No foolin'! The Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major on the LPGA schedule, begins this Thursday. As usual, Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California is the site. Morgan Pressel became the youngest major champion in LPGA history when she won here a year ago, dodging the final-hole putts of Suzann Pettersen, Catriona Matthew and Brittany Lincicome to triumph by one stroke.
TV coverage of the KNC will be provided by ESPN2 Thursday through Saturday with Sunday’s final round on CBS. I’m keeping my fingers crossed in hopes of getting Verne Lundquist on Sunday but Bill Macatee will do, I guess. If your ISP allows it, you can access extra coverage through espn360.com during the first three rounds starting at 3:30pm EDT Thursday. AT&T (and its subsidiaries) carry it but the Waggle Room crowd reports Time Warner and Comcast do not.
The Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills doesn’t change much physically from year-to-year – 6673 yards and par 72 again, with the thick rough, slick greens and water hazards we all know and love. The lowest scoring average the KNC has seen over the last four years was 73.97 back in 2004 – last year’s average was pushing 75. People have occasionally referred to Pressel as having “backed into” the title last year, but her 69 was Sunday’s Round of the Day (along with Angela Stanford who finished T10) while the other contenders were putting up 72, 74 or worse. If you play the final 36 holes here in -5, you ought to win something. The Constructivist makes some excellent points on what this course does to confound even veteran players in his KNC preview.
A few days ago lpga.com put up a poll, asking readers to vote for their favorite “Lady of the Lake” leaper and left Grace Park’s 2004 plunge off the ballot. If that wasn’t bad enough, they also omitted Donna Andrews’ infamous wet white shirt from 1994. Don’t those guys know how to run a website?
The KNC has unique criteria for qualifying – the field and how they made it are listed here. Several players got in just under the wire – Minea Blomqvist and Ji-Young Oh made it by moving into the 2008 money-list Top 30 at Safeway while Jane Park, Yani Tseng, Russy Gulyanamitta, Jill McGill and Na Yeon Choi all got in for that same reason, although those five were already in the Top 30 before last weekend. All of my Top 30 players are here, including KLPGA superstar Ji-Yai Shin.
So I was all prepared to shock everyone and NOT pick Lorena Ochoa to win the Kraft Nabisco. I had a player in mind who always plays well here, even if she comes in playing less than stellar golf. But then not only did Karrie Webb miss the cut at Safeway (dooming her chance to win this week – I’ll explain that one to you sometime), Ochoa wiped everybody out on Sunday to make herself this week’s prohibitive favorite. So, yet again, Ochoa to win – this time with Ji-Yai Shin and Annika Sorenstam as CYAs.
One more thing – ladies, please be sure to use a reputable baggage handler when you check your clubs at the airport this year. I don’t think I could handle any repeats of last year’s “story”.
Stats: Winners 2-5 (4-5 with CYAs), Top Tens 9-15.