Bienvenue! My name is Jamie and I like golf. I grew up playing tennis in eastern Massachusetts, but fell in love with the game after watching Se Ri Pak defeat Jenny Chausiriporn at the 1998 U.S. Womens Open. I studied Hospitality & Tourism Management (with a focus on Event, Tourism, and Convention Management) at the Isenberg School of Management, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Tennis is my first love, but golf is a very close second. I believe style should equal substance, and the latter is nothing without the former.
With many of the world’s top players sitting the last full field domestic event out, this week’s event could be a big breakthrough for one of the many talented ladies on tour. Some notable names not in the field include #1 on the money list Jiyai Shin, the owner of the longest top 10 streak on tour Ai Miyazato, and Suzann Pettersen who has decided to rest her foot after withdrawing from the final round last week in Danville. So, which player is likely to break through this week?
Could it be world #1 and defending champion Lorena Ochoa who with every winless week is losing grip to Shin as the LPGA’s top performer? Ochoa has been in contention the last two weeks, but has been unable to close the deal on the weekend. On the flip side, she has had top 10s in her last 3 events, and should find herself a 4th straight top 10. Can she get it done is the clutch is the bigger question, which is a strange one to be asking a world #1 and two-time winner in 2009.
Can Michelle Wie finally cash in and take home her first LPGA title. She’s had many strong finishes this year, but hasn’t been in the thick of things late on Sunday. Many expect Wie to become the face of the tour, and getting a win this week could go a long way in that. Wie who will be skipping the mini Asian circuit to continue classes at Stanford is running out of chances to join Shin, Anna Nordqvist, and M.J. Hur as rookie winners in 2009.
Sun Young Yoo is another player seeking her first title, and has a T2 and T3 in her last two events. Yoo looks poised to become another South Korean winner on tour. Yoo showed in her playoff loss to Shin at Arkansas that she can make birdies on the closing holes, but was unable to string them together on the front nine last week at the CVS. Can she prove that she can get the deal done on this week?
With the 2009 Tour Championship qualifying criteria unannounced as of yet, it’s going to be a go big or go home week for many players sitting outside the top 80 and top 100 on the money list. The Tour Championship does feature a field of 120, so perhaps we should be looking at the top 120 on the money list as a cut off point as well.
Time for my weekly picks, and after doing pretty well last week, the pressure is certainly on once again:
Lorena Ochoa’s tepid play allowed Sophie Gustafson to coast to victory at the CVS/pharmacy Challenge. Gustafson shot a final round 68 or 69, to best her 3rd round co-leader Ochoa by three or four strokes. A duo of South Koreans Sun Young Yoo & rookie Amy Yang finished solidly for third place.
The shootout between Sophie & Lorena never came to fruition on Sunday. Gustafson started very quickly going 4-under through her first 5 holes on the day, including an eagle on the par-5 5th hole. The 5th was the site of Lorena’s first birdie of the day, to cut Sophie’s lead to 3 going into the 6th hole. Gustafson, perhaps letting the thought of running away with it get to her, would bogey holes 6 and 8 to open the door for Lorena. Lorena however would not seize any of her opportunities on this Sunday, as she parred through until bogeying the 8th. After sharing birdies on 9th hole Sophie continued to lead the tournament, now by two shots.
A couple groups ahead 2009 rookie Amy Yang was having a birdie bonanza. Birdies at holes 1 and 3 were followed by four in a row in holes 5 through 8 to finish a front nine 31. She continued her run on the back by birding the 10th, to jump to -15 for the tournament, 7-under for the day.
So, as the final group made the turn, you have Sophie Gustafson, possibly battling nerves to capture her first victory in 6 years. Would she falter feeling the pressure? Would the #1 ranked player in the world find that winning form that we’ve seen from her? Could Ochoa string off some birdies to put some pressure on her playing partner to steal victory away, and shine the LPGA spotlight back to her? Or would the unknown South Korean, who has found much more success on the LET and in Australia be able to keep the birdies coming, and completely steal the show? Sounds like a pretty exciting back nine, right?
Well, it wasn’t. I really expected Ochoa to start finding her game, and take this out of Sophie’s hand. Unfortunately Ochoa did nothing on holes 10-14, parring them, and then finally did something on the 15th. Unfortunately for her that something was bogey. Gustafson herself wasn’t running away with it, but wasn’t letting anything go either. She birdied the 13th, as the only mark on her scorecard in that stretch. Amy Yang wasn’t able to find another birdie for the rest of her round after her 10th, and ended up bogeying the 15th hole leading to a final round 7-under 65, Yang’s first top 10 finish of the year.
Ochoa’s birdie on the 16th got her to -17, but it was too little too late. Her bogey on the 18th hole really punctuated a frustrating day for the #1 player, as you never want to shoot a tepid 72 on Sunday. Gustafson may or may not have bogeyed the 18th hole, but it was irrelevant, she claimed a 3 or 4 shot victory.
The only player to light it up on the back nine was Sun Young Yoo. She was even par on her day through 10 holes, but birdied the 11th, and holes 15-17, to finish with a 68, good to tie Amy Yang for third at -14. This is Yoo’s second straight top 10 finish after losing in a playoff in Arkansas two weeks ago.
Lorena Ochoa must be kicking herself for really not being able to put any pressure on Sophie on the back nine. This is very similar to her result from last week, when coming into the weekend T3, she shot 72-71, and was unable to contend. This week she did better on Saturday, but really didn’t do anything remotely Lorena-like on this back nine. Something must be going on in that head of hers, and it’s looking all the more likely that Lorena will be departing from the #1 rank in the Rolex Rankings very soon.
Sophie Gustafson continued to lead by one at the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge after shooting a second round 69 to be the sole player in double digits under par at -10, holding a bare one shot lead over Maria Hjorth, Lorena Ochoa, and Shanshan Feng.
Sophie struggled with her putter on Friday, but played well enough to keep going in the right direction. She must not miss her opportunities this weekend if she hopes to win her first title in six years.
Hoping to stop her quest for victory include Maria Hjorth, last time a winner in 2007. Hjorth and Gustafson were Solheim Cup teammates this year, and both have lost in playoffs recently; Hjorth last year to Yani Tseng at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, and Gustafson earlier this season to Ai Miyazato at the Evian Masters. Maria had a pretty exciting day Friday, with one eagle, 7 birdies, and 3 bogeys in her round of 66.
Lorena’s victory drought has been much talked about, and it’ll be interesting to see how she fares on this weekend of play. Last week at the Samsung Lorena found herself in this exact position, tied for second & one stroke off the lead, and only managed 72-71 notching a T4, but not finding herself in contention at any point on the weekend. We’ll see if she can find the inner tenacity that we expect from the #1 ranked lady in the world.
Awaking from her season long coma, and one of my surprise picks for the top 12, China’s Shanshan Feng showed some of the game that piqued our interest last season with a 5-under 67 which also had her tied for second. Shanshan has only used 49 putts this week so far, which is an amazing number for any player, and especially true for a player who is currently ranked T97 in putting at 1.85 putts per round. Compare that with the current leader Sophie Gustafson, who has used 63 putts in her first two rounds. Shanshan could use a good week as she has only notched one top 20 finish this season, and it was a T20 on the dot at the Michelob ULTRA Open.
The foursome that are tied for 5th are just as dangerous. Angela Stanford finished her round with four birdies after being +2 after 6 holes for her 70. Suzann Pettersen had four birdies of her own on the back nine to finish at 4-under for the day, and -8 overall. Joo Mi Kim had a 68 on Friday, which was only her 6th round in the 60s all season (her 5th coming in the first round). After bogeying holes 3 & 4, Joo Mi had six birdies coming home.
The last player in this group also had the round of the day, Sun Young Yoo shot a 29 on the par 35 back nine (her first 9 holes of the day), and shot an 8-under 64 jumping up from T64 to T5. She could’ve tied the course record (or broken it) if it were not for a three putt bogey on the par 5 9th, her last hole of the day. Yoo is continuing where she left off, her last result being a T2 losing in a playoff to Jiyai Shin a couple weeks ago.
A duo of young Americans Vicky Hurst & Paula Creamer round out the top 10, at -6. There are a lot of other surprising names near the top of the leaderboard this week, all looking to cement their priority for 2010. Reilley Rankin, Mikaela Parmlid, Amy Yang and Monday qualifier Sophia Sheridan are all T11 (with Natalie Gulbis & Yani Tseng). Minea Blomqvist, Haeji Kang, Kris Tamulis, and Anna Grzberian are also in the top 20, one stroke worse at -4, T17.
Na Ri Kim seemed to be on her way to solidify her opening round 67 when she player the back nine (her first nine) in 2 under with two birdies and no bogeys. Coming back to the front the wheels fell off, and she went bogey-triple on holes 4-5, and doubles the 8th for a disappointing 76, that dropped her all the way back to T39.
The rising heat reeked havoc on #1 on the money list Jiyai Shin. Shin had been feeling ill all week, and withdrew midway through the second round. She carried an umbrella with her on Friday to stay cool, but after bogeying holes 2 & 5 she decided that she did not have enough to finish.
The not much of a rookie, rookie and possibly best lady golfer in the world Jiyai Shin broke the hearts of the Arkansas crowd and the entire Golf Channel production team by birding the last three holes to upend Angela Stanford & Sun Young Yoo on the second playoff hole to capture her third title of 2009 at the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship on Sunday. In sinking the clutch putt on the par-3 15th (second playoff hole) Shin effectively ruined the story of the day (if not weekend) of Angela Stanford making a full circle bounce back from having to deal with the diagnosis of cancer that her mother unfortunately received not too long ago. Much was made of Stanford’s mom making the drive to watch Angela play singles at the Solheim Cup on Sunday, and the same fanfare was given again on this Sunday as her mother was in attendance in Arkansas. Had Stanford been able to close it out it would’ve been a amazingly triumphant come back, from extraordinary personal struggles, and would’ve been the first time she had won an LPGA tournament with her parents in attendance.
Early on it certainly looked to be Stanford’s day, after stumbling out the blocks with a bogey on the 1st, she pitched in for eagle at the par 5 second which brought her to -8 for the tournament just a stroke behind the 36 hole leader Song-Hee Kim. If she could’ve continued a bit of a run after this eagle Angela could’ve easily run away with this championship, but was only able to birdie the par 5 14th (while bogeying two other holes) going into the final hole in regulation.
Jane Park had a much worse descent after hitting the -9 mark. She birdied four of her five holes to get there, but then gave nearly all of it back when she bogeyed three of the next four holes. She birdied 11 to get back to -7 which kept her very much in contention, but followed it up with what may have been the biggest meltdown of her career as she went double-bogey-double on holes 13-15 which at the end of the day dropped her out of the top 21 (T21, -2).
As exciting as the three player playoff was, it easily could’ve featured two additional players, or potentially ended in regulation. 36 hole leader Song-Hee Kim showed just how nervous she was attempting to win her first LPGA event, being unable to secure a birdie the entire round. This was perhaps exemplified best on the birdieable par 5 14th. After driving herself into trouble off the tee, Song-Hee attempted to pitch out to a comfortable distance for her 3rd shot. Not entirely sure what happened, but Kim’s pitch-out went a distance, and inexplicably rolled into the water hazard. Kim then had to scramble to save par on a hole that all the leaders found birdie throughout the week. Kim did infact get up an down for par, and gave herself a fighting chance to win this event. She would go to the 18th with Stanford needing a birdie to get into a playoff with Shin and Yoo.
Yoo joined Shin atop the leaderboard after she birdied the 14th hole for the third time this week, but then dropped back to 2nd after she bogeyed the 16th hole for the third time this week. She needed to birdie the 18th to guarantee a playoff with Jiyai. A few groups ahead, Shi Hyun Ahn was in the same predicament, but had to settle for par. After a picture perfect drive, Yoo hit her approach to the front of the green leaving a lengthy 30-40 footer for eagle, and the lead outright. Yoo’s putting speed had looked great all week, and this was no different, she lagged close, tapped in for birdie and made the playoff official.
When the last group arrived at the 18th, Shin had been done her round for a couple hours, and Yoo had just finished. Song-Hee once again drove herself into the rough, but her layup was executed much better this time, and had a decent up-and-down birdie opportunity. Stanford hit an aggressive driver down the fairway, and gave her a shot to reach the green in two, she hit an amazing approach to 25 feet, giving her a chance to tie Shin & Yoo. Kim hit her pitch to the pin, and after a bigish bounce and some backspin found herself a difficult 12-15 downhill sliding putt to get into the playoff.
Stanford was first to putt, and she sunk it, igniting the hopes of the Golf Channel production team, and showing an even bigger sign that this tournament was her destiny. Her celebration was almost as if she had won the tournament, or better yet sunk the clinching putt at the Solheim. Arms stretched, she jumped into the arms of her caddy, it was a touching moment for a player who has had to battle so much in the middle of the best season of her career.
Utilizing Na Yeon Choi’s near identical line just before her, Song-Hee was unable to do what Yoo and Stanford did before her. She hit an aggressive putt, but it slid 3 feet past, and Kim along with NYC will have to wait for their 1st LPGA win. Choi & Kim have the talent to be winning on tour, but they have not been able to keep it together while in contention, something that their countrywomen M.J. Hur & Eunjung Yi were able to do when they won earlier in 2009. Until they can calm these nerves and thoughts, I think it will be more likely to see them win an event like Shin did this week, from behind the pack shooting an amazingly low number.
So there we were, Shin, Yoo, and Stanford in the sudden death playoff. Yoo drew first and smoked her drive down the fairway, setting up a great second shot. Shin hit her tee shot second and missed hers to the left, and was in trouble in the rough. She would be blocked out by trees and a hazard, and would not have a chance to get there in two. Stanford was next and her tee shot was falling off quickly to the right toward the right rough, she was fortunate to get a good kick and was just a few yards behind Yoo’s ball in the middle of the fairway.
Shin pitched to the middle of the fairway. Stanford’s attempt to reach ended up in a very similar position to Yoo’s in regulation, on the front edge of the green. Yoo’s looked great rolling up toward the back middle pin position, but hers was just a little bit too hot, and ended up rolling into the right greenside bunker.
You really needed to see these three next shots in order to really understand how good they were, but it was some of the best golf I’ve seen in a long time. Shin was first and pitched hers to tap-in range for her (3-5 feet). Stanford was next, and nearly holed hers, but again was a tap-in for birdie. Yoo’s bunker shot rolled to inches. All three ladies tapped their birdies in (no relapse of Michele Redman from two weeks ago!) and went to the par 3 15th.
Yoo again was first and was short and right, which was incidentally the same position she was in regulation. She flirted dangerously with the hazard, but hit it far enough to land short of the green. Stanford hit hers about 20 feet short of the pin, which was just outside of Shin’s 12 footer left, and on a very similar line.
Yoo chipped hers from just off the green to three feet, nearly a tap-in for her on this day. Stanford was first, and she piped the left to right putt about five feet past (outside of Yoo’s ball), which set the stage for Shin to putt tow in. Trusting Stanford’s line Jiyai hit a perfect 12 footer, and claimed her third victory of the season.
Shin has a chance to match HOFer Nancy Lopez in winning both the Rookie of the Year & Player of the Year in the same season. She has essentially clinched ROY, but POY is certainly up for grabs.
Stanford should be very happy with her week, and is seemingly back in peak condition like she was earlier this season. I picked Yoo to win this week, so you’ve gotta be sure I was rooting hard for her down the stretch on Sunday. Hopefully Yoo will take a lot of positives in coming this close, and I expect an LPGA win in this player’s near future.