Sports Outside the Beltway

LPGA player Erica Blasberg dead at 25

This news is just shocking. The last active PGA or LPGA player* I can recall dying is Payne Stewart in 1999. Tony Lema died in 1966 less than 24 hours after competing in the PGA Championship but there is probably a more recent example. Heather Farr died of cancer at age 28 in 1993, but she hadn’t played the LPGA in 4 years before her death. Erica Blasberg

Blasberg had just finished T44 in Mexico last week. Her best ever LPGA finish was a tie for 8th in 2008.RIP.

The body of Erica Blasberg, an LPGA player, was found Sunday afternoon at her home in Henderson according to a police spokesman. The six-year tour player was 25 years old.< No cause of death was disclosed, according to a spokeswoman for the Clark County Coroner's Office, because of the pending investigation.

In her only start this season, Blasberg tied for 44th two weeks ago at the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Mexico, after having Monday qualified.

*- I deliberately omitted the Seniors or Champions Tour. Those players are older and a sudden death is more likely. Bert Yancey went into cardiac arrest in the scorer’s tent and died soon after. He was 56 at the time. Senior Tour player Jack Kiefer died in 1999 of spinal cancer a year after his last tour event.


Ai Miyazato wins the Tres Marias Championship

She has won three of the five LPGA tournaments played in 2010. From AP-

Ai Miyazato of Japan won her third tournament of the LPGA season, shooting a 6-under 67 on Sunday to win the Tres Marias Championship.Ai Miyazato2

The Japanese totaled 19-under 273 to finish a shot ahead of Stacy Lewis (66) of United States and two in front of Michelle Wie (68).

Miyazato shared the spotlight with No. 1-ranked Lorena Ochoa, who played the final round of her career before stepping into retirement to raise a family and focus on her charity foundation. Ochoa shot 71 to finish on 280. She has won this event three of the past four years.

Ochoa has held the No. 1 ranking since April 2007 but she will lose it when the rankings come out Monday, with Jiyai Shin of Taiwan taking over. Shin won a tour event in Japan on Sunday.

Check out The Constructivist’s post on Shin’s victory.

The tournament belonged to the Japanese from Okinawa, who won earlier this season in Thailand and Singapore.

Miyazato deserved to win but I wouldn’t say the tournament belonged to her. She had to beat back serious challenges from Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis on Sunday.

Note- Miyazato has four LPGA wins but has yet to win in the United States. Her one win prior to this year was in France.

In accepting the winning trophy on the 18th green, Miyazato broke down crying as she thanked Ochoa. Ochoa, a few feet away, also rubbed tears from her eyes in bright sunlight on the mountainside course. Ochoa choose Miyazato as her playing partner for the first two rounds.

“I want to say thanks to Lorena,” Miyazato said. “I really appreciate what she did for the LPGA and what she did for her country here in Mexico.”

“She is one of my best friends,” Miyazato said, beginning to cry. “I’m going to miss her.”

As she spoke, thousands surrounding the green—standing high a hillside— broke into applause.

Michelle Ellis, president of the LPGA players association, stood in a long line of players who saluted Ochoa on the 18th green.

“She is going to be dearly missed by the players and all member of the LPGA family,” Ellis said, with Mexican mariachis playing as Ochoa left the green.

“I think her heart and her spirit out does her golf game by 1,000 yards.”

Ochoa won 27 tournaments—including two majors, has held the No. 1 ranking for three years and won the Player of the Year title four straight years.

Ochoa did not play the ten years required for automatic qualifying for the Hall of Fame. She will be voted in, and I’m betting it will take place the first year she is eligible.

Much has been written about the LPGA losing its star(Ochoa) but right now the tour has a tug of war for #1 in the world. Shin will be ranked 1st by Rolex tomorrow but Miyazato will be close behind her and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and Taiwan’s Yani Tseng a close 3rd and 4th*. If Miyazato wins the Salonpas Cup, the first JLPGA major of 2010, she will take #1 from Shin. Four or more players battling for the top spot in women[s professional golf. Why do golf writers insist on saying the LPGA is hurt by its lack of a dominant player when so many are contending for #1?

Maybe they hate not being able to articles and columns that take adulation to extremes fear change and the unknown. I think Brent Kelley gets it right.

So we say goodbye to Lorena Ochoa today, we wish her well, we thank her for great golf, her humanity, her humility.

And we say hello to the future of golf.

I think there is plenty of excitement ahead for Women’s professional golf.

Also blogging on Miyazato’s win- Hound Dog, Sal Johnson, Stephanie Wei, and The Constructivist.

*- That is if Ochoa is taken down since she is retired. She may linger in the top 5 for a while otherwise.


Tiger Woods misses cut at Quail Hollow Championship

He was 17 shots behind the leader after 36 holes. From ESPN-

For just the sixth time in his PGA Tour career, Tiger Woods has failed to qualify for the weekend rounds of a tournament.APTOPIX Quail Hollow Golf

Woods shot his second-worst round as a professional on Friday, a 7-over 79 during the second round of the Quail Hollow Championship, to miss the 36-hole cut by a whopping eight strokes.

Billy Mayfair birdied his final hole for a 4-under 68 and was the 36-hole leader at 8-under 136. He had a one-shot lead over two-time major champion Angel Cabrera, who played in Woods’ group. J.P. Hayes matched the Quail Hollow record with a 64 that put him in the group at 6-under 138 along with Masters champion Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Paul Goydos.

Playing in just his second tournament since returning from a self-imposed leave after disclosures of marital infidelity, Woods’ difficulties are understandable and yet still surprising given his tie for fourth at the Masters — where he broke par all four rounds — three weeks ago.

“I didn’t play well,” Woods said. “More importantly my short game wasn’t very good.”

Woods put himself in a bind by shooting an opening-round 74 and then compounded matters by being unable to take advantage of three birdies on the front side Friday because he also made three bogeys.

When he bogeyed the first three holes on the back nine — including the par-5 10th, which he would have expected to birdie — it was unfamiliar territory.

I never felt the length of Tiger’s break from golf would affect his game but the off the course distractions could. Still, one really bad tournament isn’t sufficient basis to form a conclusion.

Update- Golf Observer’s Sal Johnson has a good take on Tiger’s current situation.


#1 Female Golfer Lorena Ochoa announces her retirement

This news is just stunning.

Lorena Ochoa, the world’s top-ranked women’s golfer, announced her retirement Tuesday.

Ochoa, 28, confirmed the news in a statement released by her management company, Ochoa Group. A news conference is scheduled for Friday in Mexico City.Lorena Ochoa

“Lorena Ochoa confirms her retirement from the LPGA, as news reports in some media have said today,” her statement said. “The reasons and more details on the matter will be given by Lorena personally in a press conference on Friday in Mexico City. Lorena will share this news of a new stage in her life with her sponsors, family members and friends.”


She has 27 career titles, including two majors (2007 Women’s British Open, 2008 Kraft Nabisco Championship) and has $14.2 million in career earnings.

Ochoa married Andres Conesa, the director general of Aeromexico airline, one of her sponsors, last year.

A Mexican newspaper, citing an unidentified source, says Ochoa could come back later. That isn’t consistent with the word ‘retirement’ used in her statement. I guess we have to wait till Friday’s press conference to know what Lorena means.

Ochoa’s retirement is a stunner because of its timing. She needs to play the LPGA till 2012 to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Her points total already qualifies her, but a player must play the tour for 10 years also and Ochoa was a rookie in 2003.

Some other random comments

Ochoa has always come off as a class act. Former #1 Annika Sorenstam frequently came off as arrogant to me, and Ochoa never did. I did have the pleasure of blogging Ochoa’s win at the 2007 ADT Championship and was in press conferences with her.

While Ochoa won player of the year in 2009, it was by only one point. Her play was not anywhere near the level it was in 2007 and early 2008.

The current Rolex Rankings

1 Ochoa 9.25

2 Jiyai Shin 8.76

3 Yani Tseng 8.67

4 Suzann Pettersen 8.38

5 Ai Miyazato 8.12

1st to 5th place is only separated by 1.12 points. In a few weeks an Asian born golfer is going to rise to #1 player in the world.

Also commenting- Hound Dog, Stephanie Wei,


Hee Kyung Seo wins the LPGA Kia Classic

The Super Model of the Fairways(her KLPGA nickname) made it look easy today. She shot a 2-under 70 to win by6 shots over 2008 U.S Open Champion Inbee Park. Other than a tee shot in the water Seo was nearly flawless on the day. She entered the round with a 5 shot lead and saw it shrink to four shots early on. Back to back birdies on three and four pretty much stifled the idea of a final round collapse.Hee Kyung Seo2.

Seo was the 40th ranked player in the world but will move up after this win. She did not have LPGA playing priviliges before her victory. She was playing in the tournament on a sponsor’s exemption. Now Seo faces a decision, to play the LPGA full-time in 2010 or not. It may depend on her Korean commitments. Seo has expressed her desire to play the LPGA.

For those of you unfamilar with Seo, she won 11 KLPGA tournaments in 2008 and 2009. In 2009 she won 3 KLPGA majors. This player could have a big impact on the LPGA. In fact she may be one of the ten favorites at next weekend’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA’s first major of 2010.

Other assorted notes about the tournament.LPGA Tour Golf

*- From the I’ve never seen that before department. Seo’s tee shot on 14 hit some wires overhanging the fairway. She got to replay her shot. That’s the rules and I’ve never seen anything like this happen in 32 years of television golf watching.

*- Seo is very attractive. She could change the view of the Asian players on tour but she’ll have to drop those dark shades she wears when playing. It hides her beauty. Photos in this post are courtesy of AP Photo/Denis Poroy and the website Seoulsisters.

*- Asian golfers have won all 3 LPGA events this year. In fact the Kia leaderboard was dominated by Asian golfers, eight of the top 10 finishers were either born in Asia or Asian-American.(Four of the top 5 were South Korean. Seo, Park, Jee Young Lee, and Jiyai Shin. The other was Candie Kung, a naturalized United States citizen born in Taiwan.) Of the top 20 finishers, only 6 golfers didn’t have at least one Asian parent(Stacy Prammanasudh’s Dad is Thai, Pat Hurst’s mother is Japanese). If another wins the Kraft Nabisco(Only Asian golfer to win it ever is Grace Park in 2004), we may hear again ugly and hateful talk again similar to what was written in this column, which I then took apart in this post.

*- Michelle Wie’s play on today’s 11th hole is going to be the subject of lots of talk the next few days. The hole is a par-5 and Michelle’s 2nd shot came up short in the water. Wie tried to play it, but barely budged her shot. After completing her swing, Michelle inadvertently grounded her club. She was assessed a 2-stroke penalty, which dropped her out of a tie for 2nd to a tie for 6th.

Wie told a rules official that she only grounded the club because she worried she was going to lose her balance. She did have a unsteady stance because of having to hit from the water. I agree with the officials, Wie put the club down and didn’t need to do so to steady herself. When she was told of the penalty, Michelle called it unfair.

*- Inbee Park looks to be playing well again. She struggled after winning the U.S. Open two years ago, but has started 2010 strongly. in addition to this week, she finished 2nd or 3rd in a JLPGA event.

*- The #1 play in the world, Lorena Ochoa, continues to play poorly. She finished T-52.

*- Golf Channel cut away from the customary bathing of the winner in beer after walking off 18 to show Wie talking with rules officials. A dumb and unnecessary move by GC.

Update- Hound Dog is also blogging on the final round.
2nd Update- Also blogging on Seo’s victory or the Wie ruling- The Constructivist, Geoff Shackelford, and Jeff Skinner.


Angela Oh wins Duramed Futures Tour season opener

The tournament was slashed to 36 holes due to inclement weather. From Golfweek-

Angela Oh defeated Jane Rah in a sudden-death playoff Sunday to win the Duramed Futures Tour’s season-opening event, the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic.

The final round at Lake Region Yacht and Country Club in Winter Haven, Fla., was canceled because of inclement weather, and tournament officials opted to host a playoff between Oh and Rah, the second-round co-leaders.

After prevailing in the playoff, Oh, 21, pocketed $14,000 for the victory, her first on tour. Her previous best finish was a T-8 last year.

Oh, of Maple Shade, N.J., shot rounds of 72 and 65 to finish at 7-under 137 and tie Rah (70-67). Cindy LaCrosse placed third at 138, and Gerina Mendoza and Garrett Phillips tied for fifth at 139.

Oh was 3 over through 10 holes during the final round, slipping to fifth place before play was halted because of rain. The final round was then canceled, and those scores were not counted.

Oh won the tournament by making a four 4-foot birdie putt on the first hole of sudden death. The shortened tournament

The Duramed Futures Tour goes to Mexico next week then doesn’t play again till April 9th to the 11th in Daytona Beach Florida. I’m applying for media credentials to cover Daytona.

Also commenting on the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic is The Constructivist at Mostly Harmless.


Tiger Woods interview with ESPN

Here it is and without comment-

Update- Sal Johnson at Golf Observer has a good take on the interview.


PGA Tour’s Doral tournament in need of a new sponsor

CA, who has been affiliated with the tournament since 2007, is officially out. From the Miami Herald-

As expected, CA has decided not to renew its title sponsorship of the World Golf Championships-CA Championship, the latest incarnation of the yearly PGA Tour event at the TPC Blue Monster at Doral Resort & Spa.

“There is a tremendous amount of interest in the World Golf Championships — the great fields, global exposure, incredible venues — and we will move forward in securing a new title sponsor for the CA Championship,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement.

“We are confident we will be at TPC Blue Monster at Doral next year.”

Before it became a WGC event sponsored by CA in 2007, the title sponsors were Ford (2003-06), Genuity (2001-02), Ryder (1987-2000) and Eastern Airlines (1970-86).

I don’t think finding a new sponsor will prove too hard. Doral has hosted a PGA Tour event since 1962 and is a popular stop with tour players. Some company will step in.


Tiger Woods to return at The Masters

When he plays at Augusta it will be his first tournament action in almost five months. From ESPN-

Tiger Woods will make his highly anticipated return to competitive golf at the Masters.

The world’s No. 1-ranked player, who has never missed the year’s first major as a professional, announced in a statement Tuesday that Augusta National Golf Club will be the site of his comeback.

“The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I’m ready to start my season at Augusta,” Woods said in a statement.

“The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it’s been a while since I last played.”

The Masters is scheduled for April 8-11, with the first and second rounds airing on ESPN beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

Woods last played on Nov. 15, when he won the Australian Masters in Melbourne for his 82nd career victory. His world then unraveled less than two weeks later; he was involved in a one-car crash outside his Florida home that required a hospital visit and let to a series of revelations about his personal life that included a later admission of multiple affairs.

I always felt The Masters was the most likely place for Woods return but didn’tmake a fool out of myself like much of the golf media and bloggers waste bandwith by speculating on it. You’re going to hear countless descriptions of the Masters being a media circus, but its really going to be and here’s why. One- Woods is conservative with the media and will remain so and Two- The Masters has always been taken a low key approach even when controversy swirled around it(The no women members scandal of a few years back). The 2010 Masters will be the same, Woods will not answer personal questions but the media will give you THEIR version of the answers nevertheless.


Farmers Insurance to sponsor San Diego Open through 2014

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson usually make this tournament their first of the year.AP-

Farmers Insurance has signed a four-year agreement to be the title sponsor at Torrey Pines for the next four years.

The company stepped in at the last minute this year — 10 days before the opening round — to give one of the more popular PGA Tour events on the West Coast a sponsor.

The tour announced the new deal Monday with the Farmers Insurance Open. The purse will be $5.8 million next year, which is $500,000 more than when Buick was last the title sponsor.

San Diego has turned into one of the top tour stops, though that could be fleeting. Player tastes change, as can be seen with tournaments like Pebble Beach and the Bob Hope that once upon a time drew top fields but not now. Ten years from now San Diego could be like the Sony Open. In the meantime, Farmers made a good pickup.


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