Sunday at the JTBC Founders Cup is filled with the promise of some great golf and perhaps some high drama, particularly at the top of the leaderboard. With twenty-two players going into the final round within five strokes of the lead on a golf course that’s in nearly perfect condition, Sunday is sure to include a shootout well worth watching. Two of the likely contenders are rookies Lydia Ko and Mirim Lee.
Tangle at the Top of the Board
At the top of the leaderboard, Kiwi Lydia Ko and South Korean Mirim Lee will continue their battle for the top spot. After holding the lead through the first and second rounds, Lee had to make room today for Ko, who pulled even with an eagle on the fifth hole. The pair played the round almost shot-for-shot. Then action on the seventeenth and eighteenth holes set the stage for Sunday.
First, at the end of her round Jessica Korda, who’d been eyeing the top of the board for 36 holes, birdied the eighteenth and briefly grabbed a share of the lead until Ko, playing behind her, birdied seventeen and pulled out in front of everyone. Then Sun Young Yoo, who’d pulled even with Ko and Lee briefly on the back nine, hit a stray tee shot on the eighteenth hole and dropped back to a solo fourth place, leaving Lee and Korda sharing the second slot.
How will the rookies, Lydia Ko and Mirim Lee, fare in their battle against the more experienced Jessica Korda and, below Korda, Azahara Munoz and Paula Creamer, in the Sunday shootout?
Lydia Ko, who’s been rocking the women’s golf world back on its metaphoric heels for the past twelve months, may do it again tomorrow. Ko moved from a ninth place start to the top of the board on moving day at the JTBC Founders Cup. She played what can only be described as inspired, breathtaking golf. Her drives were long and true, her putts running right down the line.
The JTBC Founders Cup is Lydia Ko’s sixth event this year. She opened her year with a seventh place tie at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, then got closer to the top of the board with a runner-up finish at the LET/ALPG-sanctioned ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open and followed almost immediately with a tied third place finish at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
Ko cooled off a bit at the Honda LPGA Thailand and the HSBC Womens Champions, but still finished inside the top-20. Rolex Ranked number four player in the world, Ko’s hunting her third professional victory, and she’s going into Sunday perfectly positioned to claim it tomorrow afternoon.
Mirim Lee brings a depth of experience on the KLPGA Tour to her rookie year on the LPGA. She turned pro in 2009 and played for a year on the KLPGA developmental tour. Then three years’ experience on the KLPGA, three victories and five additional top-10 finishes positioned Lee advantageously for a move to the LPGA. She finished runner-up at the 2013 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament to earn Priority List Category 12 for the 2014 LPGA Tour season and was on her way.
Lee has carded a 63, 67 and 70 at the Founders Cup. Her drives are averaging 285-290 yards, long and straight, and she was wielding a near-magical putter during the first and second rounds. Her putter cooled off a bit on Saturday, and that’s going to be a key to unlocking the top of the leaderboard on Sunday. Mirim Lee has the game in her bag to do it. She broke the LPGA Q-school record by carding a 61 in the third round of the qualifying tournament. Can she do it again on Sunday in Phoenix?
Further down the board, rookie Jaye Marie Green is also facing competition from some seasoned veterans. That’s going to provide another shootout that could involve some intense struggles.
Jaye Marie Green
Generally regarded as one of the most promising members of the 2014 LPGA rookie class, Jaye Marie Green got off to a rocky start, missing the cut at both the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic and the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
Green picked up the pace, made the cut and finished in a 24th place tie at the HSBC Womens Champions, giving fans a glimpse of the game that earned medalist honors and set a tournament record with a 29-under-par, 331 total to earn Priority List Category 12 for the 2014 LPGA Tour season.
Green’s going into Sunday at the JTBC Founders Cup at eleven-under-par, trailing the lead by five strokes, sharing a slot on the leaderboard with some very good company: top-ranked Inbee Park, the legendary Laura Davies, Lexi Thompson, and Christie Kerr. She’s had three very good rounds, carding 70, 68, and 67. Green’s long off the tee, averaging 279 yards, but she needs to cut some putts off her game if she hopes to break out of the top-20 crowd and survive a putting context with Inbee Park. Still, she’s made a superb start with her performance to this point at the Founders Cup. I’m keeping Green on my Sunday radar.
Rookie Line Vedel in going into Sunday lined up against three European golfers who are fierce competitors: Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, Germany’s Sandra Gal, and Frenchwoman Karine Icher. How will Vedel hold up against these power players, who will all be fighting to finish well above their starting position in the lower half of the leaderboard?
The Founders Cup is the twenty-five year old Dane’s fourth pro competition this season. Vedel finished the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic in a tie for 27th, the LET/ALPG-sanctioned Volvik RACE Ladies Masters in a tie for 45th, and the LPGA/LET-sanctioned ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in a tie for 57th place.
She’s going into the final round at the JTBC Founders Cup six shots under par for the tournament and trailing Lydia Ko’s lead by ten strokes. Vedel’s one of those players struggling with the super fast greens at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Wildfire course, but looking at the larger picture, Vedel’s playing a consistent game. She’s carded 70, 68 and 71 and is playing just below par; and because she plays a consistent game, Vedel’s likely to finish the Founders Cup in the middle of the board.
Although this is Vedel’s rookie year on the LPGA Tour, she completed LET Q-school in 2010 and player her rookie year on the LET in 2011. She played seventeen events that year and finished below par in only two. The following year, 2012, she again played seventeen events, missed three cuts, recorded her first pro win at the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open, and had two additional top-10 finishes, at the Lalla Meryem Cup and the Omega Dubai Ladies Open and two top-20 finishes. There were no victories in 2013 but she made the cut in thirteen of the fourteen events she entered and again recorded two top-10 finishes and four additional finishes in the top-20.
The numbers tell the tale for Line Vedel. She’s been consistently driving the ball about 245 yards since she turned pro in 2010. Gradually, her accuracy off the tee has improved but the real change has been in her short game and putting surface performance. This week at the Founders Cup Vedel’s putting has been unimpressive, but that’s where she can cut strokes, and if she hopes to survive the intense competition on the LPGA Tour Vedel’s going to need to consistently deliver rounds in the high sixties. Her game’s not developed to that point yet but I think she’s worth watching.
Golf Channel will provide delayed coverage of the JTBC Founders Cup final round beginning at 7pm ET. Don’t miss it!