LPGA Tour Prepares For Match Play

The Sybase Match Play Championship returns to Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, New Jersey for the second year with a field of 64 players. First-round play begins Thursday with the LPGA’s top players competing for a purse of $1.5 million.

Here are previews for the first-round matches:

Patty Berg Bracket

Na Yeon Choi of South Korea vs. Catriona Matthew of Scotland
A four-time LPGA winner, Choi won the 2010 LPGA Official Money List and 2010 Vare Trophy winner with a scoring average of 69.8. This season, she already has three top-10 finishes in five events, coming off a recent tie for third at the Avnet LPGA Classic. Choi is riding momentum and seems to pick up steam as the season goes on. Matthew owns three career wins, including the 2009 RICOH Women’s British Open, and already has two top-10 finishes in four 2011 events. She tied for fifth at the 2010 Sybase Match Play Championship. This five-time European Solheim Cup team member hopes to improve on that finish and knows how to handle adverse weather elements. Like any experienced Scottish player, she is steady when the weather is at its worst.

Se Ri Pak of South Korea vs. Karen Stupples of England

In a battle of long hitters and popular veterans, Pak and Stupples have the determination it takes to send this match-up to extra holes. Pak and Stupples both rank in the top-10 in driving average on the LPGA Tour, making this match-up a putting contest to determine the winner. Pak could be considered the pre-match favorite based on her impressive resume which includes 25 LPGA victories and Hall of Fame status.

Sun Young Yoo of South Korea vs. Grace Park of South Korea
Defending champion Sun Young Yoo knows she has her work cut out for her to retain her title against such a formidable field this year. The scrappy player has recorded two top-10 finishes this season and returns to a course where she is comfortable. Yoo is average off the tee and her putting must step up to move on to the next round. Grace Park has struggled this season, missing three cuts in her first four tournament starts. But when Park becomes inspired on the golf course, she is as good as any player in the field. The six-time LPGA winner and former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion is still averaging nearly 260 yards off the tee deep into her career, so she likely will have an edge over Yoo in the fairways. Their match will come down to putting.

Mika Miyazato of Japan vs. Alena Sharp of Canada

Fresh off a tie for fifth at last week’s JLPGA event, Mika Miyazato is looking to build on an already solid year that features a tie for seventh at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Miyazato, who bowed out last year in the first round of the Sybase Match Play, is coming off a career year in 2010 that included a career-best tie for third in Arkansas and more than $600,000. Like Miyazato, Sharp is searching for her first-career victory on the LPGA Tour. She has been a steady player over the last five years and has made four of five cuts on Tour this season.

Song-Hee Kim of South Korea vs. Sophie Gustafson of Sweden
If Song-Hee Kim could just shake the monkey off her back, a win this week could swing the door open for this perennial contender who was once again a runner-up at the recent Avnet LPGA Classic. Kim’s strength is her deft putting touch and a short game that enabled her to win five times on the 2006 LPGA Futures Tour. Sophie Gustafson has been one of the LPGA’s longest hitters for years and with five LPGA wins and 18 international titles, she knows how to finish off a tournament. If the weather gets sloppy this week, this seven-time European Solheim Cup player is strong and experienced in dicey conditions.

Karine Icher of France vs. Paige Mackenzie of Washington State
Icher has two Ladies European Tour (LET) victories and one Solheim Cup appearance under her belt while Mackenzie, one of the most decorated U.S. collegiate golfers, knows what it takes to go low. In 2011, Mackenzie ranks in the top-10 in rounds under-par, and appears poised for a break-through season on Tour. This will be one of Icher’s last events on Tour for awhile: She’s pregnant and due in August.
Michelle Wie of Hawaii vs. Beatriz Recari of Spain
Always a threat in any format, Michelle Wie boasts three top-10 finishes in five events this season as a part-time LPGA player and full-time college student. Second in driving distance, averaging 274 yards off the tee, Wie will have to hit more than her current 60 percent of fairways to be effective. Still, her length in wet weather will be an advantage. A second-year LPGA pro, Beatriz Recari won as a rookie and posted three more top-10 finishes in 2010. Her background in European match play will be beneficial this week as she tries to improve on her tie for ninth-place finish here at the 2010 Sybase Match Play Championship. Keeping the ball in play against the bigger-hitting Wie is key.

Anna Nordqvist of Sweden vs. Haeji Kang of South Korea
In this match-up of two three-year LPGA Tour veterans, Nordqvist should have the edge over Kang based on her results to date. Nordqvist burst onto the LPGA scene earning two victories in 2009 including the LPGA Championship and season-ending LPGA Tour Championship. Kang, whose career-best finish on the LPGA is a tie for fourth at the 2009 Wegmans LPGA, but she did turn some heads with a tie for fifth at last year’s Sybase Match Play.

Mickey Wright Bracket

Jiyai Shin of South Korea vs. Meena Lee of South Korea
Ranked No. 2 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Jiyai Shin of South Korea is hoping for another year like 2010, when she and Yani Tseng fought to the finish. Shin, who placed third at the 2010 Sybase Match Play, finished as runner-up in the 2011 Kia Classic. Shin hits a lot of greens and fairways in regulation, which will make her steady in match play. She is always a player to watch. Meena Lee has won or posted top-five finishes in each of her seven years on the LPGA Tour. While she is not long off the tee, she will lean on her short game to quietly work her way toward Sunday. Her season-best finish in 2011 was a tie for 16th at the HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore.

M.J. Hur of South Korea vs. Mi Hyun Kim of South Korea

The saying “drive for show and putt for dough” will be put to test in this match-up with Hur and Kim playing opposing styles of golf. Hur leans on her flatstick ranking, boasting a place in the top-20 in putts per green, while Kim keeps it down the middle, ranking in the top-20 in driving accuracy. If experience is key in this match, look for Kim to have the advantage with eight career LPGA victories to Hur’s one.

Brittany Lincicome of Florida vs. Wendy Ward of Washington State
This will be a battle between two veteran American players. Brittany Lincicome, the tour’s longest hitter (averaging 276 yards off the tee), must play to her advantage in wet fairways. But the big hitter with three LPGA wins and a tie for second this season must produce more greens in regulation than her current 67 percent. In match-play, “Boom Boom” won’t just be able to power past an experienced player like Ward. A former U.S. Solheim Cup player, Lincicome will have to play smart to move past Ward. A four-time LPGA winner, Wendy Ward brings 15 years of experience with her into a match-play format where she has been successful. A former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and former U.S. Solheim Cup team member, Ward won’t be able to match up with Lincicome’s power hitting, but she will go head to head on the greens. If Ward’s putter is rolling, she could move to the next round.

Angela Stanford of Texas vs. Candie Kung of Taiwan

Stanford is considered by many to be the favorite at this week’s Sybase Match Play Championship. The runner-up to Sun Young Yoo at last year’s match-play event, Stanford is returning to a course that she loves and she is known for her tenacious nature in head-to-head competition. Stanford also has the edge in match-play experience, having played on three U.S. Solheim Cup teams and holds a 2-1-0 record in singles matches. But Kung is a four-time winner on the LPGA Tour.

I.K. Kim of South Korea vs. Mindy Kim of South Korea
I.K. Kim already has four top-10 finishes in four starts for 2011, including a tie for 10th at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. A complete player tee to green, she is eager to turn this week’s top 10 into a win. Kim currently is second in scoring average on the LPGA Tour at 70.69. If her match play resembles her stroke-play results, watch for her to advance deep into the draw. A young pro who is hitting her stride, Mindy Kim loves to prove doubters wrong. She possesses a solid short game with a putting average of 28.93 strokes per round. With two top-10 finishes this year, the three-time LPGA Futures Tour winner hopes to secure her first victory at the next level this week.

Christina Kim of California vs. Brittany Lang of Texas
This is an intriguing head-to-head battle between two members of the victorious 2009 U.S. Solheim Cup Team. With both players tied for 16th in eagles in 2011, look for impressive iron play and low numbers. Kim, a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour, recorded a season-best tie for 16th at the 2011 HSBC Women’s Champions while Lang tied for 13th at the R.R. Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. Keep an eye out for Kim’s crowd-pleasing low punch shot if this match goes down to the wire.

Paula Creamer of Florida vs. Aree Song of South Korea
With a now-healthy thumb and eager-to-play attitude, Paula Creamer could loom large this week. The 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion has two top-five finishes in 2011 and brings a career record of 8-2-4 in three Solheim Cup appearances into this week’s match-play event. Don’t forget that in addition to her nine LPGA wins, amateur Creamer was on a U.S. Curtis Cup team and was a semifinalist at both the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior championships. Still winless on the LPGA Tour, Aree Song is no stranger to winning, and especially in match play. She won the U.S. Girls’ Junior and at age 14, became the youngest player to advance to the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. Hitting 82 percent of her fairways, Song will have to play steady golf to have a chance to knock off Creamer.

Karrie Webb of Australia vs. Sarah Kemp of Australia

A battle Down Under, this match features two of Australia’s top players. The pair of Aussies will go head-to-head with Webb looking to continue her dominant play on the Tour this season. Experience could be key for Webb, who has 37 career LPGA victories and two Rolex Player of the Year titles under her belt, but has little experience with match play. Kemp, whose low tournament round was 63, will have to go low if she wants to advance to the second round.

Annika Sorenstam Bracket

Cristie Kerr of Florida vs. Amanda Blumenherst of Arizona
A fighter in head-to-head competition, 14-time winner Cristie Kerr is seeking her first victory of the 2011 season. She has proven her match-play mettle in five U.S. Solheim Cup appearances and is second among active American players for points in match play. A clutch putter with a honed short game, Kerr hopes to add a win to her three top-10 finishes this season. Still seeking her first LPGA win, second-year LPGA pro Amanda Blumenherst has an impressive history in match play with wins at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship and key roles on two U.S. Curtis Cup teams. Her best finish this season is a tie for 12th at the Kia Classic, so maybe match play is just what she needs to kick her performance into a higher level.

Azahara Munoz of Spain vs. Belen Mozo of Spain

The Spanish Armada invades the LPGA Tour! These two best friends hailing from Spain will go head-to-head in one of the more fascinating first-round match-ups. Munoz, the 2010 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, and Mozo, the four-time NCAA/All-American, are two of the LPGA’s young, rising stars. With Munoz off to a slower than expected start in 2011, look for Mozo’s impressive driving accuracy to make this match-up a toss-up.

Amy Yang of South Korea vs. Kyeong Bae of South Korea

Mental toughness and determination will undoubtedly be the unifying theme in this match. Look for low numbers out of this match-up with both players ranking in the top-30 in birdies on the LPGA. Yang and Bae have both been on the cusp of capturing their first LPGA victories and both players look poised to capture their first breakthrough win.

Jee Young Lee of South Korea vs. Hee Kyung Seo of South Korea

This match features two players who won earned their LPGA membership by winning Tour events as non-members. Lee won the 2005 CJ Nine Bridges Classic in Korea as a member of the Korean LPGA, while Seo won the 2010 Kia Classic as a KLPGA member. Lee has had a successful career on the U.S.-based circuit, though she has struggled early this season. Seo, officially in her rookie campaign after winning last season to gain membership, has one top-10 finish in five events played this year.

Ai Miyazato of Japan vs. Hee Young Park of South Korea
Ranked No. 6 on the Rolex Rankings after 2010, Ai Miyazato is itching for a win this year after her five-win season in 2010. The runner-up at the 2007 HSBC Women’s World Match Play Championship is due to win any week and she hopes it can be in match play. Averaging 270 yards off the tee, Hee Young Park is a long hitter who could take advantage of this week’s wet fairways. She has a pair of second-place finishes over the last three seasons and is looking for her first win in the United States following a successful career on the Korean LPGA, where she was the 2005 KLPGA Rookie of the Year.

Kristy McPherson of South Carolina vs. Hee Won-Han of South Korea
This match-up features two LPGA veterans, with McPherson still in search of her first LPGA title battling Han who already has notched eight Tour victories. Both players have had similar starts to the 2011 season, but McPherson’s top-20 finish at the Kia Classic could give her the confidence she needs to capture her first LPGA win. McPherson has finished runner-up three times including a tie for second at the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship. Han’s impressive resume includes 2001 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, but she hasn’t won since 2006.

Inbee Park of South Korea vs. Stacy Prammanasudh of Oklahoma
Inbee Park enters this week looking for some momentum and a top-10 finish. The 2008 U.S. Women’s Open champion brings a history of success in match play, including a win at the U.S. Girls Junior Championship. Park is averaging 262 yards off the tee, which could work to her advantage if the course plays long this week. And converting with the flatstick will be key if she hopes to advance. Stacy Prammanasudh has two career LPGA wins, but comes into this week hoping to add a victory in the match-play format. A former U.S. Solheim Cup player, she is steady under fire and is averaging 29.2 putts per round. She will have to roll in a few more putts to stave off Park in her match and use the heady game that helped her become the LPGA Futures Tour’s 2003 Player of the Year.

Jimin Kang of South Korea vs. Chella Choi of South Korea
Veteran LPGA pro Jimin Kang has made all six cuts in 2011 with a season-best tie for 19th at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. With two LPGA wins, she is an effective player with a strong mind who gets up for the big events. Kang is an excitable player who is fun to watch, but her challenge is to keep her emotions in check to remain effective. Chella Choi is a young professional who has grown more comfortable and confident each year. If she can keep her putter rolling, currently averaging 28.85 putts per round, Choi can play head to head with Kang. Choi must stay focused and step up to play at a higher level this week for a chance to advance into the next round.

Kathy Whitworth Bracket

Yani Tseng of Taiwan vs. Marcy Hart of North Carolina
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng is on a mission with four top-10s and a win to her credit this season, adding a runner-up finish at the Kraft Nabisco. Tseng’s length off the tee (averaging 272 yards) and the fact that she leads the tour in birdies (98) makes her a tough opponent in any format. Tseng hopes to add her second season victory in New Jersey this week and wet weather likely won’t spoil her chances. Marcy Hart is still seeking her first LPGA win, and this week’s match-play format suits the six-foot North Carolinian just fine. With a season-best tie for 7th at the Kia Classic, Hart could give the world’s top woman player a solid match if she can summon the same match-play savvy she used to win the 1995 U.S. Girls’ Junior and the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.

Juli Inkster of California vs. Jenny Suh of Virginia
In this LPGA veteran vs. rookie match-up, look for a battle of the flatstick. Both Inkster and Suh rank in the top-10 in putting average for the 2011 season. Inkster certainly should have an advantage with 31 career LPGA titles under her belt, and already has two recorded top-10 finishes in 2011 including sixth at the HSBC Women’s Champions. Suh currently sits in fifth place in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year. No stranger to the winner’s circle, Suh recorded 12 top-10 finishes in collegiate competition, including three wins.

Morgan Pressel of Florida vs. Julieta Granada of Paraguay

Former foes on the amateur golf circuit, Pressel and Granada are certainly no strangers to competing against one another. The match-up seems fitting at first glance since both players are about equal height and equal distance off the tee. Both have had huge moments in their careers as well. A two-time winner on the LPGA Tour, Pressel captured her first career victory at the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship and became the youngest major champion at 18 years, 10 months, 9 days. Granada earned an LPGA Tour record $1 million first-place paycheck when she became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2006 ADT Championship.

Maria Hjorth of Sweden vs. Seon Hwa Lee of South Korea

With seemingly identical LPGA resumes, this Hjorth and Lee match-up could be one for the record books. After a three-year hiatus from hoisting an LPGA trophy, Hjorth got her winning edge back after winning last year’s season ending LPGA Tour Championship. While Hjorth comes into this week’s tournament with positive momentum after capturing a victory at the Avnet LPGA Classic, don’t count out Lee. A four-time winner on the LPGA Tour, Lee has what it takes to knock out one of the hottest players on the LPGA.

Suzann Pettersen of Norway vs. Natalie Gulbis of Nevada
A five-time European Solheim Cup member, Suzann Pettersen is experienced in match play and adverse weather conditions. She’s already off to a strong start this season with three top-10 finishes, including a tie for third at the recent Avnet LPGA Classic. The Norwegian hits 76 percent of her greens in regulation, but if she can get her putter rolling, this week could be a good tune-up for the Solheim Cup later this year. While Natalie Gulbis can’t out-drive the power-hitting Pettersen, she can match up solidly on the greens. A three-time U.S. Solheim Cup member, Gulbis is a surprisingly good “foul-weather” player and if her putter is rolling, she could get off to a confident start.

Vicky Hurst of Florida vs. Amy Hung of Taiwan

With both players desperately seeking to secure their first LPGA Tour victories, this match is set up to be a fight to the finish. Hurst’s power off the tees versus Hung’s mental toughness makes for an interesting mental-physical battle. Don’t be surprised for this showdown to go to extra holes to determine the winner. Hurst and Hung both have multiple top-10 finishes in their career on the LPGA.

Katherine Hull of Australia vs. Shanshan Feng of Taiwan
Katherine Hull recently tied for 6th at the Avnet LPGA Classic and has posted three top-25 finishes this season. But the two-time LPGA winner needs to hit more fairways (68 percent) and greens (66 percent) to capitalize on her length. A physically strong player at 5-foot-10, she likely will have to prove she’s a bad-weather player from a country that loves its sunshine. Fourth-year LPGA Tour member Shanshan Feng will have to step up her putting this week. Currently 124th on the LPGA Tour with a putting average of 30.87 putts per round, that production on the greens will be important to the player is ranked eight in greens hit in regulation (73.3 percent). If she can hit her shots tight and convert, she’ll keep Hull on her toes for the match.

Stacy Lewis of Texas vs. Katie Futcher of Texas
In a match that could be billed as the “Battle of the Woodlands,” as in The Woodlands, Texas, where both Stacy Lewis and Katie Futcher call home, Lewis hopes to continue the streak she currently has going with three top-10 finishes, including a win at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship. Lewis will play her fellow Texan tough off the tee and her solid putting to work her way through the draw. Lewis is the first player in U.S. Curtis Cup history to go 5-0, so she is comfortable in match play. A sixth-year journeyman pro still seeking her first win, Futcher recorded her career-best tie for third at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship. Ranked fourth on the LPGA in putting with an average of 26.77 putts per round in 13 rounds, she hopes to hang tough with Lewis. Futcher has nothing to lose and a lot to prove in what could be her break-through season.

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