Thursday, March 20, 2014

JTBC Founders Cup Thursday: Inbee Park and Gerina Piller Lay Down Early Gauntlet, Mi Rim Lee, Morgan Pressel, & Co. Respond

World #1 Inbee Park birdied her last 3 holes in a row to post a 7-birdie 66 early on in the 1st round of the JTBC Founders Cup, but if the rest of the field was intimidated, it certainly didn't show in their games or their scores today.

After all, Park's playing partner Lydia Ko had gotten off to a flying start with 6 birdies in her 1st 9 holes and only a walkoff bogey on the par-4 9th kept her from joining Park at -6.  In any case, Gerina Piller had already posted a bogey-free 66 from the group right before Park's--and soon after Park joined her as co-leader in the clubhouse, Jodi Ewart Shadoff and Pornanong Phatlum posted 67s from their 1st-tee starts (Shadoff's sparked by a bogey-free 30 on the back!) and Mo Martin joined them minutes later.  So those 6 golfers had quickly eclipsed the 68s posted minutes before Piller's finish by playing partners So Yeon Ryu (who hit every fairway and green), Mika Miyazato (who took 7 fewer putts than Ryu), and Jennifer Johnson (who took 6), as well as by Jenny Shin, who finished around the same time as Piller.  With those 10 golfers leading the way, players with later starting times most likely took such low scores as green lights to go for pins and try to take it to the Wildfire course.

True, not everyone from the morning wave could match those starts--although there were a bunch of 69s and many more under-par scores from them.  And it did take awhile for those from the afternoon wave to power past early 68s by Alison Walshe, Perrine Delacour, and Heather Bowie Young.  But take it to the Wildfire course they did.  First, Eun-Hee Ji and Catriona Matthew joined Piller and Park at -6 from opposite-tee starts at 12:25 pm; Ji was -7 until a walkoff bogey on the 9th.  20 minutes later playing partners Karrie Webb and Michelle Wie (both of whom hit every fairway and green) posted 66s, followed by Stacy Lewis from the group right after them.

But Morgan Pressel was stealing the spotlight from them all afternoon.  After opening with a bogey-free 29 on the back, she birdied the 1st and 2nd to get to -9 through 11 holes.  Even though she bogeyed the next 2 and couldn't make a birdie down the home stretch, Pressel still managed to take leader in the clubhouse away from the 7 players at -6.  Then rookie Mi Rim Lee sprang into action, as she followed up a bogey-free 30 on the back with a birdie on 1, a bogey on 2, a birdie on 3, and another birdie on 7 to get to -8 and take the lead from Pressel with a sizzling 64.  Lee's low round of the day just happened to eclipse Pernilla Lindberg's own 66 which concluded on the back at about the same time--not to mention earlier 67s by Harukyo Nomura, In-Kyung Kim, and Amy Yang and 68s by Meena Lee, Laura Davies, Suzann Pettersen, Azahara Munoz, and Hee-Won Han and a later 68 by Katie Futcher.

When the dust had settled, 46 players had broken 70 and 75 had finished under par.  Those who failed to take advantage of the favorable scoring conditions included Team USA International Crown hopeful Angela Stanford (76), 2014 LET winner Mi Hyang Lee (76), rookie Xi Yu Lin (76), Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak (75), Monday qualifier Jenny Suh (73), Team Korea hopeful Hee Young Park (73), world #9 Na Yeon Choi (73), and new mom and #4-on-Team-USA-position-defender Cristie Kerr (73).  But basically everybody's going to have to treat every one of the last 3 rounds like moving day.  I don't expect 64 to remain the low round of the week for long.

[Update 1 (10:45 pm):  Ouch!  Stanford finished double-double-par-bogey on the front (her back).  The Mostly Harmless jinx hit most of my faves, as well.  Sure Inky, Lydia, Mikan, and So Yeon played well, but Ai-sama had another good ball-striking/bad putting day, a late double dropped Paula Creamer from -4 to -2, a walkoff bogey on the par-4 18th dropped Mina Harigae back to -2, Mariajo Uribe bucked the trend by bouncing back from an early bogey to post a 70, while Moira Dunn, Jeong Jang, Seon Hwa Lee, and Danielle Kang couldn't get anything going (they each shot 72s) and NYC, Tiffany Joh, and Chie Arimura struggled to 73s.]

[Update 2 (10:54 pm):  Crazy stat of the day:  Delacour hit only 3 fairways and shot a 68 while Vicky Hurst hit the same number of fairways but only 5 greens and shot a birdie-less 78.]

[Update 3 (11:04 pm):  International Crown watch:  Pressel needs to keep the pedal to the medal to have a chance to catch Kerr for the last spot on Team USA; Lizette Salas and Jessica Korda opened with solid 69s but will need to make moves over the next 54 holes to make up ground on Kerr and Stanford.  Inky got her quest to stay on Team Korea off to a good start, but with Yang hot on her tail, Chella Choi off to a solid start with a 69, and the Rocket capable of going very low any given round, she also has to keep the pedal to the metal.  Thidapa Suwannapura's 71 won't go very far to helping her retake the #4 position in the race to make Team Thailand, but it doesn't hurt her very much, either.  The race to make Team Australia is tightening up, as Lindsey Wright (#4) and Sarah Jane Smith (#7, but only .09 points behind her) shot matching 69s to open the week.]

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