Battle for No 1


LPGA Tour _newThe fight for No. 1 is head-spinning stuff in women’s golf.

You wouldn’t know it, though, in Jiyai Shin’s unwavering and resolute march back to the game’s mountaintop just six weeks after she underwent emergency surgery for an appendicitis.

With no missteps in her thrilling victory Sunday at the Evian Masters, Shin assured that she will move back to No. 1 when the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings are released Monday.

It will mark the fifth change at the top of the women’s rankings in the last 14 weeks.

That’s more lead changes than we’ve seen in the last decade in the men’s Official World Golf Ranking.

This is good theater for women’s golf, especially the dramatic way it’s playing out.

This isn’t like the men’s game, where it seems as if nobody wants to take the No. 1 ranking from Tiger Woods when Woods is offering it up on a platter.

The women are making hard, feisty charges up the game’s mountaintop.

Though Lorena Ochoa retired from women’s golf this past spring, she didn’t hand over the top ranking. Shin took it from her. Shin seized the top spot with her performance in Ochoa’s farewell tournament at the Tres Marias Championship early in May.

Ai Miyazato has taken two turns atop the women’s rankings this summer with her four victories this season. Cristie Kerr bumped Miyazato off the top with Kerr’s record 12-shot victory at the LPGA Championship.

It’s a wonderful summer show the women are giving us, one that makes you want to see more. They’re putting on the kind of show that begs for more than the 24 events we’re going to get to see this year, the kind of show that will make us miss the women when they take their next long furlough.

Though Paula Creamer didn’t move to No. 1 with her virtuoso performance winning the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont two weeks ago, she looked like she’s intent on getting there.

The Evian Masters finish was edge-of-your seat theater.

With Shin walking to the 18th tee Sunday at Evian Masters Golf Club, 15-year-old Alexis Thompson was up ahead trying to make history. In a spirited finish, Thompson hit a wedge to 12 feet, then coolly drained the birdie putt to get to 13 under.

Thompson’s birdie created a four-way tie for the lead.

Shin and Morgan Pressel were in that logjam. So was Na Yeon Choi, who charged magnificently with birdies at four of the last five holes.

“I was watching the leaderboard all day, I was so nervous,” Shin told in a telephone conversation after. “My hands were shaking at the end.”

Shin didn’t betray any nervousness. She looked totally unaffected, burying a testy 6-foot putt for par at the 17th hole and then striping her final drive down the middle after Pressel nearly pulled her drive into the trees.

After Shin made her final birdie putt from 8 ½ feet, the drama only built. Pressel had a birdie chance to tie from 8 feet. She clipped the left side of the hole, leaving Shin the winner.

With a 5-under-par 67, Shin posted the only bogey-free round among the final five twosomes off in the final round.

Shin is just 22 years old, but she’s already won 32 times around the world as a professional.

Despite all the quality challenges from various players this summer, Shin looked more than worthy of that top ranking with her finish Sunday. If she hadn’t been raced to the hospital on the eve of the State Farm Classic six weeks ago, there’s no telling if she would have ever let go of that No. 1 ranking she took from Ochoa.

With Shin still recovering and out of action following her surgery on June 9, Miyazato won the Shoprite LPGA Classic on June 20, ending Shin’s seven week run at the top of the rankings.

“I think the time off after the surgery helped me,” Shin said by telephone. “After that, I enjoyed coming back. I felt happy playing.”

Just 10 days after her surgery, Shin was back hitting balls. Fourteen days later, she was teeing it up in the LPGA Championship. Her caddie, Dean Herden, said she couldn’t finish her swing without pain starting the first round of that major, but she ended up tying for third in her return.

“I knew we had a lot of big tournaments coming up,” Shin said. “I told myself, I have to recover quickly. It really made me focus.”

Shin heads to the Women’s British Open this coming week, the site of her first LPGA title and the most important triumph of her career.

“I go with a lot of confidence,” she said.

So do so many challengers eager to knock her off the mountaintop. It’s what is making the LPGA worth watching this summer.