This Is about Guccifer 2.0, not Golf

Quick questions to my remaining readers:

  • are you aware of the Guccifer 2.0 story?
  • have you been trying to follow it?
  • have you been able to find any good sources on it through google searches?

Just to be clear, I had not been aware of or following the story until one of my best friends started blogging about it in mid-June.  As he’s been writing about his experiences going down that particular rabbit hole, I’ve started looking for other sources.  Not very hard, to be sure.  And I know that I’ve been on leave from blogging for awhile, but what ever happened to google’s blog search?  Back in the bad old days, I was at least able to find a wide range of voices on almost any topic, no matter how obscure.  But when I search “Guccifer 2.0” on google, I get nothing interesting or new.  If I Continue reading “This Is about Guccifer 2.0, not Golf”

CME Group Tour Championship Weekdays: Julieta Granada and Carlota Ciganda Step Up

With the top golfers on the LPGA apparently feeling the pressure of playing for $1.5M and having trouble dealing with the changeable winds and slower greens at Tiburon this week at the CME Group Tour Championship, the door is slightly ajar for some unsung heroes to make like Christina Kim and make a statement at the end of 2014.  Julieta Granada has been dinking her way around the course, while Carlota Ciganda has been bombing her ways around it, but despite the 55-yard difference in average driving distance between them thus far this week, they find themselves tied for the lead at -7.

With 36 holes still to be played, Granada and Ciganda have to keep the pedal to the metal on the weekend.  The hottest golfer in the field, Morgan Pressel, is -9 over her last 26 holes after suffering a birdieless +3 start over her 1st 10 holes of the week, which puts her 1 behind the co-leaders,  Michelle Wie has also bounced back from a rocky start, going -6 over her last 19 holes (which featured an eagle on the par-4 7th) and shooting up the leaderboard to tie Sandra Gal and Sarah Jane Smith at -5.  Chella Choi eagled the par-5 17th to catch So Yeon Ryu, whose double bogey from the sand on the par-3 16th on Thursday and walkoff bogey on Friday dropped her to -4.

But what of the LPGA’s Big 3?  World #1 Inbee Park languishes at +1 after going +3 and birdieless over her last 10 holes on Friday.  Stacy Lewis, the leader in every major LPGA year-long race, had to battle back to -1 for the week after going +3 and birdieless over her 1st 16 holes yesterday.  That’s 1 shot worse than Lydia Ko, who’s been missing a lot of greens and scrambling her way to 7 birdies and 5 bogeys over her 1st 36 holes.

With Shanshan Feng, Suzann Pettersen, Na Yeon Choi, Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome, In-Kyung Kim, and Caroline Hedwall lingering with Lewis at -1, there’s still plenty of time for them to make a big move.  It’s probably too late for Mi Jung Hur (+6), Karrie Webb (+4), Pornanong Phatlum (+4), and Paula Creamer (+3), though.

With the big storm over and the big thaw about to begin, I’m hoping I’ll actually be able to relax and watch some golf today instead of spending 11 hours shovelling, clearing off my roof, and helping my neighbors, as I did yesterday.  Still have to clear the snow off my garage and go foraging with the family once the driving ban is lifted in the Village of Hamburg, however.  Maybe Sunday!

My Picks for the CME Group Tour Championship

Around the World of Women’s Golf in 10 Easy Links

Between being figuratively snowed in at work and literally snowed in at home in Hamburg (where I’ve spent something like 12 of the last 48 hours shoveling), I’ve taken an unexpected sabbatical from Mostly Harmless, but I’m back!  Let’s catch up on what I’ve missed!

Christina Kim Prevails Over Shanshan Feng in Playoff at Lorena’s Place.  I’ve gotta be honest, I erased the 1st 3 rounds on my DVR after watching the intros and still have the last 6 holes of so of the final round to watch, but I’ll be sure to do so now that I finally gave in and saw that Kim won in a playoff over Feng!

Yoko Maeda Beats Satsuki Oshiro in Playoff for Early 30th Birthday Gift.  Maeda hasn’t even been on the JLPGA often enough to be called a journeywoman, but she bounced back from a walkoff bogey at the Ito-En Ladies that opened the door for Oshiro, who was also looking for her 1st-ever victory on tour, by closing it on the 1st playoff hole with a par.  Momoko Ueda finished 1 shot out of the playoff, which moved her into the top 10 on the money list.  Sun-Ju Ahn continues to maintain a near insurmountable lead on Bo-Mee Lee (not to mention Ji-Yai Shin, Misuzu Narita, Teresa Lu, and Miki Sakai, who all have either cracked the 100 million yen barrier this season or have a hope of doing it).

In Gee Chun Wins for 3rd Time on KLPGA in 2014.  Chun’s win came in dramatic fashion over the final 9 holes, but it was almost overshadowed by Kyu Jung Baek narrowly winning the Rookie of the Year race over Min Sun Kim and Jin Young Ko.  Also, Ha Neul Kim announced that she’ll be playing in the final stage of JLPGA Q-School (she finished T1 at one of the previous stage’s sites on 11/7).  Her last round in the last KLPGA event of 2014 may turn out to be her last start as a KLPGA member.

Xi Yu Lin Wins in Homeland on LET.  Congratulations to LPGA rookie Xi Yu Lin, who beat Charley Hull by 5 shots for her 1st-ever win on the LET!  Lin made her professional debut at the very same event in 2011, finishing 5th, so it’s fitting her 1st victory off the CLPGA came here, as well.

Sakura Yokomine, Ha Na Jang, Sei Young Kim, Charley Hull, Stephanie Meadow, Minjee Lee, Ariya Jutanugarn, Su Hyun Oh Highlight LPGA Q-School’s Final Stage.  But check the field list:  there are a lot of current, former, and maybe future LPGAers on it!  Names like Lorie Kane, Birdie Kim, Chie Arimura, Vicky Hurst, Cheyenne Woods, Ju Young Park (Hee Young’s little sis), Alison Lee, Annie Park, Simin Feng, Ani Gulugian, Ginger Howard, and Madison Pressel are just a few that’ll stick out to die-hard fans of women’s golf.  It all starts the 1st week of December!

The LPGA’s Last Event of 2014 and the JLPGA’s Next-to-Last Are on Tap This Week.  Check out the pre-tournament notes and interviews for the CME Group Tour Championship (where season-ending race leader Stacy Lewis, world #1 Inbee Park, and 2014 Rookie of the Year Lydia Ko have the best shot at winning the $1M Race to the CME Globe) and live scoring for the ElleAire Ladies Open (where Momoko Ueda has jumped out to an early lead).

So buckle your seat belts, everyone!  (That’s something I’ve practically forgotten how to do, as The Constructivist Family has been housebound the last 2 days and we have no idea when the state of emergency or travel ban will be lifted!)  2014 is going out with a bang!

Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship Friday: Inbee Park and Mirim Lee Fire 62s; Park Leads Shanshan Feng by 3

World #1 Inbee Park followed up yesterday’s 64 at the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship with a 62 to get to -18 and take a 3-shot lead on Shanshan Feng.  Park’s ten-under-par round included a bogey on the par-4 4th and an eagle on the par-4 8th, along with 9 birdies, while Feng’s 65 was marred only by back-to-back bogeys early on the back 9.

Even as Park and Feng battle it out for world domination, the Rookie of the Year race is heating up.  Mirim Lee fired a bogey-free 62 of her own today to catch Lydia Ko (65) and Line Vedel (68) at -10.  Despite birdieing 6 holes in a row on the front and 7 of her 1st 10, ROY race leader Ko offset her last birdie of the day on the par-3 14th with a bogey on the par-4 15th.  As Lee racked up 5 birdies on each side, Vedel had an up-and-down front, with 2 bogeys and 2 birdies, but turned it on during the back with 5 birdies (and a lone bogey) in her last 8 holes.  If either Lee or Vedel are going to put any pressure on Ko down the home stretch, they’re going to need to outdistance her over the weekend and challenge Park and Feng for the title.

That’s a tall order, especially when you consider that Azahara Munoz joins them at -10, recent world #1 and leader in every significant year-long LPGA race Stacy Lewis is at -9, 2-time champion Suzann Pettersen is at -7, and there are a bunch of golfers at -8 playing well enough to win this thing, including So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, and Chella Choi.

Given how many big numbers have been posted already this week–Lewis doubled the par-4 9th, Michelle Wie made her 2nd triple of the week, this time on the par-4 4th (she’s well back at -6), Brittany Lang tripled the par-5 12th (she’s -7)–it’s too soon to think that the lead chase pack near -10 can’t chase down Park and Feng.  But it’s likely that somebody in that pack will need to put together a course record on Saturday or Sunday to really put some pressure on them.

[Update 1 (8:10 am):  Congrats to Danielle Kang for winning her 2nd car in as many weeks with her 2nd hole in 1!!!]

So Now Who Do You Think Has Had the Best 2014 in Women’s Professional Golf? And Will?

So far, the title for best 2014 in women’s golf is down to 8 golfers.  Each has at least 3 worldwide wins on major women’s professional tours.  As impressive as Stacy Lewis has been, her difficulty in sealing the deal has opened the door to some golfers who have been racking up wins of late.  Still, Stacy’s still my #1 candidate:

Of course, a lot can happen down the home stretch, with 6 JLPGA, 5 LPGA and 5 KLPGA, and 4 LET events left to go before the year is out.  Maybe someone will leave all these players in the dust if she really heats up as the temperatures continue to go down.

In a nutshell, the best of the best women golfers in the world have not yet begun to fight!  Who do you think will prevail in the end?

Reignwood LPGA Classic Friday: Stacy Lewis to Field, "Catch Me If You Can!"

There are a lot of female golfers having great seasons, but Stacy Lewis is doing it on the biggest stage against the toughest competition while playing the most consistently excellent golf.  She didn’t have a particularly great ball-striking day by her standards yesterday to kick off the Reignwood LPGA Classic, but took only 24 putts on her way to a bogey-free 66.  Today, she responded to an opening bogey with 6 birdies the rest of the way, including 3 in her last 6 holes, to move to -12 and dare the field to catch her.

So far only Brittany Lang has really responded to Lewis’s challenge.  Her bogey-free 66 crammed 7 birdies into her last 12 holes.  It’s that kind of burst that’s required to keep up with the world #1 these days, and yet Lang is still 2 back at the halfway point.  Speaking of bursts, Suzann Pettersen birdied 4 of her last 5 holes to post a bogey-free 66 of her own and move within 6 of Lewis after a forgettable 1st day.  We’ll have to see if LPGA newbies Caroline Masson (7-birdie 68) and Mirim Lee (bogey-free 68) can keep the pedal to the metal; they moved within 4 of the lead, catching Caroline Hedwall (4-birdie 71) and Belen Mozo (5-birdie 69) at -8.  Meanwhile, So Yeon Ryu finally woke up, with 5 birdies in her last 13 holes and 3 in her last 4, but she’s 7 off the pace, as are Inbee Park and Chella Choi, while Mi Jung Hur (-2), Ya Ni Tseng (-2), Na Yeon Choi (E), and defending champion Shanshan Feng (E) are even further behind.

So huge advantage to Lewis heading into the weekend in Beijing.  She’s got a big lead on the biggest names chasing her while putting the pressure on those closest to her.  I don’t see any reason she won’t continue making at least 5 birdies a round.  She hasn’t missed a fairway all week, she has taken only 51 putts in 36 holes, and she’s talking like she has history in her sights.  A solid weekend allows her to extend her lead on the money list and in the Player of the Year race and Race to the CME Globe.  The time is certainly ripe for Lewis to rack up even more Hall of Fame points.  Can anyone stop her?

LPGA Hall of Fame Watch, September 2014 Edition

I usually wait till Thanksgiving and the end of the LPGA season to revisit an old Hound Dog LPGA question:  who will be the next player to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame?  But given how well the top golfers on tour have been playing, and how much is at stake during the tour’s 2nd Asian Swing and beyond, I figured I’d review where everyone with at least a halfway decent chance of making the Hall stands right now.

Here are the criteria from LPGA.com:

  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 right now:

1. Ya Ni Tseng (23)
T2. Inbee Park (18)
T2. Cristie Kerr (18)
4. Suzann Pettersen (16)
5. Stacy Lewis (14)
6. Ji-Yai Shin (13)
7. Paula Creamer (11)
T8. Na Yeon Choi (9)
T8. 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, Choi, and Miyazato have stalled, it’s difficult to have much confidence that Park, Pettersen, or Lewis will catch Tseng very quickly–although given how well Pettersen has played in Asia in her career and how hot Park and Lewis are, who knows?  Tseng, meanwhile, 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.  With so many 1st-time major winners this season, the only points that are left besides wins are for Player of the Year and for the Vare Trophy (for lowest scoring average).  Right now, Lewis has sizeable leads in both races.  Let’s see if she can lock them up in the next 2 months!

Congratulations to Kyu Jung Baek and Connie Chen!

Hyo Joo Kim had a shot of backing up her Evian Championship with another major victory at the MetLife KLPGA Championship last Sunday, but instead another rising young star on tour took the title for her 3rd victory of the season.  Kyu Jung Baek got it to -10 early and the leaders came back to her 1 by 1, until only Ran Hong managed to match her total.  Baek beat the veteran in a 1-hole playoff, closing the gap on Rookie of the Year race leader Jin Young Ko in a major way.

Meanwhile on the LET, just as countrywoman Paula Reto was contending on the LPGA, South Africa’s own Connie Chen was holding off the likes of Carlota Ciganda, Beth Allen, Charley Hull, Nontaya Srisawang, and Nikki Campbell and leaving big names like Azahara Munoz, Lee-Anne Pace, and Melissa Reid in the dust at the Tenerife Open de Espana.  Chen has had a few decent finishes in the last few years, but followed up a T7 a few weeks ago with 2-straight missed cuts before finding something in Spain.

Chen turns 22 late next month and Baek turns 19 just before her, so be on the lookout for more good things from them both for years to come.  If I had to handicap their chances of making it to the LPGA, I’d say Chen is a long shot and Baek is a sure shot, but with players this young you never can tell just where their limits actually are!

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Sunday: Ji-Yai Shin Wins for 4th Time in Her Last 9 JLPGA Starts

The cliche may go that “when the cat’s away, the mice will play,” but it didn’t hold true on the JLPGA today.  With Bo-Mee Lee and Sun-Ju Ahn, the 1-2 players on the tour’s money list, both deciding not to play this week at the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic, 22-year-old Mami Fukuda had a great chance for her best-ever finish and possibly even a win.  But when you’re being chased by #3 Misuzu Narita and #4 Ji-Yai Shin (who’s also a former world #1!), you’d better bring your A-game.  Fukuda did not, making an early and a late double that knocked her out of contention.

Maybe the cliche should go, “when some cats are away, other cats will play,” instead?  Because even as Fukuda fell from -10 to -7 with a birdieless 39 on the front, Shin birdied the par-3 6th and par-4 9th to move to -11.  That’s around the time former LPGAer Na-Ri Kim bogeyed her last 3 holes on the front in a row to fall back to -8 and Na-Ri Lee caught Rui Kitada at -9.  While Esther Lee was making a charge from 8 groups ahead of the final threesome to move into contention–her 5 birdies in her 1st 7 holes on the back got her to -11–Shin kept making pars.  That also opened the door to Na-Ri Lee, who birdied the par-4 10th and par-5 12th from 2 groups ahead of Shin’s to also move to -11, along with Kitada, who moved to -10 with a birdie on the par-3 11th.

Things got kicked up a notch after Esther Lee parred out to become leader in the clubhouse at -11.  Na-Ri Lee responded with an eagle on the par-5 15th to move to -13, which Kitada birdied to move to -11 and then Shin did the same to get to -12.  So it was a 3-player race over the final 3 holes to finish ahead of Esther Lee.  And who should win it but the Final Round Queen, who birdied the 194-yard par-3 16th and 331-yard par-4 17th to move to -14?  As first Na-Ri Lee and then Kitada parred out, all Shin needed for her 4th win in her last 9 JLPGA starts was a par on the 367-yard 18th hole.  When she did it, she had secured her 9th career JLPGA victory and joined Hyo Joo Kim as the 2nd 4-time winner in 2014 in the entire world of major-tour women’s professional golf.

She also moved to #2 on the JLPGA money list.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Ji-Yai Shin ¥92.53M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
4. Misuzu Narita ¥86.06M
5. Miki Sakai ¥62.55M
6. Esther Lee ¥52.54M
7. Erina Hara ¥50.65M
8. Na-Ri Lee ¥47.84M
9. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
10. Lala Anai ¥46.45M
11. Ayaka Watanabe ¥45.25M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥44.61M
13. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥44.56M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥38.35M
15. Rikako Morita ¥37.79M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥36.51M
17. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥36.01M
18. Ai Suzuki ¥33.05M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥32.23M
20. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
21. Ji-Hee Lee ¥30.91M

22. Phoebe Yao ¥28.80M
23. Mayu Hattori ¥27.93M
24. Kaori Ohe ¥27.12M
25. Hikari Fujita ¥26.31M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥25.47M
27. Sakura Yokomine ¥24.42M
28. Asako Fujimoto ¥24.23M
29. Erika Kikuchi ¥23.22M
30. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥22.92M
31. Rumi Yoshiba ¥22.85M
32. Junko Omote ¥22.66M
33. Mami Fukuda ¥22.45M
34. Yukari Baba ¥22.10M
35. Kotono Kozuma ¥22.00M
36. Megumi Kido ¥21.42M
37. Mamiko Higa ¥20.81M
38. Na-Ri Kim ¥20.64M
39. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
40. Soo-Yun Kang ¥19.26M
41. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
42. Akane Iijima ¥18.72M
43. Rui Kitada ¥18.55M
44. Miki Saiki ¥17.84M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥17.25M
46. Yukari Nishiyama ¥17.03M
47. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.92M
48. Nana Yamashiro ¥15.06M
49. Da-Ye Na ¥14.56M
50. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M

The Korean resurgence is a worldwide thing, as 5 Koreans are now in the top 8 on the JLPGA, while last years stars Rikako Morita, Sakura Yokomine, Yumiko Yoshida, and Miki Saiki are being left in the dust, along with returnee Momoko Ueda.  True, defending champion Yokomine charged into the top 10 today on the strength of a fine 67 and Saiki into the top 20 with a great 68, but they need to be getting themselves into contention down the home stretch with regularity if they want to have a shot at even the top 10 on the money list at season’s end.  

Next up is the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open, the last tune-up before the JLPGA’s 3rd major and biggest tournament of 2014, the Japan Women’s Open.  Looks like Shin is taking a break, but we should see Lee, Ahn, and Teresa Lu back in action.

Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Saturday: Mi Jung Hur Catches Paula Reto at -15, 4-Up on Stacy Lewis and Kris Tamulis

Mi Jung Hur fired a 6-birdie 67 to catch 2nd-round leader of the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Paula Reto atop the leaderboard at -15, 4 shots clear of Stacy Lewis (who was -4 and bogey-free over her last 14 holes) and Kris Tamulis (whose bogey-free 65 was the low round of the day).

Hur, who was tied with Lewis for the lead after the 1st round, fired a bogey-free 32 on the back to reel in the surprising South African rookie, who bounced back from a bogey on the par-4 4th, a double on the par-3 7th, and another bogey on the par-4 11th with birdies on 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, and 17.  Both Hur and Reto have hit 45 greens in 54 holes, but while Reto has made 21 birdies to Hur’s 18, Hur has taken 7 fewer overall putts than Reto.  If the 2 unlikely co-leaders keep this up tomorrow, everyone else will be playing for 3rd.

Moriya Jutanugarn squandered a whole bunch of great looks at birdie today, or she’d be right with Lewis and Tamulis, but T5 at -8 with Alison Walshe is nothing to sneeze at.  Me, I’ll be rooting for Ayako Uehara (-7), Ai Miyazato (-6), and Mika Miyazato (-4) to go low tomorrow.  The Miyazatos were both -7 late on the back, but Mikan tripled the par-5 17th and Ai-sama bogeyed the par-4 18th she had birdied the previous 2 rounds.  Uehara, meanwhile, has been unable to reach her high-water mark this week of -8 through 31 holes, as the 3 birdies she made on the front today were not enough to offset the 4 bogeys she made in that 14-hole stretch, and parring out on the back left her 8 behind the leaders.

As for the race for the top 100 on the LPGA money list, things aren’t looking too good for Paz Echeverria (DNP) and Jee Young Lee (MC), who look very likely to get passed by Joanna Klatten (#100, -1) and Reto (#105, -15).  With Becky Morgan (#106, -4), Karin Sjodin (#119, -6), Stacey Keating (#126, -6), Perrine Delacour (#127, -7), and Cydney Clanton (#145, -6) in the hunt for big paychecks, that means even Alena Sharp (#97, +1) and Yueer Cindy Feng (#96, +7) have to focus on making enough money this week to pass Ashleigh Simon, Kristy McPherson, and Lindsey Wright (all of whom missed the cut) to ensure they stay in the top 100.  Conceivably, 1 of those 5 players could be the odd one out if everyone behind them playing well thus far this week continues to do so tomorrow.

So there’s a lot at stake for a lot of players in the final round.  Reto is trying to become the 3rd rookie to enter the winner’s circle in 2014; Hur is trying to close a deal she’s been unable to the last few weeks and nail down LPGA victory #2; Lewis is out to widen her lead in the money-list, Player of the Year, and CME Globe races; Tamulis is out to graduate from journeywoman status.  And then a whole bunch of golfers are doing everything they can to avoid Q-School.  Should be very interesting!

Konica Minolta Cup Sunday: 20-Year-Old Ai Suzuki Becomes Youngest Major Winner on JLPGA

20-year-old Ai Suzuki made her 1st career top 10 on the JLPGA a major victory as she held off Ji-Yai Shin, Misuzu Narita, Na-Ri Lee, and Lala Anai down the stretch to break Ai Miyazato’s record and become the youngest winner of the Konica Minolta Cup.

The 1st player to put pressure on the youngster was Lee, who birdied 6 of her 1st 10 holes from 3 groups ahead of Suzuki, Momoko Ueda, and Kaori Ohe to move to -5 for the week.  But Suzuki responded with 4 birdies of her own in her 1st 7 holes to fight back to -7 with 10 holes left in the tournament.  In the group ahead of her Shin and Narita were playing catch-up, however, as Narita fired a bogey-free 33 to move to -5 and Shin also birdied 4 of her 1st 7 holes to also get to -5.  But a double on 9 knocked the former world #1 back on her heels.  Even though a bogey from Suzuki a few minutes later that forced her to settle for an opening 34 dropped her back to -6, it was enough to extend her lead on her playing partners, as Ueda’s 36 and Ohe’s 37 left them at -3 with 9 to play.

When Suzuki made 6-straight pars to start the back, she put the pressure on her pursuers to chase her down, and most of them couldn’t handle it.  Ohe bogeyed 2 of her 1st 4 holes on the back and was out of it.  Ueda ended up shooting a birdieless 38 on the back.  Narita bogeyed the long par-4 13th to drop to -4.  Lee even bogeyed the medium-length par-4 14th to join her.  But Anai, playing from 2 groups ahead of Suzuki, birdied 3 of her 1st 7 holes on the back to catch them at -4.  As Lee and Anai parred in to become leaders in the clubhouse at -4, that’s when things got really interesting.

And Shin was at the heart of things.  She birdied the par-5 16th to make it 4 players at -4.  Even as she bogeyed the par-3 17th, Suzuki bogeyed the 16th to drop to -5.  And then, as Narita made her 3rd-straight closing par and Shin birdied the long par-4 18th to also finish at -4, Suziki birdied 17 to take a 2-shot lead on her pursuers into the final hole.  And it was a good thing she had that cushion, as she bogeyed 18 to finish at -5, just barely good enough to secure the victory over the #3 and #4 players on the JLPGA money list.

Speaking of which, with Bo-Mee Lee withdrawing during the 3rd round and Sun-Ju Ahn sitting this week out, the race for that title just tightened up!

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥84.53M
4. Ji-Yai Shin ¥78.13M
5. Miki Sakai ¥61.77M
6. Erina Hara ¥50.65M
7. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
8. Esther Lee ¥47.34M
9. Lala Anai ¥45.89M
10. Ayaka Watanabe ¥44.68M
11. Shiho Oyama ¥44.61M
12. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥41.96M
13. Na-Ri Lee ¥40.80M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥38.04M
15. Rikako Morita ¥37.79M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥35.37M
17. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥34.88M
18. Ai Suzuki ¥32.37M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥32.23M
20. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
21. Ji-Hee Lee ¥30.91M

22. Phoebe Yao ¥28.43M
23. Mayu Hattori ¥27.93M
24. Kaori Ohe ¥27.12M
25. Hikari Fujita ¥26.31M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥25.47M
27. Asako Fujimoto ¥23.09M
28. Junko Omote ¥22.30M
29. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥22.24M
30. Yukari Baba ¥22.10M
31. Kotono Kozuma ¥22.00M
32. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.82M
33. Rumi Yoshiba ¥21.72M
34. Erika Kikuchi ¥21.69M
35. Megumi Kido ¥21.42M
36. Mami Fukuda ¥21.37M
37. Mamiko Higa ¥20.45M
38. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
39. Soo-Yun Kang ¥19.26M
40. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
41. Akane Iijima ¥18.36M
42. Miki Saiki ¥17.06M
43. Na-Ri Kim ¥16.64M
44. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.24M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥14.65M
46. Yukari Nishiyama ¥14.43M
47. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
48. Da-Ye Na ¥13.99M
49. Nana Yamashiro ¥13.92M
50. Rui Kitada ¥13.35M

Next up is the Munsingwear Yokai Ladies Classic, where Sakura Yokomine secured her 20th career JLPGA victory last year.  All the top players on tour are on the most current field list, so expect tensions to be high as the tour enters its final 3rd of the season!

[Update 1 (11:45 am):  Ai Ai bangkokbobby‘s Ai to Ai pun on Ai breaking Ai’s record!  (Ai means love).]

If You Can’t Get Excited about the Evian Championship, You Can’t Get Excited about Golf

CAT Ladies Sunday: Momoko Ueda Defeats Rikako Morita for 10th Career JLPGA Victory, 1st Since 2011

Momoko Ueda birdied 3 of her 1st 4 holes in the final round of the CAT Ladies to erase Rikako Morita’s 3-shot 36-hole lead, then outlasted the 2013 JLPGA money-list title-holder in a tense seesaw battle.  It was the 10th JLPGA victory of the 2007 money-list title-holder’s career and 1st since the 2011 Mizuno Classic.  Be sure to check out bangkokbobby‘s post for further context and photos of all the contenders!

This tournament really did come down to 2 players, as nobody close to them could make a run and those who did started the day too far behind them to become a factor.  Teresa Lu, for instance, birdied 4 of her last 8 holes for a bogey-free 33 on the par-37 back-9, but couldn’t even catch this year’s money-list leader, Bo-Mee Lee, who finished 3rd at -6, 3 shots off the pace.  A bogey-free 32 on the front by Asako Fujimoto helped her catch Esther Lee at -3, but neither could chase down 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe, who scattered 4 birdies and 4 bogeys through her round to finish alone in 5th at -4.  Mamiko Higa and Yeo-Jin Kang fired 70s to join Sun-Ju Ahn, Erina Hara, Natsuka Hori, and Kaori Ohe at +1, while Yumiko Yoshida’s and Megumi Kido’s 69s tied Ueda and Fujimoto for 2nd-lowest rounds of the day and earned them top 20s.  Journeywoman Kaori Yamamoto struggled to a 76, but still ended up with the 2nd-best finish of her career and 2nd-straight top-10 of the season.

So this really was a straight-up duel between Ueda and Morita.  After Ueda caught her, Morita struck back 1st with a birdie on the 158-yard par-3 5th, her 2nd of the day, to get to -9 and take a 1-shot lead.  The ex-LPGAer responded with a birdie on the 329-yard par-4 7th, but gave it right back with a bogey on the 378-yard par-4 8th, so Morita still led at the turn.  But not for long, for she bogeyed the 370-yard par-4 10th and 484-yard par-5 13th even as Ueda birdied the 182-yard par-3 12th.  With a 2-shot lead and only 5 holes to play, Ueda parred in while Morita could manage only 1 birdie, on the 563-yard par-5 15th.  The end result:  Ueda -9, Morita -8.

Lee’s 3rd-place finish left her just shy of the 100M yen barrier on the JLPGA money list.  Just as this tournament turned into a faceoff between Ueda and Morita, this year’s race to the money-list title is starting to look like a Lee-Ahn showdown.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥99.33M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥69.87M
4. Miki Sakai ¥59.89M
5. Ji-Yai Shin ¥55.53M
6. Erina Hara ¥47.30M
7. Teresa Lu ¥46.57M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥42.42M
9. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥38.39M
10. Esther Lee ¥37.93M
11. Rikako Morita ¥36.57M
12. Lala Anai ¥34.08M
13. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥33.92M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥31.85M
15. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥30.03M
17. Shiho Oyama ¥28.50M
18. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M

19. Phoebe Yao ¥27.65M
20. Na-Ri Lee ¥26.99M
21. Mayu Hattori ¥26.20M
22. Hikari Fujita ¥25.13M
23. Saiki Fujita ¥24.94M
24. Kaori Ohe ¥22.39M
25. Asako Fujimoto ¥21.88M
26. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.42M
27. Yukari Baba ¥21.29M
28. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥20.52M
29. Megumi Kido ¥20.33M
30. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
31. Junko Omote ¥19.91M
32. Mami Fukuda ¥19.73M
33. Yumiko Yoshida ¥19.57M
34. Mamiko Higa ¥19.52M
35. Erika Kikuchi ¥18.73M
36. Soo-Yun Kang ¥18.02M
37. Rumi Yoshiba ¥17.82M
38. Akane Iijima ¥17.45M
39. Natsuka Hori ¥17.32M
40. Miki Saiki ¥15.88M
41. Kotono Kozuma ¥15.62M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥15.41M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Megumi Shimokawa ¥13.79M
45. Yukari Nishiyama ¥13.10M

As you can see, only a few million yen separate players between #25 and #39 on the money list, so leaps like Ueda’s from #32 to #16 are still entirely possible in the 14 events, including 3 majors, remaining on the JLPGA schedule.  Next chance for that to happen comes next week at the Nitori Ladies, which features most of the JLPGA’s finest.  Let’s see if Ueda and Morita can keep it rolling!

Meijer LPGA Classic Sunday: Mirim Lee Beats Inbee Park on 2nd Playoff Hole for 1st Career LPGA Victory

Mirim Lee made 4 birdies between the 5th and 15th holes in the final round of the Meijer LPGA Classic on her way to a 69 that allowed her to pass Suzann Pettersen and catch Inbee Park at -14.  Park had birdied 2 of her 1st 3 holes to get to -15 and was caught by Pettersen’s birdie-birdie-par-par-eagle start.  But both top-ranked players opened the door to the LPGA rookie and 3-time KLPGA champion, as Pettersen made 3 bogeys in her last 13 holes and Park parred out except for a bogey on the par-3 14th.  And Lee busted right through it in the playoff.  After matching Park’s par on the 18th, Lee took advantage of her length off the tee on the 17th and drove into the left greenside bunker, from where she made her 1st sandie of the week (from about 5 feet) in 4 tries, right after Park had laid up with an iron, caught a hard 1st 2 bounces on her approach, and barely missed a 20-foot birdie attempt after hitting the high corner of the hole.

While the leaders were playing very careful golf, several people way back in the field freewheeled their way into good finishes.  Thidapa Suwannapura made 5 birdies and an eagle (most of them as she made the turn) to tie Pettersen, Lee, and Cristie Kerr for the 18-hole tournament record, a 64, which was good enough for a top-20 finish.  Sandra Gal birdied 5 of her last 12 holes to post a 66 and move into the top 5, while Shanshan Feng‘s 6-birdie 66 got her into the top 10 and Stacy Lewis‘s bogey-free 66 brought her to -6, just 1 shot behind her and just barely outside the top 10.  And Kris Tamulis‘s 6-birdie 67 got her into the top 10, as well.

Lee wasn’t the only rookie to play well this week, as Line Vedel finished a -9 and T5, while Rookie of the Year race leader Lydia Ko and Xi Yu Lin got top 20s.  But she was the one who knocked off a former world #1 and joined a pretty elite club of golfers to win in their rookie seasons on the LPGA.  Congratulations to Mirim!

Meijer LPGA Classic Saturday: Inbee Park Holds Onto Slim Lead on Mirim Lee and Suzann Pettersen

Inbee Park fired a 4-birdie 68 today at the Meijer LPGA Classic to get to -13 and keep Mirim Lee (67) 1 shot behind her and open up a 2-shot lead on Suzann Pettersen (69).  With Line Vedel (68) moving to -8 with her 3rd-straight round in the 60s (matched only by Park and Pettersen), there are only 3 golfers within 5 shots of Park’s lead.  So unless somebody a little further back in the pack makes like Cristie Kerr (whose bogey-free 64 today tied Lee’s and Pettersen’s tournament record from yesterday) tomorrow, it’s very unlikely that Beatriz Recari (67) or Haru Nomura (69) at -7 will be a factor, much less Lee-Anne Pace (67), Paula Creamer (68), Katie Burnett (68), Giulia Molinaro (69), or Amy Yang (72) at -6.  Even if they make like Kerr and make 9 birdies over their final 27 holes as she has over her last 27, it’s hard to see any of them chasing down the likes of Park and Pettersen, who are both playing great golf and putting the lights out to boot.

So the big question for me is whether Lee will be able to make the Rookie of the Year race interesting by facing down 2 of the LPGA’s biggest guns tomorrow.  Even though she struggled off the tee today, she still hit 13 greens in regulation and has missed only 9 greens thus far this week.  So it’s no surprise that she made 6 birdies today, including 3 in her last 8 holes of bogey-free golf, to leapfrog Pettersen, who made a walkoff bogey, her 2nd in her final 4 holes of the day.  With ROY race leader Lydia Ko scrambling her way around Grand Rapids and stuck at -5 (yes, she’s taken only 79 putts and is 4 for 5 in sandies, but she offset her 3 birdies with 3 bogeys today, including 2 in her last 3 holes), Lee–and Vedel, for that matter–has a great chance to finally make up some ground on the Kiwi phenom.

The other big race to keep an eye on is the Race for the CME Globe.  With Stacy Lewis (70, -1) and Anna Nordqvist (71, +2) stuck in neutral, Michelle Wie out for 3 to 5 weeks with an injured right pointer finger (something to do with stress on her bone–does that mean it’s a stress fracture?), and Ko 8 shots out of the lead, this is a great opportunity for Park to make up some serious ground on the only players tied with or ahead of her.  And it’s just as much of a chance for Pettersen, now #16 in the race, to make a major move up that particular ranking.

I have to admit that for once the PGA Tour is outshining the LPGA in 2014–the fireworks at Valhalla were much more exciting than anything Park, Pettersen, Lee, and company were doing in western Michigan.  Plus, I won’t get to watch any golf tomorrow, as I’ll be attending a conference in Albany with fellow union leaders.  Still, I’ll try to check on leaderboards throughout and day and get caught up here in the evening.  Here’s hoping that Ayako Uehara, Chie Arimura, Tiffany Joh, Jennifer Song, and Danielle Kang have great final rounds!

Marathon Classic Sunday: Lydia Ko Outsprints So Yeon Ryu and Cristie Kerr to the Finish Line

In a week when youth was served around the world of men’s and women’s golf, 17-year-old Lydia Ko was the youngest winner of them all today at the Marathon Classic.  In addition to 25-year-old Rory McIlroy holding on for his historic win at the Open Championship, 21-year-old Misuzu Narita got her 3rd JLPGA victory of 2014 (this one in a playoff over 22-year-old Kotono Kozuma) and 5th of her short career, 18-year-old Charley Hull shot a Sunday 65 to force a playoff with 27-year-old Kylie Walker on the LET (which she lost–it was the Scottish rising star’s 2nd playoff victory of the year), and 19-year-old Hyo Joo Kim came within 3 shots of winning her 3rd-straight KLPGA event (Inbee Park missed the playoff by 1 shot!).

Like Rory, Lydia was able to avoid a playoff, but unlike him, she couldn’t afford to play defense, as she started the final round 2 shots behind Laura Diaz and Lee-Anne Pace.  Even as the co-leaders faded, Karine Icher (63) and Pernilla Lindberg (65) charged, and 1st Cristie Kerr and then So Yeon Ryu went on birdie barrages, Ko kept the pedal to the metal with birdies on 3, 4, 8, and 10 to get to -13.  By the time she reached the 16th hole, she was tied with Kerr and led Ryu by 1.  When she birdied it, and Kerr pulled her approach on 15 and failed to get up and down, Ko was the sole leader at -14 with 2 par 5s left to play.  A bad drive on 17 put her on the defensive, but a missed 8-foot birdie putt by Kerr on 16 allowed her to dodge a bullet; after those 2 missed putts in a row, Kerr wasn’t a factor on the par 5s and would end the day at -12.  But then Ryu put on another charge of her own, making a great birdie on 16 and an improbable one on 17 after an even worse drive than Ko’s to join her at -14.  Ko had a little pitch into the 18th hole seconds after Ryu tied her, and she stuck it, making the 5-footer to finish at -15.  Then she could only wait to see if Ryu would make her 7-footer from the opposite side of the hole.  When it missed wide right, Ko had earned her 2nd LPGA victory of 2014 and 4th LPGA title in her career.

Plenty of other players made some noise but in the end fell short.  Rookie Kelly Tan needed a birdie on 18 to finish at -13 and put some pressure on the big names behind her, but her approach skipped into a nasty tuft of rough just off the back fringe and she failed to get up and down, which allowed Pace and Katherine Kirk to catch her at -11.  Julieta Granada (66), Lindsey Wright (68), and Kris Tamulis (68) joined Lindberg at -10, as did Women’s British Open champion Mo Martin, who gave herself a lot of chances to go lower but just couldn’t get her putts to drop down the stretch.  A 6-birdie 68 got Ai Miyazato to -9, tied with Rebecca Lee-Bentham and rookie Mirim Lee.  And joining Icher at -8 were Lexi Thompson (67) and Candie Kung (70).

It wasn’t quite as successful a week in the end for Diaz, whose final-round 75 dropped her to -7, tied with Tiffany Joh (67), Mariajo Uribe (69), Austin Ernst (72), Brooke Pancake (72), and Jaye Marie Green (74), but she has nothing to be ashamed of with her top 20.  After all, she beat world #1 Stacy Lewis (70, -6), defending champion Beatriz Recari (70, -6), veterans Jennifer Rosales (68, -6), Meena Lee (70, -6), and Brittany Lincicome (71, -6), and up-and-comers Jenny Shin (69, -6) and Marina Alex (71, -6), not to mention Na Yeon Choi (71, -5), Chella Choi (69, -5), Caroline Hedwall (73, -5), Morgan Pressel (69, -2), and Paula Creamer (72, +1).

But the day belonged to Ko.  The way she kept hitting knockdown short irons and hybrids into greens with such accuracy all week, the way she came back from an off day on the greens yesterday with flawless putting today, and the way she calmly went about her business through thick and thin were some of the most impressive aspects of her game.  And her reward was to break the $1M barrier in season and career winnings as an LPGA member, move up to #3 on the money list, Race to the CME Globe, and Player of the Year race, and lay down a marker to everyone else on tour that they’d better watch out when she’s in contention on the back 9.  It’s just too bad there couldn’t be a dual Australia-New Zealand team for the International Crown next week!

Kraft Nabisco Championship Sunday: Lexi Thompson’s Bogey-Free 32 Heading Out Allows Her to Cruise Home for Her 1st Major

Lexi Thompson had a 36-hole bogey-streak end on the 18th hole yesterday of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but she didn’t let that bother her today.  She just started a new one, and it proved too much for 3rd-round co-leader Michelle Wie and everyone chasing them today.

After 4 birdies in her 1st 9 holes, Thompson led Wie and Se Ri Pak by 5, while nobody else was even within shouting distance.  Charley Hull’s bogey-free run had ended at 40 holes in a big way, with a double bogey and a bogey to finish the front.  Meanwhile, Thompson kept making par after par on the back, and although Cristie Kerr briefly got within 7 shots of her, and Stacy Lewis made a late birdie to finish at -7, Lexi’s only real competition was Wie, who cut her lead to 3 with birdies on 11 and 14.  But that was as close as Michelle would get today, and when Pak doubled the 18th to hand the bronze to Lewis, Thompson had won her 4th title and 1st major on the LPGA by 3 shots over Wie, 7 over Lewis, and 8 over Pak and Kerr.

If the back 9 may have seemed a bit anticlimactic, Thompson’s consistent excellence would be seriously underestimated.  On a day when some of the best golfers in the world ran into worlds of trouble, Lexi stayed strong.  Even as Hull fell to -4 and Catriona Matthew stumbled back to -2 thanks to trouble down the home stretch, Ji-Yai Shin couldn’t buy a birdie all day and dropped to -1, ending up tied with Chella Choi, who matched Hull’s and Matthew’s 76s.  Mirim Lee had a great chance to make up some ground on Lydia Ko in the Rookie of the Year race this week, but she, too, finished with a 76 and allowed Ko to pull within 1 shot of her.  World #1 Inbee Park opened with a double and ended up shooting a 75 that dropped her back to +4 and solo 38th.  A trio of Thailand’s finest fell back to +5, as Thidapa Suwannapura (76), Pornanong Phatlum (77), and P.K. Kongkraphan (77) wasted opportunities to make a statement.  But at least they beat So Yeon Ryu (77, +6), Ha Na Jang (79, +8), Sun Young Yoo (79, +8), Sei Young Kim (77, +10), Caroline Hedwall (78, +11), and Ai Miyazato (76, +12), among many others.

Given all those Sunday train wrecks, Thompson’s bogey-free 68 secured a very impressive win for a player who still is, after all, a teenager.  For Lexi to beat low amateur Minjee Lee by 14 shots, despite the fact that Lee finished -3 and bogey-free over her last 10 holes, says a lot about how overwhelming Lexi was this week and particularly over the final 54 holes.  Karrie Webb and Anna Nordqvist have won twice each on the LPGA already this season, but Lexi beat them by 12 and 13 shots, respectively.  Lewis would have had to get twice as many under par as she did this week just to have tied Lexi.  And Shanshan Feng was the only other player besides Pak and Kerr to avoid getting beat by 10 shots or more this week by Thompson.

In short, this is the kind of 1st win at a major that makes you wonder how many Lexi will collect over the course of her career!

[Update 1 (11:02 pm):  Brent Kelley agrees!]

[Update 2 (11:28 pm):  Lexi’s victory moves her from #37 in my last ranking of the best on the LPGA in majors since 2000 to #16 now.]

LPGA International Crown Watch: Last Chance to Make the Team Coming Right Up

This week is the last chance for golfers trying to make one of the 8 teams in the International Crown. In a nutshell, you have to be in the top 4 in the last Rolex Rankings in March to make your country’s team and compete in the LPGA’s first broadly international team competition.  And that comes next Monday.

Following up posts from the last two weeks, here are the teams with some more or less intense competition for their last spot(s), with each contender’s rank and points from last week and this week listed in parentheses after her name.  Players whose positions changed have their names underlined.  

Yesterday, Rikako Morita, Cristie Kerr, and Onnarin Sattayabanphot did a lot to secure their spots on their respective teams.  With both the JLPGA and LPGA teeing it up this coming week, there’s a lot at stake for those competing for the last spots on Team Korea and Team Australia, in particular, which feature the tightest races.

Team Korea
Inbee Park (#1, 10.24–> #1, 10.17)
So Yeon Ryu (#5, 6.04–> #6, 6.11)
Na Yeon Choi ( #9, 4.83–> #9, 4.71)
In-Kyung Kim (#12, 3.96–> #13, 3.90)
***
Amy Yang (#17, 3.41–> #14, 3.82)
Ha Na Jang (#13, 3.85–> #15, 3.79)
Hee Young Park (#19, 3.39–> #18, 3.36)
Ji-Yai Shin (#18, 3.40–> #20, 3.34)
Chella Choi (#23, 3.07–> #24, 3.08)

Team USA
Stacy Lewis (#3, 8.23–> #3, 8.47)
Paula Creamer (#8, 5.19–> #8, 5.20)
Lexi Thompson (#10, 4.48–> #10, 4.46)
Cristie Kerr (#14, 3.80–> #12, 3.91)
***
Angela Stanford (#16, 3.58–> #17, 3.51)
Lizette Salas (#20, 3.21–> #21, 3.31)
Jessica Korda (#27, 2.83–> #25, 3.00)
Morgan Pressel (#35, 2.41–> #35, 2.44)

Team Japan
Mika Miyazato (#25, 2.88–> #27, 2.84)
Ai Miyazato (#28, 2.65–> #30, 2.60)
Rikako Morita (#40, 2.24–> #36, 2.43)
Sakura Yokomine (#37, 2.29–> #39, 2.27)
***
Shiho Oyama (#49, 1.97–> #47, 1.97)
Mamiko Higa (#47, 2.01–> #48, 1.94)
Miki Saiki (#51, 1.93–> #51, 1.86)
Yumiko Yoshida (#53, 1.81–> #56, 1.75)
Yuki Ichinose (#68, 1.46–> #70, 1.43)
Chie Arimura (#80, 1.22–> #82, 1.15)

Team Thailand
Pornanong Phatlum (#32, 2.55–> #28, 2.70)
Ariya Jutanugarn (#33, 2.53–> #30, 2.49)
Moriya Jutanugarn (#81, 1.20–> #80, 1.23)
Onnarin Sattayabanphot (#95, 1.04–> #87, 1.11)
***
Thidapa Suwannapura (#100, 1.00–> #103, .96)
Nontaya Srisawang (#174, .57–> #178, .56)

Team Sweden
Anna Nordqvist (#15, 3.76–> #16, 3.70)
Caroline Hedwall (#22, 3.10–> #23, 3.12)
Pernilla Lindberg (#114, .90–> #106, .93)
Mikaela Parmlid (#160, .64–> #165, .63)
***
Camilla Lennarth (#179, .56–> #182, .55)
Linda Wessberg (#212, .45–> #213, .46)
Karin Sjodin (#245, .36–> #248, .34)

Team Australia
Karrie Webb (#6, 5.92–> #5, 7.30)
Minjee Lee (#112, .91–> #110, .91)
Katherine Kirk (#110, .93–> #112, .90)
Lindsey Wright (#132, .77–> #129, .81)
***
Stacey Keating (#135, .76–> #135, .76)
Rebecca Artis (#147, .71–> #150, .69)
Sarah Jane Smith (#154, .68–> #156, .66)
Nikki Campbell (#177, .57–> #181, .56)

JTBC Founders Cup Friday: Battle of the Rookies Shaping Up! Mi Rim Lee and Lydia Ko 1-2 through 36 Holes

Mi Rim Lee and Lydia Ko apparently have a shared flair for the dramatic.  Both LPGA rookies started their rounds today kind of flat and ended them with big bangs.  In the morning wave of the JTBC Founders Cup, 1st-round leader Lee made 3 birdies and an eagle in her last 8 holes to post a 67 and get to -13 for the week.  Late in the afternoon wave, Ko responded by making 4 birdies and an eagle in her last 7 holes to fire a 66 and move into 2nd place at -11.

On a day when Sun Young Yoo (-10) and Hee Young Park (-6) rocketed their way to bogey-free 65s, Ko’s 66 was matched by Se Ri Pak (-3), Becky Morgan (-5), Anna Nordqvist (-6), Jessica Korda (-9), and Chella Choi (-9), and Lee’s 67 was seen by So Yeon Ryu (-9), Lizette Salas (-8), and Victoria Elizabeth (-6), the biggest rounds of the day still belonged to the 2 rookies.  Jodi Ewart Shadoff got it to -11 but finished with a double and a bogey in her last 4 holes to drop back to -8, while Michelle Wie birdied 4 holes in a row as she made the turn to get to double digits under par herself before 2 bogeys in her last 5 holes dropped her back with Shadoff, but the fact that Ko might have a challenger for Rookie of the Year put those rounds on the back burner.  Amy Yang went 35 holes without a bogey but had to settle for a 69 and a -8 total of her own when her streak ended on the par-4 18th, and Inbee Park bounced back from a double on the par-4 8th with 2 birdies and an eagle on the back to finish with a 69 and climb to -9, but these 2 world-beaters took a back seat to a couple of rookies today.

OK, in other news, we’ve got 12 players within 5 shots of the lead, we’ve got players like Stacy Lewis and Karrie Webb 6 back, we’ve got 74 at -2 or better, and Na Yeon Choi was not one of them–for only the 3rd missed cut of her LPGA career.  But NYC wasn’t alone:  Thidapa Suwannapura also missed the cut, thereby ensuring she’ll fall further behind Onnarin Sattayabanphot in the race for the #4 spot on Team Thailand in the International Crown.  Ditto for Angela Stanford, who’s now in danger of losing the #5 spot to Salas, Korda, or Morgan Pressel (72, -7).  Ditto for Chie Arimura, who now has no chance to make Team Japan.  Lindsey Wright did make the cut, so should solidify her hold on the #4 spot for Team Australia.  Other big names to miss the cut:  Ya Ni Tseng, Brittany Lincicome, Carlota Ciganda, Natalie Gulbis, Pat Hurst, Danielle Kang, Moira Dunn, Cheyenne Woods….  I’m happy to report, though, that Ai MiyazatoSeon Hwa Lee, and Tiffany Joh all broke 70, so they’ll be playing on the weekend.

But, yeah, Mi Rim Lee, Lydia Ko, rookies on top of the leaderboard.  Big deal.  Pass it on!

[Update 1 (9:56 pm): Katherine Kirk’s missed cut could drop her from #2 to #4 on Team Australia if Lindsey Wright pours it on this weekend.  Nice to see 68s from Jeong Jang, Candie Kung, Jaye Marie Green, Karine Icher, Belen Mozo, Hannah Jun Medlock, and Alex Stewart.]

[Update 2 (10:10 pm): In fact, Team Australia is so closely bunched that Sarah Jane Smith (69-69) can make a big move this weekend from the #7 spot!  And with Ji-Yai Shin contending in Japan and her closest LPGA pursuers playing well this week, In-Kyung Kim did not need a 74 today.  But that’s what she got.]