The LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship final round unfolded under clear skies and a light breeze, 21 players within 5 shots of the the leaders, Aussie Katherine Hull-Kirk and Swede Anna Nordqvist. Defending HanaBank champion, Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, birdied the 1st and then the 5th holes and looked good to take the lead away from the Aussie and the Swede and hold on to it. Then along came a pair of Koreans, Amy Yang and Hee Kyung Seo.
Yang and Soe had been lurking among the top-10 on the HanaBank leaderboard. Yang had briefly shared the lead at the end of the 1st round. Soe had a bit of a slower start. The pair were sharing 6th place at the end of the 2nd round and started the final round 2 shots off the lead. Pettersen’s putter cooled off. She gave back a couple of shots. Seo and Yang stayed steady, then got hot. Seo eagled the par-4 11 and took the lead at -8. Then Yang eagled the par-4 15 and pulled even with Seo. Pettersen birdied the 15th and got back a shot, but was trailing Seo and Yang by a shot. They all birdied the par-5 18th. Suzann Pettersen ended the final round exactly as she had started it, trailing the lead by 1 shot. Seo and Yang went to a playoff on the 18th hole. Amy Yang birdied it again, Hee Kyung Soe didn’t.
Anna Nordqvist, who finished at -4 in a tie for 8th and Katherine Hull-Kirk, who finished at +1 in a tie for 32nd, are still in victory droughts.
Amy Yang: A Closer Look
Rolex Ranked 27, Amy Yang has been playing on the LPGA Tour since 2008. Over her 5-year LPGA career, 24-year old Yang has recorded 7 top-10 finishes. The HanaBank is her first LPGA victory. Yang turned pro in 2006, at 17, and played for 2 years on the Ladies European Tour, where she recorded 20 top-10 finishes.
Yang played solid games at the Reignwood LPGA Classic and the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia. She finished the Reignwood in a 10th place tie and the Sime Darby in solo 5th place. Playing for an enthusiastic gallery of Korean fans at the Sky 72 Golf Club, Yang dialed in her A game, picked up her first victory, and is enjoying a very nice payday!
A year younger than Inbee Park, Yang is a product of the same Korean golf mania that fueled Park’s rise in the pro golf international ranks. Amy Yang lives with her parents and younger brother amid the pro golf colony in Orlando, Florida.
The Korean International Crown Team
As Rolex Ranked 54 Hee Kyung Seo can attest, the difference between winning and 2nd place at the HanaBank boiled down to the roll of a single, final putt. Soe, the 2011 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, has 1 victory on her LPGA resume, the 2010 Kia Classic. She’s also recorded 16 top-10 finishes since she qualified for the LPGA Tour. In 2010 she got very close to 2 victories, losing in 2 sudden-death playoffs and posting runner-up finishes at the ISPS Handa Australian Open and the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. It is good enough to get her on the short list for the International Crown Korean Team?
Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi, and So Yeon Ryu are currently favored candidates for the Korean Team. Can any of them hold on to their favored positions? Park finished the HanaBank at even par, in a tie for 26th place. Choi, who finished at -2 in a 17th place tie, and Ryu, who finished at -1 in a tie for 22nd, did only marginally better than Park.
With International Crown team decisions scheduled to be finalized in late 2013, months in advance of the mid-summer 2014 event, past performance will figure more heavily than performance surges and emerging players may get bypassed in 2014 team selections. Still, Korea is clearly in an advantaged position. With 6 Koreans represented among the top-10 positions at the HanaBank, and with 4 Koreans among the top-10 Rolex Ranked players, the Korean International Crown Team is loaded with talent and has a deep bench. They’ll go into the Crown as the team to beat.
The American International Crown Team
Currently favored players on the American Crown Team, Lexi Thompson, Christie Kerr, and Paula Creamer, all finished well outside the top-10 at the HanaBank. Rolex Ranked 14 Thompson, who came into the HanaBank with a hot victory at the Sime Darby, finished the tournament at -1, in a tie for 22nd place, just below Alison Walsche who at the end of the 2nd round was briefly within reach of the top of the leaderboard. Kerr, like Inbee Park, finished the HanaBank at even par and Creamer, who finished at 4 shots over par, was well down the board.
As was the case with the Koreans, however, there were Americans who finished in the top-10 at the HanaBank who are not short listed for the International Crown team. Rolex Ranked 80 Michelle Wie was the big mover in the final round. Despite a fairly disappointing 2nd round that included a double bogey on the 18th hole, Wie recovered beautifully, played a superb final round and with a -8 finish was the clubhouse leader while Yan and Seo battled out the back 9. Wie settled for a satisfactory and satisfying 3rd place tie. Wie has’t been a 2013 stand-out and isn’t likely to make the Crown Team, despite her demonstrated ability on the Solheim Team USA to make a substantial contribution to team match play.
Brittany Lincicome, who finished the HanaBank at -5 and Jane Park, who finished at -4, complete the trio of Americans who finished the tournament in the top-10. Neither Rolex Ranked 38 Lincicome nor 107th ranked Park are likely American Team candidates.
The Americans are in much the same position as the Koreans as the deadline nears for International Crown team selection. Their 2013 top players are cooling off, and there are likely to be players sitting out the Crown who could bring strength to the American team. Specifically, Lizette Salas and Gerine Piller, both young in their careers, have demonstrated under-fire strength, and have been seasoned by their 2013 Solheim experience. Neither Salas nor Piller, however, is likely to get short listed for the Crown.
The LPGA Asian loop goes next to the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship, October 24-27, in Yang Mei, Taoyeon, Taiwan. Suzann Pettersen is again the defending 2012 champion and if she’s going to mount an effective defense she needs to shake off the disappointment of her tied 3rd place finish at the HanaBank, take a deep breath, and get back to work. Her stunningly graceful chip on the 18th hole at the HanaBank showed us that she can do exactly that. There’s a hungry field out there, eager to push her aside and claim their own first victory.
I’ll provide a tournament preview in the middle of the week, although my predictive powers seem a bit flawed, and Golf Channel will also provide daily delayed coverage during the Sunrise Taiwan, noon-3pm, ET.