The final event of the 2013 LPGA Tour season is in full swing, and it started with some surprises. Germany’s Sandra Gal, who started her round with 6 back-to-back birdies, couldn’t be caught, although Canadian Rebecca Lee-Bentham gave it her best try. Gal, who’s Rolex Ranked No. 52, went to the clubhouse with a 64 on her card and will go into the 2nd round of the CME Group Titleholders with a slim 1-shot lead over Lee-Bentham, who’s ranked No. 213. The difference between Gal and Lee-Bentham — 2 putts.
Gal and Lee-Bentham are both win-less in 2013. Going into the Titleholders Gal has 3 top-10 finishes and has missed the cut in 5 of the 24 events she’s entered. Lee-Bentham has no top-10 finishes and has missed the cut in 10 of the 18 events she’s entered. With all the buzz about Rolex Player of the Year and the Vare Trophy and Rookie of the Year, neither Gal nor Lee-Bentham was on anybody’s radar. But there they are, at the top of the leaderboard, setting the pace for the Titleholders.
Lydia Ko‘s long-awaited professional debut began with a bit of a toe stub. The plucky teenager played 2 respectable par holes, then was undone on the par-4 3rd hole and walked off the green with a double bogey. After 3 more pars, she bogeyed again and made the turn at +2. That’s unfamiliar terrain for Ko, who was paired with Americans Michelle Wie and Jessica Korda. Korda was at +2 and Wie at +1 at the turn. Nobody was setting the course on fire. Then Ko settled her nerves and got down to business, picked up 3 birdies on the back 9 and went to the clubhouse with a 71 on her card. Wie finished the round at even par and Korda at +1. Lydia Ko’s first professional round has ended. Let’s see what she does tomorrow.
Within the Trifecta today, Inbee Park looked a bit better than Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen. Rolex Ranked No. 1 Inbee Park puttered along through the front 9, seeming to take her time getting a feel for the greens, and made the turn at -1. Then Park warmed up her flat stick, fired off 4 birdies, gave back a stroke with a bogey, and carded a respectable 68.
Park looked utterly relaxed today, and must surely have played with a sense of relief that there’s nothing more to be proved in this final event of the season. There are no records looming, waiting to be broken. She’s already secured the Rolex Player of the Year award and she’s probably too far behind Stacy Lewis in the Vary Trophy race for the outcome of this event to make a difference. Today Park just played her game, and it was a pleasure to watch her smooth swing and a steady putts. For the first time since the US Women’s Open, The Serene Goddess was back on the course.
Stacy Lewis had a slower start than Park, was +2 at the turn, warmed up a bit on the back 9, and finished the round with a 71. Lewis didn’t really kick into gear and start playing her A game until the 14th or 15th hole. Then her putts started rolling and dropping, but it was a case of too little, too late. Still, Rolex Ranked No. 3 Lewis, like Park, was relaxed and enjoying her round. While the end-of-season pressure isn’t entirely over for Lewis, America’s top golfer seemed to be enjoying her round today, perhaps the result of winning the Kia Drive to the Top award.
Of the three, only Suzann Pettersen seemed to struggle to find her game. The Rolex Ranked No. 2 Norwegian started with a double bogey, birdied 4 and 8, bogeyed 9, and made the turn at +1. Pettersen collected only 1 more birdie on the back 9 and ended her round at even par. After she finished her round Pettersen went straight to the practice green and worked with David Leadbetter. For Pettersen, there’s still a great deal on the line. A win would probably take her past Inbee Park to the top of the Rolex Rankings, a career goal that after today must seem so close and yet so far beyond her grasp.
China’s Shanshan Feng did it again. Feng, who started on the 10th tee and finished on the 9th hole, fired off a 2nd shot from the 9th fairway that was obviously perfectly aimed from the moment it left the clubface. It flew, bounced, rolled, and dropped into the cup for an eagle. Feng had a good 1st round going and that perfect shot was the icing on her cake. She carded 66 and is sharing 3rd place with Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and American Lexi Thompson.
Poised for the Surge
Rolex Ranked No. 10 Lexi Thompson is perfectly positioned to seize every opportunity that will come her way over the next 3 days and finish her 2013 season with another victory. She shot a bogey-free round today and seemed ahead of the field in figuring out the greens. Her long (277 yard average) strong drives were 100% accurate and left her little work to get up and down, which she did 6 times during the round. I look for Thompson and Nordqvist to pull ahead tomorrow. They both played steady, confident games today.
True to form, Thompson left the golf course and went to the International Crown booth to sign autographs.
Tomorrow’s pairings are going to shake things up a bit. Gal, Lee-Bentham, and Nordqvist will play together and Thompson is paired with Feng and American Sandra Changkija, who also shot a bogey-free round and in going into the 2nd round only 3 shots off Gal’s lead. The Trifecta has been split up, and Lydia Ko is paired with South Korean Chella Choi and Stacy Lewis.
Will Suzann Pettersen be able to find her game before her tee time? Will Lydia Ko play a stronger game paired with Choi and Lewis? Can Sandra Gal hold on to the lead she established when she came off the first tee hot today? Will Lewis hold on to her lead in the race for the Vare Trophy?
The Golf Channel will pick up coverage in mid-round, at 1:30pm ET and I’ll provide my usual daily wrap-up tomorrow evening. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to log onto the LPGA web site and complete the fan survey. I’ve done it. It takes about 10 minutes and is a fine way for fans to provide feedback on a variety of issues.