Kraft Day 4: Any way they catch Park today?

First the weather report: it’s perfect now and should be perfect most of the day. The prediction is that winds could get to 8 to 15 mph around 4 p.m., when the leaders will be on the back nine.

Now, on to the golf. Is there any way anyone can catch Inbee Park today as she starts the day with a three-shot lead over Lizette Salas and six shots over a group of six players tied for third? Well, it will be tough, but it could be done.

Here are the most common scenarios:

1. Park plays conservatively for pars, makes a bogey around the fourth of fifth hole and suddenly we’ve got a golf tournament.

2. Someone tied for third goes birdie-eagle on the first two holes, and suddenly we are looking at a momentum change.

3. (this is the least likely scenario). Park blows up to a 76 today and someone only had to play decent golf to catch her.

So Park is not quite a slam dunk to win the event. I still think the group at 6-under will have to be 3 under in the first five holes to even have a chance at catching the steady Park.

Come on out and watch some golf.

 

Kraft Day 3: great weather, and the leaders are hitting the course

It has been a great day of weather that the Kraft Nabisco Championship so far, still with no real wind and temperatures warming to what is expected to be about 90 to 92 degrees.

With an hour and a half before the leaders Inbee Park and Lizette Salas tee off, the players who are teeing off on the first tee of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course now are players who still have a chance of winning the tournament with a strong weekend 36 holes.. For instance, teeing off right now is the twosome of Michelle Wie and Hee Kyung Seo, each talented players with LPGA success on their resumes.

Some of the early starters are showing there is scoring possible today. Momko Ueda is 3-under through eight holes today, the same score for Angela Stanford through seven holes. Yani Tseng is also 3-under today through 15 holes, but that leaves her at even par for the week and still seven shots off of Park’s lead. That might be too much to ask on the last day even for Tseng.

Still time to come out and watch the leaders if you want.

 

Gulbis makes her return at the Kraft Nabisco

Unless you just don’t care about golf and have been living in a cave for the last month, you know the story of how Natalie Gulbis of the LPGA was bitten by a mosquito in Thailand a month ago and ended up with malaria.

Yes, real honest-to-goodness malaria. And because of that, she has missed the last three tournaments in Singapore, Phoenix and Carlsbad. She tried to play in Carlsbad, withdrew from fatigue and was yelled at by a doctor the next day that she was no where close to being ready for competitive golf.

But Gulbis is back on the tour this week at the Kraft Nabisco, which clearly will make the photographers around the tour happy. Gulbis said today she can’t remember being so excited to return to play after a layoff as she is now. After taking medications and IVs and being in and out of hospitals, Gulbis said she is on no medication this week and feels better than she has in weeks.

How walking four rounds in the forecast heat of the week will impact Gulbis is anyone’s guess. But Gulbis is happy to be back playing and the tour is happy to have her back.

For Castrale, a new approach to the Kraft Nabisco

For Palm Desert’s Nicole Castrale,the start of the 2013 season has been a good one. She has cashed a check in all four LPGA events she has played and gathered some important Solheim Cup points by posting top-20 finishes.

Now comes the Kraft Nabisco Championship, an event played in her backyard practically. But it is also one of the majors Castrale has never played well in, and she thinks she knows why.

Castrale believes she has taken the wrong approach to the Kraft. She believes she presses to make birdies on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course rather than just accepting that par is a good score as she does in the other majors. So if the birdies don’t come, she presses even harder, and then she doesn’t play well.

Castrale’s best performance in the Kraft is a tie for 25th. She hopes that with more respect for the Dinah Shore Tournament course and for par, she will do better than 25th this week.

 

Judy Rankin’s advice: Michelle, drop that putting stroke

Anyone who has been around the LPGA over the last 10 years or so knows that one of the weaknesses of Michelle Wie’s golf game has been his inconsistent putter. It’s not that Wie hasn’t worked hard at trying to get better. She has worked very hard. But the putting game has not come to Wie as naturally as the big-hitting full swing.

Michelle Wie's new putting stroke is, uh, different. (AP photo)

But at the Kia Classic fans saw a new putting position for Wie. Over 6 feet tall, Wie’s new position has her bent over at about a 90 degree angle. Golf Channel lead analyst for the LPGA, Hall of Famer Judy Rankin, has a fairly blunt opinion on the new stroke.

“I’ll be as candid as I can be.  I see nothing good about it,” Rankin said in a national teleconference to preview the Kraft Nabisco Championship next week.

Wie has struggled on the tour the last two years, and the putting has been part of the problem. Rankin doesn’t believe the new putting style will help.

“I don’t think in that position a person can even clearly or comfortably see their line.  I think it completely inhibits any freedom of movement and it cannot possibly help your touch,” Rankin said. “And if I were advising her, I would tell her, enough with that experiment, let’s do something that might be more productive.”

Here’s a scary thought: this year marks the 10th anniversary of Wie’s debut at the Kraft when she was just 13 years old. Wie stormed into the final group on Sunday with a third-round 66. She also was part of the leaderboard when she was 14, and at 16 she missed a playoff by a single shot.

More recently, her fortunes have not been as good at the Kraft, even when she was winning two LPGA events. The last two years have been very tough for Wie as she has watched other teen phenoms like Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko win events while Wie has fought to make the cut in events.

We’ll see if Wie is still using that putting style at the Kraft next week.

 

Culture Club is not a golf course

If I say the name Roy Hay to you, you probably have no idea who I am talking about. But if you are of a certain age and I say Culture Club to you, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Roy Hay (far left) is touring fairways rather than touring areans with Culture Club these days.

Hay was the guitarist and keyboard player for the multi-platinum Culture Club band in the 1980s best know for their lead singer Boy George. Somehow, through a series of connections, at the Kraft Nabisco Media Day on Monday, I found myself playing golf with Roy Hay.

Hay now lives in Santa Barbara and is well past his Culture Club days. He’s done extensive work scoring films, had another band beyond Culture Club and has lived in Southern California since 1989. He was in the tennis this week to watch some tennis at the BNP Paribas Open, but was invited to the media day by a friend, Graeme Baxter, the noted Scottish golf artist and official artist of the Kraft Nabisco.

Now, it’s pretty easy to be a cheesy fan and want to ask Hay what Boy George was really like or if his favorite Culture Club song was “Karma Chameleon” or “I’ll Tumble four Ya.” I avoided those questions and instead ask a question I put to all rock star/golfers I meet. How did a big-time pop star (and there weren’t too many bigger than Culture Club in the 1980s) find his way into golf.

The answer was not that surprising. Hay said there are empty hours on the road that somehow have to be filled by pursuits that “don’t do damage to yourself.” You can fill in the blanks ss just what the other pursuits might have been, but we’ve heard other musicians say the same thing, most notably Alice Cooper. Cooper often talks about trading one addiction (alcohol) for another (golf).

It should also be noted that Hay is credited with helping Boy George kick a pretty heavy heroin addiction cold turkey.

I should have asked Hey why he never turned Boy George onto golf to replace heroin, but the time didn’t see right as he both had just hit poor tee shots on the par-3 14th hole of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. But to demonstrate how big golf is for Hay, he was leaving the desert to get a chance to play the famed Valley Course in Santa Barbara, then trying to get back to the desert today for the night session at the BNP Paribas. You don’t pass up an invitation to The Valley Course, Hay noted.

Spoken like a true golfer/pop star.

 

KNC again inviting junior golfers to play

The Kraft Nabisco Champions and the SCGA are again teaming up to bring junior female golfers to the LPGA major championship to play with some of the legends of women’s golf and maybe earn a spot in the field.

On April 2, two days before the major champions will be played at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, the Kraft Nabisco Legends Junior Challenge be played. The low junior in the event will earn a sponsor’s invitation into Kraft Nabisco Championship.

“We are thrilled to once again partner with the Kraft Nabisco Championship and provide Southland girls with this kind of unique opportunity,” said SCGA Youth on Course Executive Director Kevin Gigax.  “We heard such great feedback from both the juniors and legends after last year’s event. Once again the Junior Challenge will showcase the best junior girls in Southern California, provide legends the opportunity to share the game and its values with the younger generation and inspire girls to continue to pursue their dreams in golf.”

A panel led by the led by SCGA Youth on Course which will select the players who will play with former Kraft Nabisco winners and LPGA Hall of Famers. The tournament will be played on the Arnold Palmer Course at Mission Hills. Junior applicants will be evaluated based on their golf resumes and their community and leadership involvement.

Those interested in applying may learn more at scga.org/legends.

Last year the winner was Alison Lee, who is back in the tournament this year on a normal amateur sponsor’s exemption.

 

Annika back at the KNC is great news

Forget the fact that Annika Sorenstam is represented by IMG, and the IMG is now managing the Kraft Nabisco Championship and that the synergy here is just too perfect to ignore.

Annika Sorenstam will have a presence at the Kraft Nabisco Championship this year (AP photo)

It doesn’t matter why Annika is back at the Kraft Nabisco. It’s just a very good thing that she is coming back this year.

Sorenstam, a three-time winner of the LPGA major championship, hasn’t been back to Mission Hills since she finished second in 2008. About a month later, Sorenstam announced she was retiring from the game at the end of the year, and she didn’t play in the 2009 Kraft. So the player who dominated the tournament from 2001 to 2008 (three wins and two seconds in that time) just kind of disappeared from the event.

Other players, like Lorena Ochoa, had returned to the tournament in some way. But Sorenstam will be more than just strolling the grounds that week. She will also be the host of the two-day celebrity pro-am, and since she has a working relationship with Golf Channel, you might see Sorenstam pop up and do a little color work for the network’s four-day coverage of the  first major championship on any of the major tours.

I’m sure there are more than a few people around the tournament will be willing to point out to Sorenstam that she has multiple lifetime exemptions in the actual field of the 72-hole, $2 million event. I’m equally sure that she will turn the suggestion down. I always thought that Sorenstam would come back from the retirement, but she’s never show anything that makes me think that now. The same is not true for Ochoa, who still dabbles in tournament golf and who is much younger than Sorenstam (not that Sorenstam is old at 42, mind you).

So Sorenstam won’t play in the Kraft, but she will be around for the event. And that will make the event seem even more like a major.

 

Kraft follow: A few leftovers from the Kraft Nabisco

—I woke up today to an e-mail from a guy who is disgusted that in my story on the tournament in today’s paper I focused on how I.K. Kim had missed the 18-inch putt to lose the tournament, rather than how Sun Young Yoo had won the tournament. “I am certain Kim doesn’t need to see that photo of herself this morning, do you think it made her feel good? Also I’m certain Yoo thinks she should have been in the TOP photo and larger than the losing player!.” the e-mail said. Okay, sir, let me explain this as briefly as possible. I.K. Kim lost that tournament by missing an 18-inch putt that would have iced out Sun Young Yoo. Period. End of discussion. It’s a tough business, professional sports, and sometime the story is how the tournament was lost, not how it was won.

–But let’s not put I.K. Kim on and island alone. Lost in the shock of Kim’s miss was that Hee-Kyung Seo bogeyed the last four holes Sunday. If she plays those holes in par, she won by two shots and no won thinks about Kim or Yoo.

–Stacy Lewis because the second consecutive defending champion of the Kraft to come back and finish in the top five the next year. Yani Tseng won in 2010 and was second in 2011, Lewis won in 2011 and finished tied for fourth Sunday.  And Lewis made that run after playing her front nine on Thursday in 4-over, with four consecutive bogeys at 6, 7, 8 and 9.

–People who argue that the jump into Poppie’s Pond is a dumb tradition certainly don’t hang around LPGA Tour players much. Because every one of those players is absolutely thrilled with the prospect of making that jump at some point in their careers. Honestly, every one of them.

–and as for Yani Tseng, who was described by some people this week as coming off with either no personality or even negative personality, I say this. Tseng had personality to burn, but she is one focused player on the golf course, and sometime focus comes across as a lack of personality. But if you spend time with Tseng in the press room of the putting green, you see the personality. So Tseng is a lot like hockey. It’s better in person than on T.V.

 

Kraft Day 3: This will be a long day

A couple of things have conspried to make today one of the longest days in the history of the Kraft Nabisco Championships.

For one thing, the pairings today are in twosomes. For another the decision was made (as it was last year) to have the entire field tee off on the first hole, rather than splitting tee times on the first and 10th tees.

So if the minimum of 70 players made the cut, and with eight minutes between groups, it was going to be a long day.

But when 82 players made the field, that added six twosomes to today’s play. 6 times 8 minutes, as you know, is 48. So there is an extra 48 minutes of tee times on the third round. So tee times started at 7:13 a.m. and will run straight through to the last group of Haeji Kang and Yani Tseng at 1:05 p.m. Even if the last group plays in four hours. that means 10 hours of golf at Mission Hills Country Club today.

Come on out and enjoy some of it.