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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Final Thoughts on the ANA Inspiration

Before we leap into Masters Week with both feet, we should take a look back at the first LPGA major of the year and see if we've learned anything that might tell us what to expect going forward in 2015.

Brittany Lincicome with trophy

Clearly the pattern of one-off winners -- and most of those being unexpected winners -- continued at the Inspiration. I don't think anybody expected Brittany Lincicome to pick up her second major, even though she was right there in the mix going into Sunday. It's proving to be very difficult for anybody to put up multiple wins at this point. (Lydia Ko is the only multiple winner so far, but bear in mind that only one of her two wins was on the LPGA. The other was on the LET.)

Is this a sign of parity on the LPGA? Is it becoming too difficult to stand out from the crowd? I'm not ready to say that yet. There's a far bigger point difference in the Rolex Rankings between #3 Inbee Park and #4 Hyo Joo Kim (3.72) than there is between #3 Park and #1 Lydia Ko (.87). Ko, Lewis and Park have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the Tour and I see no indication -- as of yet, anyway -- that the gap is going to close soon.

However, it does appear that the Big 3 are feeling the heat... from each other, that is. I've voiced my concern that Stacy Lewis is getting in her own way, and I think the playoff was a good example of it. I was hoping that she had finally found a way to just let go and play, but her reactions after the bad break on the last playoff hole (the ball in the divot) were clearly pressure. The poor shot into the green was understandable but the poor chip, followed by the poor putt and that picture of her sitting in the scoring area with her head in her hands certainly screamed "I want this too much!"

But Stacy isn't alone. Lydia Ko made no secret that all the talk of scoring records was in the front of her mind, and even after the record was out of reach she still seemed frustrated with her play. (I've remarked in past posts about her uncharacteristic shows of irritation over the last few weeks.) And Inbee's putting, while it could be a matter of mechanics, is also causing her to show more frustration than usual. The Big 3 may be getting too caught up in their rivalry.

I don't expect the rest of the field to close the gap though. The normally smiling Sei Young Kim was clearly off her game on Sunday, as were most of the other players who got themselves into contention. I don't know if it's the increased money or the CME Globe points race or just the growing belief that anybody can win out there, but most of the players seem to stumble almost as soon as they get close to the lead. It's been the players who seem almost oblivious to their opportunities -- like Brittany Lincicome -- who are surprising us with wins.

Morgan Pressel, one of the most emotional players, one who has traditionally pressed too hard, seems to have found a way past that. Perhaps it's just a matter of finding some hope after several years of struggle but she finally seems to have some inner peace that's allowing her to compete without overtrying. I can remember times not so long ago when that third-place finish would have reduced her to tears; Sunday I saw a woman who was pleased that she had done as well as she had and was even happy for her friend Brittany's victory.

Watch out for Pressel over the next few months. She just might get another major before the year is out.

Finally, I don't expect the Korean domination to continue... and the reason is the Solheim Cup. Players from the US and Europe are starting to feel an urgency to make their respective teams and, if you take a good look at the leaderboard, you'll note that those players were a much larger factor in this event. This is the time of year -- in Solheim Cup years, anyway -- when the nearness of that event becomes a driving force in their preparation. Look for more American and European winners on the LPGA over the next few weeks.

And now, with their first major in the books and many of the ladies on their way to Augusta National as fans, it's time for us to turn our attention to the Masters...