By John Garrity
Saturday, March 31, 2007

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Ever play Cut Leaderboard? That's the game where you take the top ten scorers after two rounds of a major championship and compare them to the top ten "losers" — i.e., those players who finish just below the cut line. As often as not, the two lists look as if they were generated at random. The real leaderboard will have seven journeyman pros, a career amateur from Kotzabue, Alaska, an Asian Tour refugee playing on a sponsor's exemption ... and Phil Mickelson. The cut leader board will have seven journeyman pros, a high school senior from Peculiar, Mo., a former PGA Tour commissioner ... and Vijay Singh.

I started playing Cut Leaderboard in my head Friday afternoon while watching Natalie Gulbis finish her round - and her week - at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the LPGA season. Gulbis was in the fairway of the par-5 ninth hole (her eighteenth) with a wedge in her hand, and I expected her to stick one inside the shadow of the flagstick. Instead she launched a shot so high that I thought she might run up the fairway and catch it in her skirt. (Although, now that I think about it, her skirt was too tight to catch anything but stares.) Gulbis's ball landed short of the green and rolled back down the bank, prompting her to poke her club into the turf and stomp around in disgust.

And no wonder: Natalie was already 12-over for the tournament.

So bye-bye to the two-time Solheim Cup star, who has her own line of swimsuit calendars, a half-hour reality show on the Golf Channel, and enough glamour/game to be the current cover girl of Golf for Women.

A couple of hours later, when the shadows were starting to lengthen on the course, I strolled out to watch world No. 1 Annika Sorenstam crash and burn. She was 5-over. Then she was 6-over, after three-putting at sixteen. Oops, make that 7-over — Annika lipped out another short one at seventeen. "Poor thing," a woman in the gallery whispered. "She probably can't wait to get out of here."

The lady was probably right, but the Dinah Shore course is playing so fast and hard that 8-over was good enough to slip by the weekend gatekeeper. So Annika is in and Natalie, at 13-over, is out — so far out that she's dropped off the Cut Leader Board.

Anyway, here are the two lists at the halfway point of the Kraft Nabisco:

Real leaders: T1 Lorena Ochoa and Paula Creamer; T3 Suzann Pettersen and Shi Hyun Ahn; 5 Se Ri Pak; T6 Brittany Lincicome, Catriona Matthew, Lindsey Wright and Maria Hjorth; T10 Brittany Lang, Stacy Lewis and Meagan Francella.

Cut leaders (+9 and higher): T1 Esther Choe, Reilly Rankin, Nicole Perrot, Hee-Won Han, Taylor Leon, and Wendy Doolan; T7 Mi Il Chung, Amy Hung, Kimberly Kim, Seon-Hwa Lee and Birdie Kim.

At first glance, the real leaderboard looks like … well, like the real leaderboard. Ochoa, last year's LPGA player of the year, is coming off a victory at the Safeway International and is on the verge of replacing Sorenstam at the top of the world ranking. Creamer, in her third season, is a Solheim Cup veteran who already has three wins under her pink bow. Petterson, a raucous Norwegian - (oxymoron alert!) - pushed Ochoa to the limit last week in Arizona.

The "loser list," let's be honest, reads like the flight manifest for a United Nations relief mission.

But look closer. Only one player on the real leaderboard, Se Ri Pak, has won a major championship. The cut leader board, too, has a major champion — Birdie Kim, winner of the 2005 U.S. Women's Open — and a little farther down the cut list you have the 2003 U.S. Women's Open champ (Hilary Lunke), the 2003 Kraft Nabisco champ (Patricia Meunier-Lebouc), and the sixth-place finisher in last year's Women's British Open (Lori Kane). If Sorenstam had swallowed her pride and chunked another chip or two, the cut team would be a genuine threat to beat the real leaders in a Solheim-style shootout.

That won't happen, but here's my suggestion for future Kraft Nabisco Championships: Let the cut leaders jump in the pond at eighteen before they run off to catch their flights.

It'll be good practice for those who come back some day and win.

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