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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Kraft Nabisco, Round 2

I wanted to wait until the 2nd round was in the books before I decided who had the best chance to win this first major of 2010. Man, have things changed! Suzann Pettersen was the favorite after Round 1, but that's not a sure thing now. In fact, I'm not sure there is a sure thing out there.

If I was picking a winner today, I'd pick... Karen Stupples. The rest of the field is playing with smoke and mirrors, and I don't know how long they can keep it up. Here's my assessment of the field, and why:

First of all, nobody is playing in line with their stats thus far this year. Leader Song-Hee Kim, who has 3 Top 10s in the first 3 events, is nowhere near her Driving Accuracy figures: nearly 77% in her first 3 tourneys, she's around 50% at Rancho Mirage. And she's one of the better drivers this week! So let's throw out DA as an indicator, since nobody's driving well.

Stupples is leading the GIR stat this week (31 greens, or 81%), followed by Stacy Lewis (29 greens, 80%), Suzann Pettersen (27 greens, 75%), and Song-Hee Kim (26 greens, 72%). Of the Top 10, Stupples is putting the worst, with 61 putts total, and Lewis at 60. The best putter is Karrie Webb with 55 putts; Webb is also the only player to be at my magic 67% in both Driving and GIR (24 each).

So what exactly does this tell me? Mainly that there's a lot of scrambling going on. Cristie Kerr is a good example; ESPN specifically said that she was out working on her short game Thursday night with her teacher Jim McLean, and she blasted to the top of the leaderboard after hitting only 20 fairways and 26 GIR. This major is being contended almost solely on putting right now; and, as Suzann illustrated so well, putting is tricky at Rancho Mirage. (The infamous "Indio Effect" -- that every putt breaks toward Indio CA -- was invoked repeatedly during the broadcast.) The best and worst putters in contention are separated by only 6 putts after 2 rounds.

GIR and Total Putts may end up being the most important stats at this major. If so, my money's on Stupples and Lewis, with Stupples getting the edge for experience and driving distance (over 20 yards better than Lewis). I think the player who hits the most greens can survive a stretch of mediocre putting and still win. And if either Stupples (1 back of the lead) or Lewis (2 back) gets a hot putter, that GIR percentage is going to make them almost uncatchable.

At this point, if somebody gets hot (and stays hot) with the putter, this is anybody's major.

BTW, Judy Rankin reported that Hee Kyung Seo, the winner at the Kia Classic last week, does NOT plan to join the LPGA this year. Instead, she's waiting until next year (which means she'll be exempt through the 2012 season).

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