Americans making major charge
Saturday, April 4, 2009
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Korean players outnumbered American professionals this week 29-27. Never mind, there’s plenty of red, white and blue on the leaderboard heading into the final round, and as Brittany Lincicome says, “It’s about time.”
“You know, it makes me proud to see all of the American up there,” said Cristie Kerr, the only player within five strokes of the lead who has won a major championship (2007 U.S. Women’s Open).
Nothing against international players, it’s simply nice to see U.S. players show a little life. It’s a Solheim Cup year, and that means majors are worth double points for American players trying to make Beth Daniel’s team. A win here tomorrow earns 120 points.
The fact that seven Americans make up the top 11 going into Sunday, however, will be forgotten if one of them doesn’t jump into Poppie’s Pond.
Here’s a closer look at the American dreamers:
Kristy McPherson (1st, -8): The South Carolina grad permanently switched to a belly putter last year and watched her game reach another level. Her best finish heading into this week was a T-4 at the 2008 P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship Presented by John Q. Hammons. This marks McPherson’s first appearance at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Two things to know about this Southern charmer: She’s as easy-going as they come, and she loves to talk. Look for light-hearted conversation between her and good friend Brittany Lincicome in that final group. It will be good for both.
Cristie Kerr (2nd, -7): By far the most decorated player in the hunt, Kerr has three top 10s in five starts this season. She played in the last group in 2008 but fell apart on the par-3 fifth when she knocked two balls in the water en route to an 80. This week she vindicated herself twice on that hole, making birdie the first two rounds. She’ll draw upon a solid back-nine at Pine Needles two summers ago that saw her outlast Lorena Ochoa or the U.S. Open title. Kerr’s good position is partly due to the fact that she teed off early Friday and missed the wind, shooting 4-under 68. She still went out and practiced at PGA West with her old instructor, Jim McLean, who advised her to close her stance. Kerr hit 10 fairways and 15 greens on Saturday.
Brittany Lincicome (3rd, -6): By far the most surprising American on this leaderboard, Lincicome has struggled mightily of late. She hasn’t finished inside the top 10 since July 2008. Two things turned around for Lincicome: She put a new Adams Speedline driver in her bag a few months ago, and took advice from Vision54 instructors earlier this week. Lincicome will head to a Vision54 school next week in Phoenix, but in the meantime was told to work on her breathing and quickly forget bad shots. Lincicome’s caddie tells her to start counting or singing as soon as she hits a bad shot. If the two-time tour winner pulls this off tomorrow, she might need to give a little credit to Britney Spears and Sugarland, the artists she has stuck in her head.
Christina Kim (6th, -3): The LPGA’s resident comedian hasn’t won a tournament since 2005. That’s no laughing matter. Kim hasn’t finished inside the top 30 this year, but picked a new putter out of the TaylorMade bin early Monday morning and is reaping the rewards. The TaylorMade Rossa Monte Carlo might be the ticket to Kim’s first major title. If her ball chooses to listen to her constant commands.
Meaghan Francella (T-7, -2): Here’s a player who was heartbroken she didn’t make the 2007 Solheim Cup team. She’s got to be fired up to make a big push this year. It would take a win this week to get Francella back in the picture since she hasn’t posted a top 10 since ’07. She finished T-5 at the Kraft that year, the only time she has cracked the top 20 in a major.
Pat Hurst (10th, -1): After that win in Mexico, her confidence is back. The 1998 Kraft champion could make a big move Sunday. Hurst trained hard in the offseason and began working with Karrie Webb’s longtime instructor, Ian Triggs. If Hurst pulls this off tomorrow, that would give Triggs three consecutive victories on the LPGA. As an aside, Hurst can’t swim. Maybe her husband, Jeff Heitt will pack some floaters tomorrow.
Angela Stanford (11th, E): The hottest player on tour will need to crank up the heat Sunday, posting an early 66 to put some pressure on her two good friends, McPherson and Lincicome. Stanford holed out from the drop zone on par-3 fifth for par to stay at 3 under Saturday, but had trouble with the speed of the greens coming in. When asked if she would jump in the lake should one of friends win, Stanford shook her head.
“No, you’ve got to earn your way in there,” she said.