Photo by David J. Phillip
RICHMOND, Texas -- Lorena Ochoa and Jiyai Shin will settle their duel for LPGA Tour player of the year on the final, frantic day of the season.
Kristy McPherson finished off a 5-under 67 in fading sunlight Sunday to move to 8 under and take the lead in the LPGA Tour Championship before the second round was suspended because of darkness.
Shin was one stroke back with two holes to play in her second round; Ochoa was two back with one hole left. Players will resume the second round Monday morning, and the top 70 and ties will immediately begin the final round.
For Ochoa to win her fourth straight player of the year title, she must win or finish no worse than third and then hope Shin places out of the top 10. The two are also decimal points apart in the race for the Vare Trophy, awarded for the season's lowest scoring average.
"Tomorrow, everything will be answered," Ochoa said. "I am very excited, yes."
Shin is trying to become the first player since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to sweep the money title, rookie and player of the year and the Vare Trophy.
"I have a good shot at it," Shin said. "It's going to be very close. It will be the most important day of my life."
The 28-year-old McPherson is just looking for her first LPGA Tour victory. She picked up five birdies without a bogey in her second round after a 69 on Thursday.
She's one of the few players who completed two rounds without interruption.
"Our goal was to get in before the sun went down, so we were happy to do that," she said. "We were fortunate to get through."
So far, the weather has been the major story of the tournament.
Heavy rain swamped the Houstonian Golf and Country Club on Friday and Saturday, forcing organizers to cut the event to 54 holes. The fairways were still water-logged Sunday, so players were allowed to lift, clean and place.
Shin was four shots behind Ochoa after the first round, but picked up four birdies in a seven-hole stretch on Sunday to tie her. She holed a birdie putt on the par-5 16th, her last shot of the day, to move one shot ahead of her rival.
"The course conditions was really wet, the greens were really soft," Shin said. "That was a big help to us, we could be more aggressive. There was no wind. The conditions were perfect."
Ochoa hit the first shot of her second round a full 72 hours after sinking a 15-foot birdie to wrap up a first-round 66 on Thursday. She dropped a shot on her front nine, then birdied 14 and 16 to move to 7 under.
Ochoa hit a greenside bunker with her tee shot to the par-3 17th hole, just before the horn sounded. She decided to finish, took a bogey and then headed straight to the practice green.
As the rain lingered over the weekend, players raised concerns about the availability of flights leaving Houston with Thanksgiving approaching. Michelle Wie dropped out on Thursday because of a sprained left ankle after shooting a 72, and five others withdrew between Friday and Sunday.
Some of the remaining players grumbled about the size of the field entered in the season-ending event. A total of 120 players started.
Cristie Kerr, who still has a mathematical chance to win the player of the year title, thought the event should've been more exclusive from the beginning.
"Your season-ending tournament should be your creme de la creme," said Kerr, 3 under after two rounds. "They said there are tour cards to keep, there are awards to give out. You shouldn't be worrying about keeping tour cards at this point in the year, with one tournament. Nothing against those people, I wish them well. But that's kind of the way it is."
The players who didn't finish their second rounds Sunday were due to resume at 7 a.m. on Monday. Those who make the cut will start their final rounds with no break in between as tournament officials race to finish before sunset.
"After so many days, the patience is just out," said Suzann Pettersen, 4 under through two rounds. "You just go out whenever you get the green light."