this list has made a name for themselves, but it takes more than that to make history.  You might think that having 5 majors for the 2nd year in a row will make it easier to march up the list, but there are plenty of players capable of winning them who would love to catch those on the list by the end of next season.  Happy off season!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Best to Join the LPGA since 2005, November 2013 Edition

It's only been a little over a month since my last update of my ranking of the best players to join the LPGA since 2005, but there are some significant shifts, with Shanshan Feng, Lexi Thompson, Amy Yang, Caroline Hedwall, Pornanong Phatlum, Gerina Piller, and Hee Kyung Seo rising the fastest and the top rookies from the Class of 2013 falling the farthest.  (In my system, Caroline Masson would have just beaten out Chie Arimura for Rookie of the Year.)

Simply the Best
1. Ya Ni Tseng (3924) [-36]

The Contenders
2. Ji-Yai Shin (3376) [-26]
3. Na Yeon Choi (2824) [-25]
4. Inbee Park (2725) [-4]
5. Stacy Lewis (2702) [+21]
6. Paula Creamer (2695) [-36]
7. So Yeon Ryu (2464) [-46]

The Next Best
8. Ai Miyazato (2218) [-26]
9. Lexi Thompson (1842) [+171]
10. In-Kyung Kim (1759) [-17]
11. Shanshan Feng (1623) [+219]

Quantum Leap Candidates
12. Brittany Lincicome (1487) [-10]
13. Anna Nordqvist (1447) [-5]
14. Michelle Wie (1357) [+26]
15. Morgan Pressel (1355) [-12]
16. Hee Kyung Seo (1259) [+66]
17. Amy Yang (1239) [+137]
18. Mika Miyazato (1227) [-21]
19. Song-Hee Kim (1226)
20. Seon Hwa Lee (1224)
21. Hee Young Park (1188) [-18]
22. Azahara Munoz (1181) [+51]
23. Beatriz Recari (1164) [-15]
24. Sun Young Yoo (1065) [+21]
25. Eun-Hee Ji (1047) [+11]
26. Jee Young Lee (1008) [-9]

The Best of the Rest
27. Caroline Hedwall (997) [+90]
28. Lizette Salas (969) [-16]
29. Brittany Lang (937) [-11]
30. Jessica Korda (862) [-34]
31. Meena Lee (851) [-6]
32. Chella Choi (782) [+47]
33. Carlota Ciganda (768) [-31]
34. Momoko Ueda (765)
35. Julieta Granada (754) [-6]
36. Sandra Gal (730) [+12]
37. Ilhee Lee (726) [-4]
38. Gerina Piller (692) [+68]
39. Jennifer Johnson (688) [+9]
40. Jodi Ewart Shadoff (663) [-9]
41. Jenny Shin (638) [-12]
42. Ji Young Oh (612) [-2]
T43. Kristy McPherson (604) [-3], Pornanong Phatlum (604) [+77]
45. Mi Jung Hur (597) [+13]
46. Caroline Masson (582) [-114]
47. Chie Arimura (562) [-98]
T48. Ayako Uehara (548) [-67], Haeji Kang (548) [+3]
50. Vicky Hurst (525) [-5]

The 2013 ROY, Moriya Jutanugarn, is next with 489 points.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Congratulations to Stacy Lewis, Shanshan Feng, Mika Miyazato, Lizette Salas

It's stats round-up time this week, as Brent KelleyTony Jesselli, and Ward Clayton well know.  Rather than go over figures they've laid out so well, I'll simply note some career milestones passed last week:

  • Stacy Lewis is now officially a $6M woman,
  • Shanshan Feng's win at the CME Group Titleholders pushed her past the $4M barrier in career winnings,
  • Mika Miyazato just barely beat Michelle Wie to the $3M mark, and 
  • Lizette Salas made it to her 1st million ahead of Jessica Korda, Jenny Shin, and Gerina Piller.

Congratulations to all!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ji-Yai Shin Ending 2013 Season in JLPGA's Final Major

Ji-Yai Shin sits at #56 on the JLPGA money list, about 3.5 million yen behind #50 Saiki Fujita and a 2014 card, so she's exercising her right to enter the tour's final event and final major, the Ricoh Cup, based on her world ranking.  She's going to need to finish in the top 6 or so to extend her streak of 6-straight years as a JLPGA member and 5-straight years as a dual LPGA-JLPGA member.  She'll either be well-rested or a little rusty or both, as she hasn't played competitively since the Mizuno Classic, where she finished T11.  Her win to start the LPGA's 2013 season is by now a distant memory, and she hasn't won on the JLPGA since 2010.

If Shin's going to end either of those droughts, she'll have to face down the JLPGA's finest.  Rikako Morita leads Sakura Yokomine by less than 3 million yen in the race to succeed Mi-Jeong Jeon as the money-list queen of the JLPGA.  The next 5 players on the money list, from 3-time winner Yumiko Yoshida to 2-time winner Mamiko Higa, can't leapfrog the tour's Big 2, but they can break the 100 million yen barrier with a win this week (which is worth 25 million yen!).  Bo-Mee Lee will be looking to defend her title and join Yokomine, Miho Koga, and Yuri Fudoh as repeat winners.  Sun-Ju Ahn, who dominated the JLPGA in 2010 and 2011, will be looking for her 3rd win of the season, as well.

As you can see, the Korean contingent on the JLPGA has a great chance to bring home their 12th title (in 36 events) this week.  But the other big story of the season has been the rise of the tour's younger Japanese players, from Morita and Higa to Natsuka Hori and Misuzu Narita to Erika Kikuchi and Kumiko Kaneda to Asako Fujimoto and Yuki Ichinose, who range in age between 20 and 24 and may have been knocking on the door in previous years but have really stepped forward as a group in 2013.  Yoshida, who's all of 26, may be considered an honorary member of this group, as this is only her 2nd year as a fixture near the top of the money list.  Mayu Hattori (25) and Ritsuko Ryu (26) have been so good for so long that they may belong more with the 27-year-old Yokomine (who turns 28 in mid-December) than their younger peers, but I wouldn't quarrel about including them in the "young guns" category.

Shin will also have to worry about ex-LPGAers like Mizuno Classic champion Teresa Lu, a resurgent Shiho Oyama, Na-Ri Kim, and Young Kim.  Neither Ai Miyazato nor Mika Miyazato will be playing this week, so at least Shin won't have to worry about them--or, for that matter, world #1 and LPGA Player of the Year Inbee Park, who won this event in 2010.

So let's see if Shin can join Shanshan Feng and Momoko Ueda as the only dual LPGA-JLPGA members of 2014 (assuming neither Chie Arimura nor Ayako Uehara compete in final stage of JLPGA Q-School next week and Harukyo Nomura does not earn an LPGA card at Q-School this week).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

CME Titleholders Sunday: Shanshan Feng Shoots 66 to Beat Gerina Piller by 1 Shot

Shanshan Feng birdied 4 of her 1st 6 holes to move into the hunt in the final round of the CME Titleholders and birdied 2 of her last 4 holes to finish at -15, nailing down her 2nd LPGA victory of 2013 and 3rd of her career.  She denied Gerina Piller, who made 3 birdies in her last 6 holes to fall 1 shot shy of a playoff, Pornanong Phatlum, who like Piller made 3 birdies on the back 9 but couldn't get her 1st LPGA victory today, and Sandra Gal, who shot a bogey-free 69 today but couldn't add to her birdie total over her last 5 holes and ended up 3 off the pace.  Feng didn't quite shoot the round of the day--that belonged to Ilhee Lee, who jumped from T30 to T11 with a 65 that included 3 birdies in a row on the front, 2 in a row as she made the turn, and 3 in a row to close out her year--but she put together the best round under pressure.

World #1 and Player of the Year Inbee Park got it to double digits under par on the front and early on the back, but couldn't put together a strong stretch run, finishing 4 shots behind Feng, who like her joined the JLPGA to raise the level of her play but unlike her will keep her card on that tour in 2014.  Recent #1 Stacy Lewis ended up tied with Cristie Kerr and Sun Young Yoo as the last players in the field to end the week double digits under par--Kerr did it by birdieing 4 of her 1st 11 holes to get into contention and then stalling out; Yoo did it by birdieing 4 in a row early on the back, and Lewis did it by eagling the 17th.  So the Vare Trophy and Hall of Fame point that goes with having the lowest scoring average on tour in 2013 goes to Lewis.  And Moriya Jutanugarn eagled the par-5 6th and bogeyed 9 and 16 for a 72 that left her E for the week and T33.  That was just good enough to beat Caroline Masson for Rookie of the Year by a single point!  Congratulations to all 3 winners of the LPGA's season-ending awards.

I hope Ai Miyazato, who had to WD, is ok.  I hope she's able to play in the Ricoh Cup, the JLPGA's last event and last major of 2013 this coming week.  I'm also hoping Mika Miyazato will be able to shake off a bad final round that dropped her down to -1 for the week, tied with Natalie Gulbis, who fell from T1 to T29 after a disastrous 82.  Hopefully she'll also be making the trip to Japan.  It was a down ending for a lot of really good players:  Paula Creamer, Chie Arimura, Brittany Lincicome, Hee Kyung Seo, Carlota Ciganda.  But they don't have long to wait for next year!

Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Sunday: Rikako Morita Eagles 17 for Win

When 3rd-round leader Rikako Morita double bogeyed the par-5 9th to fall back to -10 for the week at the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies, she suffered a 3-shot swing on playing partners Ji-Hee Lee and Momoko Ueda, who all of a sudden led her by 3 and 2 shots, respectively.  Meanwhile, Asako Fujimoto had fired a bogey-free 33 from the group ahead of them to get to -11, her playing partner Sakura Yokomine had birdied 3 of her last 6 holes on the front to catch Morita at -10, and, playing from several groups ahead, Mamiko Higa had birdied 5 of her 1st 11 holes to join them.

Morita responded with birdies on 11 and 12 to catch Lee and Ueda (who bogeyed 10), but Higa birdied 13 and 15 to join them at -12 and Fujimoto maintained her 1-shot lead on them with birdies on 11 and 13.  Meanwhile, Yukari Baba made 5 birdies in an 8-hole stretch in the middle of her round to also get to -12.

But then Fujimoto and Morita separated themselves from the field.  First Baba, then Ueda bogeyed 14 to drop to -11.  Higa birdied the par-5 17th to get to -13, but bogeyed the final hole to finish the tournament at -12 after a final-round 66.  Fujimoto birdied 17 to get to -14, but Morita birdied the par-3 16th to remain only 1 shot back.  As Fujimoto was parring 18 for a 66 of her own, Morita struck with an eagle on 17 that gave her the lead.  And when she parred it, her bogey-free 31 on the back had earned her her 4th title of the season and 1st since mid-June.  And it also moved her back to the top of the JLPGA money list.

More soon!

[Update 1 (12:22 pm):  Here's how the money list now looks:

1. Rikako Morita ¥125.32M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥122.51M
3. Yumiko Yoshida ¥86.64M
4. Miki Saiki ¥83.10M

5. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥81.11M
6. Teresa Lu ¥80.29M
7. Mamiko Higa ¥78.11M
8. Bo-Mee Lee ¥72.84M
9. Natsuka Hori ¥64.74M

10. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥61.55M
11. Na-Ri Lee ¥58.34M
12. Yuki Ichinose ¥55.91M
13. Ritsuko Ryu ¥54.34M
14. Asako Fujimoto ¥51.22M
15. Yukari Baba ¥48.77M
16. Da-Ye Na ¥48.14M
17. Shiho Oyama ¥46.86M
18. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥46.28M
19. Erika Kikuchi ¥45.60M
20. Misuzu Narita ¥45.46M
21. Soo-Yun Kang ¥43.80M
22. Junko Omote ¥43.26M
23. Kumiko Kaneda ¥42.72M
24. Mayu Hattori ¥41.79M
25. Esther Lee ¥40.73M
26. Ji-Hee Lee ¥39.49M
27. Na-Ri Kim ¥39.48M
28. Hiromi Mogi ¥36.88M
29. Harukyo Nomura ¥35.97M
30. Yuri Fudoh ¥35.57M
31. Miki Sakai ¥35.36M
32. Erina Hara ¥33.59M
33. Rui Kitada ¥31.78M
34. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥31.15M
35. Kaori Ohe ¥28.24M
36. Lala Anai ¥27.89M
37. Kaori Nakamura ¥26.18M
38. Megumi Kido ¥25.58M
39. Eun-Bi Jang ¥25.27M
40. Young Kim ¥24.76M
41. Yuko Fukuda ¥24.40M
42. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥23.23M
43. Shanshan Feng ¥23.06M
44. Akane Iijima ¥22.40M
45. Phoebe Yao ¥22.09M
46. Ayaka Watanabe ¥20.75M
47. Momoko Ueda ¥19.26M
48. Kaori Aoyama ¥19.25M
49. Yuki Sakurai ¥18.94M
50. Saiki Fujita ¥17.83M

As you can see, Ueda's winnings did count toward her season total and Fujita finished just high enough (-3, T26) today to pass Ayako Uehara and Yun-Jye Wei for the last automatic spot for 2014 membership on the JLPGA.]

Saturday, November 23, 2013

CME Titleholders Saturday: The Plot Thickens!

I was complaining yesterday how boring the LPGA's final tournament of the 2013 season has been compared to the JLPGA's penultimate one, but moving day has made the CME Titleholders much more interesting and dramatic.  Natalie Gulbis fired an 8-birdie 65 to move into a tie for the lead at -11 with Gerina Piller and Pornanong Phatlum (bogey-free 67s), but they didn't even have the best or most interesting rounds of the day.  How do you top Gulbis's 2 3-hole birdie trains or Phatlum's shooting her round of the week despite parring the par-5 6th that she had eagled the 1st 2 rounds in a row?  How about an 8-birdie 66 from Michelle Wie the week after Lexi Thompson won for the 3rd time on tour and Lydia Ko made her LPGA debut as a professional?  How about a 63 from Stacy Lewis that included an eagle on the par-4 3rd and birdies on 6 of her last 8 holes?

With Wie 3 back and Lewis 2 back--tied with Shanshan Feng (6-birdie 67), Thompson herself (bogey-free 67), and Sandra Gal (74)--and a total of 15 players within 5 shots of the lead, the top of the leaderboard has tightened up and gathered up a lot more star power.  Inbee Park bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes but is still only 4 off the pace.  So Yeon Ryu rode a bogey-free 33 on the back to within 5 shots of the tri-leaders.  Azahara Munoz (4 back) and Amy Yang (5) shot their 2nd-straight rounds in the 60s.  Cristie Kerr (4 back) is not out this either, despite ending her round with 10-straight pars.  So who wins is really up for grabs!

The Rookie of the Year race is also up for grabs all of a sudden.  Moriya Jutanugarn, who twice got to -3 yesterday, shot a 3-bogey 74 today to drop back to E for the week.  Given that Caroline Masson is guaranteed 5 points from a T41 or worse finish, Jutanugarn needs to earn 17 points to win the ROY race outright.  In other words, she needs to finish T33 or better.  She's now T35.  In addition, Ayako Uehara can still go low and win the tournament and the ROY race.  Yes, she's 7 shots back at -4, and it's unlikely all the 19 players ahead of her will move backwards in a big way tomorrow, but Lewis showed that a score in the low 60s is possible this week.  Basically, Uehara's going to have to be firing at every flag, while Jutanugarn's got to play better than a good proportion of the half of the field that's ahead of her, and Masson's going to have to go into the low or mid-60s to make Jutanugarn's job more difficult.  The nice thing from Masson's perspective is that she's going off the back in the next-to-last group, so she'll have a pretty good sense of what she'll need to shoot to get into the top 40.  If she can somehow get to 40th, she can force Jutanugarn to finish T28 or better.

Mika Miyazato is my favorite player who's highest on the leaderboard; after a bogey-free 68, she's only 6 shots off the pace.  Let's see what she can do tomorrow amidst the fireworks at the top of the leaderboard and the battle to best mediocrity from the top rookies in the Class of 2013.

Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Saturday: Rikako Morita Makes a Huge Move

If the leaderboard in the LPGA's final event of the season lacks a little star power and its end of the season races a whole lot of drama, then golf fans looking for both would do well to pay attention to the JLPGA the next couple of weeks.  On moving day at the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies, Rikako Morita, who has led the JLPGA's money list for most of the season but who recently has been passed by Sakura Yokomine, birdied 8 of her 1st 15 holes to leapfrog not 1, not 2, but 5 former money-list leaders.  Even though she bogeyed the 165-yard par-3 16th, she bounced right back with a birdie on the 479-yard par-5 17th to extend her lead to 2 shots on living legend Yuri Fudoh (-3 through 15 today, -10 overall), 3 on Momoko Ueda (-2 through 15), 4 on Yokomine (-4 through 17), Ji-Hee Lee (-4 through 17), and Sun-Ju Ahn (-2 through 16), and 5 on Ritsuko Ryu (66), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (-3 through 16), 1st-round leader Shiho Oyama (-3 through 15), and 2nd-round leader Yukari Baba (+1 through 15).  Let's see how this leaderboard looks when I wake up!

[Update 1 (12:16 am):  This is too exciting!  Morita parred 18 to go 31-33-64 and finish at -12.  Ji-Hee Lee birdied her last 2 holes to post a 67 and get to -9.  Yokomine parred 18 to post a 68 and finish at -8.]

[Update 2 (12:19 am):  Other 68s:  Mamiko Higa (now -6), Erina Hara (-5), Kumiko Kaneda (-3), Soo-Yun Kang (-2). Saiki Fujita shot a 70 to fight back to E and get into the top 30 (at least for now).  Hard to tell where she needs to finish to knock Ayako Uehara into Q-School or out of the JLPGA in 2014.]

[Update 3 (12:21 am):  Mihoko Iseri (71, -4) also has a good chance of passing Uehara on the money list.]

[Update 4 (12:25 am):  Ahn had bogeyed 15 and 16 but bounced back with a birdie on the easy 17th (which has given up several eagles this week already).  She's still at -8.  Asako Fujimoto, who had gotten a hole in 1 on the 172-yard 3rd, just birdied 17 to move to -3 on her day and -7 for the week.]

[Update 5 (12:26 am):  Ouch, Oyama bogeyed 17 to fall back to -6 with Higa.]

[Update 6 (12:28 am):  Ueda eagled 17 in the 1st round.  Can she do it again?]

[Update 7 (12:29 am):  Yukari eagled 17 in the 2nd round.  Can she do it again?]

[Update 8 (12:31 am):  Fudoh has yet to birdie 17 this week.  Can she break that streak?]

[Update 9 (12:33 am):  Shout-outs to Bo-Mee Lee (69) at -5 and Teresa Lu (71) at -4.  If they can match or better Morita's moving day performance in the final round, they might have a shot at a victory here, too.]

[Update 10 (12:35 am):  Hiroko Azuma (72, -2) and Ji-Woo Lee (70, E) will also need huge moves Sunday to make it into the top 50 on the money list.]

[Update 11 (12:37 am):  Fudoh's futility on 17 continues; she's joined at -10 by Ueda, who birdied it.  Baba stayed at -7, failing to get under par on 17 for the 1st time all week.]

[Update 12 (12:43 am):  Wow!  Fujimoto birdied 18 to follow up her birdie on 17 and posted a 68 to finish at -8.  But Ahn bogeyed her last hole, falling to -7 after bogeying 3 of her last 4 holes.  And Oyama ended the day at -6, 6 shots off the pace set by Morita, after parring 18.]

[Update 13 (12:46 am):  It's just occurring to me that the JLPGA usually turns off live-scoring during TV coverage of the leaders coming down the stretch.  They've been having some problems with their live leaderboard this week; maybe they can't shut it down?  Or maybe the tournament's not being televised?]

[Update 14 (12:55 am):  Fudoh bogeyed 18 to drop to -9; Ueda's par leaves her the only other player than Morita double digits under par; Baba's par leaves her 5 back.  Here's how the top of the leaderboard now looks:

-12 Morita (64)
-10 Ueda (69)
-9 Ji-Hee Lee (67), Fudoh (70)
-8 Yokomine (68), Fujimoto (68)
-7 Ryu (66), Sattayabanphot (69), Ahn (71), Baba (73)
-6 Higa (68), Oyama (70)
-5 Hara (68), Bo-Mee Lee (69), Na-Ri Kim (70)

Pretty impressive!]

Friday, November 22, 2013

CME Titleholders Friday: Sandra Gal Extends Her Lead, LPGA Unveils 2014 Schedule

Sandra Gal fired her 2nd-straight round in the 60s at the CME Titleholders as many in her lead chase pack moved backwards in a big way.  The 37th-ranked post-2004 rookie ended the day with a 3-shot lead on Sun Young Yoo, who shot a bogey-free 68 to move 2 shots ahead of Gerina Piller (67), Pornanong Phatlum (68), and Cristie Kerr (69).  Others making nice moves up the leaderboard included Morgan Pressel (68, -5, T6), Azahara Munoz (68, -4, T9), and Amy Yang (68, -3, T15)--all the more impressive given how badly Brittany Lincicome (79), Ai Miyazato (78), Ilhee Lee and Jane Park (77), Paula Creamer and Brittany Lang (76), Carlota Ciganda and Eun-Hee Ji (75), and Lexi Thompson and Shanshan Feng (74) scored today.  With Inbee Park (72, -4), So Yeon Ryu (71, -3), Lydia Ko (71, -2), Mika Miyazato (73, -1), Suzann Pettersen (72, E), Stacy Lewis (73, E), Na Yeon Choi (74, +1), and In-Kyung Kim (74, +2) not putting on much of a show (and Pettersen not putting up much of a fight for the Vare Trophy), the top of the leaderboard lacks a little bit of star power and the tournament lacks a whole lot of drama.  Even the Rookie of the Year race isn't that exciting; with Caroline Masson at +9, all Moriya Jutanugarn (-2) has to do is stick relatively close to Ayako Uehara (-3) over the last 36 holes of the season to glide into 1st (and not even that close if Uehara can't chase down Gal and outpace everyone else on the weekend).

Still, I'll take a little anticlimax to 2013 with a smile on my face because of the great news on the 2014 schedule (ably summarized by Tony Jesselli).  More on the schedule next week, though.  For now, I'm hoping that moving day will tighten up the leaderboard just a little bit more and that my faves will try to end the season with a bang, not a whimper!

[Update 1 (11:27 pm):  Maybe the prospect of fighting for a spot on their International Crown team between now and the end of March 2014 will be a motivator!]

[Update 2 (11/23/13, 12:48 am):  Brent Kelley offers more context on the 2014 LPGA schedule.]

Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Friday: Yukari Baba Eagles 17 to Stay Ahead of Yuri Fudoh, Momoko Ueda, Sun-Ju Ahn

Yukari Baba's last win on the JLPGA, in the 2011 Japan Women's Open, was her 1st major and 3rd victory in her now-10 full seasons on tour, and it capped off a run of 3-straight seasons during which she finished in the top 10 on the money list.  She hasn't played badly the last 2 years, hanging around the tour's top 20, but today she's put herself in a position to return to the tour's elite.  Baba fired her 2nd-straight 68 in the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies, highlighted by an eagle on the short par-5 17th, to take a 1-shot lead on Yuri Fudoh and Momoko Ueda and a 2-shot lead on Sun-Ju Ahn, who also notched an eagle today, on the short par-5 5th.  With the 3 former money-list leaders all matching her 68, Baba has her work cut out for her on the weekend.  But you've got to beat the best to join the best.

Speaking of which, current money-list leader Sakura Yokomine matched Shiho Oyama's opening 67 to catch her at -4, along with the woman who led the money list for most of the year, Rikako Morita, and Ji-Hee Lee, a 3-time runner-up on the money list.  Ex-LPGAers Na-Ri Kim and Mizuno Classic champion Teresa Lu also made nice moves to pull within 5 of the lead, joining the 17 players in Baba's lead chase pack.

There was a surprising amount of drama around the cut line, as well.  It looked for most of the day that #51 on the money list Saiki Fujita would miss the cut and give #50 Ayako Uehara a new lease on keeping her JLPGA card.  But Fujita eagled 17 and made the cut on the number.  #4 on the money list Miki Saiki wasn't so fortunate--even though she birdied 5 of her last 10 holes today, she missed the cut by a single shot.  Joining Saiki on the wrong side of the cut line were #63 Yuko Mitsuka and #70 Shinobu Moromizato, who needed great finishes this week to have a hope of breaking into the top 50.  Heartbreakingly, Moromizato eagled 17 but bogeyed 18 to join Saiki 1 shot shot of making the cut.

So who can knock Uehara out?  #52 Mihoko Iseri has the best chance, as she's currently -3 and T13.  #56 Hiroko Azuma is -2 and T19, but needs to finish very high up the leaderboard to leapfrog enough people.   Despite making a double and a bogey down the stretch today, #53 Ji-Woo Lee joined Fujita on the right side of the cut line.  And if the JLPGA counts #55 Ueda's winnings, she, too, can jump into the top 50 (or qualify for the season-ending Ricoh Cup with a win).

All I can say is it's a good thing Uehara had a good 1st round in Naples!  It's looking more and more likely she'll need to go to JLPGA Q-School to maintain her membership on tour in 2014.  Winning LPGA Rookie of the Year would take the sting out of that a bit, eh?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

CME Titleholders Thursday: Sandra Gal Starts her Day with 6 Straight Birdies, Ends It at 64, 1 Shot Up on Rebecca Lee-Bentham

Sandra Gal had done very little of note in the 1st half of 2013, but she did come into the CME Titleholders riding an 8-event top-30 streak during which she notched her 2 best finishes of the season (T6s at the Safeway and Sime Darby).  So it's hard to say how much of a surprise her 6-hole birdie train to start her round on the back really is.  With 3 birdies in her last 4 holes, as well, she finished with her lowest round of the year--indeed, her best since 9/11/11--a 64 that left her 1 shot ahead of Rebecca Lee-Bentham, 2 shots ahead of Lexi Thompson, Shanshan Feng, and Anna Nordqvist, and 3 shots ahead of Sandra Changkija.  Which is pretty darn surprising for a variety of reasons--Lee-Bentham? Changkija? where are the LPGA's Big 3? what about Lydia Ko's professional debut?--but maybe shouldn't have been that unexpected, as Gal's been rolling a lot of 66s in late summer and fall.

So what about the biggest stories coming into the LPGA's final event? 
  • 2013 Player of the Year Inbee Park's victory lap got off to a fine start, as she made 4 birdies in her last 8 holes to post a 68 and soundly beat playing partners and Vare Trophy rivals Stacy Lewis (who struggled all day but birdied 3 of her last 4 holes to get to -1) and Suzann Pettersen (who began her day with a double on the par-5 1st but ended it at E).
  • In the Rookie of the Year race, Ayako Uehara, who needs to win this week to have a chance of passing Caroline Masson and Moriya Jutanugarn, opened with a 5-birdie 69, which puts her 8-up on Masson, who had a disastrous day, and 1-up on Jutanugarn, who would need to finish 2nd or 3rd in the event of an Uehara win to be ROY.
  • Lydia Ko struggled with nerves early on (she was +3 after a double on 3 and a bogey on 7), but righted the ship and finished with 4 birdies in her last 11 holes of bogey-free golf.  Imagine what she would have shot if she had had a good putting day!  As it is, she's tied with the likes of Lewis, defending champion Na Yeon Choi, hottest LPGAer without a win Chella Choi, and a bunch of Americans, from newbies Lizette Salas, Gerina Piller, and Jennifer Johnson to veterans like Morgan Pressel and the soon-to-retire Stacy Prammanasudh.  (Ko'll be 1st off the 10th with Lewis and Chella Choi tomorrow!)
As for me, I was pleased to see Ai Miyazato break 70 today thanks to a bogey-free 33 on the back (she'll be playing in the group after Uehara, Japanese fans in Florida!), but I hope she remembers how to go really low again before this week is out (I did pick her to win on a whim this week!).  I'd love to see Jane Park keep rolling in putts like she did today (6 birdies with only 25 of 'em for a fine 68).  And see Chie Arimura end her tough season on a positive note (she was -2 through her 1st 5 holes but finished at +1) and Mika Miyazato end it with some rounds in the 60s (she suffered a walkoff bogey to settle for a 70 today).  You know, fun in the sun for my favorite players in the field....

Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Thursday: Shiho Oyama Rides Bogey-Free Back-9 32 to Lead

Shiho Oyama made 4 birdies in her 1st 7 holes of the 1st round of the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies, but stood only at -1 on the 12th tee.  Still, she stayed the course and started making birdies again, 4 of them in her last 7 holes, including 3 in a row for the 2nd time in her round, which gave her a bogey-free 32 on the back and left her alone at -5 atop the leaderboard. 

With the likes of Ji-Hee Lee at -4, Yuri Fudoh, Bo-Mee Lee, and Momoko Ueda at -3, and Rikako Morita and Sun-Ju Ahn at -2, Oyama's got her work cut out for her over her next 54 holes.  But at least she's opened up a 6-shot lead on money-list leader Sakura Yokomine, who has to worry about Teresa Lu (E) and Mi-Jeong Jeon (-1) as well as Morita, Lee, and Ahn who are close behind her in the race for the money-list title.  Miki Saiki (+4) has to first worry about making the cut before she can hope to challenge Yokomine or Oyama.

There were a lot of interesting rounds out there.  Ueda erased an early double with an eagle on the 479-yard par-5 17th, but bogeys on 14 and 18 offset birdies on 15 and 16.  (Jeon was the only other player in the field to make an eagle today, and she, too, got hers on 17.)  Amateur Haruka Morita opened the back (her front) with a bogey-free 32 and bounced back from a pair of hiccups at the turn with a walkoff birdie to join the big group at -3 and finish 1 shot ahead of her big sister.

Seeing as how the 2nd round is going to start soon, however, I'd better stop there and turn my attention to the LPGA's final event!

Recommended Reading: Bill Rand on 2013 LPGA Player of the Year Inbee Park

If you read just one golf-related blog post today, make it Bill Rand's summary of and responses to the pre-tournament interview at the CME Titleholders with 2013 Player of the Year Inbee Park.  The interview itself is amazing and Bill's commentary makes it even better.  Way to go, Bill!

Who Are Your Picks for the CME Titleholders?

All right, I've had a terrible year picking the top 15 in LPGA tournaments for Seoul's PakPicker competition, but I just know my luck's about to change with the CME Titleholders!

1. Miyazato Ai
2. Ryu So Yeon
3. Pettersen
4. Thompson
5. Lewis
6. Ko
7. Park
8. Feng
9. Choi Na Yeon
10. Miyazato Mika
11. Kim In-Kyung
12. Choi Chella

Alts: Nordqvist; Hedwall; Wie

How about you?  You feeling lucky?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CME Titleholders Features All 3 Rookie of the Year Candidates in Same Group, But It's Not Even the Most Interesting Pairing

Check out the 1st-round pairings for the CME Titleholders!  Caroline Masson, Moriya Jutanugarn, and Ayako Uehara are going off the 1st tee at 10:08 am tomorrow to see which of them will become the LPGA's Rookie of the Year.  Uehara need to win the tournament to have a chance to overtake Masson and Jutanugarn.

The tournament organizers also have all-Swedish (Anna Nordqvist, Caroline Hedwall, and Pernilla Lindberg) and all-Spanish pairings (Azahara Munoz, Beatriz Recari, and Carlota Ciganda) going off the 1st tee at 9:02 and 9:13 am, respectively, followed by the all-Korean pairing of Na Yeon Choi, So Yeon Ryu, and In-Kyung Kim at 9:46 am and by the all-American pairing of Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, and Lizette Salas at 9:57 am.

The last two pairings off the front are also pretty high-powered, to say the least.  Lydia Ko makes her professional debut alongside Michelle Wie and Jessica Korda, while the LPGA's Big 3 of Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, and Stacy Lewis are the last off the front.  It'll be a victory lap for 2013 Player of the Year Park, but a real battle between Pettersen and Lewis for the Vare Trophy, which honors the player with the lowest scoring average on tour.

The B Team going off the back 9 includes the likes of Brittany Lang (9:46 am), Mika Miyazato (10:08 am), Shanshan Feng and Chella Choi (10:30 am), and Hee Kyung Seo (10:41 am).  Not bad!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ayako Uehara to Roll Dice at CME Titleholders

Ayako Uehara sits at #50 on the JLPGA money list, about a third of a million yen ahead of Saiki Fujita, who is playing this week in the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies in a bid to make it into the top 50 and keep her card for 2014.  Despite her precarious position, Uehara has apparently decided that the chance to win LPGA Rookie of the Year at the CME Titleholders--she needs to win the tournament (and get some help from Caroline Masson and Moriya Jutanugarn) to do it--is more important to her than avoiding JLPGA Q-School or maintaining dual membership on the LPGA and JLPGA next season.  I say "apparently" because there are still 7 spots open in the DPE Ladies field.  We'll know for sure when the Titleholders pairings are announced.  But it would be a huge deal if Uehara followed in the footsteps of fellow Okinawans Ai Miyazato and Mika Miyazato and made the LPGA her sole home tour in 2014.  Stay tuned!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Congratulations to Inbee Park, Sakura Yokomine, Ha Na Jang, Hyo Joo Kim, Lexi Thompson, and Cristie Kerr

Inbee Park didn't win at Lorena's place--that honor went to Lexi Thompson, on whom more in a sec--but her solo 4th was good enough to clinch 2013 Player of the Year.  On the strength of 3 major victories and 6 in all--and just enough good finishes down the stretch--she held off Suzann Pettersen and Stacy Lewis, becoming the 1st South Korean to ever win LPGA POY.  Huge congratulations to Inbee!

Sakura Yokomine won the JLPGA money list in 2009, her 6th season on tour, after 4 straight seasons in which she finished between 2nd and 4th.  She followed it up with another 2nd and 4th as Sun-Ju Ahn came to the JLPGA from the KLPGA and absolutely dominated it, then had the worst season of her career since her rookie year in 2012, falling to 11th on the money list.  With her win yesterday, however, she gave herself a great chance to take the 2013 money title.  Her 4th win of the season and 22nd of her career have helped bring her to #2 on the tour's career money list, with maybe about half a season before she becomes the tour's 2nd-ever billion-yen woman, after living legend Yuri Fudoh.  Congratulations to Sakura on her win!  Let's see if we have more to congratulate her for in a couple of weeks when the JLPGA's season comes to a close.

Over on the KLPGA, young guns Ha Na Jang and Hyo Joo Kim divvied up just about all the tour's season-ending awards between them.  Jang took the money list title and Player of the Year, while Kim had low scoring average and was the Rookie of the Year.  They had some great competition among themselves and in Sei Young Kim and In Gee Chun, so keep an eye on them in majors for years to come.  They've got the same kind of wunderkind vibe that Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn carry so well.  And a certain young American....

Lexi--what can you say but wow?  With her 3rd career LPGA victory, she's passed In-Kyung Kim in my ranking of those who started their LPGA careers between 2005 and the present, moving into the #9 spot.  She's now got the 4th-highest winning percentage in that group, behind only Ji-Yai Shin, Ya Ni Tseng, and Stacy Lewis.  She's established herself as Class of 2012 leader So Yeon Ryu's chief rival.  And she's done it all before she turned 19.  Is it any wonder there's speculation about when--not if--she'll become world #1?  Congrats to Lexi on her win!  Can't wait to see how she handles herself as one of the favorites at the CME Titleholders!

Finally, a belated congratulations to Cristie Kerr in closing.  True, she didn't come close to defending her title at Lorena's place, but she did pass her this season on the LPGA career money list and recently crossed the $15M mark in career winnings.  Congrats to Cristie on breaking this historic barrier, a feat that only Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb before her had accomplished!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lorena Ochoa Invitational Sunday: And the Winner Is...Lexi!

Hey folks, let's consider this an open thread for the final round of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.  Here's a quick reminder of what's at stake for the leaders heading into today's play.

And here's how the leaderboard looks right now:

-13 Lexi Thompson (E through 1)
-12 Stacy Lewis (-1 through 1)
-11 In-Kyung Kim (+1 through 1)
-10 So Yeon Ryu (E through 2)
-9 Inbee Park (-1 through 2), Anna Nordqvist (E through 2), Pornanong Phatlum (E through 2)
-8 Amy Yang (-2 through 4), Azahara Munoz (-1 through 3)

Stay tuned!

[Update 1 (11:55 am):  With @lpga and @LOIMX live-tweeting this thing, I'll be updating this post periodically this afternoon.]

[Update 2 (11:59 am):  Munoz birdied 4 to move to -9 for the week and -2 today.]

[Update 3 (12:00 pm):  Karine Icher birdied 5 to move to -8 for the week and -2 today, while Yang bogeyed it to fall to -7.]

[Update 4 (12:02 pm):  @LOIMX tweeted that Inbee birdied the 4th.  Waiting for to confirm!]

[Update 5 (12:07 pm):  Time for a leaderboard update:

-13 Lexi Thompson (E through 2)
-12 Stacy Lewis (-1 through 2)
-11 In-Kyung Kim (+1 through 2)
-10 So Yeon Ryu (E through 3)
-9 Azahara Munoz (-2 through 4), Inbee Park (-1 through 2)
-8 Karine Icher (-2 through 5), Carlota Ciganda (-2 through 4), Anna Nordqvist (+1 through 3), Pornanong Phatlum (+1 through 3)
-7 Amy Yang (-1 through 5), Suzann Pettersen (+1 through 2), Lizette Salas (+1 through 2)

Wonder why Inbee's not yet updated, or Suzann?]

[Update 6 (12:09 pm):  Ah, here we go:

-13 Lexi Thompson (E through 2)
-12 Stacy Lewis (-1 through 2)
-11 In-Kyung Kim (+1 through 2)
-10 Inbee Park (-2 through 4), So Yeon Ryu (E through 3)
-9 Azahara Munoz (-2 through 4)
-8 Karine Icher (-2 through 5), Carlota Ciganda (-2 through 4), Suzann Pettersen (E through 4), Lizette Salas (E through 4), Anna Nordqvist (+1 through 3), Pornanong Phatlum (+1 through 3)
-7 Amy Yang (-1 through 5)

But now I heard Ciganda birdied 6!]

[Update 7 (12:12 pm):  Michelle Wie doubled 1 but just went birdie-eagle on 4 and 5 to get to -8 for the week!]

[Update 8 (12:15 pm):  Karine Icher has birdied 3 of her 1st 6 holes to climb to -9.]

[Update 9 (12:22 pm):  Oh, had Ciganda with a bogey on 6 to drop back to -7 for the week.]

[Update 10 (12:26 pm):  Nice little move by Chella Choi on the front, a 4-birdie 33 to get to -5 for the week.  Meanwhile, Paula Creamer is -4 through 10, but yesterday's 77 means she's only -2 for the week.]

[Update 11 (12:29 pm):  Pettersen just birdied 6 to get to -9.]

[Update 12 (12:48 pm):  Time for another leaderboard check:

-13 Lexi Thompson (E through 5)
-12 Stacy Lewis (-1 through 5)
-11 In-Kyung Kim (+1 through 5)
-10 Inbee Park (-2 through 6), So Yeon Ryu (E through 5)
-9 Karine Icher (-3 through 8), Azahara Munoz (-2 through 7), Suzann Pettersen (-1 through 6)
-8 Amy Yang (-2 through 8), Anna Nordqvist (+1 through 5), Pornanong Phatlum (+1 through 5)
-7 Carlota Ciganda (-1 through 7), Michelle Wie (E through 7), Lizette Salas (+1 through 6)

Chella Choi is now -6 (-4 through 10).]

[Update 13 (12:49 pm):  Add Choi to the group at -7.  She's now -5 today through 11!]

[Update 14 (12:54 pm):  Lots of movement lower down the leaderboard, but little at the very top thus far today.  Angela Stanford has birdied her last 3 holes in a row and 4 of her last 5 to move to -4 through 12.  Jenny Shin has birdied 3 of her 1st 10 holes to move to -6 for the week. Caroline Hedwall is -3 through 11 and -4 overall.  Sandra Gal opened with a bogey-free 33 and is still -3 through 13.]

[Update 15 (12:56 pm):  Icher and Choi the only players among the lead chase pack to play the opening 6 holes really well.  Choi's on a 4-hole-and-counting birdie train, so things might heat up as the leaders approach the turn.]

[Update 16 (12:58 pm):   Not what Inky wanted.  She bogeyed 6 to fall back to -10.]

[Update 17 (1:18 pm):  Lexi birdied 7 to open up a 2-shot lead on Lewis!]

[Update 18 (1:21 pm):  Jenny Shin now -4 through 11 today; -7 overall.]

[Update 19 (1:22 pm):  Ilhee Lee -3 through 11; -6 overall.  Another sign the leaders should start making more birdies?]

[Update 20 (1:23 pm):  On cue, Stacy birdies 8 to get to -13 and In-Kyung does the same to return to -11.]

[Update 21 (1:25 pm):  Anna Nordqvist +3 through 1st 7, -6 overall.  Ouch!]

[Update 22 (1:26 pm):  Amy Yang joins Karine Icher at -3 through 11, -9 overall.  They'll need huge moves to chase down Lexi.]

[Update 23 (1:29 pm):   Here's where they stand as the leaders approach the turn:

-14 Lexi Thompson (-1 through 8)
-13 Stacy Lewis (-2 through 8)
-11 In-Kyung Kim (+1 through 8)
-10 Inbee Park (-2 through 9), So Yeon Ryu (E through 8)
-9 Amy Yang (-3 through 11), Karine Icher (-3 through 11), Azahara Munoz (-2 through 9), Suzann Pettersen (-1 through 9)

Narrowing down the leaderboard to those within 5 of Lexi.]

[Update 24 (1:42 pm):  Some big changes in the last dozen minutes or so:

-15 Lexi Thompson (-2 through 9)
-13 Stacy Lewis (-2 through 9)
-11 In-Kyung Kim (+1 through 9)
-10 Amy Yang (-4 through 12), Azahara Munoz (-3 through 10), Suzann Pettersen (-2 through 10), Inbee Park (-2 through 10), So Yeon Ryu (E through 9)
-9 Michelle Wie (-2 through 10)


[Update 25 (1:44 pm):  Too bad for Chella Choi!  She doubled 13 but did bounce back with a birdie on 14 to return to -6 for the week.]

[Update 26 (1:47 pm):  Got some good rounds going today:  Stanford, Shin, Choi, and Yang at -4 thus far.  But nothing great--yet.]

[Update 27 (1:50 pm):  Ryu birdies 10 to get to -11; Phatlum birdies it to get to -9.]

[Update 28 (1:57 pm):  Lexi and Stacy trade birdies at 10 to move to -16 and -14, respectively.  Can anyone else keep pace with them on the back?]

[Update 29 (2:00 pm):  Here's the latest leaderboard:

-16 Lexi Thompson (-3 through 10)
-14 Stacy Lewis (-3 through 10)
-11 So Yeon Ryu (-1 through 10), In-Kyung Kim (+1 through 10)

Very few within 5 of the lead now!]

[Update 30 (2:05 pm):  Inbee birdies the 12th to join Ryu and Kim at -11.]

[Update 31 (2:09 pm):  Now Ilhee Lee and Jenny Shin both -4 through 15, -7 overall.]

[Update 32 (4:07 pm):  Wow, you step away from the computer for a couple of hours and you miss everything!  Congrats to Lexi Thompson for coming back on Stacy Lewis down the stretch.  Stacy caught Lexi with her 3rd birdie in a row on the back, which gave her a 1-shot lead with 4 holes to go, but a Lewis bogey on 17 and a Thompson birdie gave the teenager her 3rd career LPGA victory.]

[Update 33 (4:12 pm):  Congrats to So Yeon Ryu on her solo 3rd and to Inbee Park on her solo 4th finish.  Looks like Inbee has clinched POY, with Suzann Pettersen finishing 1 shot behind her.  Great finish by Chella Choi, who got the low round of the day, as well as by Anna Nordqvist who made 3 birdies in her last 6 holes after suffering a horrific +4 start over her 1st 10 holes.  Also happy to see Ai Miyazato fight back from 2 early bogeys to get under par for the day and finish at -3, T21.  Not a great week for her, but some signs of hope for next week....]

[Update 34 (4:15 pm):  Catching up on my twitter feed, it looks like there was quite some drama on 18.  Stacy and Lexi were both about 5 feet away for birdie and needed to call an official in to determine who would putt first.  Lexi was ruled to be away and made hers; Stacy couldn't respond.  Let's hope something gets on youtube at least!]

[Update 35 (4:18 pm):  Man, Pettersen finished with 2 bogeys and 2 birdies.  Will make it that much tougher to beat Stacy out for that Vare Trophy/Hall of Fame point.]

[Update 36 (4:21 pm):  Nice finishes for Lizette Salas (5 birdies on back after bad start) and Michelle Wie (who ended up tied with Salas, Yang, Munoz, and Kim at -9 after doubling the 1st).]

[Update 37 (4:45 pm):  Can't wait for the LPGA to upload video highlights at!]

Ito-En Ladies Sunday: Sakura Yokomine Wins, Takes Top Spot on JLPGA Money List

Sakura Yokomine won the Ito-En Ladies today with a bogey-free 68 from the penultimate pairing.  She birdied 3 holes in a row as she made the turn and stayed there at -10 the rest of her round.  But despite the lack of fireworks coming home, Yokomine's closing par train turned out to be just good enough to vault her to the top of the JLPGA money list.

Let's rewind to see how.  Da-Ye Na had been making an early charge, with 4 birdies in her 1st 8 holes and and another 4 in her last 6, but she dropped back to -8 thanks to a walkoff bogey.  She was the leader in the clubhouse until Yumiko Yoshida came through in the group ahead of Yokomine's.  Yoshida had opened with a bogey-free 32 and joined Yokomine at -10 when she birdied the 541-yard par-5 15th, but she bogeyed the 197-yard par-3 17th coming home and had to settle for -9.  That was all the more painful, as her playing partner Mayu Hattori birdied 18 to tie Na at -8, offsetting one of her 2 costly bogeys in a row early on the back after opening with a bogey-free 32.

Then Yokomine and Na-Ri Kim came through; the former parred her 8th hole in a row on the back to finish at -10, while the latter finished at -8 when she failed to build on her birdies on 15 and 16.

So the tournament came down to the final threesome.  Well, not quite.  Among yesterday's co-leaders, Miki Saiki was the 1st to falter, with a triple bogey on the long par-3 2nd.  She fought hard the rest of the way, but a double on another long par 3, the 17th, dropped her all the way to T14 at -3 (with Ritsuko Ryu [68], Sun-Ju Ahn [70], Ji-Hee Lee [70], and Mamiko Higa [71]).  One down.

Next up was 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe, who got it to -9 for the week when she birdied the 546-yard par-5 3rd and the 389-yard par-4 8th.  But she couldn't keep it going, as bogeys on 9 and 17 dropped her into T7 with Kumiko Kaneda (70) and Yayoi Arasaki (69).

So in fact it all came down to Shiho Oyama.  The ex-LPGAer offset every single one of her 3 birdies in her 1st 11 holes with bogeys, but she got it to -10 for the week when she birdied the 2 long par 5s on the back, 13 and 15.  All she needed to do to beat her longtime rival was make one more birdie.  But she parred 16 and 17...and bogeyed 18!

In the end, then, Yokomine got a little help on the way to her 4th win of 2013 and 22nd of her JLPGA career.  But you can't win that often without a little help from your friends and rivals.

Speaking of which, former money-list leader Rikako Morita also helped Yokomine out.  She had started well back in the pack, but had birdied 5 of her 1st 10 holes to climb the leaderboard so high she had a chance to win.  She was still -8 until she reached the 12th hole, but a 3-hole bogey train dropped her to -5.  A birdie on the tough 17th did get her into T10 at -6 with Phoebe Yao, but her back 9 allowed Yokomine to extend her lead on the money list, as did Teresa Lu's T21 finish.

More on that after I bring onechan to skating!  But in the meantime here's the new top 10:

1. Sakura Yokomine ¥119.01M
2. Rikako Morita ¥107.32M
3. Yumiko Yoshida ¥85.40M
4. Miki Saiki ¥83.10M

5. Teresa Lu ¥79.32M
6. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥79.32M

7. Mamiko Higa ¥72.61M
8. Bo-Mee Lee ¥70.34M

9. Natsuka Hori ¥64.74M

10. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥61.15M

[Update 1 (10:32 am):  Here's the rest of the money list:

11. Na-Ri Lee ¥58.34M
12. Yuki Ichinose ¥53.41M
13. Ritsuko Ryu ¥53.37M
14. Da-Ye Na ¥47.23M
15. Shiho Oyama ¥45.07M
16. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥44.74M
17. Misuzu Narita ¥44.72M
18. Erika Kikuchi ¥44.69M
19. Yukari Baba ¥43.27M
20. Soo-Yun Kang ¥42.94M
21. Junko Omote ¥42.58M
22. Asako Fujimoto ¥42.42M
23. Mayu Hattori ¥41.79M
24. Kumiko Kaneda ¥41.48M
25. Esther Lee ¥40.73M
26. Na-Ri Kim ¥37.94M
27. Hiromi Mogi ¥36.88M
28. Harukyo Nomura ¥35.97M
29. Miki Sakai ¥35.36M
30. Ji-Hee Lee ¥33.99M
31. Yuri Fudoh ¥33.07M
32. Erina Hara ¥31.80M
33. Rui Kitada ¥31.78M
34. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥31.15M
35. Kaori Ohe ¥28.24M
36. Lala Anai ¥27.15M
37. Kaori Nakamura ¥26.18M
38. Megumi Kido ¥25.58M
39. Eun-Bi Jang ¥24.45M
40. Young Kim ¥24.18M
41. Yuko Fukuda ¥23.49M
42. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥23.23M
43. Shanshan Feng ¥23.06M
44. Akane Iijima ¥22.40M
45. Phoebe Yao ¥21.27M
46. Ayaka Watanabe ¥20.25M
47. Yuki Sakurai ¥18.94M
48. Kaori Aoyama ¥18.81M
49. Yun-Jye Wei ¥17.80M
50. Ayako Uehara ¥17.30M

More on the implications in a bit!]

[Update 2 (11:30 am):  So with one open-field tournament and one limited-field tournament left on the JLPGA schedule, Rikako Morita is going to have to really outplay Sakura Yokomine to even have a chance of regaining the top spot on the money list.  We're talking one win in her next 2 starts and some help from Yokomine, as well.  Everyone else in the top 6 or so will need to win both events to have a chance to pass Yokomine.

But Ayako Uehara is not going to be able to affect her fate, unless she chooses to enter next week's Daio Paper Elleair Ladies, because #51 Saiki Fujita, who's only ¥.33M behind her, is definitely in the field.  If Fujita passes Uehara, she gets her JLPGA card renewed for 2014; if not, Uehara will be able to maintain dual membership on the LPGA and JLPGA without having to go to JLPGA Q-School for a 2014 card.  (In addition, Momoko Ueda, who has won ¥13.76M in 8 starts this season on the JLPGA, is getting into the field on a sponsor exemption, so I don't think any money she wins this week will be counted toward the money list--but if it is, she, too, is a threat to knock Uehara into Q-School or off the JLPGA.)  There will be cuts after each of the 1st two rounds, as well, so Fujita (and perhaps Ueda) will need to bring it on Thursday and Friday even to get a paycheck next week.

If Uehara takes these threats seriously, and values a JLPGA card more than a chance to win the CME Titleholders and become the LPGA's 2013 Rookie of the Year, then she may take her name off the Titlehiolders field list and enter the DPE Ladies late, as she did this week's JLPGA event.  After all, 75 players are listed on the current field list, but the tournament site says the full field will consist of 96 players.  There's another reason Uehara may choose the JLPGA over the LPGA next week.  To get into the Ricoh Cup, the final JLPGA major of the season, she needs to either win on the JLPGA, be in the top 25 on the JLPGA money list, or be ranked in the top 25 of the Rolex Rankings.  Since the latter 2 aren't in the realm of possibility, she'll need to win the DPE Ladies next week to join the rest of the JLPGA winners this season who have already qualified for the Ricoh Cup the week after.

So I guess it comes down to which event Uehara feels she has a better chance of winning.  And which win would matter more to her.

The race for the top 25 is also going to be interesting next week, as everyone from Hiromi Mogi at #27 to Yuri Fudoh at #31 can imagine finishing high enough on the DPE Ladies leaderboard to leapfrog their way into the Ricoh Cup.  In addition, if Ueda were to win, she would qualify for the Ricoh Cup even if her winnings didn't count on the money list, so she would then be able to knock Uehara out of the top 50 on the money list during the Ricoh Cup.

One final twist:  Ji-Yai Shin, who has won ¥14.31M in 7 JLPGA starts this season, can get into the Ricoh Cup via her top-25 position in the Rolex Rankings.  With the size of the purse in the tour's final major, she, too, could knock Uehara out of the top 50 and into JLPGA Q-School.

In short, Uehara's going to have to roll the dice one way or another.  Let's see what she decides.]

[Update 3 (11:31 am):  Here's bangkokbobby's take!]

Lorena Ochoa Invitational Saturday: Lexi Leads, Loads Lurk

Lexi Thompson extended her bogey-free run at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational to 36 holes and counting and moved to -13 on the strength of a 67 today.  That was just good enough to give her a 1-shot lead on In-Kyung Kim (whose own bogey-free streak ended at 33 holes but made 5 birdies in her last 12 holes to post a 67 with only 22 putts), a 2-shot lead on Stacy Lewis (who closed with a bogey-free 31), a 3-shot lead on So Yeon Ryu (who would be leading this thing if she could figure out the 1st 5 holes), a 4-shot lead on Anna Nordqvist and Pornanong Phatlum, and a 5-shot lead on Inbee Park (who made her 1st 3 bogeys of the week after going 41 holes without one), Suzann Pettersen (who bogeyed 3 of her 1st 11 holes and birdied 3 of her last 7), and Lizette Salas.  Joining Thompson, Kim, and Lewis in the 67 club today was none other than Michelle Wie, who stayed within 6 shots of Thompson thanks to a 7-birdie performance.

Consider what the leaders will be playing for tomorrow:
  • Park will be fighting to finish ahead of Pettersen and maintain or extend her unfathomly narrow lead in the Player of the Year race (a win there is worth a Hall of Fame point) and in the race for the money-list title.
  • Lewis will be fighting to finish ahead of Pettersen and maintain or extend her .051 lead in 2013 scoring average (the eventual Vare Trophy winner also wins a Hall of Fame point).
  • Lewis will also be fighting to give herself a chance to become the 3rd player to cross the $2M mark in season winnings.
  • Kim will be fighting for her 4th career LPGA victory (which would have come in a certain major if it weren't for a putt of a certain length).
  • Thompson, Ryu, Nordqvist, and Wie will be fighting for their 3rd career LPGA victory.
  • Phatlum and Salas will be fighting for their 1st career LPGA victory.
Unless someone from back in the pack flirts with a 59 later today, it's likely our winner will be one of the above players.  But who?

What do you think?

[Update 1 (1:31 am):  bangkokbobby weighs in.  He sounds almost as excited about a possible Lexi win as a Phatlum one!]

[Update 2 (11:44 am):  Ruthless Mike is pretty excited about his prognosticating.  Let's see how this thing ends up.  All I know, I was an idiot to pick Ai Miyazato to win this thing!]

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ito-En Ladies Saturday: The Vets Strike Back

If the 1st round of the Ito-En Ladies was led by Japan's youth, moving day was dominated by some of the top Japanese stars on the JLPGA.  Miki Saiki and Shiho Oyama leaped into a share of the lead with 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe as they all shot 68s, while Sakura Yokomine caught yesterday's leader 21-year-old Akane Yoshino with a 68 of her own to move within a single shot of the lead.  With Yumiko Yoshida, Mayu Hattori, and Kaori Aoyama 2 shots back, alongside youngsters Kumiko Kaneda and Phoebe Yao, the top of the leaderboard is packed.

But the bottom of the leaderboard is also interesting.  20-year-old Rumi Yoshiba went 68-78 to miss the cut (as did the likes of Erika Kikuchi, Misuza Narita, Natsuka Hori, Yuko Mitsuka, Shinobu Moromizato, and Bo-Mee Lee), while 17-year-old amateur Shoko Sasaki went 68-77 to make it on the number, along with Lala Anai (67-78), Erina Hara (68-77), Na-Ri Lee (75-70), Ritsuko Ryu (73-72), Yuki Sakurai (70-75), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (75-70), and Ayako Uehara (74-71).

Let me focus on that last name 1st.  Uehara is only 100 points out of the lead in the LPGA's Rookie of the Year race, which means she has to win the CME Titleholders next week to have a chance of passing Caroline Masson and Moriya Jutanugarn.  But she's #51 on the JLPGA money list, when the top 50 are guaranteed cards for 2014.  So if Uehara wants to play the Titleholders instead of the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies (where she's not even on the field list), she has to make a huge move up the leaderboard tomorrow.  Otherwise, she risks having to got to JLPGA Q-School to retain her membership on both tours next year.

You'll note that I kind of buried my lede 2 paragraphs ago that recent winner Bo-Mee Lee missed the cut.  This means that she'll need to take the last 2 events of the season on the JLPGA to have a hope to winning the money-list title this year (she finished runner-up to Mi-Jeong Jeon last year).  With last week's winner Teresa Lu going in the opposite direction as Lee and catching Sun-Ju Ahn at -1 on the strength of a 7-birdie 68, 1 shot behind Mamiko Higa (69), all 3 of them will need to go super-low tomorrow to join Saiki and Yoshida in challenging the 2-player race right now between Rikako Morita (72, -3) and Yokomine.  So tomorrow's round is going to have a huge say on the fortunes of the top 8 on the JLPGA money list and their relative chances of taking the title.

In addition, we'll get to see tomorrow if Watanabe can guarantee herself a 2014 card (she's currently #49 on the money list), if Oyama can reestablish herself as one of the top players on tour, if Yoshino can go from obscurity to the winner's circle, if Na-Ri Kim can win one for the tour's Seoul Sisters, if Yao or Aoyama can break through for her 1st JLPGA victory, of it Kaneda can win for the 1st time since 2011 and 2nd time in her JLPGA career.

In short, there's a lot at stake for everyone playing tomorrow.  Let's see who can best turn pressure into performance!