Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kia Classic Sunday: Anna Nordqvist Wins for 2nd Time in Last 4 LPGA Starts

Anna Nordqvist made the final round of the Kia Classic her own, as she sank 6 birdies in her 1st 16 holes to get to -14 and--despite bogeying the par-5 17th--held on for a 1-shot victory over Lizette Salas (70, -12) and a 2-shot victory over Lexi Thompson (68, -11).  Thompson birdied 4 of her last 6 holes and Salas 3 of her last 5, but it was too little, too late to stop the Swedish superstar, who went 67-67 on the weekend and took only 53 putts over her last 36 holes.  Now a 4-time winner on the LPGA, Nordqvist has 2 victories in her last 4 starts after waiting over 4 years since her 2nd career victory, way back in her rookie season.

Putting was definitely the difference this week, as plenty of golfers' ball-striking was solid enough to win.  Chella Choi closed with a bogey-free 69 to get to -10 for the week, but took 32 putts after hitting 16 greens in regulation today, so I'm guessing she left a lot of birdies back on the Aviara course.  Cristie Kerr uncharacteristically made only 1 birdie all day and got passed by Nordqvist, Salas, Thompson, and Choi.  Eun-Hee Ji hit 56 greens all week but couldn't sustain her hot putting from moving day when it mattered on Sunday.  Stacy Lewis hit 17 greens today but took 34 putts on her way to a tepid 71 that left her 5 shots off the pace.  Even Inbee Park couldn't quite get her putter in gear for the week, despite shooting a 6-birdie 68 to close it out.  Heck, Giulia Sergas shot a bogey-free 67 that included an eagle on the par-4 16th, but she still took 30 putts, just as Gerina Piller joined her at -7 for the week with a bogey-free 69, but hit 16 greens and took 31 putts.  Even worse were Azahara Munoz and Dori Carter, who both hit 16 greens and took 35 putts.  In fact, about the only player in the lead chase pack who putted really well today was Se Ri Pak, but she bogeyed 2 and 3 to fall back to -3 for the week before making 5 birdies and no bogeys the rest of the way, so she was never able to put any pressure on Nordqvist.

And then there were the players who moved backwards in a big way today.  2014 Comeback Queen Karrie Webb could never recover from a double bogey-bogey start and ended up with a 75 that dropped her back to -3.  Shanshan Feng went from bad to worse when she finished with a double bogey that knocked her down to -5.  Ayako Uehara fought back to -8 with a birdie on the par-5 5th, but it was all downhill from there and she ended up tied with Webb at -3.  Tiffany Joh fell all the way to E after being -8 over her 1st 48 holes.  Lydia Ko made 2 doubles and 4 bogeys to drop all the way to +3 for the week.  And the list goes on.  So those who couldn't quite chase Nordqvist down or get themselves into contention shouldn't feel too bad.

Nor should those who hung in there this week.  From Jenny Shin to Michelle Wie to Hee Young Park to Paula Creamer to Ai Miyazato, they laid the groundwork for hopefully stronger finishes than merely top 25 next week at the final playing of the Kraft Nabisco Championship (although hopefully not of the LPGA's opening major at Mission Hills).  By contrast, players like In-Kyung Kim, Amy Yang, So Yeon Ryu, Ya Ni Tseng, and Na Yeon Choi will need to bounce back quickly from disappointing weeks.  If they don't, even the KNC's amateur invitees could eat them alive (Su-Hyun Oh outduelled Minjee Lee as both finished better than -20 a few days ago Down Under.)  At least Kim can take solace in the fact that she secured the final spot on Team Korea for the International Crown.

But more on that soon.  For now, let's savor Anna Nordqvist's return to winning ways once again.

[Update 1 (10:49 pm):  And Laura Diaz's 2 hole in 1s and 4 eagles in the last 2 days!  Got her in the KNC, along with:
Congrats to all!]

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