The final eight players at the ADT Championship are Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Karrie Webb, Cristie Kerr, Natalie Gulbis, Sarah Lee, Mi Hyun Kim and Christina Kim.
Ochoa, Creamer and Webb got through with room to spare, playing well enough that the final three holes didn’t send their blood pressure skyrocketing. For most of the afternoon, at appeared that -2 would only be good enough for a playoff. It wound up being good enough for the top six. Kerr birdied 15 from four feet to reach -3, missed a short attempt at 17 that would have assured a Sunday berth, but parred 18 easily to make it anyway. Gulbis birdied the treacherous 17th en route to finishing -2, making up three strokes to par over the last five holes. Lee negotiated the three-hole gauntlet that is 16-17-18 in even par to also remain -2.
The cut line rose to -1 when the gauntlet claimed some casualties. Juli Inkster was -3 until she missed from eight feet for par at 16 and then found the water and missed an eight-foot bogey putt at 17 to fall to even par and out. Nicole Castrale was -2 at 18 but her approach missed the green on the right side and bounded down the hill into the water. She salvaged bogey with a six-foot putt but at the time was -1 and outside looking in. Sophie Gustafson teed off on 17 at -4 but landed in the lake and missed a seven-footer for bogey to fall to -2. At 18, Sophie’s approach plugged into the left greenside bunker. She blasted out short into the rough, but chipped nicely to a foot and tapped in to finish -1.
Meanwhile, Christina Kim birdied 15 to reach -1, pushed her par putt at 16 right to fall back even, then played a marvelous tee shot to five feet at 17 and made the putt for birdie. At 18, she had a 20-footer that would have eliminated Castrale and Gustafson and put herself in the final, but it missed left. A three-way playoff for one spot was all but certain. But then Mi Hyun Kim’s approach at 18 landed in that left greenside bunker right under the lip. Her awkward stance resulted in a poor shot which landed in the tall rough. She chipped to five feet but burned the left edge with her bogey putt to finish at -1 herself. Make that four players playing off for two Sunday spots.
I think the tournament director needs to rethink that 17th hole. You start with a long par-3 – today it played 177 yards – with a lake on the right and a lateral water hazard on the left. Despite having no bailout option, I don’t really have a problem with that setup. But constructing greenside waterfalls which create a roaring noise to disturb one’s putting, add in a green which typically gives players double-breaking putts with a high Stimpmeter reading, put the hospitality tent right next to the freaking tee box (from which a cell phone interrupted Karrie Webb’s tee shot today) and tack on the typical fall Florida winds…let’s see, how about we let the spectators walk in front of the tee box area and toss the occasional smoke bomb during a player’s backswing next year, just so we can have a par-3 hole average more than four and destroy several players championship hopes. Ok, I’m done venting. Back to the action…
At the first playoff hole (17), Christina roped one to 12 feet. Gustafson over-compensated for her earlier mistake at 17 by pulling it into the left-side lateral hazard. Castrale landed hers nicely about 20 feet from the hole and Peanut placed hers about eight feet away. Sophie chipped her third to about eight feet. Nicole and Christina both just missed their birdie tries, but Peanut drilled hers to advance to the final round. Christina tapped in for par, which eliminated Gustafson from the playoff, then Castrale tapped hers in. Two players left, playing off for one spot.
At 18, both players played their seconds from the middle of the fairway. Christina turned up the pressure when her approach rolled to within two feet. Castrale played her shot, and for a second I thought TGC had rolled tape of her poor second at 18 from 45 minutes earlier. Unfortunately for Nicole, it was not tape – her shot landed just right of the green again, and again it rolled down the hill into the water. Kim tapped in her birdie and the final eight was determined.
Three hours of coverage (tape-delayed, I’m told) from NBC tomorrow. Ought to be a hoot. I still like Ochoa and Creamer but with the scores being reset again, there’s no telling the outcome.