Hee Young Park. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Friday Predictions: The Manulife Financial LPGA Classic

Apr 6, 2014; Rancho Mirage, CA, USA; Michelle Wie chips to the green on the fourth hole in the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship golf tournament at Mission Hills Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Hee Young Park made a strong start in her defense of her title at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, carding a bogey-free 65 in the first round and sharing the overnight lead with Michelle Wie.  Setting a fast pace for this low-scoring tournament, Park and Wie will start the second round at six strokes under par and with a one-shot lead over Shanshan Feng.  Seventeen-year Tour veteran Cristie Kerr and  Xi Yu Lin, a member of the Tour’s 2014 rookie class, will start Friday’s round sharing the 4th slot on the board, at -4 and trailing the co-leaders by two shots; and an even dozen players are bunched up at -3.  In all, 53 players got into red numbers Thursday.  Fully a third of the field will go into the second round of the Manulife within easy reach of the top of the board, ready to collect birdies and make good on the promise of low scores and big red numbers.

Thursday & Friday Power Pairings

Wie, Pettersen & Gal: Friday tee time, 1:05pm

Michelle Wie. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Michelle Wie. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As I anticipated, Michelle Wie dominated her playing partners, Suzann Pettersen and Sandra Gal (+4).  Pettersen’s a long hitter but Wie was longer off the tees by an average of seven yards.   Wie and Pettersen played about even from the tee to the green, but Wie, with 27 putts, had better control of her flat stick than Pettersen, with 34 putts.  Those seven strokes account for the difference between Wie’s 65 and Pettersen’s 70.

Gal was along for the ride in this group.  She needs to step up the pace if she hopes to play the weekend.  The projected cut line’s at even par going into Friday’s round.

Can Wie sustain her pace?  I’m thinking she will.  Her game’s in rhythm.

Inbee Park, Nordqvist & Kim: Friday tee time, 1:16pm

Inbee Park and Anna Nordqvist played along in the first round more or less shot-for-shot and carded 69.  At -2, they’ll go into Friday trailing Wie and Hee Young Park by four strokes, not a great distance if you stay in the short grass and are economical with the putts.

The game Christina Kim took to the ShopRite LPGA Classic didn’t show up today.  She carded 73 and at +2 must scramble tomorrow to get above the cut line.

Lewis, Kerr & Pressel: Friday tee time, 7:44am

I predicted yesterday that if anyone could get out in front of Stacy Lewis it would be Cristie Kerr and within the Lewis, Kerr & Pressel pairing Kerr took charge, carding a 67 to Lewis’s 69.   Lewis needs to fire up that putter of hers.

Morgan Pressel, who went to the clubhouse with a 71 is at even par and sitting on the cut line going into Friday

Hee Young Park, Johnson & Miyazato: Friday tee time, 8:06am

I completely missed the mark on this group when I predicted that Jennifer Johnson would dominate the pairing.  Hee Young Park carded 65 and is mounting a vigorous defense of her title.  Johnson and Ai Miyazato both carded 74s on Thursday and at +3 are well below the cut line going into Friday’s round.  With the putts dropping on the Grey Silo, they can close some of the gap and play the weekend but they’re both going to need to scramble to get there.

Piller, Ko & Choi: Friday tee time, 7:55am

Despite Na Yeon Choi’s advantage in the Rolex Rankings and in her 2014 season record, I believed Gerina Piller would pull out that powerful long game of hers and dominate this pairing.   It didn’t happen.  Choi carded 68 and is going into Friday with a four stroke advantage over Lydia Ko, who’s at even par, and Piller, whose 73 puts her at +2 and facing a cut.

Long drives — Piller was averaging 286 yards — are worthless if they take you into the rough and delay your arrival on the putting surface.  Piller and Ko both need to get their long games calibrated to get back in the game and play the weekend.

Second round Golf Channel Coverage begins at 12:30pm, so all the power pairings will be in the field, with the early groups nearing completion.  There’s no rain in sight at the Grey Silo Golf Course but the morning groups will tee off in chilly mid-50s temperatures.  The afternoon groups will play in more pleasant temperatures, and the winds will be light all day, picking up a bit as the afternoon wears on.  In all, it’s going to be another perfect golf day in Waterloo, Ontario.

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Tags: Golf Hee Young Park LPGA Manulife Financial LPGA Classic Michelle Wie

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