One last look at the LPGA this year

The LPGA’s season ends this week with the CME Group Titleholders tournament, a limited field event that saw three players from each official LPGA event this year qualify for the event.

There is a certain amount of anti-climax in the event this year, since Stacy Lewis has already clinched the player of the year award and Inbee Park will be the LPGA’s money list champion. That doesn’t mean there is no reason to watch the tournament, though.

Stacy Lewis has clinched the LPGA's Player of the Year award (AP photo)

There is still a chance to see if Lewis can cap off the year with a fifth win, a number that takes a good year and makes it great. There is a chance to see if Yani Tseng can rally from the disappointment of having no wins since March, even though she won three times on tour before April.

Can another American win on tour this year, joining Jessica Korda, Angela Park, Brittany Lang, Cristie Kerr and Lewis?

See, plenty of nice story lines left on the tour even if Lewis and Park have wrapped up two of the major awards. And remember, you won’t be seeing the LPGA officially again until late February. So take your last look at the best women players in the world this weekend. After all, there is no PGA Tour for the women to compete against this week.

 

Another week, another national championship

The U.S. Women’s Open is being played this week at Black Wolf Run in Kohler, Wis., and it is sure to be a difficult test for the best women players in golf.

This is the third major on the LPGA this season, with Sun Young Yoo winning the Kraft Nabisco in a playoff back in April on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club, followed by Shanshan Feng’s win at the LPGA Championship.

Just a couple of quick questions as Open Week for the women begins:

–Is there something wrong with Yani Tseng or is she just struggling like all golfers struggle at some point. She hasn’t won since March (okay, that’s a criticism only Tseng could be targeted with these days) and in her last two tournament she has a tie for 59th and a missed cut. Very un-Yani-like.

–Are we ever going to see Paula Creamer or Cristie Kerr win again? Neither of these top two Americans won last year, and neither has won this year. Stacy Lewis is now the top American on tour, and Lexi Thompson is the American darling now. If Kerr or Creamer is going to get excited about winning, this would be the week.

–Would there be a more popular winning than I.K. Kim? Having lost the Kraft Nabisco when she missed a one-foot putt on the final hole of regulation to fall into a playoff, Kim is a player almost everyone connected with the LPGA would love to see win a major. Maybe this is the week, though Kim has done little in the five tournaments she has played since the Kraft. She has one WD, one MC and no top-10s in that time.

If would make Tseng and Stacy Lewis co-favorites going into the event at about 6-1, with Ai Miyazato maybe 8-1 and defending champion So Yeon Ryu about 10-1 to repeat.

 

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 4: Tseng’s struggle is the story today

For all the other things going on at the Kraft Nabisco today, it’s hard to get away from the fact that everyone will want to talk about the struggles of Yani Tseng.

The overwhelming favorite coming into the tournament with three wins in five starts this year and a first and a second in this event the last two years, Tseng just never had much going today. She seemed nervous and hit a series of very uncharacteristic shots today. She is 2-over for the day, and three shots out of the lead with four holes to play.

Was it just her time to play an average tournament after such a fast start to the year? Was it the pressure of trying to not finish second again like she did last year?

Whatever the reason, remember this. Tseng is having a bad time today, and she is still tied for fifth at the moment.

 

Kraft Day 4: Nine to play, and it’s Sjodin and Seo

Karin Sjodin and Hee Kyung Seo are tied for the lead at the Kraft Nabisco Championship with nine holes left to play. Sjodin has held the lead by heslef since the second hole, but she just bogeyed the ninth hole to fall to 9-under and tied for the lead with Seo.

Seo is 3 under for the day as she played the 10th hole just ahead of the last group.

The stunning part of the day remains the troubles of Yani Tseng. Tseng is 3 over for the day, has n.o birdies and looks kind of confused out there.

Back nine here we come

Kraft Day 4: Can Sjodin actually win this thing?

I’ve had two other writers in just the last three minutes come up to me a say that there is no way, no way that Karin Sjodin can win this tournament. It’s not in her makeup. It’s not in her history.

On the other hand, four players have made this tournament their first career win. They are Nanci Bowen, Helen Alfredsson, Morgan Pressel and of course the defending champion, Stacy Lewis.

So there is no reason for Sjodin NOT to win the tournament. It has been done in the past. And with Yani Tseng looking like she has put too much pressue on herself, Sjodin could maintain a lead for a while and see if Tseng or anyone else can make a move.

 

Kraft Day 4: The pressure on Tseng

Strange thing about being as talented as as good at a sport as Yani Tseng is at golf. People expect you to win. In fact, people practically demand that you win.

So when Tseng didn’t win the Kraft Nabisco last year, people asked what happened. It wasn’t that pepoe didn’t appreciate Stacy Lewi’s final round, but people wanted to know why Tseng, who plays great in majors, shot a 74 and lot the tournament by three shots.

And Tseng heard about it all year, even though she went on to win to other majors last season.

So if you don’t think there is pressure on Tseng to win today, guess again. She wants desperately to win this title a second time and make you for a lost opportunity last year. Karin Sjodin and Haeji Kang aren’t supposed to win, so a win is a big bonus. But Tseng, well, she’s supposed to win. And that is pressure.

 

Kraft Day 3: it’s Tseng, Sjodin in the lead

It was quite the day at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, with wind and sand causing problems for about the last 18 or 19 groups.

With everyone finished, Yani Tseng held on to a share of the lead with a wind-blown 70 for a 9-under total. Tseng is tied with Karin Sjodin, who managed a strong 68 in the poor conditions. Haeji Kang managed a 70 and stayed just one shot behind Tseng and now Sjodin.

The big move of the day came from Suzann Pettersen, who managed a 66 when the wind was calm and moved to 4-under for the tournament and tied for 12th. That’s a 36-spot improvement on the board.

The wind is supposed to continue into tomorrow morning. So here is no way to know what will happen now.

 

Kraft Day 3: Leaders on course, Lexi on fire

Yani Tseng and Haeji Kang are in the first fairway, but it is about 12 holes ahead of the leaders that news is breaking.

American teen Lexi Thompson is on fire, 6-under for the day through 12 holes and now 6 under for the tournament and just two shots behind Tseng’s lead.

There was an interesting discussion last night at dinner about the need for an American golfer to play well and win on the LPGA. One person (who had two too many beers) argued that only Americans would ignored the brilliance of Tseng and not put her on the cover of every golf magazine simply because she is not a good-looking American with the same resume.

On the other hand, if Mexican fans could celebrate Lorena Ochoa and Swedish fans celebrated Annika Sorenstam and Korean fans love the number of Koreans on the tour, why wouldn’t American fans want to see American winners? Thompson is the American with seemingly the most upside to her career, so there will be lots of people rooting for her this weekend.

 

Kraft Day 2: the back nine taketh away

Lindsey Wright was tied for the lead in the Kraft Nabisco Championship thanks to an eagle on the par-5 ninth. But as is true most of the time, the back nine of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course is tougher than the front nine and it has caught up wth Wright.

She drove her ball into the rough on the right of the 15th hole, basically topped a second shot still in the rough, hit her third shot short of the green, then three-putted for a nasty little double bogey.

That means Tseng now again has a two-shot lead over three players. And Wright still has the tough 16th and 17th holes to play.

Tseng is going to be the overnight leader it appears, and that can’t be good news for the rest of the field. With wind predicted for Saturday and Sunday, making a run at Tseng may be very difficult.