Jeong Leads Futures Tour ILOVENY Championship


Duramed Futures TourALBANY, N.Y. -- It's the final tournament of the season and second-year player Jimin Jeong said she tried to approach this week as a practice round for LPGA Qualifying to help minimize the pressure.
Of course, that strategy changed today when Jeong fired a 5-under-par 66 to take the lead in the $85,000 ILOVENY Championship. Jeong posted a round that included 15 greens in regulation, seven birdies and two bogeys -- both bogeys resulting from three-putt greens.
'My putting was good in the practice rounds, so I had confidence,' said Jeong of Kyungki, Korea, who earned her first win this summer in Lima, Ohio. 'I talked a lot to my mom [and caddie] about the read and speed on these greens. They're not too tricky.'
And Jeong's assessment of the greens at the Capital Hills at Albany course must have been on target as she rolled in putts from a range of five to 20 feet, with a chip-in for birdie from 45 feet on the 14th hole.
But for the player ranked 31st on the season money list to have a chance to move into the Tour's top 15 with the winner's $11,900 check on Sunday, Jeong couldn't help but allow her thoughts to drift back to the Tour's quickly culminating money race.
'I have won before and I don't think it was just luck,' said Jeong, of her victory in June. 'I'm trying to think about this as [preparation] for LPGA Q-School, but now, I'm thinking about moving up [the Tour's money list].'
Jeong doesn't have much breathing room, however, with second-ranked Charlotte Mayorkas of Las Vegas and Danielle Downey of Spencerport, N.Y., breathing down her collar one shot back at 67 (-4). Mayorkas, who turns 23 next Monday, wants nothing more than a chance to win her third Tour title this year and close the gap between herself and top-ranked Song-Hee Kim of Seoul, Korea, who carded an even-par 71. Downey, ranked 27th, wants nothing more than to win again and to win in her home state.
'This is the last event of the year, so I want to finish on a good note,' said Downey, 25, a non-exempt LPGA Tour member whose last win came in 2004 in Lima, Ohio. 'Obviously, everybody's thinking about the top five, but I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I'll just go out there and play.'
The Tour's 19th event obviously carries considerable weight this week. The top five money leaders at the end of Sunday's final round earn fully exempt 2007 LPGA Tour status. The next 10 players on the money list who are not already non-exempt LPGA Tour members automatically advance into the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament in December, avoiding the LPGA's sectional qualifying stages. Players who currently have non-exempt LPGA status will be skipped for the next available non-LPGA player.
And with her top-five status largely secured, Mayorkas admitted that having placed herself in the No. 2 position has made this week's final event less stressful.
'I feel really relaxed,' said Mayorkas, a San Diego native who played collegiately at UCLA. 'For me this week, it's more about trying to make putts to win the tournament than it is about trying to get into the top five. All I have to worry about is going out and playing my best.'
Tied two shots off the lead at three-under-par 68 is the trio of season winners Hye Jung Choi of Seoul, Korea and Meaghan Francella of Port Chester, N.Y., along with seventh-ranked Allison Fouch of Grand Rapids, Mich., who is trying to notch her first professional win. Francella is ranked eighth, followed by Choi, at No. 9. A win for any of the three could reshuffle the top five money-list positions.
'Sometimes I get tight out there and yeah, I feel the pressure, but as long as I'm playing golf and staying busy, I'm OK,' said Fouch, a non-exempt member of the LPGA Tour who has two runner-up finishes this season. 'It's easier to deal with it on the golf course. Maybe the pressure keeps me focused.'
Fouch posted three bogeys and one birdie on her first nine holes, but made the turn to the front nine and rolled in five birdies on the first six holes for redemption.
Choi missed only two greens in her round, but stayed patient on the front nine, where she had nine consecutive pars. On the back, she carded five birdies and two bogeys, admitting she feels the pressure of this week's event.
'I'm very nervous,' said Choi, a non-exempt LPGA Tour member and second-year player. 'I guess I don't want to make any mistakes right now.'
Francella said she spent most of today's round trying to focus on each individual shot. The non-exempt LPGA Tour member soared to two-over par after three holes, but settled down with five birdies and a 10-foot par save on the 15th hole to finish out her round on the hilly 6,121-yard municipal tract.
'I did a lot of work today staying in the present,' said Francella. 'And this week, that's really hard to do.'
Nine players are tied at two-under-par 69, including fifth-ranked Angela Park of Torrance, Calif., who is trying to hold on to or improve her position this week.
'I know this is a very important week and I want to do well,' said rookie Park, 18, who moved into the top five at the Tour's last event in Gettysburg, Pa. 'I think you have to be a little greedy this week and I know I need to make the putts that really count.'
One player, Katie Connelly of Beloit, Wis., was two-under par when one unfortunate swing landed her in the back of an ambulance heading to a local hospital. Connelly's tee shot on the 10th hole landed in a rocky area to the right of the fairway. Trying to punch out her shot, Connelly's ball struck a rock and ricocheted back, hitting the player squarely in her right eye. Connelly was treated and released from the hospital with a small fracture in the medial wall of her eye socket, a lesion on her cornea, and two tears in her iris.
'My eye is swollen completely shut,' said Connelly, reached by telephone, who was forced to withdraw from the tournament with an injury. 'I was in tears not because I'm in pain, but because I wanted to finish out the season. I was playing with Song-Hee and I was playing so well. This is just really disappointing.'
A total of 30 players carded scores of par 71 or better in today's first round.