Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tiger Woods Is Legend, But I'll Be LPGA Blogging in 2008

I've been following Tiger Woods's career for what amounts to a long time by now, but he always finds new ways to amaze me. Pick your metaphor for what he's doing to the rest of the field at the Buick this week--smoking, lapping, demolishing first come to my mind--and it still won't convey how close to irrelevant he is rendering his closest competitors. No one else has put together 3 mid-60s rounds on the two Torrey Pines courses this week; in fact, most of the people who have reached that level have also posted a round in the mid-70s. Stewart Cink needed an eagle on his final hole Saturday to become the only other player in the field to break 70 in all 3 rounds; by doing so, he cut Tiger's lead to 8. That is not a typo.

With this victory, Tiger will tie Arnold Palmer in career PGA victories at 62. The only question worth asking is whether he can possibly catch and pass Jack Nicklaus at 73 this season--it's a foregone conclusion Ben Hogan at 64 will drop a spot in 2008 to him. But while witnessing a player make history and become a legend before your very eyes is awe-inspiring, I'll still be focusing almost exclusively on the LPGA this year at Mostly Harmless. Here's why.

When you compare the PGA career victory list with the LPGA one, you'll see that Annika pairs well with Tiger, Karrie Webb with Phil Mickelson, and Juli Inkster with Vijay Singh. Se Ri Pak, Laura Davies, and Lorena Ochoa have more wins than Davis Love III, Nick Price, and Ernie Els, but after that you see many more active PGAers with 10-15 career victories than LPGAers, the next rank of whom are clustered in the 6-to-10-win range. So there's no denying that the talent pool, both historically and currently, is deeper in the PGA than LPGA.

But here's the thing: although at times various players have come close to Tiger's level, no one has consistently matched him, much less surpassed him, from season to season. That's not true of Annika. Her challenge will be to do to Lorena Ochoa in 2008 what she did to Karrie Webb in 2001, after Webb had been the #1 player on the LPGA for two consecutive years. So the showdown at the top will make the LPGA more interesting than the PGA this year.

But Annika isn't the only one looking to take Ochoa down. With her 5-win season in 2007, Suzann Pettersen reached and threatened to surpass the level that Paula Creamer, Mi Hyun Kim, Seon Hwa Lee, Cristie Kerr, and Jeong Jang have been at for the last several years. Whether Annika will be able to keep pace with the lead pack chasing Ochoa--and whether anyone else in this pack will make a run at Ochoa--is another question that makes the LPGA more interesting than the PGA to me in 2008.

Players like Se Ri Pak, Hee-Won Han, Morgan Pressel, Jee Young Lee, Stacy Prammanasudh, Karrie Webb, and Natalie Gulbis make up the next pack--those who have been less consistent over the last 2-3 seasons, but who have shown they're capable of running with the lead pack. Will Annika fall back to their pace? Will some of them move up--and how far?

And then there are the wild cards. Can Angela Park, In-Kyung Kim, Eun-Hee Ji, Inbee Park, and Jane Park avoid the sophomore jinx? Can Ai Miyazato, Julieta Granada, and Brittany Lang pull themselves back into contention with the leaders from the class of 2006? Can Momoko Ueda, Hee Young Park, and Na-Yeon Choi build on their experience, live up to expectations, and make the Rookie of the Year race relevant to the Player of the Year race? Who among the others--from rookies to veterans--will step forward in 2008?

I'll be making my predictions tomorrow, using my notoriously unreliable 100-yen Nishijin crystal ball. But we won't know the answers to these and the other questions I've raised about the 2008 LPGA season until it is done. Should be fun to follow!


spyder said...

The comparisons are sort of like navel oranges and mandarins. There is nothing else equal to a high quality navel orange at perfect ripeness (Tiger), and although some of those CA Johannsen Ranch organic mandarins are to die for (Ochoa, Sorenstam, Webb), and fill your mouth with wonderful sweetness and your body with great anti-oxidants and Vitamin C, they just aren't as fully satisfying as a big, ripe, navel orange. Perhaps that is why one can watch the LPGA week after week and keep into the drama and athleticism, reserving a few weekends a year for the PGA's greatest courses and players. You just can't buy that many great navels for the price of a 10lb bag of organic mandarins.

Of course with this analogy we can write off the Seniors tour as Valencias, hoping they are good enough to juice. Then maybe the Asian Ladies tour could be the Ruby Red grapefruit competing against the Pummelos of the men's European one??

You are a tiny bit shaky with your qualifications for Tiger versus Annika. To suggest that the standard is "consistently matched.. much less surpassing," and then demonstrate that only Ochoa in 2006/7 and Webb in '99/2000 did so to Sorenstam is a bit awkward the way it reads. When Tiger hurt his knee, had surgery, lost his father, he was surpassed and beaten, losing his number one ranking and Player of the Year honors (in 2004, and previously in 1998). Annika has taken that honor 6 of the last ten years (being beaten by Webb in 1999 and Ochoa in 2006) Seems pretty damn dominant (8 of the last 13 years--Tiger in 9 of those same 13).

The question might be whether Ochoa can match that sort of dominance in the next decade, or whether any PGA player can even begin to rise up to the level of Tiger???

The Constructivist said...

spyder, great comment! You should be writing here!

Annika from 1994-2000 was consistently matched by Webb, Pak, and Inkster, and sometimes surpassed--sure, she still dominated but she had a higher level of top rivals than Tiger(check out Hound Dog's historical rankings for his take). Sure, 2001-2005 she was untouchable, and I didn't mean to imply she wasn't, but once again she has been matched and surpassed, now by Ochoa and thanks to her injuries by maybe a dozen others. Not only does she have meaningful rivals, it's uncertain how high she can go on her comeback. Contrast that to Tiger, who dropped to #2 a few times, as you note, but did he ever drop lower and besides Vijay 1 year, has he ever been consistently matched?

Both Tiger and Annika have had that ability to make their closest rivals disappear, but it's an open question whether Annika still has it. I believe the tour has caught up to her. We'll see if I'm right....

spyder said...

Part of me wants to really support Annika and see her dominate Ochoa and the rest of the kids one more time. Not that she needs any further justification for her claim to be very high on the list of all-time greats. The other part of me wants to see some of those super-sophs as you call them, and some of the third and fourth year players out there laying claim to the legacy. Well, the old Dinah Shore (Kraft Nabisco) Championship is only ten short weeks away, so we shall find out pretty soon who has what it takes and who doesn't.

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