LPGA Championship Power Pairings & Predictions

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We’re less than 24 hours away from first round tee time at the 60th and final edition of the Wegman’s LPGA Championship, long a favorite of Tour players, and an event that’s been embraced and nurtured by local fans in Rochester.  The historic Donald Ross-designed Monroe Golf Club will host this grand finale of the LPGA Championship, which will re-emerge next year, like the chrysalis, as the Women’s PGA Championship.  The field — 149 professionals , 20 of them Tour rookies, and 1 amateur — will compete for a share of the $2.25 million purse on the 6717 yard, par 72 track that for a century has been the crown star of Rochester-area golf for a century.  Let’s look at six first and second round pairings that are likely to set the pace for the tournament and assess the Monroe Golf Club’s ability to challenge the best in women’s golf.

So Yeon Ryu, Laura Davies & Angela Stanford, 7:59am

Angela Stanford. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The indefatigable and indomitable Dame Laura Davies, with 84 pro victories worldwide, four of them LPGA Majors, will take the measure of any golf course she plays.  Davies is paired with 9th ranked So Yeon Ryu and 13th ranked Angela Stanford, both strong players with solid 2014 records but still in the hunt for their first 2014 win.

Davies is longer off the tee than either Ryu or Stanford, but she’s also less accurate, and on this golf course keeping the ball in the short grass will put a player at the advantage.  Ryu has the edge over both Davies and Stanford in her short game.  Stanford, however, has played some hard-hitting golf, gritty golf this year.  While Davies will deliver a meritorious performance, I’m looking for her to dominate this group during the first two rounds.

Paula Creamer, Na Yeon Choi & Mo Martin, 8:21am

This is an intriguing group.  How will 12th ranked Paula Creamer, 20th ranked Na Yeon Choi, and 25th ranked Mo Martin stand after playing two rounds of golf together?

Creamer and Martin are both members of the Tour’s ever expanding 2014 circle of champions, and Choi, whose game seems a bit soft this year, is still hunting a victory.  Martin’s playing with an injured thumb.  In fact, she reported in her Tuesday interview that she’s playing in pain.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see her withdraw if that thumb doesn’t improve substantially before Thursday.

If Martin stays in the tournament and can manage or minimize the pain of her injury, I’m looking for fairly even playing in this group, and I’m thinking this trio will also provide a fairly accurate barometer of the Monroe Golf Club track’s level of difficulty for the field as a whole.

Inbee Park, Lexi Thompson & Karrie Webb, 8:32am

Inbee Park.

This group has the makings of a dream match-up.  All three in the top-10 in the world rankings, all three 2014 champions.  But it’s not going to be a toss-up.  Hall of Famer Karrie Webb had a hot start and quickly collected two wins, the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in February and then in March the JTBC Founders Cup.  More recently, however, her game has slowed down.  She missed the cut at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and finished the Meijer LPGA Classic last week well down the board.

Kraft Nabisco champion Lexi Thompson is having a similar season.  Her most recent top-10 finish, T7th at the US Women’s Open, came in June.  Her game has slowed down since then.

I’m looking for 3rd ranked Inbee Park to dominate this group.  Park’s teeing off as the defending champion, and she’s playing hard to notch a 2nd 2014 victory.  She narrowly missed the win last week at the Meijer LPGA Classic and she’s finished inside the top-5 in two of the last four events she entered.  With her new putter dialed in, she’s going to be hard to beat, and I don’t think Webb or Thompson can match her play right now.

Stephanie Meadow, Charlotta Sorenstam & Danielle Kang, 12:48pm

Stephanie Meadow, 4-time All American at University of Alabama who delivered a standout performance for the US team at the 2014 Curtis Cup, slipped into the US Women’s Open last June as a 2nd alternate and then played a game there that left all of us wanting more.  It was a stunning debut.  She finished at +1, three shots behind Michelle Wie and in a solo 3rd place at her first event as a pro and in a great position to earn her card for 2015.

Meadow will be playing Thursday and Friday with Charlotta Sorenstam (Annika’s younger sister and Director of Golf Operations at The Annika Academy), who’s not competed on the Tour since 2008, and 154th ranked Danielle Kang, whose best finish this season has been a T24th at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in June.  Although Sorenstam is a wild card in this pairing I’m looking for Meadow to dominate the group and continue her quest for her 2015 Tour card.

Line Vedel, Jenny Shin & Mirim Lee, 12:59pm

Jenny Shin.

This is an interesting grouping and could hold some surprises.  Will the Tour’s newest champion, 29th ranked rookie Mirim Lee, get out in front?  How will the group’s other rookie, 77th ranked Line Vedel, fare in the competition?  Will 37th ranked Jenny Shin, who’s been peeking at the top of the board, be able to put together a pair of rounds that will position her to make a run for the top of the board come the weekend?

By the numbers, Vedel’s the stronger of the three players but composite performance stats don’t tell the entire story.  This is a Major and there’s a unique equation of expectations, pressures, and anxieties driving technical performance.  Shin’s more experienced — this is her 4th year playing on the Tour — and she may be better equipped to manage her mental game than rookies Shin and Vedel.

Shin finished the Kraft Nabisco T39, the US Women’s Open T10th, and the Ricoh Women’s British Open T29th.   Lee finished the Kraft Nabisco T26th, didn’t play in the US Women’s Open, and missed the cut in the Ricoh Women’s British Open.  Vedel missed the cut for both the Kraft Nabisco and the Ricoh Women’s British Open and didn’t play in the US Women’s Open.

I’m looking for Shin to dominate the group and play the weekend and for Vedel and Lee to flirt with the cut line.

Stacy Lewis, Lydia Ko & Anna Nordqvist, 1:32pm

Stacy Lewis.

LPGA fans have been waiting for this pairing!  Stacy Lewis, Lydia Ko, and Anna Nordqvist are all playing splendid golf and enjoying a stunning season and there’s every reason to expect they’ll give us two rounds of crisp, world-class performance.

Will world ranked number 1 Stacy Lewis be able to hold off the challenge 2nd ranked rookie Lydia Ko’s sure to bring to the tee?  Lewis likes to hold back and play behind the lead until the weekend but she may not be able to afford that luxury this week.  Ko’s going to push her hard.

Can the less experienced Ko withstand the pressure of knowing that outplaying Lewis could catapult her to the top of the world rankings and remember that golf tournaments are won one shot at a time?

And how will 11th ranked Nordqvist figure into the equation of the group’s competition?  Could she stay aloof from the Lewis-Ko battle and slide right on past them just by playing her own game?

These are three outstanding athletes, more or less matched in their technical games.  In this grouping, more than any of the others I’m watching, course management and mental equilibrium are going to figure heavily in determining who has the edge going into the weekend and in this nebulous area of athletic performance Stacy Lewis will have the advantage.

Lewis finished 3rd at the Kraft Nabisco, runner-up at the US Women’s Open, and T12th at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.  Ko finished T29th at the Kraft Nabisco, T15th at the US Women’s Open, and T29th at the British Open.  Despite her cool exterior, I sense that Ko doesn’t yet have the internal balance that’s needed to manage the pressurized environment of a Major.  Nordqvist finished T16 at the Kraft Nabisco, missed the cut at the US Women’s Open, and T12th at the British Open.  If her putter’s working, I’m looking for Lewis to edge out Ko and Nordqvist.

First Round Schedule & Media Coverage

First round play begins Thursday, August 14, at 7:15am.  Local time is also ET for the LPGA Championship.  Golf Channel picks up coverage of the round in progress at 12:30pm and concludes at 3pm, before the afternoon groups have completed their rounds.

My colleagues and I at ProGolfNow will provide ongoing news and updates of the LPGA Championship throughout the week and following Golf Channel coverage follow this link to monitor the conclusion of the rounds through the LPGA electronic leaderboard.  If you play fantasy golf you can also follow the round and chat with other LDG players by logging in to the Ladies Dream Golf web site.

Follow me on Twitter @bethbethel and I’ll notify you when I post news and tournament updates.

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