Monday, July 30, 2007

Evian Masters – Final Round

Probably the oddest thing about Natalie Gulbis’ win at the Evian Masters was, she WON it. Ninety percent of the time (lately, at least), playoffs are won because the other player can’t make par and the winner does. Natalie stuck her second shot into the par-5 to about 25 feet and two-putted for birdie.

For most of the day, everyone seemed to be trying to figure out how not to win. The conditions were still a bit windy, but I have seen much, much worse in other tournaments and the higher scoring this weekend was more likely caused by the undulating Evian greens being overly dried out. Maybe with all the rain early in the week the groundskeeper felt watering wasn’t necessary. Juli Inkster started the day in front by two but bogeyed two of the first four to bring a dozen players back in contention. She birdied 6 but bogeyed 8, leaving herself at -4. After a birdie at 9, Ji-Yai Shin was -5 but took double-bogey at 11 after landing in a bunker about 10 feet in elevation below the green. Annika Sorenstam also birdied 9 to reach -4 but then missed a 7-footer at 10 for par, which seemed to short-circuit her putter for the rest of the day. Lorena Ochoa had a great run – she reached 18 at -4 (-5 on the day) and reached the bunker at the back of the green in two. She blasted out nicely to about 15 feet, but then three-putted to bogey and finish at -3. Which at the time didn’t seem to matter very much.

Gulbis had birdied three times on the front nine to put herself at -5, but just like at the ’06 Farr, she stopped making putts on the back nine – a 15-footer at 10 and a 3-footer at 12 didn’t go. Then she pulled her tee shot at the par-3 14th and took bogey to fall back to -4. A missed 10-footer at 15, a 15-footer at 17 and a second missed 3-footer at 18 – I was just about to start writing the “she can’t win one” paragraph again. But she was in the clubhouse at -4.

Sophie Gustafson had only treaded water (figuratively speaking) all day but a birdie at 15 had put her at -4. She had four feet left for par at 17 but missed that. Needing birdie at 18, she put her second in the water to end her chances. Shin had swapped bogeys and birdies for five straight holes and arrived at 18 -2. From the back left greenside bunker, she blasted directly at the hole and the ball stopped rolling just inches short. Had it rolled in, she would have tied Gulbis at -4.

Through 14 holes, Jeong Jang was at -1, +3 for the day. You could have named five players you thought had a chance to win at that point, and you would never have mentioned JJ. She sank an 8-footer for birdie at 15 and then a 30-foot bomb at 16 (the Shot of the Day, in retrospect) to move to -3, which is how she stood going to 18.

Inkster had made a nice par save at 10 but couldn’t do it again at 14, missing the par putt from 15 feet. She also bogeyed 15 to drop back to -3. At 16 she looked to be coming back when she rolled in a 10-foot birdie. But a miss from only 5 feet at 17 gave that one away. Juli went to the 18th tee with JJ, both needing birdie to force a playoff. With their second shots to 18, Jang went through to the backside bunker while Inkster landed on the front, probably 50 feet from the hole. Inkster’s eagle putt lagged to about four feet past the hole. JJ blasted to within a foot and tapped in for her third birdie in four holes and get in the playoff. Inkster appeared to push her putt to the right, relegating her to a tie for third.

For the playoff, they replayed 18. Both players teed off well enough to go for the green, but both approaches went a little left. Gulbis bounced off the fringe and ended up in the center of the green while Jang went into the second cut, about pin high. Her chip rolled through to the opposite fringe. From 25 feet Natalie lagged to about a foot, forcing JJ to make her 10-footer which she missed on the left side. Gulbis tapped in to win it.

I am compelled to give Gulbis the Big Surprise Award. Other than the wins by Francella and Cavalleri, Natalie’s came more out of the blue than any other this year. She lost her first-round match in the Match Play event last week, T65 at the Farr and T35 at the US Open. This was only her second Top 10 of 2007. Big shout-outs go to Sun Ju Ahn (a regular on the KLPGA) and Momoko Ueda (the JLPGA star) for their T6 finishes. The Big Disappointment will be shared by Lindsay Wright and Sarah Lee, who both made the cut but finished T53 at +9. More Evian comments will be forthcoming.

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