HSBC Women's Champions 2013
Sentosa Golf Club, The Serapong Course
First-round notes and interviews
February 28, 2013
Azahara Munoz -7, Rolex Rankings No. 16
Stacy Lewis -5, Rolex Rankings No. 4
Sun Young Yoo -5, Rolex Rankings No. 24
Lizette Salas -5, Rolex Rankings No. 63
Karin Sjodin -5, Rolex Rankings No. 81
Yani Tseng -4, Rolex Rankings No. 1
Paula Creamer -4, Rolex Rankings No. 13
Spaniard Azahara Munoz teed off in the first group on Thursday morning in Singapore and set the pace for the first round of the HSBC Women's Champions. Munoz shot a 7-under 65 and leads by two shots over a group of five players who are at 5-under-par, including Rolex Rankings No. 4 Stacy Lewis and 2012 Kraft Nabisco Champion Sun Young Yoo.
Munoz tallied seven birdies and no bogeys in her stellar round on The Serapong Course at Sentosa Golf Club. This is the first time that the women have played on this course, having spent the past five years at nearby Tanah Merah Country Club. And while the talk all week had been about the stiff test that this course would provide the women, Munoz provided an early glimpse that a low score was indeed possible.
"I played pretty good," Munoz said. "I hit a lot of fairways. When I didn't, I still hit the greens. I feel the key today, I hit a lot of really good second shots so I gave myself a lot of opportunities, and then obviously I converted a lot of them."
Munoz was in the first group off hole No. 1 on Thursday morning and fired the low round of the day, a 7-under 65. For some reason the early times seem to suit Munoz, who admitted that this isn't the first time she's gone low when teeing off early.
"I don't know what it is, but my best three rounds on Tour have been first tee time, so I was joking with Karin join today that maybe they should move the tee time to first off," Munoz said. "I really like it, you don't have to wait, it's super nice, the greens are perfect. I think it gets me going."
Beware of the injured golfer: Paula Creamer didn't have a chance to play a practice round on The Serapong Course at Sentosa Golf Club this week after suffering whiplash in a car accident on Sunday night in Thailand. In fact she had only hit about 30 golf balls this week prior to teeing off Thursday morning for the first round of the HSBC Women's Champions.
But that didn't seem to hamper Creamer, as she opened up with a 4-under 68 in the first round and sits in a tie for seventh.
"At the beginning of the round, I really couldn't feel my right side and I didn't know if I was going to be able to even go," Creamer said. "But I called my dad and talked to him a little bit and I just said, what do you think, and he said, well, completely up to you, and just kind of went out. And thank goodness it's hot here. I couldn't do it if it was cold.
"But it shows how much, Colin, he's such a good caddie, he just points and directs me of where to go, so take my hat off to him really."
Creamer said that while she opened up solidly this week, she is really just happy to have been able to tee off on Thursday.
"I was just glad to be out there and playing," Creamer said. "Like I said, I have no expectations whatsoever this week. It's just really to get out there and try to play some golf."
A little motivation…Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng felt that she needed a little extra boost heading into Thursday's opening round of the HSBC Women's Champions. So Tseng made a bet with her traveling manager, Naya Hsu. The bet was that if Tseng could shoot 68 or lower then Hsu would go skydiving with her in Hawaii. But if Tseng shot 70 or higher, then Hsu would get a Louis Vuitton bag.
Tseng won the bet in dramatic fashion, making eagle on the 18th hole to shoot 68 and put herself in a tie for seventh at 4-under-par after the first round.
"She is scared to go on the roller coaster," Tseng said of Hsu. "And when that putt drop in, I was so happy. I was looking for her, I saw her face, I think she's going to cry, so I think that's very good motivation. You don't play for anything, you have a bet with your friend, it feels so good. Today that really keep me very patient and relaxed all day."
Key experience? Karin Sjodin is in her eighth year on the LPGA Tour and the Sweden native acknowledges that it's taken some time for her game to really take shape out here on Tour. She's seen improvements in her game each year but one of the best signs that she was on the right track came at last year's Kraft Nabisco Championship where she was tied for the third-round lead with Yani Tseng before finishing in a T4.
"I think it meant a lot," Sjodin said of her experience at Kraft in 2012. "I mean, when you're there, you probably don't know how much it means until afterwards looking back. But for a few years, I felt like I was improving every part of the game, but I couldn't put it together on the golf course.
"So I think mainly it kind of proved to myself and probably the doubters out there that were wondering I didn't was still hacking around, but you know, it's always nice to know that you've played with Yani in the final round and you felt like you were on her level kind of. So not afraid of anything or intimidated by it but feeling like I belonged. Doesn't hurt to feel that way."
Sjodin fired a 5-under 67 on Thursday in Singapore and like many of the longer hitters in the field this week, she said that avoided hitting driver on many of the holes. But the biggest key for her on Thursday was feeling healthy again after dealing with a slight back or rib issue recently.
"I struggled a lot with hitting iron shots and couldn't take divots and kind of chickened out on the downswing," Sjodin said. "So starting the end of last week, I started hitting it really good. Got a lot of treatments on the back, and I think those two were kind of ‑‑ yeah, that made it possible for me to swing well. And then this week, I've been hitting it good again. It feels good now. The scores probably aren't really that good but I feel like every part of the game is in good shape when I'm healthy."
Salas and Munoz share the same swing coach and the two players will be paired together for Friday's second round. Salas knows that Gorley, who is based in Palos Verdes, Calif., will certainly be watching.
"I think he's very happy right now," Salas said.
Quotable: "I was definitely surprised to see that number. I don't see somebody doing that every single day, so you just hang in there, hang in there, and hopefully you're there on Sunday." – Stacy Lewis on Azahara Munoz's great opening round score.
Of Note...Defending champion Angela Stanford opened with a 4-over 76 on Thursday…LPGA Tour rookie Moriya Jutanugarn was inserted into the field on Thursday, taking the place of Se Ri Pak who withdrew on Wednesday due to an illness.
Azahara Munoz, Rolex Rankings No. 16
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome our current leader, Azahara Munoz into the interview room, first off, great round today, 7‑under par, just take me through that day out there. It looks like the hole was pretty big to you every time you got on the green.
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Yeah, thank you. I played pretty good. I hit a lot of fairways. When I didn't, I still hit the greens. I feel the key today, I hit a lot of really good second shots so I gave myself a lot of opportunities, and then obviously I converted a lot of them.
MODERATOR: And first group off of the day, is there soething to be said sometimes about playing in that first group? Does it ever just kind of get you going? Do you tend to play better in that?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: I don't know what it is, but my best three rounds on Tour have been first tee time, so I was joking with Karin today that maybe they should move the tee time to first off. I really like it, you don't have to wait, it's super nice, the greens are perfect. I think it gets me going.
MODERATOR: We talk all week about the trickiness of this golf course and hitting shots in the right place. What were the keys for you today, and you know, a lot of players haven't been using driver very frequently. What kind of was your strategy.
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Yeah, we didn't use driver much today either. In the practise rounds I did on every hole but today the wind seems to be a little bit different, and I thought just putting the ball in play on the fairway was more important.
So in at least five or six holes, I would say I hit 3‑wood today.
Q. You just mentioned the greens were perfect; any differences, any adjustments you think that you have to make ‑‑
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Thank you. No, you don't make an adjustment. It's the same. You have to play the same golf course. It's probably the same conditions. It's just the tee times are only from 8.25 to like 10.15, so everyone is really close to each other.
But I don't know, it's something about ‑‑ I like playing first off. It's something I like. Obviously on Friday, I wouldn't like to be first half, so I'm happy to be back.
Q. A lot of players have been complaining the course was quite difficult, and they couldn't use driver much. How have you found it?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: I actually think it is quite difficult, but I just hit a lot of fairways today. You know, when you play good, it doesn't really matter where you play, and especially if you make putts like I did today.
So my key today was I hit a lot of really good second shots and I gave myself a lot of chances.
Q. You had a couple more chances I think, as well. Do you regreet not shooting even slightly lower?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Obviously the lower you can go, the better. But on 18, it just stayed on the edge. I made so many putts today, and you always need something, you can always go lower, but I'm really happy with my round.
Q. How many practise rounds did you have?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: I played nine on Monday, the other nine on Tuesday and then yesterday I played 18 in the Pro‑Am.
Q. You just had two full practise rounds?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Mm‑hmm.
Q. And is this your best score, given the fact you've only played, in, your career, in terms of coming to a new course and playing, is this probably one of your best opening rounds for a course you're unfamiliar with?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: It is one of my best opening round. I think my best on Tour is 9‑under and I also have an 8‑under. A lot of times we go to new courses, so we've had two practise rounds and that's plenty for us.
Q. Can I just check on the par putt that you made on the 16th, how important was that? You didn't drop a shot the whole day?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: It was really important because my second shot was really good and I thought the wind was helping and it didn't. I would have been really disappointed with a bogey, so I was really happy when I made that one.
MODERATOR: Last year you became a first‑time winner on the LPGA Tour at the Match Play and year before, that Rookie of the Year. How did the confidence level grow for you after kind of capturing that first win? And it seems that your game just kind of game together towards the end of last year, and how much do you think it carried into this year so far.
AZAHARA MUNOZ: Well, so far not ‑‑ but it definitely helped me, because I was out there quite a lot but I never really broke through to win. So winning helped me a lot. It made me feel more comfortable when I was in the last few groups on Sunday.
MODERATOR: And though we joke about traveling a lot, but you never really had a base in the U.S. so you are kind of used to going back and forth between places. I know this off‑season you finally did get a home base in the U.S.; what difference do you think that's going to make for you over the year to now kind of have somewhere to call home in the States?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: I think hopefully it makes a difference, but I think it was really nice. The practise facilities around now, they are so much better. At home are good, too, but courses in the States, nobody really plays on my golf course, it's pretty much all for me.
And also a lot of flight hours, for sure, going back and forth all the time; and I think the most important one is sometimes when I only have a week off, I wouldn't go back off but I would still have to pack for ten weeks, and that was really difficult, just living out of a suitcase.
Q. Many golfers take a conservative strategy on this golf course. Would you say you also played more conservative golf or more aggressively in this level?
AZAHARA MUNOZ: I did a mix. A few holes I played conservative, but I just thought putting the ball in play was more important. But sometimes I also went for the driver and took a chance to go in the bunker, but I just wanted to have a shorter club into the greens. So I did a little mix.
Stacy Lewis, Rolex Rankings No. 4
Q. Well, nice round out there, I know we had talked earlier in the week about how tricky this golf course was, but what were the keys for you to be able to shoot low out there?
STACY LEWIS: You know, I hit my irons good and just gave myself a lot of birdie putts. I gave a few shots away off the tee, just which you kind of expect yourself to do.
Seeing Aza go out and shoot 7‑under made me realise you could make some birdies and shoot a low number.
Q. We saw you last week get off to a hot start, too. How are you feeling just about your game overall so far?
STACY LEWIS: I feel good. My putter just kind of went cold on me on the weekend, and other than, that I really played fine. So I'm not really worried about it. I knew I was swinging at it good and just tried to stay patient and keep playing.
Q. When you did see Aza's low number and we talked about how tricky this course might be or how tough it might be so score, were you surprised to know that somebody could go that low out here?
STACY LEWIS: I was very surprised. I thought maybe she had started on the back nine, because the back nine I think you can definitely score a little bit more on.
So for her to start off on the front, and she got off to a hot start ‑‑ I was definitely surprised to see that number. I don't see somebody doing that every single day, so you just hang in there, hang in there, and hopefully you're there on Sunday.
Q. When you tee off tomorrow, any changes you want to make to your approach on this golf course?
STACY LEWIS: No, we played it pretty smart. I had to hit a lot of 5‑ and 6‑irons into the greens, but I'd rather do that than hit out of bunkers. We played really smart and tried not to second guess ourselves and we did pretty good at it.
Sun Young Yoo, Rolex Rankings No. 24
Q. Great round out there, everybody has been talking about how tricky this golf course can be, it requires a lot of thinking. What were some of the keys for you out there today?
SUN YOUNG YOO: Actually I had a hard time reading putts some holes but I hit very good and my caddie helped me with reading. So everything was good.
Q. Stacy Lewis was joking, this is going to be a tough week on the caddies, they are going to have a lot of work cut out for them?
SUN YOUNG YOO: Yeah, I think it's the same for everybody. Everybody having a hard time reading putts because they have some tricky break. So I have to ask my caddie every time.
Q. And for you, I know some people are not bringing the driver out very much. What was your strategy in terms of approaching these holes in general? Did you hit a lot of drivers?
SUN YOUNG YOO: Actually I hit 3‑wood a couple times on the tee. Yeah, I hit a couple drivers. I was swinging really well today so I felt really comfortable with driver.
Q. And third event of the year, overall on the LPGA, second for you, how do you feel about your game at the start of the year?
SUN YOUNG YOO: It's actually pretty good. I had a good off‑season and I didn't play well last week but I had my game back on the last round. I feel really good with everything.
Q. We are coming up as we are getting to the stretch where you're going to be defending champion at Kraft; what did winning that tournament last year, having that title of major champion do for your confidence level?
SUN YOUNG YOO: Definitely changed my career. I feel really great because everybody calls me a major champion, but at the same time I have pressure, as well. I try to forget about last year and see what I can do.
Lizette Salas, Rolex Rankings No. 63
Q. Great round today.
LIZETTE SALAS: I birdied the second and the fifth and I birdied the ninth, and then I birdied 10, 12, and I had a bogey on 15 and I came back strong on 17. You know, just made a silly mistake, and the front nine, the first five holes, you have to be so focused and so related to your target.
I think I played the front nine very well, and coming down the stretch, I made a little mistake, but I got it back with a birdie on 17. You lose track of holes, but just trying to stay present and try to make a good swing on each shot, and if it doesn't go your way, prepare for the next shot.
I just try to have fun, and you know, it's awfully humid out here; just try to stay cool and not to get overwhelmed with a bad shot. You know, don't make a big number out here.
Q. So the front nine, certainly a little bit tougher than the back nine?
LIZETTE SALAS: Yeah, definitely.
So that gave me a little more confidence coming down the back nine. You know, not every putt, you can't be perfect, but just try to make a good swing and be just as best related to your target as possible and try to be really specific on targets out here, just because the landing areas are so small and there's water everywhere.
So we don't have these golf courses ‑‑ well, I'm not used to these golf courses. But it's beautiful, and it's my first time in Singapore, and loving every moment.
Q. So this tournament, it is quite special.
LIZETTE SALAS: It is.
Q. Last year you were a rookie, and you came in second or third?
LIZETTE SALAS: I came in third, yes.
Q. A very different year for you now?
LIZETTE SALAS: Very different. I'm starting my season overseas, and a month earlier than last year. You know, my dad's still here supporting me and watching me.
So I have a good team around me that helps me prepare, and helps me stay confident and most importantly, just patient out here, because it's going to be a long year and more than I'm used to. So trying to take each day for what it is and just keep smiling and laughing.
Just to have my dad here, my caddie here, sharing this experience with me, not many players can do that, bring their parents with them. Just excited to go home this week, but I still have to do my job in the next three days and just try to stay patient and hopefully catch Aza, because she's playing really well. We have the same swing coach, and I think he's very happy right now.
Q. What's his name?
LIZETTE SALAS: Jim Gormley.
Q. Where is he based?
LIZETTE SALAS: Palos Verdes, in California. I'm sure he's looking, he's watching.
Q. Does he do any of the men players?
LIZETTE SALAS: No, he has seven LPGA players, and so I live the closest. I live just outside of L.A., and so he's been a good friends of ours for a long time and a couple months ago, he became part of the team.
Karin Sjodin, Rolex Rankings No. 81
Q. Great round today, 5‑under par, everybody was talking this week about how difficult this golf course could play or whatever, but what were the keys for you today to being able to score well?
KARIN SJODIN: I think the main thing here is you have to hit your tee shots in the right spots, and I didn't hit many drivers, but a lot of hybrids today. Todd managed to figure out the wind when I was clueless and hit 3‑woods and hybrids to the right spots. From there on, I think everyone is going to be in the same areas, so hitting some greens and get something putts to fall.
Q. Is it really the difference, a lot of times if you're a long hitter, you have an advantage; is it knot so much this week in terms of where the landing spots are, or is it still an advantage because you've got longer distances?
KARIN SJODIN: I would say if you ask me, I would say it's not an advantage this week. I mean, 18, I can reach, and 12 or whatever other ‑‑ there are maybe two, three par 5s that are reachable for me, which is an advantage.
But on the par 4s, I'm not used to hitting from 180, because I used to hit the driver closer, so I think it's probably an advantage for someone who can hit their driver and is used to hitting those distances into par 4s on a regular basis.
For me, it's new to stand with 6‑, 5‑ and 4‑irons, even into par 4s, and I think I guess for us, it's more of a change than it would be for anyone else.
Q. Coming into this week, how did you feel about the state of your game at the start of the year?
KARIN SJODIN: I think it felt all right before I started playing (laughing). Practise was going really well, and then I had some back or rib ‑‑ back, I'm not sure what it is, issues. So I struggled a lot with hitting iron shots and couldn't take divots and kind of chickened out on the downswing.
So starting the end of last week, I started hitting it really good. Got a lot of treatments on the back, and I think those two were kind of ‑‑ yeah, that made it possible for me to swing well.
And then this week, I've been hitting it good again. It feels good now. The scores probably aren't really that good but I feel like every part of the game is in good shape when I'm healthy.
Q. Last year you got off to a solid start and you had some really good performances especially at Founders and Kraft. You've been on Tour a number of years, but what did the experience last year at Kraft do for your game and just getting off to a solid start and really putting together a strong year?
KARIN SJODIN: I think it meant a lot. I mean, when you're there, you probably don't know how much it means until afterwards looking back.
But for a few years, I felt like I was improving every part of the game, but I couldn't put it together on the golf course.
So I think mainly it kind of proved to myself and probably the doubters out there that were wondering I didn't was still hacking around, but you know, it's always nice to know that you've played with Yani in the final round and you felt like you were on her level kind of.
So not afraid of anything or intimidated by it but feeling like I belonged. Doesn't hurt to feel that way.
Yani Tseng, Rolex Rankings No. 1
Q. What a lovely way to finish, how good was your 3‑wood into 18?
YANI TSENG: Yeah, I played very aggressive, this morning I told my manager ‑‑ I need some motivation, a little energy. So I tell her if 69 would be tied and 68 I win, and her bet is I want a Louis Vuitton bag and if I win, she will go skydiving with me in Hawai'i, and she is not scared to go on the roller coaster.
And when that putt drop in, I was so happy. I was looking for her, I saw her face, I think she's going to cry, so I think that's very good motivation. You don't play for anything, you have a bet with your friend, it feels so good. Today that really keep me very patient and relaxed all day.
Q. The front nine, particularly difficult, isn't it, that stretch of holes?
YANI TSENG: Yeah, the tough nine is a little tougher, you just need to drive on the fairway and strategy is a little bit different and sometimes you can go for it and sometimes you can play smart.
I think today I kind of played a little more aggressive, but I was very happy ‑‑ back nine was easier but I didn't play as good the front nine. But I stayed patient all day, I was very happy and I'm playing good with my rescue today so I hope it keeps going tomorrow.
Q. I think you nailed it on the head that you didn't drop any shots on the back nine, couldn't quite manufacture the birdies you were after until the last, and it's so important just to keep putting pars on the board?
YANI TSENG: Yeah, par is your friend, it's pretty good you don't drop a shot, even when you try to be aggressive, you try to make birdie every hole.
But this type of golf course, you need to be patient, and I was very happy what I done today. I was a little up‑and‑down in the middle of the round, because my swing kind of a little too quick and I didn't drop any putts. But I'm very happy to stay patient and through the whole round make eagle the last hole.
Q. You pulled drive out a few times, will you use it over the next three days?
YANI TSENG: Yeah, depends how aggressive into the wind, so you can hit driver more.
Q. Can you just go through the eagle?
YANI TSENG: That driver was pretty aggressive. I mean, I hit a great driver and second shot, I had 235 into the wind, so I played 245 and I hit a 3‑wood, full shot. I mean, I hit it perfectly. I thought we were much closer, because I really want to make eagle. At least I know I make birdie so I will be tied.
So I mean, that last putt give me motivation. I think it feels good, because I haven't had that feeling for a long time. You always make ‑‑ to win the tournament, but today I make to have my math manager go sky driving with me. I'm relaxed the whole day and the last two weeks helped me to stay patient and stay relaxed all day because it only the first day.
And the last two weeks, kind of a little rushed, try to play well on the first day and today I've been patient because I know it's only the first day, I still have three days left, and keep good strategy on this course ‑‑ I mean, it's not that easy to make birdie. But you don't want to drop too many shots, and some of the shots, it's easy to go in the water. There's so much water on the course, so you really need to drive on the fairway.
So I was very happy that I drive pretty good today and I keep lots of fairways so I'm able to hit it good on my second shots.
Q. Is that your new approach for 2013, just take it one day at a time, not worry about what's going on?
YANI TSENG: Yeah, I just try to be patient is a big key, because I was a little rough in the middle of the round because my body was a little too ‑‑ and I didn't drop any shot and I couldn't hit it closer, too.
So it's really tough out there. I just keep to myself, that's okay, it's only first day, you try to make birdie, and if not, you're going to save par; instead of try to make birdie, and if not you make bogey, so that's even worse. I'm just very happy about today and it feels good, hopefully I can keep that feel for next three days, too.
Paula Creamer, Rolex Rankings No. 13
Q. What a great round today, beware the injured golfer I guess?
PAULA CREAMER: Yeah, it's my first time on this golf course and everything, and at the beginning of the round, I really couldn't feel my right side and I didn't know if I was going to be able to even go.
But I called my dad and talked to him a little bit and I just said, what do you think, and he said, well, completely up to you, and just kind of went out. And thank goodness it's hot here. I couldn't do it if it was cold.
But it shows how much, Colin, he's such a good caddie, he just points and directs me of where to go, so take my hat off to him really.
Q. To get through the front nine, seems like by the scoring a little bit tougher, were you in any doubt to start it off or did you feel good once you got going?
PAULA CREAMER: I may be around 5 or 6 started to get a little bit more feeling back into my right side. Just took it really one shot at a time. I was just glad to be out there and playing. Like I said, I have no expectations whatsoever this week. It's just really to get out there and try to play some golf.
Q. Do you think you'll get expectations now that you've had such a good round going into tomorrow, or do you still feel lucky to be playing?
PAULA CREAMER: No, just lucky to be playing. I think that sometimes things like that change your mind‑set for a lot of things, and thank goodness I had the third ‑‑ you're so much more relaxed out there. It could be so much worse of the it's unfortunate like that that accidents do make you realise, but I do believe everything happens for a reason and maybe that's what I needed.
Q. You had your first look at the course properly; how did you find it? Lots of players think it's playing quite tough.
PAULA CREAMER: It's a great golf course. I think it's a really ‑‑ you have to hit some good golf shots. You have to think, your caddie has to do a lot of numbers out there. You definitely don't hit drivers, that many.
It's a really positioning kind of golf course, and even from there, you're hitting some long irons into holes, and it's a very, very good test of golf, especially with how big the greens are, they can put the pins in so many places.