For the 29th consecutive (and perhaps, final) year, the LPGA visits Phoenix, Arizona for the Safeway International Presented by Coca-Cola. Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club is the venue as it has been since 2004. Lorena Ochoa won last year, defeating Suzann Pettersen by two strokes. The 72-hole event begins Thursday and all four rounds will be televised live in primetime by Golf Channel.
The course is 6662 yards long and plays to par of 72. This is not the same course where Annika Sorenstam shot her 59 back in 2001 (that was at Moon Valley CC). On balance, Superstition Mountain plays very close to the Tour average most years with 2006 being the only exception (0.8 below the average for that year). The weather looks great for the entire weekend – sunny, highs in the mid-80s, winds not more than 12mph – so the scoring should be generally good.
Being the week before the Kraft Nabisco, the Safeway is the unofficial warm-up event for the LPGA’s best. 29 of the Top 30 players are here – Ji-Yai Shin is the only exception, due to her non-member status. Consequently, there are fewer openings for non-exempt players. This week’s cutoff point came after Kris Tamulis, Non-Exempt #15, leaving Tracy Hanson out in the cold. UPDATE: Hanson made it in when somebody withdrew. I couldn't figure out who but it wasn't an exempt player. Michelle McGann is the “Category A” player for the fourth time – she only missed the cut at the MasterCard by one shot so I’m taking that as a sign that her game is moving forward. The Safeway also begins a string of 11 consecutive weeks of LPGA tournaments through early June. Since most of the top players don’t like teeing it up more than three or four weeks in a row, it will interesting to see which events get skipped the most. Judging by the purse sizes and their locations in the schedule, I expect Corona, SemGroup and Corning to be the primary “off weeks”.
The four players at the top of my “Hot List” are (as you would expect) the four 2008 winners. The victory helps, of course, but each of the four has registered at least one Top 10 finish aside from their victory. Setting my fandom aside, I’m going to remove Louise Friberg from the equation (although I’ll probably include her in my PakPicker this week) and select from the remaining three. Those three all have a good past history on this course, so I have the feeling we’re going to get our first repeat winner of 2008. Lorena Ochoa to win, with Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer as CYAs.
Stats: Winners 1-4 (3-4 with CYAs), Top Tens 7-12.