Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Best of the LPGA: December 2007 Edition

With the completion of the Kyoraku Cup and Lexus Cup, it's time once again for Mostly Harmless's attempt to combine the best systems for ranking the top LPGA golfers--'tis the (BCS) season, after all. By using the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the LPGA Official Money List, and Hound Dog's Top 30, I hope to identify the Best of the LPGA. [Update 1/7/08: Mulligan Stu discusses the latest survey on which golfers made the most money, on- and off-course, in 2007 at Waggle Room.]

As before, one player is light-years ahead of the pack:

1. Lorena Ochoa: Across-the-board #1--by far. Should qualify for the Hall of Fame in 2008--only question is, how quickly will it happen?

And again, only one player is ranked in the top 5 in each system:

2. Suzann Pettersen: #2 money, #4 RR, #4 GSPI, #2 HD. Let's hope her back/hip injury sustained during the Lexus Cup turns out to be a minor one. Wants her 2008 to be better than the 2007 of Karrie Webb, 2006's #2 player.

There is now a trio in the top 10 in each system:

3. Paula Creamer: #3 money, #6 RR, #2 GSPI, #3 HD. Closing on Pettersen at the very end of 2007. Poised for a breakthrough in 2008.
4. Mi Hyun Kim: #4 money, #9 RR, #5 GSPI, #4 HD. Let's hope she comes back in 2008 well-rested from the many injuries that have been bothering her over the last several months. As banged-up as she has been, it's amazing how well she has performed in that span--she stayed neck-and-neck with a very hot Creamer.
5. Cristie Kerr: #6 money, #5 RR, #10 GSPI, #8 HD. Among those who started their careers in the Sorenstam Era, behind only Webb, Pak, and Ochoa in career victories and only $30K behind Kim on the career money list. But no longer the best American golfer.

Surprisingly, only one player makes the top 10 in 3 of the 4 systems:

6. Jee Young Lee: #10 money, #14 RR, #6 GSPI, #10 HD. Best of the Super Sophs without a win as an LPGA member. Should end that drought before Miyazato. Played great in the Kyoraku and Lexus Cups.

That means there's a big bunch among those in the top 10 in 2 of the 4 systems:

7. Morgan Pressel: #9 money, #12 RR, #12 GSPI, #5 HD. Seems to be coming out of a late-season slump just in time for 2008. Ready to contend for top American status.
8. Seon Hwa Lee: #5 money, #19 RR, #11 GSPI, #6 HD. My #1-ranked Super Soph remains #3 in this system. The way she played in the Kyoraku Cup and Lexus Cup, not for long, it looks like. Perhaps the best golfer in Asia right now. When will Rolex figure out just how great she is?
9. Angela Park: #8 money, #29 RR, #13 GSPI, #9 HD. If the 2007 Rookie of the Year also figures out how to win on the LPGA in 2008, watch out!
10. Annika Sorenstam: #25 money, #3 RR, #3 GSPI, #12 HD. Seems to be physically recovered from her serious back and neck injuries; should be playing her best again in 2008, but how far up the rankings can she go?
11. Stacy Prammanasudh: #14 money, #15 RR, #9 GSPI, #7 HD. Had a tough time in the Lexus Cup, but still one of the best--and steadiest--American golfers.
12. Karrie Webb: #22 money, #2 RR, #7 GSPI, #23 HD. Will fall fast in 2008 unless she can put together a streak like she had in the second half of 2006 and pre-season of 2007.

Next we have golfers in the top 20 in all 4 systems:

13. Se Ri Pak: #16 money, #10 RR, #16 GSPI, #13 HD. Now that her Hall of Fame year is over, can go back to concentrating on golf, building on the momentum of captaining Team Asia to victory in the Lexus Cup, and recovering from her various late-season injuries. Looking to extend her shrinking lead on Kim and Kerr (well, about $2M, that is) on the career money list in 2008.
14. Jeong Jang: #7 money, #11 RR, #20 GSPI, #11 HD. Athough she came on in the second half of the season, 2007 has to rank as a disappointing year in the context of her excellent career--capped off by missing a putt to keep Team Korea alive in the Kyoraku Cup and being one of the few on Team Asia with a losing record in the Lexus Cup. Unlikely to be blocked from the winner's circle in 2008.

There are a bunch of Americans in the top 20 in 3 of the 4 systems, but whether they'll do as well in 2008 is an open question:

15. Juli Inkster: #18 money, #7 RR, #23 GSPI, #20 HD.
16. Nicole Castrale: #15 money, #28 RR, #14 GSPI, #14 HD.
17. Brittany Lincicome: #13 money, #16 RR, #25 GSPI, #17 HD.
18. Angela Stanford: #19 money, #32 RR, #17 GSPI, #16 HD.

There's quite an international bottleneck among those in the top 20 in 2 of the 4 systems or in the top 30 in all 4, and all except Ai-chan are looking to move up in 2008 as they did in the second half of 2007 (she's just looking to get her game back):

19. Natalie Gulbis: #12 money, #21 RR, #27 GSPI, #18 HD
20. Maria Hjorth: #11 money, #31 RR, #31 GSPI, #15 HD.
21. Sherri Steinhauer: #23 money, #24 RR, #18 GSPI, #19 HD.
22. Catriona Matthew: #28 money, #25 RR, #19 GSPI, #26 HD.
23. Sophie Gustafson: #30 money, #26 RR, #21 GSPI, #25 HD.
24. Sarah Lee: #20 money, #42 RR, #15 GSPI, #24 HD.
25. Ai Miyazato: #17 money, #17 RR, #51 GSPI, n.r. HD.

Then there are those ranked in the top 30 in 3 of the 4 systems:

26. Laura Davies: #21 money, #39 RR, #29 GSPI, #21 HD.
27. Shi Hyun Ahn: #27 money, #36 RR, #24 GSPI, #22 HD.
28. Christina Kim: #23 money, #46 RR, #26 GSPI, #27 HD.
29. Laura Diaz: #26 money, #41 RR, #28 GSPI, #29 HD.

In 2008, look for Hee-Won Han to move back up these rankings even more quickly than Catriona Matthew has returned from her maternity leave this year--Han would be #14 in the GSPI if she had played in enough events this year, Hound Dog puts her at #28, and she's still at #35 in the RR. She'll soon be joined by Eun-Hee Ji--#8 in the GSPI once she gets enough events in to qualify, #30 on the Rolex Rankings, and certainly one of the leading challengers to Angela Park in the Class of 2007--along with In-Kyung Kim, Inbee Park, and Jane Park (who ran off a wire-to-wire Q-School victory to close out her season)--particularly if my gut feeling is right that she's going to play full-time on the LPGA in 2008. It'll be interesting to see if veteran Pat Hurst (#35 money, #34 RR, #32 GSPI, #30 HD) can claw her way back among the world's elite next season, but with Momoko Ueda (#13 RR, #8 GSPI) already listed as a 2008 LPGA rookie (thanks to her win at the Mizuno Classic), it's going to be very tough for Hurst--and, for that matter, everyone outside the top 20--to do it.


The Constructivist said...

Waggle Roomed this....

The Constructivist said...

With Sorenstam ranked #10 in my system, how do my early season predictions look?

"Back at the end of January, I predicted that Lorena Ochoa, Ai Miyazato, Karrie Webb, Cristie Kerr, Mi Hyun Kim, Se Ri Pak, Jeong Jang, Natalie Gulbis, and Meena Lee would have the best chance to match or surpass Annika Sorenstam this season (and at the end of February I added Seon Hwa Lee to my top 11)."

Good thing I added Seon Hwa--that brings me to 5 for 11. Will try to do better for '08!

Hound Dog said...

Good stuff! Of course I'm biased by my inclusion in the process!

I haven't mentioned before that one of the best things about combining these four particular rankings is that two of them (mine and the money list) are solely based on the 2007 season while the other two include 2006 data in their formulas. I choose to only figure one season at a time mainly because it's easier that way, but also because "The Season" has always been the traditional sports time-period of choice. TC's method gives "The Season" and the longer-term equal weight. But I still have to question Rolex and Sagarin - why should we care what Karrie Webb did in '06 when we are trying to determine the best players NOW?

The Constructivist said...

Well, the GSPI covers the last 52 weeks, and Rolex the last 104, so at the end of a season Sagarin can actually claim they have covered it. Most of the time, though, they straddle two seasons. So I'm about 3/4 on "the season" at best, and usually closer to 2/3. Hey, but even you look at the previous season in the earlier parts of the next one, so I'm in good company!

What I like about combining all four systems is that Rolex (and to a lesser degree Sagarin) introduce a little level of continuity and difficulty of advancement to what would otherwise be a bit more volatile. To take one example, when Meaghan Francella beat Annika Sorenstam in that playoff early in 2007, she was one of the best golfers in the season to that point, but her staying power was unknown given that she mostly played the Futures Tour in '06. You needed to see more of the season unfold to see where she should be ranked. Whereas if Annika wins early in 2008, that's pretty convincing evidence she's back and ready to win multiple times that season.

Karrie Webb is a tougher example, given the, shall we say, volatility in her 2005-2007 play. But she's established the career record that says if she also wins early in '08 on the LPGA, she could easily be among the world's best again. But if she continues her indifferent play, she'll quickly slide down to Inkster territory in the GSPI in '08 (and someday get passed on the Rolex!).

So I like including Rolex and Sagarin to help me do the rankings within the categories and to note when someone is finally getting recognition for good play (like Seon Hwa Lee jumping up to #11 in the GSPI--yeah!). As you can see, your system and Sagarin both reflect rather well the fact that Ai Miyazato would probably not have made the cut at Q-School were she to have had to go back to it this year, given how badly she's been playing in the second half of 2007. But between the HSBC and her overall consistency in the first season and a half, the money list and Rolex have kept her from falling off my chart. She'll need a turnaround in 2008 to stick around, however.

What I don't like about my system is that it ranks Jee Young Lee ahead of both Pressel and Seon Hwa Lee, even though the latter have wins in 2007 and she doesn't. But Pressel slumped at the end of 2007 and paid for it in the GSPI, while Jee Young made your top 10. My Super Soph ranking is a career comparison and this one is a lot less cumulative, so that's the breaks. But it leads me to believe that Seon Hwa has the best chance of having a breakout seasn in '08. We'll see!

Hound Dog said...

Your point on continuity and difficulty of advancement is well taken. I didn't like dropping Ai-chan completely out of the Top 30 but that second-half performance was so bad, it wiped out most the gains from her first-half. If she had won at HSBC, that victory bonus (plus the extra money) would have kept her in.

I didn't realize GSPI was "only" the last 52 weeks - maybe they rank Webb #7 because of her two Australian wins back in January.

I agree that Seon Hwa is -this close!- to breaking through, but I think Jelly could turn out one of those 3+ wins monster seasons if she goes on a putting streak.

spyder said...

You wonder how successful a fully recovered Annika can be next year. I suspect that given the significant mental factors in this strange Celtic game, of chasing little white puff balls towards fairy rings of psilocybe fungus, her years on tour and knowledge of the game will matter more now than previously. Thus i think she has a great chance to end up at or near the top, especially if she can pressure Lorena early on (and if she really is healthy).

The Constructivist said...

I just think the world has finally caught up to her. It's not just the rest of the Big 3 chasing her anymore--now she's in the pack, and the pack may be as big as 12 or 15 at roughly the same level. Or maybe I'm way off, and it'll just be her and Lorena pushing each other all '08 and everybody else waiting for weeks when both are off....

The Constructivist said...

Annika's win in Dubai certainly sends a message for '08!