Sandra Gal takes win at Kia Classic to become the second German winner in LPGA Tour history

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Sandra Gal

Sandra Gal

Sandra Gal won the Kia Classic on Sunday to become the second German winner in LPGA Tour history, beating second-ranked Jiyai Shin with a 2-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

The 25-year-old Gal, a former University of Florida player, made the winning putt after Shin’s 5-foot birdie attempt caught the right edge and spun out.

“It was big pressure, she was so close to the hole,” Shin said. “I was thinking I had to make it.”

Gal closed with a 2-under 71 to finish at 16-under 276 on the Industry Hills Golf Club course at Pacific Palms. She set up the winning birdie with a sand wedge shot from 83 yards on the par-5 18th.

“I was trying to hole it,” Gal said. “I came close. I thought I made it.”

Tina Fischer is the only other Germany champion. She won the 2001 Asahi Ryokuken International.

“I had the belief coming out this morning that I could win,” Gal said. “I thought I could do it. I just tried to play the course instead of Jiyai.”

Shin, an eight-time winner on the LPGA Tour, finished with a 73.

Cristie Kerr shot a 66 to tie for third with In-kyung Kim (70) at 11 under.

Top-ranked Yani Tseng (67) and Na Yeon Choi (73) were 9 under, and Michelle Wie (70) was another stroke back along with Marcy Hart (65) and Mindy Kim (71).

“I felt like I shot a lot better than what I scored,” Wie said. “Overall, I had a lot of fun. I played as hard as I can.”

Shin took a one-stroke lead over Gal into the final round, but dropped two strokes back with three bogeys on the front nine. The South Korean star pulled even on the par-3 13th, making a birdie while Gal had her lone bogey of the day.

“My putter was not working good,” Shin said. “I had a lot of chances for birdies but didn’t make them.”

Shin took a one-stroke lead with a birdie on the par-3 15th, and Gal countered with a birdie on the par-4 16th to set up the finish. On 18, Gal’s wedge shot hit past the hole and spun back, nearly going in the hole.

“I was digging really deep,” Gal said.

Gal earned $255,000 in the tournament, the tour’s first event in the Los Angeles area in six years.

The Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the season, is next week at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage.

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Maria Hjorth wins LPGA Tour Championship in rare fashion

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MariaHjorth

Maria Hjorth wins LPGA Tour Championship

So much for a frantic finish at the LPGA Tour Championship. Only one person moved up the ranks this week to take home a trophy.

That was just fine for Maria Hjorth.

With every major award in play for the first time in a decade, all it took was a final-round 72 for Hjorth to claim a one-shot victory over Amy Yang and hold off a huge field that struggled to even make par. None of the annual honors, including player of the year and the No. 1 ranking, changed hands in the season finale.

“It was obvious other players had way more pressure on them,” Hjorth said. “So I think in that regard, it might have been a little easier on me.”

Sure seemed that way.

Hjorth had three birdies and three bogeys on a picture-perfect day at Grand Cypress Golf Club, where only six of 120 players finished below par for the tournament. Yang, who led after each of the first three rounds, had a quadruple bogey on her third hole but rallied with a 74 to supply the only drama all week.

“I just thought, ‘Nothing more I can lose,’” Yang said.

She made a birdie putt on the 18th from about 15 feet over a ridge, forcing Hjorth to sink an 8-foot putt slightly down hill to save par. She did. Then Hjorth dropped her putter, lifted her arms in triumph and burst into tears as she went running to the ropes to grab her 1-year-old daughter, Emily.

“Every win is emotional for me,” said Hjorth, who earned her fourth victory on tour but first since becoming a mother. “But being a mother and coming back after giving birth is definitely something that I’ve been hoping for.

“It’s nice to prove that it’s possible.”

Hjorth finished at 5-under 283 for the tournament, the highest-winning score relative to par all year except for Paula Creamer’s 3-under victory in the U.S. Open at Oakmont. The firm and fluctuating greens at Grand Cypress played similar to the toughest major this week, and near-freezing conditions in the first two rounds only heightened the challenges.

That was just fine for those sitting at the top.

With Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam now retired, every major award was in play for the first time in a decade but the week still ended with a thud. Each player who began the tournament on top of the award standings stayed there:

–Yani Tseng became the first player from Taiwan to win LPGA player of the year.

–South Korea’s Na Yeon Choi won this year’s money title.

–Choi also claimed the Vare Trophy for the year’s lowest scoring average.

–Fellow South Korean Jiyai Shin, who missed the 54-hole cut and was the only one who could unseat Choi on the money list, will keep her spot atop the world ranking. She finished 12 over.

Cristie Kerr also was within striking distance to become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to claim LPGA player of the year. But her final-round 73 left her at 2 under for the tournament, tied for third place.

“Maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself,” Kerr said.

The final round would have only one shining star.

Hjorth was calm and cool on greens that frustrated so many in the field. She made huge putts to save par over and over, including a 10-footer on the 16th hole that gave her a two-shot cushion that proved big on the 18th.

And that was all she needed for her first LPGA victory since 2007.

“It was really amazing,” she said. “I’m just overwhelmed right now.”

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Will the temperature get the best of LPGA Tour Championship players?

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Amy Yang LPGA Tour Championship

About the only thing going low at the LPGA Tour Championship is the temperature.

Well, that and Amy Yang’s scorecard.

Yang shot a 3-under 69 in a safe and solid second round Friday, good enough to hold a three-shot lead when play was called for darkness. Only 10 of the 120 players in the field were under par.

“It is very surprising,” said Yang, who is going for her first LPGA Tour victory and has never led a round until this week.

Not that she’s complaining.

The lack of low scores in a bloated field that features the top players on tour made her score stick all day. Maria Hjorth (68) and Seon Hwa Lee (73) were three shots back, and world No. 1 Jiyai Shin (75) is projected to make the cut on the number to keep her chances of holding the ranking at season’s end alive.

The near-freezing conditions and a competitive course has tested players more than they could’ve imagined. And Yang has handled the challenge better them anyone.

The South Korean overcame a slow second-round start to finish with four birdies on the back nine, including a sizzling putt from about 20 feet on the 18th hole. She also did it with a tougher morning tee time, around 8:30 a.m., before things warmed up.

The temperature dipped into the upper 30s at dawn at Grand Cypress Golf Club to make firm and fluctuating greens even faster. The breeze ticked down a touch for the second round, but the topsy-turvy greens — which Laura Davies called “mental” a day earlier — were causing the most challenges.

“You really have to be patient out here, because you’re going to have some bad breaks,” Hjorth said.

The course has wreaked havoc even on the top players.

The LPGA’s player of the year award is wide open at the season-ending event for the first time in a decade, now that Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam are retired. Five in the field have a chance to grab the honor, and the top ranking is also in play.

Shin and Na Yeon Choi would be the first Korean to win the LPGA’s top honor. Cristie Kerr could become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to claim the award, Yani Tseng would be the first from Taiwan, and Ai Miyazato of Japan is also in contention.

Kerr (71) is five shots back, Choi (71) is seven off the lead, Tseng (73) is 11 back and Miyazato (71) is 14 off the pace. In other words, parody rules again at the top.

“I think it’s more interesting having more people up there,” Kerr said. “I would like to be the dominant Alpha female, but you have to work really hard for that.”

They don’t have much time left to make up ground.

The LPGA Tour Championship will cut to the lowest 70 scores and ties when the second round officially finishes early Saturday morning. And there will be an additional cut after 54 holes to the lowest 30 players and ties, making the margin for error even slimmer.

It also makes Yang’s grip on the lead feel even tighter.

Her last victory of any kind came in 2006, when she won the Australian Ladies Masters at only 16 years old. That made her the youngest amateur ever to win on the Ladies European Tour, and it seemed there would be more victories in her future.

Only they haven’t come.

“I was too young to know what winning a tournament meant,” she said. “After that, I had to finish high school. So there was a gap of time between that.”

Maybe not much longer.

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Two South Koreans atop the LPGA Tour Championship leaderboard

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amyyang

Amy Yang

Two South Koreans atop the leaderboard at the LPGA Tour Championship came as no surprise. They just weren’t the two everybody expected.

Stealing the spotlight from two others vying for a historic player of the year honor, Amy Yang and Seon Hwa Lee each shot a 5-under 67 on Thursday to share the clubhouse lead when the opening round was called for darkness.

No pressure on them.

“This week is good,” Hwa Lee said, smiling.

The bigger challenge falls on their two more acclaimed countrywomen.

Jiyai Shin and Na Yeon Choi are in contention to become the first South Korean to take home the LPGA’s player of the year award, a huge honor in a golf-crazed country that sent swarms of media to cover them this week. But Shin (77) and Choi (73) each got off to a disappointing start, leaving them well off the pace.

Julieta Granada finished two shots off the lead on a chilly day at Grand Cypress Golf Club that had many players wearing earmuffs and winter hats with temperatures dipping into the low 40s just before dawn. There were four players three shots off the pace.

“I just tried to make par every hole because the fairways, the rough are longer and thicker, and the greens are fast and slope a lot,” Yang said. “I just tried to play safely.”

This year’s season-ending event doesn’t have the usual script.

For the first time in a decade, Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam won’t win player of the year now that they’re retired. That leaves five in the field with an opportunity to take home the tour’s top honor and — along with Suzann Pettersen — perhaps the No. 1 world ranking.

So far, none of them has seized the moment.

American Cristie Kerr (71), Yani Tseng (75) of Taiwan and Ai Miyazato (80) of Japan — the only others who could win the player of the year award — all struggled in the conditions. Choi was 4 under through 12 holes, but she gave back five shots over the next three holes.

“I don’t think it was one bad shot,” Choi said. “I feel like I left some shots out there. Luckily, we’re all so close and still have a chance.”

Choi and Shin also are the only players in the running for the money title. So far Choi has earned $1,814,558 for a $34,790 lead over Shin.

The chilly conditions, by Florida standards, made greens firm and fast. But it was the course, a Jack Nicklaus-design that was renovated between 2007-08 with more undulating greens, that really made things difficult.

Even some of the more seasoned pros couldn’t believe the course bears Nicklaus’ name.

“He must have been having a very bad day,” quipped Laura Davies, who shot an opening-round 70. “Someone went mental on the greens.”

The field doesn’t have much time to make a push.

The LPGA Tour Championship is applying the same format it used last season, cutting to the lowest 70 scores and ties after 36 holes and an additional cut after 54 holes to the lowest 30 players and ties. That makes the margin for error even slimmer.

“Especially with the cold weather again (Friday),” Yang said. “Another safe game, yeah. At least I’ll try.”

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LPGA Tour Championship offers top honors to one of five top Professionals

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Jiyal Shin and Yeon Choi

The LPGA Tour Championship is more than just a season finale this year.

There are razor-thin margins that could decide player of the year honors and the top spot in the world rankings, adding plenty of intrigue to the tournament that begins Thursday at Grand Cypress Golf Club.

For the first time in a decade, Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam won’t win player of the year. That leaves five in the field with an opportunity to take home the LPGA’s top honor.

“We have got big pressure,” said Jiyai Shin, who begins play with the top spot.

Shin also has a little added pressure.

Shin and Na Yeon Choi have a chance to be the first Koreans to win player of the year. They’ve also noticed more Korean media than usual this week lining the fairways and greens for every practice stroke, and interview requests back home are at an all-time high.

“It will be my dream come true if I get the award,” Choi said.

Cristie Kerr could become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to claim the award. Yani Tseng would be the first from Taiwan, and Ai Miyazato of Japan is also in contention.

Miyazato, however, can’t finish No. 1 in the world rankings, but Suzann Pettersen, who doesn’t have enough points to win player of the year, can move into the top spot with a victory.

All this is the result of the sport’s top two players in retirement.

Since Ochoa bid farewell to the tour in May, the top spot has shuffled nine times among three players—Shin, Kerr and Miyazato. None of the players in contention could ever remember the three biggest awards—which also includes the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average—at stake so late in the season, much less the finale.

“It is exciting to have the chance, because in years past, it’s been pretty much over by the half-year mark,” Kerr said.

The tournament also marks the LPGA’s first in the Sunshine State since 2008.

Based in Daytona Beach, the LPGA had as many as three Florida events at one time before then but was without one last year. That came as a surprise to some players given the popularity of golf and the nearly year-round warm weather in Florida.

And with dozens of players doubling as central Florida residents, it’s an added incentive to end the year at home.

“We feel we belong with a tournament here,” said Paula Creamer, who lives in the Isleworth community only a few miles away. “It’s just kind of crazy that we haven’t had one for a while.”

The LPGA Tour Championship will keep the format it used last season, cutting to the lowest 70 scores and ties after 36 holes and an additional cut after 54 holes to the lowest 30 players and ties. That makes the margin for error even slimmer.

Especially at the top.

The format makes a big final-day push almost impossible, because to even make it to Sunday players will have to be in close contention. Of course, the five up for player of the year know plenty about winning.

They have combined to win 14 of the 25 events this year, including three of the four majors. Tseng won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Women’s British Open, and Kerr took home the LPGA Championship.

As exciting as those others victories were, all five admitted that player of the year honors would top everything.

“For me, player of the year is kind of it,” Kerr said. “It’s what you see happening every year, what you wish would happen to you. And I think it’s the yearlong culmination of you’re the best player, this is what it was, these are the points, this is a point toward the Hall of Fame.

“It’s something like winning a major championship and having that trophy in your house and seeing it going, ‘That’s something nobody can ever take away from you.”’

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LPGA Tour players, executives, partners and friends travel in a Monaco RV speading the word about the Tour’s exciting season and its Florida finale

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Paula Creamer

Before the LPGA Tour season comes to a riveting conclusion December 2-5 with the LPGA Tour Championship at the Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, a host of LPGA players, executives, partners and friends will travel in a Monaco RV to visit with fans and spread the word about the Tour’s exciting season and its Florida finale.

The LPGA Road Trip Driven by Monaco RV / Alliance Coach “kicks off” this weekend with a couple of football games: A visit to Gainesville on Saturday, November 13 for a University of Florida SEC football showdown by former Gators golfer Sandra Gal, followed the next day by a trip to Tampa for an NFL Buccaneers game with LPGA player Karen Stupples, a rabid Bucs fan. The Monaco RV Diplomat will weave around Florida over the next week and a half, wrapping up the Road Trip just prior to Thanksgiving on November 23 with a “Feed the Hungry” visit to Caring Hands Ministry in Wildwood, Florida, home of Alliance Coach, where participants in the Road Trip will prepare special pre-Thanksgiving meals.

Suzann Pettersen

“We’re thrilled to partner once again with the LPGA and its players, who not only know how to entertain and engage their fans, but also open their hearts to the communities where they visit,” said Ryan Lee, Monaco RV Director of Marketing. “As Presenting Sponsor of the Navistar LPGA Classic, we’ve enjoyed great success with the Tour and love the idea of partnering for a fun, interactive road trip.” Added LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan: “Monaco RV’s a great success story—a former small, specialty RV manufacturer that has grown into a thriving company producing annual revenue exceeding $1 billion—so we’re proud to work with them both at our annual Navistar tournament as well as the countdown to the LPGA Tour Championship.”

The LPGA Road Trip Driven by Monaco RV / Alliance Coach also will be supported by LPGA and LPGA Tour Championship partners including Pepsi, Blue Diamond Almonds, Choice Hotels and Florida‘s Natural® Brand.

Besides the aforementioned football events with Sandra Gal and Karen Stupples, the Road Trip also will feature a number of other activities and appearances including:

  • Yani Tseng

    Paula Creamer gets her first up-close view of the new Amway Center during an Orlando Magic game

  • Suzann Pettersen visits Grand Cypress Golf Club for a special media day
  • A visit to the World Golf of Fame & Museum in historic St. Augustine (www.WorldGolfHallofFame.org)
  • Yani Tseng talks about the Race for the Rolex Rankings No. 1 and Rolex Player of the Year during a visit to the Lake Nona area where she lives
  • Sherri Steinhauer defends her title at the Legends Tour Open Championship at Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor Nov. 20-21
  • Scheduled appearances by Florida-based LPGA players Na Yeon Choi, Song-Hee Kim, Christina Kim, Amy Yang, Meredith Duncan, Mindy Kim and more.

Media and fans both are welcome to participate in the Road Trip, either in person or via the websites of the LPGA, Monaco RV and Alliance Coach, along with their affiliated Facebook pages, YouTube.com channels and Twitter feeds.

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Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jiyai Shin and No.5 Na Yeon Choi are locked in a two-player battle for the LPGA money list title

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Jiyai Shin and Yeon Choi

Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jiyai Shin and No.5 Na Yeon Choi are locked in a two-player battle for the LPGA money list title. Choi currently leads Shin by $34,790. Choi is searching for her first LPGA money title. In her first two years on Tour, Choi finished 11th and sixth respectively on the 2008 and 2009 LPGA Official money lists. Shin, who won the 2009 LPGA money title, is attempting to earn the honor in back-to-back years. Shin also captured the 2009 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award.

Both Choi and Shin have had similarly stellar 2010 seasons. Choi has won twice – the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic Presented by Kroger and the LPGA Hana Bank Championship Presented by SK telecom. She has also posted four runner-up finishes and a total of 14 top-10’s. She has carded no worse than a tie for 16th in her last 12 events.

Shin has also posted two victories – the Evian Masters and Mizuno Classic. She has recorded a remarkable 12 top-5 finishes this season and she has finished no lower than a tie for 14th in her last 12 tournaments.

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Top-ranked Jiyai Shin wins Mizuno Classic for second LPGA Tour Victory of the season

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Jiyal Shin wins Mizuno Classic

Top-ranked Jiyai Shin won the Mizuno Classic on Sunday for her second LPGA Tour victory of the season and eighth overall, closing with a 5-under 67 for a two-stroke victory over Yani Tseng.

Shin finished at 18 under after opening with rounds of 65 and 66 on the Kintetsu Kashikojima course. The South Korean star, also the 2008 tournament winner in the event also sanctioned by the Japan LPGA, earned $180,000 to increase her season total to $1,779,768 and pull within $3,535 of leader Na Yeon Choi with two events left.

“This morning my feel was a little bit rushed, because I won at the Evian and the last couple of months I didn’t win,” Shin said. “I have had a lot of chances, but I didn’t win. I am waiting all the time for the win. So this morning I felt pressure.

“The first hole I made a birdie and after that I got more confident. But Yani was playing very well.”

Tseng, from Taiwan, shot a 66.

“I really tried my best to bring my A-game golf today,” said Tseng, a three-time winner this year. “I think I did that very well. Jiyai just played so consistently and she is the greatest player on tour. A very good, competitive player.”

Stacy Lewis (68) was third at 15 under, Miki Saiki (70) was 12 under, and Choi (68), Brittany Lincicome (65) and Mika Miyazato (68) followed at 11 under.

Shin, who started the day with a two-stroke lead over Lewis, birdied all four par 5s in her bogey-free final round.

Tseng birdied six of the first 11 holes to tie Shin, but parred the final seven.

“I was really, really nervous and we still had more par-5s,” Shin said about Tseng’s birdie on No. 11.” She is a long hitter. So I was worried about the long par-5s where she can make the easy birdies.”

However, Shin took advantage of the par 5s with birdies on Nos. 13 and 16. Her birdie on the par-5 16th gave her a two-shot lead with two holes to play.

“She made a couple of mistakes and I made a really good birdie on 16,” Shin said. “It feels good to win.”

Tseng leads Japanese star Ai Miyazato by 14 points in the player of the year race. Shin and Choi are tied for third, 18 points behind Tseng.

Miyazato, a five-time winner this season, followed her second-round 79 with a 68 to tie for 69th at 3 over — 21 strokes behind Shin. Defending champion Bo Bae Song of South Korea shot a final-round 74 to finish tied for 56th

Shin is skipping the Lorena Ochoa Invitational next week in Mexico.

“I am going to take it easy for the next couple of weeks and then head to LPGA Tour Championship,” Shin said. “I want to play well there because the Tour Championship is the last tournament of the year. If I have good play there it will make a warm winter.”

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