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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sizing Up the Survivors

Well, we've reached the halfway point of the first LPGA major of the year. It's time to assess who really has the best chance of winning.

First, last week I laid out my expectations for likely Kraft Nabisco contenders. I mentioned Tseng, Webb, and Creamer -- the latter being my pick -- and over at Mostly Harmless I added Kerr and Shin as apparently "peaking" at the right time.

Well, I got one right. Kerr blew everybody's mind by missing the cut, something that hasn't happened at a major in nearly a decade. Creamer's at +3 and Shin at +1, putting both players pretty much out of it. Even Webb, who posted 69 in the first round, followed up with a 74, putting her at -1 and making her an unlikely contender at best. Only Tseng still has a realistic chance... a very realistic chance.

So the cut's been made, and 75 players made the cut at +5. (Kerr missed by a single stroke!) Let me set the stage for you:

The temperatures have been over 100°F both days and the course has played extremely hard (as in pavement). This weekend is expected to be cooler, but the winds are expected to come up and make the already dry course even harder (again, like pavement). It's enough to worry the organizers; Jerry Foltz estimated that the course may already be stimping around 13, which was the tournament's stated goal when it began. The leader's at -9, but I don't expect her to come back, given how well she's played so far.

Given these expectations, here are the possible winners as I see it:
  • Leader (-9), Stacy Lewis: The only player with two rounds in the 60s, Lewis is #28 in the world despite not having a win yet. She generally plays well in majors, and she's been playing well this year. And I like her attitude -- after all the scoliosis problems she's had, she says that bogeys simply don't bother her that much. I'll be surprised if she doesn't squeeze out at least -11 by the end of the tournament. If she does, she won't have much competition at all.
  • T2 (-6), Yani Tseng: Do you really need Yani's credentials? She's #1 in the world, youngest player (male or female) to get 3 majors, and the defending champion.
  • T2 (-6), Brittany Lincicome: Brittany won in 2009, but struggled on Friday. Nevertheless, she managed to card a 72 to hold her spot. She's capable of big shots in big moments, so you can't write her off.
  • T2 (-6), Jane Park: Jane Park is a wild card in this bunch. I mentioned her back problems and I found out she made the field through her finish at the Kia last week. Before you write her off, bear in mind that she's been on two Curtis Cup teams and was the 2004 US Women's Am champ. The girl's got game and can take the pressure. Not only that, she's got absolutely nothing to lose.
  • T5 (-5), Morgan Pressel: The youngest player ever to win an LPGA major, which just happened to be the 2007 KNC. She knows how to win on this course.
  • T5 (-5), Amy Yang: Yang is #22 in the world with 3 worldwide wins, 1 LPGA and 2 LET. She got one of her LET wins as an amateur. And she finished T5 in the last two majors of 2010. She's not a long shot by any measure.
  • 7 (-4), Sophie Gustafson: Sophie's #37 in the world and she's got 28 worldwide wins, five of those LPGA titles. She's the real wild card for me in this group, since she hasn't played particularly well in the majors lately. She did post a T10 at the KNC last year though.
  • T8 (-3), Michelle Wie: There are several players at -3, but Wie is the only one I think has the firepower to possibly make up the 6-shot deficit between her and Lewis. (Remember, I don't expect Lewis to come back to the pack.) It's been fashionable to knock Wie, but I still think it was her decision to play through those wrist injuries a few years back that derailed her career for a while. I suspect it caused her to change her swing for the worse, and it's taken a while to get things back in line. I also happen to think her stint at Stanford has helped her game, if for no other reason that it's a legitimate excuse for occasional poor play. She's got a good history at the KNC, and it would be a logical place for his first major.
So as I see it, those are the main players. And when push comes to shove, I think it will come down to Tseng vs Lewis. Pressel and Yang could figure in there too, but unless Lewis stumbles I think anybody more than 4 back is too far back.

And between the two of them, I'm going against the odds. I'm picking Stacy Lewis to hang on and make her first win a major. But Tseng won't make it easy for her.

For that matter, the course isn't going to make it easy for anybody. If you like the Masters, the survival game at KNC may be right up your alley.

Golf Channel has live coverage starting at 4:30 pm.

5 comments:

  1. Why is Tseng playing with Lewis? The traditional pairing process is 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. There's a three way tie for 2nd. When that happens, the first person to post the score is considered 1st of the people tied when determining pairings. Jane Park should be playing with Lewis.

    The tours used to go 1-3, 2-4, 5-7, 6-8, but that hasn't been used in about 30 years. Even if it was, then Lewis would be playing with Lincicome.

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  2. I never have understood the logic of pairings, Bill. If you had asked me, I would have said it was last in, last out in ties. (My thinking: if you had the best score at the beginning of the round, you were still the best of the group at the end.)

    If they aren't following their standard procedure, I'd guess it's a programming decision.

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  3. Just for the record, if I had been right, Lincicome would have been in the final pairing.

    I can certainly see why they'd want the World #1 (who also happens to be the defending champion) in the final group. Like I said, probably a programming decision.

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  4. Where it's hard to bet against Stacy's 3 shot lead or Yani's previous success in majors, I wouldn't count out somebody who is over par just yet. They say the morning temperatures are going to be much cooler. I can see one of the early starters shooting a 66. If Stacy has to deal with the strong winds they are predicting in the afternoon a score of Say 74 is possible. Now wouldn't that make Sunday interesting?

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  5. The winds may have already started, Tony. I checked the scoreboard before writing this comment and none of the early starters is under par. Over half are +1.

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