Farewell, Dai-chan: Daisuke Takahashi Retires from Competitive Figure Skating

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The Constructivist household is in mourning for the retirement of Daisuke Takahashi from competitive figure skating.  Ever since we found out, I’ve been asking the Full Metal Archivist to write something celebrating his career, but she’s still dealing with the shock of the news and is just too sad to put her feelings into words.  What she has told me has been poetic:  “he flirted with the music, seduced audiences, and challenged judges…he was a shaman on the ice.”  So I’ll just point you too her April 2010 “Luv Letter” for now.  More on his legacy later!

Japan Women’s Open Friday: Chie Arimura and Erika Kikuchi Take Lead; Mika Miyazato 1 Back

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Chie Arimura’s had a frustrating 2 years on the course as she’s been trying to adjust to the rigors of LPGA competition and travel, not to mention life away from Japan.  Her troubles had even extended to her 2 visits to the JLPGA this year, where she had failed to break 70 in 6 rounds–and even missed the cut last week.  So today’s 6-birdie 67 at the Japan Women’s Open must have been particularly satisfying.  Not only did it allow the 26-year-old to move to the top of the leaderboard with 25-year-old Erika Kikuchi (70) at -6, it also kept her 1 shot ahead of former world #1 Ji-Yai Shin (68), 2-time JWO champion Mika Miyazato (70), veteran star Mi-Jeong Jeon (69), and youngsters Ai Suzuki (71), Hiroko Azuma (72), and Haruka Kudo (70) on a day when Yuri Fudoh, Miki Saiki, Ayako Uehara, and Harukyo Nomura missed the cut and Momoko Ueda fought back to make it on the number.

There are plenty of other great golfers within striking distance of Arimura and Kikuchi at the halfway point of the biggest tournament in women’s golf in Japan and the JLPGA’s 2nd major of 2014.  Money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee is only 4 back (along with Yumiko Yoshida), #2 Sun-Ju Ahn 3, #7 Teresa Lu 2 (along with Shiho Oyama), while Ji-Hee Lee is 5 off the pace, Sakura Yokomine 6, and Misuzu Narita 8 (along with Rikako Morita).

Even so, it’s great for Arimura to return to the spotlight.  Sure, Shin is trying to win her 5th JLPGA event in her last 10 starts, Mikan is trying to redeem her 2nd disappointing LPGA season in a row, Jeong is trying to jumpstart her 2014, Suzuki is going for her 2nd major victory in a row (having outgunned Shin, among others, at the Konica Minolta Cup a few weeks ago), Kikuchi, Azuma, and Kudo are trying to follow Suzuki in making their 1st JLPGA victory a major title, and Ueda would be right in this except for a quad and a double in her 1st round.  But being in contention on the weekend in the biggest tournament of the year could be just what Arimura needs to regain her confidence.  I saw nothing wrong with her game when I followed her at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  Maybe today is just the spark she needed!

Konica Minolta Cup Friday: Ai Suzuki’s 67 Gives the 20-Year-Old a 4-Shot Lead

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Nitori Ladies Sunday: Ji-Yai Shin Gets 3rd Victory in Last 6 Starts

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Ji-Yai Shin is known as the Final Round Queen, but after making 9-straight pars to start her round today at the Nitori Ladies, she had opened the door to JLPGA money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee and 5-time winner Saiki Fujita.  Lee, playing 2 groups ahead of Shin and Fujita, followed up a 1st-hole birdie with 3 in a row later on the front to catch her at -6.  Fujita then caught fire late on the front, with 3 birdies in a 4-hole stretch to join Shin and Lee.  Shin just kept making pars on the back, too, parring 10, 11, and 12 to stay at -6, which was enough to put pressure on Lee, who bogeyed the par-5 12th and the par-3 13th, and Fujita, who bogeyed the par-4 11th and the 12.  When Shin birdied 13 to offset Lee’s birdie on 15 and Fujita’s on the same hole as her, she had opened up a 2-shot lead on them, which she extended to 3 with a birdie of her own on 15.  When she parred out to finish at -8 and they parred out to end their week at -5, Shin had earned her 3rd JLPGA victory of 2014–and in her last 6 starts–as well as her 8th overall title on tour.

With her win, Shin moves into the top 4 on the JLPGA money list, but Lee’s runner-up finish enabled her to extend her lead on everyone except Shin.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥69.87M
4. Ji-Yai Shin ¥68.13M
5. Miki Sakai ¥60.66M
6. Erina Hara ¥48.07M
7. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥42.82M
9. Esther Lee ¥40.73M
10. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥39.54M
11. Rikako Morita ¥37.11M
12. Lala Anai ¥36.01M
13. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥34.32M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥33.78M
15. Shiho Oyama ¥32.35M
16. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
17. Momoko Ueda ¥31.17M
18. Saiki Fujita ¥30.47M
19. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M

20. Phoebe Yao ¥27.65M
21. Na-Ri Lee ¥27.52M
22. Mayu Hattori ¥26.52M
23. Hikari Fujita ¥25.13M
24. Yumiko Yoshida ¥23.42M
25. Kaori Ohe ¥22.92M
26. Asako Fujimoto ¥22.41M
27. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.82M
28. Yukari Baba ¥21.29M
29. Junko Omote ¥21.05M
30. Megumi Kido ¥20.80M
31. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥20.52M
32. Mami Fukuda ¥20.13M
33. Mamiko Higa ¥20.11M
34. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
35. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
36. Soo-Yun Kang ¥18.79M
37. Erika Kikuchi ¥18.73M
38. Rumi Yoshiba ¥17.82M
39. Kotono Kozuma ¥17.54M
40. Akane Iijima ¥17.45M
41. Miki Saiki ¥16.28M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥15.75M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Yukari Nishiyama ¥13.87M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥13.79M

Yumiko Yoshida and Shiho Oyama were the only other players to finish under par this week.  Let’s see if Yoshida can continue her strong play next week at the Golf 5 Ladies and successfully defend her title.  I’m not seeing any of the top 3 on the money list in the field list, so it’s looking like Shin has a good shot at passing Narita and making it an all-Korean top 3 on the JLPGA this time next Sunday!

Nitori Ladies Set-Up: Ji-Yai Shin Takes 2-Shot Lead into Final Round

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Even as Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi, and In-Kyung Kim are getting their grooves back on the LPGA, their contemporary Ji-Yai Shin has rejoined her former KLPGA rival Sun-Ju Ahn on the JLPGA and seems to have found something this summer.  Despite a WD last week, she has 2 wins and 4 top 10s in her last 5 starts on tour and heading into tomorrow’s final round she finds herself leading the Nitori Ladies by 2 shots over Saiki Fujita and Yukari Nishiyama and 4 shots over money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee, Ritsuko Ryu, Lala Anai, and 15-year-old amateur Hina Arakaki.  A 6-birdie 67 on Friday gave Shin the lead on Fujita, which she maintained today with a 3-birdie 71, plus a walkoff double by Nishiyama.

With only 12 golfers at par or better, with the cut line falling all the way down the leaderboard to +7 (which saved last year’s money-list title-holder Rikako Morita), and with slow starts from last week’s winner Momoko Ueda (+4), last year’s Rookie of the Year Mamiko Higa (+4), and International Crown magician Sakura Yokomine (+3), the impressiveness of Shin’s performance thus far this week comes into even sharper focus.  A victory tomorrow would make it 8 JLPGA wins for Shin and vault her into the elite in the women’s game in 2014, as nobody has taken more than 3 worldwide titles yet this season.  Let’s see if she can do it!

Portland Classic Friday: In-Kyung Kim Rolls to -12 through 1st 36 Holes

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Coming into this week, In-Kyung Kim was averaging 2.81 birdies per round on the LPGA, but she did blow away the LET field at the Ladies European Masters the 1st week of July when she finished at -18.  So far through 36 holes at the Portland Classic, Inky is playing like it’s early July again, as she’s made 14 birdies and has gotten to -12.  But there are many fellow players in the LPGA’s Rebel Alliance who are looking to make the next 36 holes as pressure-packed for her as possible–plus the LPGA’s Royals are making something of a move, as well.

Leading the Royals charge today was So Yeon Ryu, who fired an 8-birdie 66, improving her putts taken from 34 yesterday to 25 today and moving to -8.  Next in line was Suzann Pettersen, who birdied 4 holes in a row late in her round today for a total of 5 birdies in her last 7 holes as she finished the front (her back) and got to -6, catching fellow Royals Anna Nordqvist (71) and Chella Choi (70), who both needed late comebacks to get under par on the day.  And Shanshan Feng put together a 6-birdie 67 with only 24 putts (10 fewer than yesterday’s round) to join Na Yeon Choi (69) at -5.

But once again the Rebels outdid the Royals when it came to going low.  Mi Jung Hur‘s bogey-free 65 not only tied Inky’s opening round, but also matched Carlota Ciganda, who made 4 birdies in her 1st 7 holes on the front and turned around and made 4 more in her 1st 6 holes on the back for a 65 of her own today.  Hur and Ciganda caught fellow Rebel Laura Diaz, who shot a 68 to extend her bogey-free run to 36 holes and counting, at -9, only 3 shots behind Inky.  It looked for awhile like 65 shooters Inky, Hur, and Ciganda would be eclipsed by rookie Jaye Marie Green, who found her Q-School form today and was -8 through her 1st 17 holes, but a walkoff double bogey forced her to accept a 66 that got her to -6.  Tiffany Joh birdied 5 of her 1st 8 holes to get to -6 for the week much earlier in the day, but stayed there for the next 10 holes, while Ji Young Oh also took advantage of the front, but for her it was a late charge over her last 9 holes–a 5-birdie 31–that brought her to -6.  Beatriz Recari, who like Ciganda can make a claim to LPGA Royalty-in-Waiting thanks to their role in Team Spain’s taking of the International Crown, but who like Ciganda has not had a very good 2014 in stroke-play events, ended up 1 shot behind that Rebel trio at -6.  Like Green, Recari has the 18th hole to blame for having to accept a 66 today; she made her lone bogey of the day there as she made a turn.  Because of that, she’s tied with another Euro who just fell short of making a claim to LPGA Royalty when she lost last year’s Rookie of the Year race by a single point, Caroline Masson, whose lone blemish came at the very start of her round, but who rallied for a 6-birdie 67.  They reached the halfway point in the tournament just 1 shot ahead of a pair of ex-Royals, Ai Miyazato (7-birdie 67) and Morgan Pressel (6-birdie 67), top 2 players in the Class of 2006 who have not had 2014s to write home about just yet.  Bringing the Rebel Alliance charge to a close were Xi Yu Lin (68), Mina Harigae (69), and Paula Reto (69), who ended the day at -8, 1 shot ahead of Amelia Lewis, who made a nice comeback to salvage a 71.

So with Rebels #1, T2, and T5 to T10 thus far, with the only Royals in the bunch at T5 and T10–or, to put this another way, Rebels outnumber Royals 14-4 in the top 18 after 36 holes–Hound Dog’s claim that weaker fields are more likely to result in surprise winners is halfway to gaining another data point in its favor.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this post with a look toward the cut line and its larger significance.  Even as Jane Park and Danielle Kang clawed their way to the right side of it, Sandra Gal, Chie Arimura, and Harukyo Nomura fell on the wrong side of it.  It’s hard to be a Rebel on the LPGA, but it’s even harder to stay one.  Even players who have been having really good 2014s like Meena Lee and Jenny Shin couldn’t make the cut this week, nor could future stars like Charley Hull and Yueer Cindy Feng.  It reminds us that all these players put it on the line every week–or as often as they can–for as long as they can.  So it’s particularly gratifying to report that Jeong Jang (-3) and Hee-Won Han (+1) made the cut in what will be their last professional event in the States.  I agree with Centurion that it would be wonderful for their last event before full retirement to take place in Korea this fall and heartily recommend and second his tribute to their competitive golf careers.  JJ and Hee-Won Mom will be missed!

Portland Classic Thursday: In-Kyung Kim, Jennifer Song, and Amelia Lewis Lead Rebel Alliance Charge

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There were certainly a lot of surprises at and near the top of the Portland Classic leaderboard after the conclusion of Thursday’s round.  It’s hard to say which was the biggest one of them all, but In-Kyung Kim‘s bogey-free 65, which was sparked by 7 birdies in her 1st 13 holes, including 4 in a row to start the back 9, has to rank among them.  Once one of the top players in the world, Inky has only 1 top-15 finish all season, way back in late April.  I doubt whether anyone saw the bogey-free 66s from Jennifer Song and Amelia Lewis coming, either.  It was Song’s lowest round since the end of June and Lewis’s since mid-April.

Just a little further down the leaderboard, only a few of the LPGA’s Royals show up–such as Anna Nordqvist (bogey-free 67) and Chella Choi (68 with a double)–it’s mostly Rebel Alliance.  From veterans like Laura Diaz (-5) and Juli Inkster (-4) to established players like Julieta Granada (-5), Mina Harigae (-5), and Karine Icher (-4) to newbies like Emma Jandel (-5), Paula Reto (-5), Jennifer Kirby (-4), Xi Yu Lin (-4), and Jacqui Concolino (-4), players we haven’t been used to seeing on or near the 1st page of the leaderboard this season are right there today.

Sure, it’s not like the Royals are out of this thing.  Lizette Salas (-3), So Yeon Ryu (-2), Na Yeon Choi (-2), and Suzann Pettersen (-1) did just fine today.  But of the 76 players at E or better, the ratio of Rebels to Royals seems much higher than usual for 2014.  It’ll be interesting to see whether this can continue over the next 54 holes.

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

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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!

Wegmans LPGA Championship Special Report: On Mina Harigae, Jennifer Song, Danielle Kang, Tiffany Joh, and Jane Park

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With Danielle Kang 5 behind So Yeon Ryu at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open, Jane Park continuing to play well for the 2nd week in a row, Mina Harigae and Tiffany Joh making charges yesterday to make the cut, and Jennifer Song missing the cut by a single stroke thanks to a walkoff bogey, now is as good a time as any to report on what I saw of their games during last Sunday’s final round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  Basically, I wanted to see how some of my favorite Asian American golfers on tour compared to the Japanese players I primarily followed the previous days.

Mina Harigae:  I got to Pittsford later than I hoped and could follow her only for the 16th through 18th holes, so I didn’t get to pay as much attention to her game as I did 4 years ago when I focused on her and Mika Miyazato in “a tale of 2 20-year-olds.”  Just as I predicted back then, Mina’s made steady improvements each year, tweaking rather than rethinking her precision game.  She’s putting the best this season of any year on tour and has a scoring average below 72 for the 2nd-straight year.  However, she was seriously steamed (by her laid-back Californian standards) by the time I got to interview her at the end of her round.  Despite nearly making a tough sandie on the tough par-3 16th, giving herself a great birdie chance on the tough par-4 17th, and nearly chipping in from all the way across the long 18th green, she was very disappointed in her play that week.  She told me she had been hitting the ball great coming into Monroe Golf Club, but had a terrible ball-striking week by her standards (I saw a microcosm of that in just those 3 holes, as she sandwiched a perfect 260-yard drive on 17 between a right miss on 16 and a left miss on 18).  Although she thought the course was set up fairly all week, she definitely bought into the narrative that it advantaged the long hitters on tour, with its generous fairways and relatively benign rough to either side of them.  Clearly she was tired of hitting 4-hybrids in when others were hitting 7-irons.  But think about how far she’s come to be talking like that:  1) she’s got the confidence as an established veteran to be criticizing the way the majors have been set up this year; 2) just making the cut at a major does not satisfy her (she’s done that in her last 5 in a row); 3) she’s playing consistently well enough to raise her expectations on herself.  So I’d venture to predict that 2014 will be the best season of her career and that we should see her back in the top 10 soon.

Jennifer Song:  I backtracked to the 6th green and followed her until the 12th green.  Most of that time, she and her playing partner Stacey Keating were on the clock, so they would jog between shots and generally play as fast as they could.  Even so, she displayed great touch around and on the greens, making a fantastic sandie from the very deep bunker to the right of the 7th green by using a backstop to pull the ball back within 3 feet of the cup, knocking down a 20-footer to save par on the par-3 8th after catching a bad lie from the right rough, making a tester to save par on the par-5 9th, and just missing a tester for birdie on the par-5 12th.  Her key performance stats are very similar to Harigae’s–the most important area of their games both ought to focus on improving the most would be hitting greens in regulation–but she’s struggling to stay in the top 80 on the money list because she’s missed a lot more cuts and hasn’t broken into the top 20 yet this season (her T30 last week was tied for her 2nd-best finish of the season thus far).  She’s definitely pulled herself out of the depths of last season and has a good chance to make this her best year on tour, but she’s going to need to get out the gates faster from here on out.  With only 3 more starts until the limited-field fall Asian swing, the clock is ticking to get into the top 50 on the money list and guarantee herself spots in those events.

Danielle Kang:  I spent the most time with DK of anyone today, catching up with her and Laura Diaz on the 10th fairway and staying with them the entire back 9.  And I got to see the most fireworks from her, too, as she pitched in for eagle on the par-5 12th, made a 40-foot sweeper for birdie on the tough par-3 13th after her approach stuck on the front-right portion of the green instead of falling off the cliff and ending up 70 yards away from the green, and followed it up with a delicate 10-foot downhiller for birdie on the par-5 14th after frankly chopping it around for most of the hole.  At that point, she had fought her way back to -2 for the week, and she stayed there after just missing a birdie on the par-4 15th and making a fantastic 20-foot par save on 16, but she just couldn’t keep the magic going as she finished bogey-bogey on the 2 tough closing par 4s at Monroe Golf Club.  She found Death Valley to the left of the 17th green and left her 35-foot par attempt dead center but 5 inches short, and she got too aggressive on 18 after blasting her drive 20 yards past Diaz, going over the green, trying to chip in, having it run by into tester range, and just missing the par save.  But at least she was going for it and trying to keep her run going.  She ended up with her 2nd-best finish of the season and clearly left Pittsford with a lot of confidence.  In London, Ontario, she’s been driving the ball great, hitting a lot of greens, and putting well.  Can’t wait to see how she handles playing in the final threesome with So Yeon Ryu and Anna Nordqvist today.  She’s made over $200K each of her 1st 2 seasons on tour but so far this one has barely made over $100K.  But I’m thinking she’s turned a corner!  Let’s see what she can do over the weekend with her great start to the week!

Tiffany Joh and Jane Park:  T-Joh was in the group ahead of Park, so I kind of tried to keep an eye on both UCLA grads from the 12th through 17th holes, but by the end of the day my focus shifted to Lydia Ko and Inbee Park.  Jane Park was in Chie Arimura-style lockdown mode, making 6-straight pars while I watched her.  Meanwhile, T-Joh stuck a little wedge to 2 feet on the 12th, but missed her birdie attempt right after her playing partner Azahara Munoz made her longer try to get to -9, then bogeyed the 16th after missing it pin-high left and failing to convert a 6-footer after a great pitch after just missing medium-length birdie attempts on the previous 2 holes.  Both were playing really solid golf, with Park the more consistent ball-striker and T-Joh the more artistic player around the greens.  T-Joh has clearly pulled herself back from the brink after 2 forgettable seasons in a row; if her putting were as improved as the rest of her performance stats are this season, she’d be having more rounds like Friday’s than Thursday’s and be much higher on the money list.  She made 8 cuts in a row to start the season and is on a 4-event-and-counting run right now, so I expect her to give herself a good shot at qualifying for the Asian swing this fall.  Park has been fighting injuries all year, wrist sprains early on and back spasms that forced her to withdraw from the U.S. Women’s Open.  She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur on a Donald Ross course, so she was very disappointed not being able to compete at Pinehurst and very pleased with her near-top 10 in Pittsford.  This week she’s making her 3rd solid start in a row, which has been a long time coming, as she’s been driving the ball great all season, hitting the fairway 80% of the time while hitting it about 11 yards farther than last year, the 1st year she was that accurate off the tee.  And she’s hitting greens in regulation at a higher rate than at any time in her career (71%), so it’s really just a matter of getting those putts to drop.  With 8 birdies in her 1st 2 rounds in London, Ontario, I’d say that’s just what’s happening.

With Michelle Wie and Christina Kim the most prominent faces of Asian-American golf on the LPGA, I decided to focus my attention on lesser-known but quite promising Asian-American players during the tour’s last stop in Rochester for at least awhile.  I’d followed T-Joh several times on the Symetra Tour at their Syracuse stop in recent years, so it was neat to see her in one of the final pairings in a major.  It was nice to check in with Harigae and watch her compete in person instead of just playing in a pro-am.  While I had my most embarrassing interview ever with DK a few years ago in Rochester (it started off with my referring to USC even though I knew damn well she went to Pepperdine and went downhill from there–but at least she could joke about it when I ran into her later at Waterloo), it was fantastic to actually get to see her play close to her potential.  And I came away impressed with Park and Song, whom I’ve been following online for quite some time but rarely saw on TV.

I’m happy to report that Ai Miyazato, Harukyo Nomura, Ayako Uehara, and Chie Arimura all made the cut this week and seem to be playing well.  So 9 of the 10 players who I followed at Monroe Golf Club who haven’t been setting the LPGA on fire in 2014–and actually 12 of 13 if you add Laura Davies, So Yeon Ryu, and Lizette Salas into the mix!–are getting something of a Mostly Harmless bump in Canada.  Here’s hoping it lasts for the rest of the season and beyond!

CAT Ladies Saturday: Rikako Morita Leads Momoko Ueda by 3 with 18 to Play

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International Crown Friday: Comeback Day for Team USA, Thailand, Japan

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Once again, this time for day 2 of the International Crown, I’ll simply point you to LPGA.com’s scoreboard and the notes and interviews and move on to my observations and commentary.

I’m Stunned, Just Stunned.  First by Sakura Yokomine and Ai Miyazato’s unbelievable comeback from being 6 down with 7 holes to play against Katherine Kirk and Lindsey Wright.  I’m speechless.  Kirk and Wright made 5 birdies in their 1st 7 holes as a team and looked unbeatable, as Yokomine missed a makeable putt on 11, failing to match the Aussies’ 6th team birdie of the day.  What I didn’t know from the tv coverage was that right after Yokomine made her 2nd birdie of the day on the 12th, the Aussies were put on the clock.  And from then on things went all Team Japan’s way.  I’m sure you’ll see the highlights.  Make a point to!

Next I’m stunned by how great Mika Miyazato and Mamiko Higa are playing this week.  That halve they got against Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall yesterday is looking even better after the Vikings threw 2 eagles and 5 team birdies against Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu, who made an eagle and 5 team birdies of their own to lose by a single hole to Team Sweden after fighting hard to extend the match to the 18th hole.  So what do Mikan and Mamiko do for an encore?  They get off to another quick start, this time against Hall of Famer Karrie Webb and world #1 amateur Minjee Lee, making 3 team birdies in their 1st 5 holes to race out from a 1-down deficit after 2 holes to being 2-up after 6.  This time it was Higa carrying the team early on (although Mikan matched 2 of her birdies), and she didn’t cool off after that, making 3 more birdies in her next 11 holes (although Mikan also matched 2 of hers late in the day, too!).

No Rest for the Weary.  So what’s the reward for the M & M pair from Okinawa on day 3?  They get to take on Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu!  I’ll bet they see it as a chance to get a hat trick in pool play….  If they can pull off yet another upset, they’ll be in the running for top points-getters in pool play with their own teammates, with the Jutanugarn sisters, and with Sweden’s Vikings, who square off against Webb and Lee in another epic battle.

Speaking of Epic Battles….  As intense as the Nordqvist-Hedwall defeat of Park-Ryu was, can you believe that Na Yeon Choi and In-Kyung Kim shot a 61 and Pernilla Lindberg and Mikaela Parmlid shot a 62?!  NYC birdied 6 of her 1st 10 holes, but when she made her 7th of the day on the 13th hole, it only brought her and Inky back to 1-up, because the nearly-6-months-pregnant Parmlid had just gone birdie-birdie-eagle to start the back to go with her 3 birdies on the front!  And then it was Inky’s turn to shine, as she sunk pressure birdie putts after Parmlid had made yet another birdie on 15 and Lindberg had just missed a hole in 1 on 17.  Plus she made the tough par save to halve the 18th and secure 2 points for Team Korea.

So NYC and Inky will be flying high as they enter the arena with Yokomine and Ai-sama tomorrow.  And Lindberg and Parmlid have to be feeling as good about their loss as Kirk and Wright are feeling bad about their halve, so Pool B is going to be epic tomorrow all the way down.  Even though Japan is leading the pool after 2 days of play, they could still end up in a playoff with the 3rd-place finisher from Pool A to make it into Sunday’s singles matches if they get shut out by Team ROK and if either Australia or Sweden wins both their matches tomorrow.  If they are able to only halve 1 match, there’s a chance that 3 teams could tie with 7 points (again, only if someone sweeps tomorrow’s Australia-Sweden matches).  If they win even a single match, they’ll win their pool.  And if they win both, Korea would be eliminated if Australia and Sweden each win a match or halve both their matches!  Do you see what I mean about Pool B being a pool of death?

So What’s Pool A, Chopped Liver?  Not in the slightest.  Even though on Wednesday night I figured Team USA would dominate the pool and Thursday night that Team Taiwan would, what we have tomorrow is an even more volatile situation than in Pool B.  With Team USA and Team Thailand sweeping their matches today, only 2 points separate the 1st- (Thailand) and last-place (Spain) teams in the pool of, shall we say, the undead.  With Onnarin Sattayabanphot making as great a putt on the 18th as Ya Ni Tseng made yesterday for the win to secure the 1-up victory for her and Pornanong Phatlum, who played great team golf, and with Moriya Jutanugarn continuing to impress (she made 5 birdies in her and her sister’s takedown of yesterday’s heroes for Team Taiwan, Teresa Lu and Candie Kung), the #4-ranked team’s confidence has to be rising as they face off against Team USA, who themselves showed a lot of grit in beating yesterday’s top team in the pool in both matches.

Cristie Kerr made 3 birdies, but was overshadowed by teammate Lexi Thompson’s 4 birdies and an awe-inspiring eagle on the short par-5 12th, as they defeated Beatriz Recari and Belen Mozo, 3&2.  And while Paula Creamer made 3 birdies in her 1st 12 holes and partner Stacy Lewis made 4, it was stumbles on 7 and 9 by Azahara Munoz and Carlota Ciganda that helped the Americans go 3-up with 4 holes to play.  Yet just as Recari and Mozo didn’t go down without a late charge, Munoz birdied 15 and 17 to force the match to the final hole and keep their hopes for a halve alive.  But Lewis slammed the door on them with a walkoff birdie to secure the 2-up win for Lewis was conceded birdie on 18 when Munoz and Ciganda couldn’t hit good bunker shots, so Team USA ended up winning that match 2-up.

Sizing Up Pool A, Redux.  By the time the Jutanugarns face off against Kerr and Thompson and Phatlum-Sattayabanphot against Lewis-Creamer, we’ll know the results of Spain and Taiwan’s showdowns.  Problem is, I have no idea how those matches will go.  I’ve been pretty much right about Spain this week and totally wrong twice about Taiwan.  On paper, Munoz and Ciganda have a pretty decent advantage over Tseng and Yao, while Lu and Kung may have a small one over Recari and Mozo, but the most I’ll say is that I expect both matches to be very very close.  In fact, I expect a photo finish in all 4 lanes….  Team USA could finish 1st or last in this pool.  The key is not to let down after clawing their way back into this event!

[Update 1 (9:14 am):  Thanks to my anonymous commenter for catching my error (now fixed), and to Ruthless Mike for exploring the mysteries of match-play pay back!]

[Update 2 (9:21 am):  Here’s bangkokbobby, who’s just a little bit excited about Thailand’s play this week!]

Ricoh Women’s British Open Saturday: Fasten Your Seatbelts!

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It’s moving day at Royal Birkdale and a lot’s been happening in the Ricoh Women’s British Open while we in the States have been sleeping!

  • Charley Hull started bogey-bogey to fall to +7 on the week, but responded with 8 birdies over her next 14 holes.  She bogeyed 17 and is now playing 18, which she has gone bogey-double on, both times with great saves.
  • Marina Alex has made 5 birdies in her 1st 12 holes and fallen back to E for the week with a bogey on 13.
  • Lydia Ko opened with a 4-birdie 32 to move back to +1.
  • Rikako Morita fired a 5-birdie 68 to fight back to +2 for the week.
  • Inbee Park has opened with a pair of consecutive birdies to move to -2 for the week.
So stay tuned.  I’ll be doing some not-quite-live blogging this moving day morning!

[Update 1 (7:26 am):  Add Stacy Lewis to the under-par crowd!  She birdied 5 to join Alex at E.  Meanwhile, Hull birdied 18 for a 66, the low round of the week!]

[Update 2 (7:31 am):  Nice 70 by Mika Miyazato!  She’s +4 on the week now.]

[Update 3 (8:21 am):  Got a call from the lovely ladies in Chiba!  Watching the coverage on DVR, so won’t update until I catch up to live.  Hope what happened to Ayako Uehara on the back yesterday when she started missing fairways doesn’t happen to Mo Martin today after she missed the 1st 2 fairways of her round….]

[Update 4 (9:30 am):  Glad to see Martin steadying the ship!  If Ahn were putting better, she’d be in the lead!  Ryu is looking like a champion!]

[Update 5 (9:31 am):  Ko parred out on the back for a fine 69.  Good to see Paula Creamer shooting a 71 and moving back to +3.]

[Update 6 (9:32 am):  Wish we were seeing more of Inbee Park’s round.  It would also be nice to see how Stacy Lewis’s hot start cooled off.  Clear that ESPN has a limited budget for today’s coverage.]

[Update 7 (9:33 am):  Another player we should be seeing more of is Suzann Pettersen.  After just missing her 4th birdie in a row, she hasn’t been on tv at all.]

[Update 8 (9:34 am):  Ah, seeing her now getting into trouble on 15!]

[Update 9 (9:36 am):  Very impressed by the way Amelia Lewis is playing the last 2 weeks.]

[Update 10 (9:38 am):  Love how Ryu has been aggressive off the tee the last several holes!]

[Update 11 (9:41 am):  There have been no bogey-free rounds in the 1st 2 days, but Shanshan Feng is -1 and bogey-free heading into 15-18!]

[Update 12 (9:45 am):  Nice 70 from Meena Lee and 71 from Ji-Yai Shin to join Morita at +2.]

[Update 13 (9:50 am):  Great closing birdie from Laura Davies!  Back to +3!]

[Update 14 (9:52 am):  Love how Beatriz Recari is turning around her year this week!  Great approach shot on 10!]

[Update 15 (9:53 am):  Angela Stanford just birdied 17 to fight back to +1 for the week.]

[Update 16 (9:54 am):  Still no mention that Feng is bogey-free.  Is this like a pitcher in the midst of a no-hitter?]

[Update 17 (9:55 am):  Sweet birdie putt from Mo on 10!  Bad miss from short range for birdie by Feng, but keeps bogey-free run going.]

[Update 18 (9:56 am):  Nice birdie by Recari!]

[Update 19 (9:58 am):  Chella Choi’s 72 keeps her at +2.  Nice birdie from Ai Miyazato on 16 to get back to +2, too!]

[Update 20 (10:00 am):  By the way, Marina Alex ended up with a great 68 and is E through 54!]

[Update 21 (10:04 am):  Eun-Hee Ji bounced back from her lone bogey of the day with a birdie on 16 to fight back to E.]

[Update 22 (10:05 am):  Stanford finished birdie-birdie to get back to E!]

[Update 23 (10:06 am):  Amy Yang is having a roller-coaster round, but she has just birdied 2 holes in a row to fight back to E for the week with 5 holes left to play today.]

[Update 24 (10:08 am):  OMG.  Recari’s shot went backwards on 11 right after Ryu went from left to way left on 13!]

[Update 25 (10:09 am):  Great comebacker by Recari.  Hope she makes the 10-footer!  Oooh–great approach by Ahn on 13!]

[Update 26 (10:11 am):  Nice that Ayako Uehara birdied 18 to post a 72 and stay at +4.  Even nicer that I don’t have to listen to Terry Gannon finding a way to mispronounce her name every single try!]

[Update 27 (10:12 am):  Dammit, how did Ryu find that tiny creek?!]

[Update 28 (10:12 am):  Fantastic bogey save by Recari!]

[Update 29 (10:12 am):  Whoops, Yang just bogeyed the par-3 14th like Park before her.]

[Update 30 (10:16 am):  Ouch, Martin just 4-putted 12 for a double!]

[Update 31 (10:17 am):  Ryu just missed her bogey save, a 35-footer that looked in until the final 6 inches.]

[Update 32 (10:18 am):  Nice birdie by Ahn.  She’s -3 with Park!]

[Update 33 (10:19 am):  Eagle on 17 by Suzann Pettersen!  -2 and right in this thing!]

[Update 34 (10:21 am):  Another smart approach shot on 14 by Ahn!]

[Update 35 (10:22 am):  Ryu safely on the green, too.]

[Update 36 (10:23 am):  Lewis birdies 18 to join Hull at -1.]

[Update 37 (10:25 am):  BTW, Sophie Giquel-Bettan had made an 8 on 15 but bounced back with a birdie on 18 for a 73 that leaves her at +2 for the week.  Jenny Shin’s 73 was less volatile, but she’s also at +2.]

[Update 38 (10:27 am):  Ariya Jutanugarn birdies 15 to claw back to E on a roller-coaster day and week!]

[Update 39 (10:29 am):  Another terrible long eagle try from Shanshan.  Barely made it to the ledge halfway there.  But she calmly sinks the 8-foot birdie putt to get to -2 on her day and for the week!  Finally Terry Gannon mentioned that she’s bogey-free!]

[Update 40 (10:31 am):  Ai-sama birdied 18 to get to +1 for the week and remain low Japanese golfer.  Morita’s 1 back of her, Uehara 2 behind, and Mikan, Miki Saiki, and Erina Hara 3 off her pace.  Forgot to mention yesterday that Ayaka Watanabe also made the cut.  After a 75 she’s now +7.]

[Update 41 (10:33 am):  Ahn side-doors her par save to stay at -3, but Inbee birdied 17 to take the lead at -4.  Martin had earlier bogeyed 12.]

[Update 42 (10:34 am):  Awesome to see Julieta Granada playing well.  She birdied 15 to get to -2.]

[Update 43 (10:36 am):  Nice eagle-birdie finish by Pettersen to move to -3!  And Eun-Hee Ji joins Hull and Lewis at -1 with a walkoff birdie.]

[Update 44 (10:37 am):  That’s a 68 by Pettersen.  I didn’t think she’d be a contender this week, but she may well be the 54-hole leader when today’s done!]

[Update 45 (10:38 am):  Well, that may be an overstatement.  Inbee’s -4 and 18 is one of the easiest holes on the course….]

[Update 46 (10:42 am):  Shanshan got her pace down on her last eagle try.  Tap-in birdie for bogey-free 69!]

[Update 47 (10:44 am):  Nice birdie by Ryu on 15!]

[Update 48 (10:45 am):  Martin made a great out from a tough spot in the trap short of 13 green, but couldn’t sink the par putt and goes +4 over her last 3 holes.  Meanwhile, Ahn birdies 15 to tie Park for the lead at -4!]

[Update 49 (10:49 am):  Amelia Lewis birdies 17 to get to -3!]

[Update 50 (10:50 am):  Inbee had a great lag from the back of the 18th green and has 2 feet to get to -5.  She hit the right edge and missed!]

[Update 51 (10:51 am):  Another good approach shot from Ahn on 16.  She has a great chance to take the solo lead over the last 3 holes!]

[Update 52 (10:53 am):  Ouch, Ariya doubled 16!]

[Update 53 (10:56 am):  Ouch, 3-putt bogey from Martin on 14 after hitting front of green in regulation.  She’s -1 for the week still and still right in this thing if she can come back on the last 4 holes!]

[Update 54 (10:57 am):  Ryu is in trouble on 16.  Needs to make a toughie to save bogey.  Great par save by Recari on 14 to stay at E for the week.]

[Update 55 (10:58 am):  Ahn slam dunks birdie putt from 20 feet on 16.  That makes up for those earlier missed short ones!  She’s your solo leader at -5!]

[Update 56 (11:01 am):  Check out Elizabeth Bethel on Charley Hull!]

[Update 57 (11:03 am):  Ryu made both doubles on the back with wedges in her hand. Now down to -1 for the week.]

[Update 58 (11:05 am):  Wow, Inbee’s 68 could have been much lower!  She’s tied with Morita, Alex, and Pettersen for 2nd-low round of the day, though.]

[Update 59 (11:06 am):  Tough walkoff bogey by Amelia Lewis, but she’s the only golfer in the field at -2 right now.]

[Update 60 (11:07 am):  Ryu found the bunker off the right side on 17 and had to pop it out, even as Recari and Martin hit good approaches on 15.]

[Update 61 (11:08 am):  Ahn finds the greenside bunker on 17.]

[Update 62 (11:11 am):  Jessica Korda finished birdie-birdie to fight back to +1 for the week.]

[Update 63 (11:12 am):  Recari couldn’t keep her birdie try high enough.]

[Update 64 (11:13 am):  Great break for Ryu on 17, giving her an unexpected birdie chance!  Martin missed her short birdie try on 15.]

[Update 65 (11:15 am):  Ahn ended up on top of the shelf past the pin on 17; her bunker shot just squirted out a bit too hard to catch the slope and roll back toward the pin.]

[Update 66 (11:17 am):  Back at +2 are Jenny Shin, Azahara Munoz, and Ariya Jutanugarn.  They’re all T20.]

[Update 67 (11:19 am):  Ahn and Ryu both par 17.  Recari well over on 16.]

[Update 68 (11:20 am):  Gwladys Nocera doubled 15 but finished birdie-birdie to claw back to E.]

[Update 69 (11:24 am):  Yes!  Martin’s par save on 16 falls on last rotation!]

[Update 70 (11:25 am):  Nice up-and-down for Recari, too!]

[Update 71 (11:27 am):  Great drive by Martin on 17!]

[Update 72 (11:30 am):  Announcers wondering if Ahn built her stance in greenside bunker on 18.  She caught the shot clean and went well past pin.  She’s been -11 over her last 39 holes!]

[Update 73 (11:33 am):  Amy Yang birdied 18 to get to -1.  6 birdies and 6 bogeys!]

[Update 74 (11:36 am):  Good pars by Ryu and Ahn.  Hope Ahn isn’t penalized.  BTW, Granada had earlier birdied 18 to get back to -2, tied with Amelia Lewis.  Ryu’s 40 on the back leaves her at -1 for the week.]

[Update 75 (11:37 am):  I would say nobody in the top 20 is out of this thing, especially if the weather turns tougher on Sunday.]

[Update 76 (11:39 am):  Good little wedge by Martin on 17.  She can get right back in this thing with a birdie!  Recari just missed that eagle putt from the left side off the green.]

[Update 77 (11:41 am):  Misread by Martin on 7-footer.  But it’s still a par.]

[Update 78 (11:42 am):  Nice birdie by Recari to join Martin & Co. at -1.]

[Update 79 (11:47 am):  Emma Talley 2-up on Georgia Hall in race for low amateur.]

[Update 80 (11:50 am):  Recari and Martin getting punished for their slow play.  Only players to get rained on at this year’s WBO!]

[Update 81 (11:52 am):  Park and Morita hit every green today!]

[Update 82 (11:59 am):  Pars for Martin and Recari on 18.  Great comeback for Martin; missed opportunity for Recari.  2 shot penalty on Ahn for building stance on 18.  Now -3 and 1 back of Park.]

[Update 83 (12:00 pm):  Ko, Ai Miyazato, and Korda now only 5 off lead.]

[Update 84 (1:45 pm):  Hottest golfers heading into final round?  Ahn -9 over last 41 holes, Hull -8 over last 16, Park -6 over last 27, Pettersen and Feng -5 over last 32, Morita -5 over last 24, Mika Miyazato -4 over last 34, Ji -4 over last 23, Alex and Meena Lee -4 over last 22, Ko -4 over last 19.]

In-Kyung Kim Wins ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters!

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Congratulations to In-Kyung Kim, who made 4 birdies in her 1st 8 holes today at the ISPS Handa Ladies Masters to get to -18 and parred her last 10 straight to ice her 1st LET victory since 2009 and 1st on any major tour since winning the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in 2010.  And congratulations to Stephanie Meadow, who continues to impress in her 1st month as a professional; this time, she fired a bogey-free 63 to catch Lee-Anne Pace and Caroline Masson at -11, just 2 shots behind 2nd-place finisher Nikki Campbell.

Amelia Lewis was low American at -10, tied with Ariya Jutanugarn, Sarah Kemp, Stacy Lee Bregman, and Vikki Laing.  Matching the 67s by Campbell and Jutanugarn today was American Hannah Jun, who caught Minjee Lee and Amy Boulden at -9.  Other notables included Charley Hull and Gwladys Nocera at -8, defending champion Karrie Webb at -5, Su-Hyun Oh at -2, Cheyenne Woods at -1, Sophie Gustafson at E, Laura Davies at +5, and Lorie Kane at +8.

Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come for Inky–especially at Royal Birkdale next week!

Reflections on Michelle Wie’s U.S. Women’s Open Victory

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Stacy Lewis made Michelle Wie earn her 1st major and earn it she did yesterday at the U.S. Women’s Open.  Of all the 3-putt chances Wie avoided this past week at Pinehurst–and she avoided every single one of them!–the most important was her double-bogey save on the 16th.  I’m just glad I got to watch that hole, that putt, and her amazingly poised finish on 17 and 18 in the hotel in Cleveland the Full Metal Archivist, onechan, imoto, and I were staying in yesterday in advance of their early-morning flight to Japan today.  Since we were on the road for most of the final round, I won’t try to recap the final round–see Tony Jesselli, bangkokbobby, Bill Rand, and Geoff Shackelford for that (and more).

Instead, let me just say how impressed I was with Michelle’s 4th career LPGA victory and 2nd of 2014.  Long-time readers know I don’t have Golf Channel, so being able to watch how she carries herself on the golf course was a special treat this week.  One thing that’s totally clear is that she’s all grown up, both on and off the course.  I knew from her stats how good her all-around game–and particularly her short game–has become, but seeing just how precise and consistent she can be on a course like Pinehurst is something else entirely.  As great as her putting was during a week in which 2 of the best putters in the world, Cristie Kerr and Inbee Park, missed the cut and finished back in the pack, respectively, what was most impressive to me was how much trust she had in her game.  She rolled with the bad bounces, bounced back from the inevitable mistakes you’re going to make over 72 holes in a major, and smiled in the heat of competition.  This was truly the week when Michelle Wie came of age.

Looking ahead, it’s hard not to be excited about her chances week in and week out for the foreseeable future.  For those prone to get overexcited, though, a word or 2 of caution.  Let’s be clear:  Wie is not yet among the tour’s true elite in terms of results over multiple years and careers.  Her win moves her up 4 spots to #15 in my ranking of the top performers in LPGA majors since 2000; the 204 points she gained in my system with her USWO win put her right behind Na Yeon Choi, Paula Creamer, and In-Kyung Kim and well behind So Yeon Ryu (among those who haven’t yet won multiple LPGA majors in the 2000s), but she’s already passed luminaries like Juli Inkster and Grace Park and has established a record that young guns Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko will now have to chase.  And of anyone who’s won a USWO, she’s perhaps best positioned to avoid what some would call the jinx and others the let-down that so often follows a victory in the toughest test of golf on the planet.  Forget fluke winners like Birdie Kim and Hillary Lunke:  even the greats have struggled after USWO wins.  It took Paula Creamer years to win again after mastering Oakmont’s greens, while So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, and even Inbee Park have had trouble returning to the winner’s circle since their USWO victories.

I may be adding the Mostly Harmless jinx to the USWO jinx by saying this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Michelle continued to contend the rest of the year and were to pick up 3 to 5 more wins.  With the Women’s British Open a few weeks away, she’s got to be the favorite for the LPGA’s next major.  But this week in NW Arkansas will be an interesting test for her.  After finishing 2nd by 1 shot to Ya Ni Tseng in 2010, Wie went on to miss the cut in her next 3 starts in a row at this event.  Will she be burned out, looking ahead, or just plain off this week?  Or will she put herself right back in the mix again?  I vote for the latter.  I think she’s ready to go on a run that will make the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 look like a runway.

[Update 1 (11:44 am):  Here’s more from Golf Babes and Centurion!]

Reflections on the 3rd Round of the U.S. Women’s Open

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Michelle Wie was poised to make like Martin Kaymer midway through moving day at the U.S. Women’s Open, but instead she played a little army golf off the tee and became yet another big-name victim of Pinehurst’s devilish green complexes.  Still, she kept the damage as close to a minimum as possible and ended the day tied with Amy Yang for the lead at -2.

Given that Yang made up a 4-shot deficit in 18 holes and would have had the solo lead if she could just have parred the 18th, there’s no way today will be a 2-player show.  I don’t see Juli Inkster (playing her last USWO) replicating yesterday’s amazing 66 or Stephanie Meadow (playing her 1st USWO–and tournament–as a professional) her 69, but I do see Na Yeon Choi or Minjee Lee breaking 70 to put pressure on the co-leaders.  And while I have to admit to being surprised that So Yeon Ryu, Sakura Yokomine, and Pornanong Phatlum are only 5 off the lead, I’m not at all surprised about Karrie Webb or Lexi Thompson and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if either or both were to make a run of her own.  Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, and Chella Choi remain real threats at +4, as well.  Anyone further back will need to do something truly historic, as it’s hard to imagine 14 players coming back to them, but there’s a real possibility there won’t be anyone under par when all is said and done today.

I did get to see the entire 1st- and 3rd-round coverage and couldn’t help noticing how many players who got off to great starts had trouble sustaining their runs.  Well, that’s too nice a way of putting it, actually.  Lexi’s 2 doubles in a row yesterday were not quite as bad as amateur Marissa Chow’s 3 in a row after she jumped out to an early 1st-round lead, but neither was able to get back on track after making such big numbers.  8, 9, and 10 have been many players’ Waterloo, even though the latter 2 have also given up a lot of birdies.  So expect a lot of drama early on today.  Yokomine has 2 eagles in a row on the par-5 5th and the par-5 10th has given up its share, as well.

I’m hoping we’ll get to Cleveland in time to watch the end of the tournament.  Feel free to give me play-by-play and color commentary in comments!

Nichirei Ladies Sunday: Ji-Yai Shin Birdies 3 of Her Last 4 Holes to Secure Her 6th JLPGA Victory

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Ji-Yai Shin kept the door open for most of the final round of the Nichirei Ladies today, allowing 21-year-old Rumi Yoshiba and 19-year-old Hikari Fujita to pull within a shot or 2 of her, but the former world #1 showed how she earned the nickname Final Round Queen down the home stretch, birdieing 3 of her last 4 holes to secure her 6th JLPGA title.  Shin ended up beating the kids by 4 shots, Esther Lee by 5, Yuri Fudoh, Momoko Ueda, and Na-Ri Lee by 6, and Shiho Oyama by 7 in what turned out to be a convincing victory, her 1st on the JLPGA since 2010.

It’s an impressive comeback for a player who hasn’t exactly set the JLPGA on fire in 2014.  This was only Shin’s 4th top 10 and 6th top 20 in 12 starts this season; it breaks a streak of 5 finishes outside the top 10 that was kicked off by 2 missed cuts in a row.  Not exactly the quality of play anyone envisioned when she decided to renounce her LPGA membership.  Still, it’s the 1st time since the 1st event of the season that she put together 3 under-par rounds in a row and Saturday’s 65 was the lowest round of the year for her.  So maybe it’s a sign of bigger and better things to come.

What it has done is brought her into the top 10 on the JLPGA money list:

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥69.05M
2. Bo-Mee Lee ¥63.89M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥53.76M
4. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥37.84M
5. Ayaka Watanabe ¥36.74M
6. Erina Hara ¥36.28M
7. Esther Lee ¥32.35M
8. Ji-Yai Shin ¥32.23M
9. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
10. Miki Sakai ¥29.89M
11. Rikako Morita ¥28.06M

12. Phoebe Yao ¥26.57M
13. Teresa Lu ¥25.34M
14. Ji-Hee Lee ¥24.31M
15. Ritsuko Ryu ¥23.70M
16. Mayu Hattori ¥21.20M
17. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥21.11M
18. Lala Anai ¥20.22M
19. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
20. Mamiko Higa ¥17.80M
21. Na-Ri Lee ¥17.31M
22. Momoko Ueda ¥16.97M
23. Mami Fukuda ¥16.92M
24. Saiki Fujita ¥16.36M
25. Kaori Ohe ¥16.20M
26. Yukari Baba ¥16.12M
27. Hikari Fujita ¥15.86M
28. Junko Omote ¥15.54M
29. Soo-Yun Kang ¥14.98M
30. Shiho Oyama ¥14.55M
31. Akane Iijima ¥14.46M
32. Sakura Yokomine ¥14.46M
33. Asako Fujimoto ¥13.83M
34. Rumi Yoshiba ¥13.42M
35. Yumiko Yoshida ¥13.38M
Next up on the JLPGA is the Earth Mondamin Cup, which Natsuka Hori ran away with last season for her 2nd win on tour.  The top 4 Koreans on tour will all be in the field, along with most of the rest of the JLPGA’s finest, including many coming right from the U.S. Women’s Open.  Let’s see if Shin can keep it going and make the tour’s Big 3 into a Big 4!

[Update 1 (9:03 am):  Big shout-out to Hyo Joo Kim, who won the Korean Women’s Open to end a victory drought of her own and take home her 1st major title!]

Nichirei Ladies Set-Up: After 10 Birdies Today, Ji-Yai Shin Takes 4-Shot Lead into Final Round

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Ji-Yai Shin made 10 birdies today en route to a 65 that got her to double digits under par at the Nichirei Ladies and gave her a 4-shot lead on Esther Lee and Hikari Fujita.  While Sakura Yokomine, Misuza Narita, and Rikako Morita will be fighting to move into contention at Pinehurst this weekend, Momoko Ueda, Shiho Oyama, and Yuri Fudoh will be trying to chase down the former world #1 who decided to focus exclusively on the JLPGA in 2014.  If Shin can play like her nicknames (Chalk Line, Final Round Queen) tomorrow, she’ll take her 6th career JLPGA title.  I’m rooting for her!

[Update 1 (7:59 am):  Meanwhile, Hyo Joo Kim has a great chance to capture her 1st KLPGA major and 1st win on that tour since 2012.]

Resort Trust Ladies Sunday: Teresa Lu Goes Low for 2nd JLPGA Victory

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Teresa Lu fired a bogey-free 64 to blow away the field at the Resort Trust Ladies and secure her 2nd career JLPGA victory.

Lu beat Ji-Min Lee (69) by 5 shots, money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee (67), Na-Ri Lee (70), and 2nd-round leader Junko Omote (71) by 6 shots, and Misuzu Narita (66) and Natsuka Hori (69) by 8 shots.  Ji-Woo Lee (67), Ayaka Watanabe (70), and 18-year-old amateur Kotone Hori (70) rounded out the top 10, while Sun-Ju Ahn (69), Yuri Fudoh (69), Kaori Ohe (69), Sakura Yokomine (70), Mamiko Higa (70), Ji-Hee Lee (71), Rikako Morita (71), and Ritsuko Ryu (71) had to settle for T11.  1st-round leader Miki Saiki (73) fell all the way back to T19, tied with the likes of Mi-Jeong Jeon (72) and Maiko Wakabayashi (69).

For Lu, the victory ratifies her decision to stay on the JLPGA after winning the Mizuno Classic last November and declining the opportunity to rejoin the LPGA for 2014.  Both wins came from Sunday 64s and both came as bouncebacks from at least one bad preceding tournament.  Last season, it was an unexpected T34 after 4-straight top 10s (with her worst finish in that run a T7); this week, it was 2-straight missed cuts (her 1st since early September) that interrupted a 3-event top-22 run that included 2 top 10s.  Lu’s 2 rounds in the 60s this week matched her entire output for the start of 2014 before this week.  They also lifted her from 26th to 12th on the JLPGA money list:

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥60.43M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥47.45M
 Misuzu Narita ¥42.96M
4. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥36.13M
5. Ayaka Watanabe ¥34.14M
6. Erina Hara ¥33.37M
7. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
8. Rikako Morita ¥28.06M

9. Miki Sakai ¥27.32M

10. Esther Lee ¥26.57M
11. Phoebe Yao ¥25.74M
12. Teresa Lu ¥24.45M
13. Ritsuko Ryu ¥23.70M
14. Ji-Hee Lee ¥20.43M
15. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥20.28M
16. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
17. Mayu Hattori ¥18.82M
18. Lala Anai ¥17.72M
19. Mamiko Higa ¥16.73M
20. Ji-Yai Shin ¥16.29M
21. Mami Fukuda ¥15.59M
22. Yukari Baba ¥14.76M
23. Asako Fujimoto ¥13.83M
24. Saiki Fujita ¥13.74M
25. Sakura Yokomine ¥13.57M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥13.05M
27. Junko Omote ¥13.04M
28. Soo-Yun Kang ¥11.32M
29. Na-Ri Lee ¥11.24M
30. Na-Ri Kim ¥9.74M
Next up is the Yonex Ladies, which features defending champion Junko Omote and most of the rest of the JLPGA’s finest, along with 13-year-old amateur Suzuka Yamaguchi, 15-year-old amateurs Minami Katsu and Hina Arakaki, 17-year-old amateur Haruka Ikarashi, and 20-year-old amateur Marika Takada.  They just keep coming younger and younger, don’t they?

Resort Trust Ladies Saturday: Junko Omote Goes 68-68 to Take Lead

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Junko Omote turned 40 in February but her game is as sharp as it’s ever been.  She was a regular in the top 10 or thereabouts on the JLPGA from 2003-2005, but it’s only since 2011 that she’s approached that career peak again.  Like 1st-round leader Miki Saiki, her 2014 hasn’t been all that great thus far, but she’s put it behind her this week with a pair of 68s to take a 1-shot lead at the Resort Trust Ladies over Teresa Lu, Na-Ri Lee, and Ji-Min Lee, and a 3-shot lead on Saiki and Satsuki Oshiro.

Na-Ri Lee had the round of the week thus far, a moving-day 64 that actually included a bogey on the 16th hole.  But lots of golfers moved into contention along with her.  In fact, a good number of other Lees did, too, such as Ji-Hee (bogey-free 67) and Bo-Mee (bogey-free 69), who moved to -4 along with Rikako Morita (72), Mi-Jeong Jeon (71), Yeo-Jin Kang (71), Ayaka Watanabe (70), Ritsuko Ryu (69), Natsuka Hori (69), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (68), and 18-year-old amateur Kotone Hori (68).  Sakura Yokomine moved to -3 with a 4-birdie 69, catching Momoko Ueda (73), Mamiko Higa (70), and Ai Suzuki (70).  All in all, there are 21 golfers within 5 shots of the lead.

Meanwhile, Yuri Fudoh and Sun-Ju Ahn (71s, -2), Misuzu Narita (71, -1), Akiko Fukushima (72, E), and Yumiko Yoshida (72, +1) will need to do something special to have a chance tomorrow.  But at least they have a shot.  Veterans Yuko Mitsuka, Shinobu Moromizato, Young Kim, and Rui Kitada missed the cut, as did young guns Kotono Kozuma, Haruna Taguchi, Erina Yamato, Kumiko Kaneda, and Asako Fujimoto, along with 18-year-old amateur Asuka Kashiwabara.

So let’s see if Omote can play the comeback kid, whether someone else will, or whether Bo-Mee Lee can snag her 2nd victory in her last 3 starts.

Resort Trust Ladies Friday: Miki Saiki Returns?

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Miki Saiki joined Teresa Lu and Ji-Min Lee at the top of the Resort Trust Ladies after firing a 6-birdie 67 today.  Here’s hoping her 5th round in the 60s and 3rd in her last 4 of 2014 signals the return to form of one of the top players on the JLPGA.  If she can put that 6-event run where she made the cut twice and finished no better than 50th squarely in the rear-view mirror, there’s no telling where she can end up this season.  At #33 on the JLPGA money list, she’s a win away from returning to the top 20, where she’s basically been her entire career.

Of course, there are 36 holes left to decide this thing and there are 46 golfers within 5 shots of the lead.  Lu is hoping for a comeback of her own, as are Momoko Ueda and (to a lesser extent) Rikako Morita at -4, Mi-Jeong Jeon at -3, Yukari Baba at -2, Yuri Fudoh, Asako Fujimoto, Kaori Ohe, and Mamiko Higa at -1, and Sakura Yokomine and Akiko Fukushima at E.  The JLPGA’s very finest thus far in 2014, Sun-Ju Ahn and Bo-Mee Lee, are right in the hunt -1, while Misuzu Narita and Onnarin Sattayabanphot are right behind them at E.  And the JLPGA’s young guns are, too, with Shiho Toyonaga and Satsuki Oshiro at -3, Ayaka Watanabe, Phoebe Yao, Erika Kikuchi, and Lala Anai at -2, Natsuka Hori, Miki Sakai, and Ai Suzuki joining Higa at -1, and 18-year-old amateur Kotone Hori joining Narita and Maiko Wakabayashi at E.

So there’s a long way to go before we’ll find out how Saiki follows up on last week’s runner-up finish.  But wouldn’t it be cool if she made it her 5th year in a row on tour with at least 1 win by snagging career win #8 this coming Sunday?